“Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.” – From High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
I’m writing this on Saturday, May 30. As of tonight…
- 105 thousand are dead from the coronavirus pandemic.
- 40 million Americans (and I’m soon to be one of them) are unemployed.
- There have been more than 1.8 million confirmed coronavirus infections.
- Most of our nation’s big cities are seeing protests, many of which are violent, protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police.
We’re all scared. We’re all angry. Many of us are sick. We’re broke. And we’re broken.
But for an hour on Saturday afternoon, I felt like an eight-year-old little boy. And much of it is thanks to a South African billionaire who tried to name his child after a line of code.
I’ve always had a fascination with the space program and with space travel.
January of 1986 I was in Mrs. Booth’s 3rd-grade class. She was out and we had a substitute teacher – Ms. Park (who terrified me, and I can’t remember why. I’m sure I’ll be talking about this with my therapist.)
Ms. Park pulled in one of those school TVs on the incredibly top-heavy cart with the VCR into our classroom. And as usual, the TV on this cart was held up by a ratchet strap.
We were going to watch a teacher go up into space.
“Challenger go with throttle up,” mission control says to Challenger.
“Roger, go with throttle up.”
This was barely a minute into liftoff. My eight-year-old eyes just saw the Space Shuttle Challenger explode, killing all seven astronauts on board, including New Hampshire high school social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe.
I was fascinated by this to no end. I read everything I could about it. I immersed myself in the disaster. I’d watch endless congressional hearings on TV about it, not understanding a word these people were talking about.
My Mom helped me put together a science project about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. I had a toy model orbiter. It might’ve been Discovery, but I’m not 100% sure. It’s been more than 30 years ago.
We made a fuel tank out of a Pringles can wrapped with brown construction paper. And I remember the nosecone of this fuel tank was made from an egg-shaped pantyhose container. I wish I could remember what we made the booster rockets from.
Oh, I got an A. Just sayin’.
I’ve always been fascinated by space travel.
I’ve seen Apollo 13 probably ten times.
I was hooked – and I do mean HOOKED – on the legendary HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon.
And I thought Ryan Gosling was terribly miscast as Neil Armstrong in First Man.
Even now in my 40s, I find myself terribly fascinated by space travel.
One day removed from an announced furlough of my new full-time job that I haven’t started good yet, I found myself glued to the TV, shaking with anticipation, and crying tears of joy.
Space Shuttle launches became commonplace over the years. And admittedly, I fell out of love with it. Kids grow up, you know?
This nation has seen more than double the fatalities from coronavirus in three months than we saw during the entire run of the Vietnam War.
Racial tensions in this nation are as high as I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.
Have I mentioned the 40 million unemployed?
Life absolutely sucks right now. It really does.
But a bada$$ rocket, two guys named Bob and Doug, and Elon Musk, for one day helped me feel like I was eight years old again.
Weather postponed the launch for a few days. We got under 16 minutes until launch before weather put a crimp in my childlike geek-out.
But Saturday rolled around and man oh man…it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Before the two-astronaut crew of Commander Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made the trip to the launchpad (in the back of a Tesla car – I see you Elon) Bob stopped off and had words with his wife (and fellow astronaut Megan McArthur) and his son.
“Are you gonna listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Bob asks his six-year-old son.
“Let’s light this candle,” he says.
Young Theodore’s words echoed the words of Alan Shepard before the first American space flight.
When the notoriously feisty Shepard’s mission control team was trying to work through a breakdown in the countdown, Shepard shot back “why don’t you fix your little problem and let’s light this candle.”
Let’s flash forward to shortly before the engines on SpaceX Dragon lit. Cameras inside the cockpit caught a really cool exchange.
Commander Hurley gets a mischievous grin on his face and says, “light the candle!” Hurley, who is a Colonel in the USMC, and Behnken (an Air Force Colonel) give a subtle fist bump to each other right before those incredible rockets fired! These are two incredibly accomplished men. Test pilots and veterans of previous space flights. And even THEY were giddy with excitement!
“America has launched!” the liftoff commentator gleefully yells over the din of applause and cheering in the background.
And y’all, I was right with them!
I was shaking, I was so excited to see what I was seeing. I was crying!
I felt like a kid again!
Some may ask why we’re launching astronauts while so many are scared, sick, and unemployed why we’re sending people into space. Our nation is on fire, yet we’re sending people into space again.
To answer this, I’ll turn to The West Wing. This was Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) making an argument about why space exploration is so important while people are homeless and hungry back home.
“Because we came out of the cave and we looked over the hill and we saw fire and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the West and we took to the sky. This history of man is a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.”
To Elon, Bob, Doug, and everybody who helped me feel 8 years old for a Saturday in May during the craziest year on record, from the bottom of my heart…thank you!
We put out our hand and touched the face of God…because we wanted to.
Look at what we can do….