I grew up with the space program. I was in the fourth grade in 1966. America was not the leader in space exploration. We were still stinging from the Soviets having trumped us. From 1961 to 1965 the Soviets achieved one space travel milestone after another – first man in space, first shirt-sleeve environment space travel, first woman in space, first space walk.
America had a lot of catching up to do.
That same year I won an academic award. I was among other school children who were paraded across a stage as Nelson Rockefeller, then Governor of NY, introduced us as the future of America’s space program. We were given a paperback book – it was about the Gemini space program or the race to the moon – if I saw the book again I would know it but the title is no longer in my memory bank. I did a search on amazon and Google but couldn’t find it.
I devoured the book and from then I was hooked. I never was going to be an engineer or an astronaut but I was destined to be a life long fan. My mother and I watched every launch holding our breaths. The astronauts were American heroes. As an adult I continued to monitor the space program, taking time away from my desk to find a television to watch the Space Shuttle launches. I, like so many others, watched in shocked disbelief as the Challenger disintegrated just after launch and the Columbia fell to pieces before our eyes after such a successful space mission.
I have visited Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum and Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Being near the spacecrafts, imagining the courage of those who occupied them, leaves me in tears. It brings up emotions that I find hard to put into words.
Then I, like so many others, got caught up in wars and terror and life and family and I stopped paying attention to the space program.
I was jolted back to paying attention to what is left of the space program by the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. He is very different from those larger than life earlier astronauts and perhaps that’s what we need. Chris took photos and posted them like he was on a trip to the Grand Canyon. He re-wrote the lyrics to Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and performed it with his weightless tongue and lips.
Chris’ bravery is not that of the original astronauts – engineers have perfected space travel so that it is barely more dangerous than flying across the Atlantic. He is brave to subject his body to months of weightlessness. Muscles atrophy in zero gravity, scientists and doctors know this. What they don’t know is how the heart, a muscle, is impacted, what the long term affects are, if the body can rebuild itself and so much more. Our current astronauts are still venturing into the unknown.
I hope that Chris and his fellow astronauts succeed in keeping alive the public’s interest in space exploration. Our kids need heroes and something to strive for.
Check out Chris’ performance at: