Friday, July 22, 2011

A Fond Farewell From a Floridian

It was with a fond smile of nostalgia that in the early morning hours of July 21st, 2011, I heard the double sonic boom of a returning space shuttle for the last time. After all, the space program has formed a backdrop to my entire life. When I was born, fifty years ago, the space program was just getting off the ground.

Eight years later I experienced the excitement of the United States landing on the moon vicariously through Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I never looked at the moon the same way again after that. Instead of seeing an unreachable mystery, I gazed up and pictured men walking on its surface; I wondered if someday, I would be up there too. A couple of years later I went with my family to Cape Canaveral, Florida to visit the Kennedy Space Center. We marveled at the enormous scale of all the equipment and machinery, and craned our necks to see all the way up inside a building so huge that if anyone dared to open a window, clouds would form inside.

I visited again as a young wife, expecting my first child. This was in 1981, just as the Space Shuttle program was being launched. We sampled vacuum-packed, dry ice cream, Neopolitan-flavored, to be exact. We strolled the Rocket Garden, and I posed with a roving astronaut, in full regalia. We toured the facility, saw rocks brought from the moon, and dreamed of some day bringing our children to see a launch.

A few years later, I stood outside on a beautiful winter day with my two young sons, excitedly anticipating the send-off of Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space. We watched as the silver-tipped plume rose steadily in to the sky. But just before the Challenger “slipped the surly bonds of earth,” suddenly it went shooting everywhere, and the orderly column of smoke became three large plumes falling back to the earth. I thought, oddly, that it looked as if an enormous banana was being peeled by a giant hand, and I knew something was terribly wrong. Later I cried as I saw Mr. McAuliffe’s face on t.v as he stood beside his two young kids. His expression. turned from pride and excitement to confusion, then horror. As hard as it had been for me to explain to my young children, it couldn’t compare to his job with his own motherless children. I mourned along with the country again when the Columbia and its crew were lost.

Over the years, we watched other shuttles rise in to space, and were awakened abruptly, weeks later, by the distinctive sonic boom that shook our house so hard we thought something had crashed in to it. Every time we would be startled and concerned, then laugh as we realized it was just another shuttle announcing its homecoming.

So July 21st was a day of nostalgia. That child I was expecting is now expecting another child of his own, and the Space Shuttle and I are retired. It is the end of an era, for the space shuttle program, and for me.


Wanda said...

What a beautiful tribute to the our Space adventures. You writing is lovely, and I felt like I was traveling with you through the years.

Living in CA, I have memories too, but all from watching it on TV.

rhymeswithplague said...

Great post, Vonda! Mrs. RWP and I witnessed three manned launches, one from a boat on the Indian River when we felt the sound waves pass through our bodies, one from a car on U.S. Highway 27 between Lakeland and Winter Haven on a clear day, and one (Apollo 17) in the middle of the night from our home in Palm Beach County when the sky lit up like the middle of the day and the launch in Brevard County 150 miles away looked like it was five miles up the coast in Delray Beach. Great memories!

Cherie said...

Neat post! The space program has always been there - it is so strange to think that man will no longer be exploring something new.
You worded this beautifully!

Nice tribute.

Jenny the Pirate said...

It's also the end of an era for an America that for decades led the world into space. And that is truly sad. I hope and pray all our glory days are not behind us, but I fear my hopes are in vain unless something happens soon to stem the tide of socialism sweeping our beloved land.

The Daily Dish said...

This is so beautiful, Tracie. Such a loving, bittersweet tribute to a life and lives shared through space.

PS: I know I've said it before, but huge CONGRATS! You're a wonderful g'ma and will be again. :)

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