Saturday, July 9, 2011

Space & Shuttle Memories, pt 1

How to summarize 30 years of memories?

My father joined the Air Force when I was too small to remember.  For his first assignment, we were stationed at Scott AFB, IL.  The story as I remembered it through my schooldays was that when I was 4 years old, the space shuttle came for an air show.  I think I remember my dad taking us to watch the airplane land with the orbiter piggy-back.  I clearly remember going to the air show that year, walking around the tarmac.  Many of the big aircraft, we were allowed to walk through.  The shuttle was roped off to a wide distance.

As an adult, I've done a little bit of research to try and find records of that air show, but I haven't found anything yet.  I have no photos from that time period, just memories.  But that experience proved a beacon, like Polaris, setting my direction in life.

I can remember, at night, in our quarters at Pagelow, *YEARNING* to be in space, right then.  I wanted to fly so badly it hurt.  What hurt even worse, was not knowing if I'd ever be able to get there, or even get close.  If I couldn't fly, I wanted to help!  Did somebody try to tell me that women couldn't be astronauts?  I don't remember.

We left Scott in 1983 -- such is the life of a Brat -- which meant that my new classmates had no such memories or experiences of the shuttle up close. In the 4th grade, I started I started reading up all the astronomy books we had.  I lost track of the space shuttle flights, until that frigid January day that's seared into my generation's memories.

I was sitting in class, near the windows.  Our teacher had gone to the office for a minute or so.  She came back, and stated "Challenger exploded," and we were all stunned.  See, the shuttle I saw had to be one of two: Columbia or Enterprise.  I hadn't realized that there were more.  At 9 years old, I usually left the newspaper to my father... but not anymore.  I went looking for every article about the Challenger investigation, and read them all.

Nine and ten years old, and thinking about life and death, risk, what it all means.  My classmates echoed the newspapers: "Why are we wasting our money on space?  We should just shut the program down."

And I couldn't find the words to explain why that hurt so much.

Many things changed that year.  The 10th birthday is kind of magical, for a Brat.  That was when I got my own identification card.

In the fifth grade, I started saying I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up.  Knowing full well that doctors could still become astronauts... but that I wouldn't have to.

It took me two years of soul-searching to decide that spaceflight is *that* important, that I was going to keep trying. 

When the first return-to-flight happened, I knew the shuttle was launching.  I was, unfortunately, in school that day, but I said a prayer for the crew, for a safe journey.