Friday, July 22, 2011
A Fond Farewell From a Floridian
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.