Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there."
Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked
..with these words President John F Kennedy launched millions of imaginations into a future that allowed us to touch the moon, to climb the stars and to plant a flag on a surface that for thousands of years was out of reach.
This is the 50 year history of NASA, and I am but one of millions of people who look admiringly into the heavens and see the history of NASA as something beyond just a group of "rocket scientists" who build controlled bombs for people to ride on but as something that is part of my history as well..
.. in 1982 NASA launched "Columbia".. meanwhile, back on Earth, I was in 7th grade and life as I knew it was about to fall apart.. This was the year I lived in three separate foster homes and went to just as many different school systems.. yet on television they showed this new, futuristic vehicle that could fly into space and carry people.. exactly the place I wanted to be because here on Earth, I just didn't seem to fit in..
I don't have any memory of the launch, but I do remember the landing as it was televised alot (and I was living in a home at the time that only picked up one channel). The name "Columbia" would forever be in my memory..
Four years later television coverage had died down as there had been multiple take-offs and landings, as for myself, I had survived my youth and my sister offered me a chance to live with her in another state.. I was still in school, and still clueless as how to fit in.. On January 28th I remember the announcement over the intercom at school about the Challenger exploding during take off.. I remember my first thought at the time was being upset at myself because I wasn't even aware there was a launch that day..
This was a sad day for NASA, President Reagan went on television and said "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God"..
.. I believe (but I could be wrong) that my Mother wrote a poem in memory of those who lost their lives that day..
yet for NASA, as for me.. life went on.. the disaster brought attention back to the space program and the disaster I was calling my life brought me first to Texas and then to Florida..
this is the point where I should tell a something about myself.. as I said earlier, I was raised in foster homes, yet it wasn't because I didn't know my family.. The one foster home I spent 9 years in also included my half brother Shawn who, to make a long story short, was never able to walk or talk or eat or do anything else I could do.. As you can guess, Shawn's illness threw me into the role as the "big brother" who wants to protect him yet I couldn't.. when I left that home, I never went back yet Shawn has always been part of who I am today. The reason I never went back is my destiny took me to Florida..
It was in 2003 that Shawn died.. I got the news at work and it was the longest 8 hour shift of my life.. Living so far away, there was no way I could go to his funeral so that morning, Feb. 1st, I decided to watch the space shuttle Columbia return to earth.. I had not watched a shuttle landing in a long time yet there was nothing else that could keep my mind away from Shawn..
only the Columbia never landed.. it broke apart in re-entry and seven souls were lost forever.. I took this news hard as something in my mind showed Shawn welcoming these astronauts into Heaven..
It was July 26th, 2005 before NASA returned to space. That happened to also be the first day of my new job.. I remember my new boss allowing me to be alone as everyone went outside to see the launch..
I could imagine Shawn watching it as well..
In 2006, I started attending open microphone's at a coffee bar in Daytona Beach owned by two wonderful people, Marsha and Gus, who just happen to, at the time, both work for NASA. Gus was with the shuttle program from day one and although I've never told him my own personal history, his kindness and smile reflect exactly to me the very inspiration that took us into space 50 years ago.
I also should mention one time I won a chance to go "backstage" at NASA, to an area restricted to regular visitors.. to see a small private rocket launch. It was really an amazing experience to drive by the launchpad where the Gemini rockets were launched. For that day, I felt special.
I currently live only 50 miles or so away from NASA and I have had the honor of seeing, from a distance, many launches.. I love the night launches, when the ball of fire goes straight up and then takes a curve and heads south.. it's something I wish everyone could witness.
so this last week NASA launched it's next to last ever shuttle.. I looked out the front window at my work and all those before mentioned memories passed by in just one moment. I will attempt to play tourist someday and drive down to Kennedy Space Center and see a shuttle up close, to wonder what it was like for those who walked in space, and most importantly.. to believe again that nothing is impossable..