A Dirge for Space
Enterprise was not built for orbital flight. She was a prototype craft, designed to test the aeroform’s gliding and landing capabilities. NASA used a specially built Boeing 747 to lift her way up in the sky before letting her go and watching her land.
I remember thinking how awkward and absurd the shuttle looked, perched atop the larger airplane. I was almost eight years old and in love with Star Wars and all things space. I remember desperately wishing to see such a thing for myself, a space ship, with my own two eyes.
Today, 30 odd years later, while walking to the train by Merritt Lake, Space Shuttle Endeavour flew overhead, strapped to the back of a specially-built Boeing 747. She was being paraded around the Bay Area, on her way to her final resting place at the California Science Center.
It was both exhilarating and saddening at the same time.
Exhilarating because, well, space ship. After 30 years, my wish came true.
Back in 2003, when we lost Columbia, I wrote a post about my memories of January 28th, 1986. Here it is.
February 1, 2003
I was thinking today and I discovered that I have very few clear memories of the three years I spent in junior high school. Seventh grade through ninth grade were perhaps the most difficult years of my life – they are a three year period of prolonged fear and embarrassment, of jockying for position and dominance and the favor of the ladies fair.
I’m not surprised I ditched a fair chunk of that memory. I would hope I have better things to do with my time than relive old wounds and humiliations.
I was thinking today about what I did remember. Aside from random and meaningless snippets of conversation bookended by a blur, the list is very short: getting in trouble during science class; a prank involving rubber cement, old yearbooks, and a forgotten room in the school; a “serious” talk with a teacher I hated when I had gotten a C in her geometry class; getting trouble for leaving school grounds with Garrett – (this was funny, because we had gone off ground to get drunk and instead we only got nailed for leaving).
Two teachers were ultimately the bane of my existence, then: Mr. Kendall, a math teacher, who had an almost psychopathic demand for respect, which made him all the more comical, and Mrs. Wilson, an English teacher. It was extra difficult with her because she was a neighbor, often gave me rides to school, and was, in general, an all around busy-body, perfectly happy to stick her nose into things that had nothing to do with her.
(it was she who discovered that we had left campus that day.)I was thinking today about a very specific morning, seventeen years past now almost to the day. It had snowed two days prior, typical for winter in West Virginia, and for some reason I remember vividly that someone – ninth-graders, probably – had written the word “TROJAN” by walking in the snow, giant letters visible from our third floor English class. It was a mystical word; I was not yet fully cognizant of it’s significance.
I don’t remember what we were supposed to be doing but I know that I wasn’t doing it. I was busy drawing a knight in armor – my
Maybe it was a quiz. I usually finished those early.
Our school librarian burst into the room, pitching a fit. “The space shuttle,” she said, “it’s blown up!”
I was thinking today about how I didn’t grasp the totality of her words then – none of us did – and I remember someone muttering (maybe it was me), an aside to friends, made to mock the teacher, who cares? they send things up all the time. Space flight was routine; a ship going up wasn’t news anymore.
But no: mistaken. Every class was possessed of an ancient television perched atop a cobalt-blue cart on rollers, shunted in a corner like an unwanted cousin, and they pulled it out and turned the signal on and it came, bleeding through, bright and sinister fireworks on repeat and the words, over and over again,
Space Shuttle Challenger explodes on take-off;
Seven Astronauts lost including first civilian, Christa McAuliffe.
I was thinking today about how the tasteless jokes had been created and circulated before lunch was even served.
why is nasa switching to sprite? because they can’t get seven up!
I was thinking today about how I laughed then. I laughed because everyone else was laughing. I laughed because I didn’t fully understand.
I was thinking today that I wish that I hadn’t.
I was thinking today of flags this morning at half mast, in honor of seven more who died on the Columbia this morning, symmetrical, seventeen years distant.
Many of them were close to my age.
Did they, too, remember Challenger? Did they say a silent prayer in memory when the terrible engines beneath them ignited, thousands of pounds of fire and fuel pushing a feeble craft away from mother earth’s sleepless grasp and into the the most hostile of environments?
I was thinking today about the young teenagers of today and how they are reacting. Will they, too, created horrible and cruel jokes about today’s tragedy?
Will they laugh?
I was thinking today that I hoped they will have the strength not to.