Sunday, July 10, 2011

A NASA Insider

When I was a kid, I felt very important when I told other kids that my Dad worked for NASA. After all, I lived in rural Indiana where most men were farmers, so my Dad’s profession in the space industry was very exotic.

Every Summer I visited Dad in Huntsville, Alabama and got a special Security pass (with my name on it!) and was led through the off-limits areas of the Space & Rocket Center. The first time my cousin Jeff joined us, and Dad showed us the huge computer rooms (the computers themselves were huge back then) and the rooms with raised floors that were built so that all the computer cables could run underfoot. We also saw a shuttle engine, rockets, moon rovers, and we got to go to the gift shop and buy astronaut ice cream.

Being the inquisitive kids that we were, Jeff and I pretended we were reporters and carried little notebooks in which we jotted important information. In fact, I recently found my little notebook, and inside it were the names of everyone we met that day, in addition to random bits of information such as “Then we went in the skylab where they had all thier exspearimeants" and "I met a lady named Anita and I told her that was my mother's name and she said that's nice."

Being and “insider” and so connected to NASA, I got a little emotional Friday morning when I watched the last shuttle take off. I remember the day when a TV was wheeled into my elementary school classroom and we all watched the first shuttle take off years ago. That big white shuttle seemed so futuristic, so advanced, and yet also more attainable. Instead of being sent into space on a rocket and then returning by freefalling to the ocean in a little capsule, now astronauts were able to fly up in a giant white airplane and then land back home on a runway. Would we all get to fly up there someday?

Now there is an international space station where many nationalities meet and put us all as equals – just common people way up there, looking down at the small, quiet earth.

I am sad that the shuttle program has ended without anything to replace it. Now we will have to hitch rides with other nations’ astronauts and bide our time until we have another great urge to explore. I think the time will come, eventually. Aren’t we all programmed to gaze up at the stars and wonder? To think bigger than ourselves? I look forward to whatever is next.

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