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.
My Grandfather lived in Palmdale California, right next door to where the space shuttle would land. On one visit he took us out to see a shuttle. It was called Enterprise and I loved it.
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.