Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Safe journey . . .

. . . and may God speed you home.

Later: By now, after all these years I've got it down to a science. I watch the liftoff on television and once the tower's cleared, I know I have between three and five minutes (depending on the trajectory) to go outside and stand in the front yard before the trail (or the spark of light if it's a night launch) appears over the treetops in the distance, between the house and the old oak in the yard across the street. If the sky's clear.

Some of the pre-liftoff TV commentary today mentioned how clear Florida's skies were. Not so. Unlike yesterday when it was blue overhead, today there's a leaden gray haze. I knew I wouldn't see anything but I was outside, anyway, like I usually am.

If I can see I'm saying "Go baby, go!" mixed with my personal prayer. The latter only when I can't see a darned thing.

It used to be that everyone in the neighborhood went out. Then shuttle launches became commonplace and like television coverage, they had other things to do.

I don't know that I'll ever lose the wonder I always feel. The amazement. The fear. Then again, I know I grew up in a different time.

Many today have never known a time in their own lives when there weren't astronauts. My 25- year-old son's experience is limited to shuttles. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, to him, are only names in history books or the subject of movies like The Right Stuff or Apollo 13.

Heck. My brother is pushing 50 and he never understood, either. It's not his fault. It's not anyone's fault. They were just born too late.

I was staying with Mam-ah after my brother was born until Mom came home from the hospital. The radio is a-buzz with the news that "The Russians" had successfully launched into orbit an "artificial moon."

I don't know that I knew what orbit meant, but I knew what the moon was. And the idea that "The Russians" (Whoever they were, but I think I knew they were important. We had to play this game of hiding under desks at school because of them.) had made another one was an amazing thing even to my young mind. It also explained to me, very simply, why everyone — in my grandmother's house and on the radio — seemed so excited.

A new moon! Another one! It might be "artificial" but . . .

I'm not certain I knew what that word meant. More likely I asked Mam-ah, the Queen of Crossword Puzzles, and she explained.

Back then (and for many years after for other first satellites) the times were announced when you could, if the night was clear, spot one passing overhead in the sky.

Mam-ah took me outside that night long ago, pointing. Trying to get me to see.

I was focused on the moon, the real one. I remember being so disappointed that after all of the talk about an "artificial moon," there wasn't an exact duplicate of the one up already up there, sitting right next to it.

All Mam-ah had pointed to was a small star slowly moving across the sky.


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