I used to be a nerd. I mean a REAL nerd. *gasp* right?
Of course that gasp would be due to my use of the past tense rather than the whole nerd thing. I’m okay with that.
But way back in elementary school I was a special kind of nerd. I was the kind of nerd that was sure he was going to be an astronaut. That isn’t in and of itself nerdy, unless compared to all the other kids I knew who were all going to be either Larry Bird or Joe Montana, but I was REALLY going to be an astronaut.
First I made little paper rockets. These were similar to paper planes but shaped like rockets. Same idea. The more of them I made the more complex they became. Glue got involved. Moving parts and experiments on functional design were carried out. I eventually progressed to including live passengers on my paper rockets. Mostly ants. I would build compartments or capsules depending on the model, either Mercury or Apollo, then toss the contraptions as far and as high as I could hoping to recover a live insect at the end of the trip. Ants proved to be sturdy travelers.
I used to write letters to NASA bases. Houston, Cape Canaveral, Edwards, you would be surprised how many locations existed. More surprising is that every one of them wrote me back. I would regularly get 81/2×11 inch manila packets filled with glossy photos of launches, landings, flight crews, and Earth. I got pictures of Saturn taken from the Voyager, Hubble’s portraits of the galaxy, and schematics for satellites and space stations.
I was going to be an astronaut. Unlike my parents who were both public school teachers.
With this in mind it got my attention when it was announced that a regular person would be launched into space. A woman. a teacher. Just like my mom. I had by this time watched and dreamed of numerous launches but this one felt a little more real. This was someone like my mom, which was one step closer to being me.
I was going to be an astronaut.
29 years ago today I sat in my elementary school classroom and watched the Challenger explode.
I remember it. I can’t not remember it.