When I wrote those last posts, I referenced the purported Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. Because things certainly have been interesting. Most of the planet experiencing the same thing at pretty much the same time, from fear and illness and death to toilet paper shortages … It’s mind-bending.
And then George Floyd was murdered by a cop, and chunks of the country have been on fire. I put on CNN last night, planning to just see what was going on and go watch something … fun? And I ended up leaving it on for hours. The CNN home base in Atlanta was literally under siege by protesters/looters/people who had no interest in George Floyd and just wanted to break and burn things – the reporters pointed out that nobody actually ever said the man’s name or indicated there was a reason they were throwing rocks and bottles at the police. Oh, and M-80’s. Dozens of police in full riot gear were held at bay in a side lobby of the building, while the glass that was the only thing between them and the rioters became more and more cracked and broken, and … it was terrifying to watch. Not as terrifying, though, as the video of George Floyd being murdered …
But what I actually sat down to write about is the fact that Elon Musk’s Space X and NASA are collaborating to launch American astronauts from American soil for the first time in nine years.
(This is probably going to be long and rambly, and my apologies if you’re only here for the book reviews, because that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. I’m probably going to noodle on this until the launch happens safely, and then just hold my nose and his “publish”. Sorry in advance.)
I don’t know if I’ve ever really written in this blog about how huge, how massive a Star Trek nerd I was when I was a kid. When Columbia first launched (April 12, 1981), I was … uninterested. It hurts a little to think about that. My mother and my aunt owned a little craft shop at the time (Krafty Korner) (I know) (at least it actually was a corner), and I’m pretty sure I was kicking back with a book at the front desk. I remember being bored with the whole shuttle thing. I was twelve.
But then around the age of sixteen I stumbled on Star Trek for the first time. Interestingly, I don’t remember what episode, but whichever it was it must have been a good one because I was instantly a Trekkie. I started hunting for anything I could find. And … remember, I’m old: when I was sixteen computers were still brand new, developing technology. (I didn’t get online until maybe 1999? 2000? I didn’t get a computer myself for years.) Imagine what I could have done with the internet as a brand new Trekkie …
I did ok, though. I found zines, somehow. I devoured the novels. I read books about NASA (and understood little, I’ll admit – science is the opposite of my forte). I asked my optometrist if there was any way I could be an astronaut (which – no, dear infant me, besides the fact that you were short, pudgy, unathletic, and backward in science and math, no: your eyesight was such that if your glasses broke on a mission you would die. So no spacesuits for you). I have a picture somewhere of me in a Spock outfit; I found a blue velour shirt somewhere and appropriated it (I hope I had permission), painted on the eyebrows, made a badge out of cardpaper and glitter, and made ears out of the same manila folder (they were pretty good, considering). I joined the Planetary Society and subscribed to Starlog. I was a massive geek before I ever knew it was a thing. (I was into The Lord of the Rings, too, but I never dressed up as a Hobbit; I think at the time there just wasn’t as much scope for nerdery in LotR.) By the time of Challenger, I was perfectly set up to be as devastated as it was possible to be without being related to one of the astronauts. I was heartbroken, inconsolable. I still can’t look at a picture of the vapor trails.
I’ve never been as good a space nerd as I am a Trek nerd. I don’t remember dates, I need prompting on astronauts’ names, I get fuzzy on mission names. It’s sad. It’s embarrassing. (I’m the same with the Civil War – except for the men I fell in love with through Ken Burns’s series, I need prompting on names, and I can never remember battle dates. I don’t know why it is.) But January 28, 1986 is unforgettable, and February 1, 2003. And also September 29, 1988, which was the first launch after Challenger, and also a friend’s birthday (I was envious). I admit, though – I didn’t watch every launch. I don’t know if I watched many launches. Maybe I was prone to the same ennui as, apparently, the rest of the country: space shuttle launches were (overall) so successful and efficient they became routine, and people were about as fascinated by them as they were by the the perambulations of the mailman.
In 2011, I had just gotten a new job with a metals distributor; when I interviewed for it, I made a comment of some sort about the logo on the jacket one of the interviewers had, because it featured the shuttle. I was apparently the only one to notice it. It’s funny – if you’d asked me an hour ago, I would have said I was in Florida at the time of the last shuttle launch (for training for that job), but I would have been wrong; it was January, so it was STS-133, not STS-135. Regardless, I was in a hotel, along the flight path, and I … didn’t ask anyone if I could go up on the roof, or even go out into the parking lot. I didn’t have the nerve; felt silly. In my defense, the launch was at 2AM or something, and I had to show up for training the next morning, but still – I wish I had. I had always dreamed of seeing a launch – that was as close as I was going to get. Ever.
Well, now, maybe not. For the shuttle, yes, but – as I’m writing this, the Dragon, the Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (am I the only one having to suppress a little snortle every time they’re referred to as “Bob and Doug”? Just me being old? OK) is supposed to launch in less than an hour. Oh, look, they were delivered to the launch pad in a Tesla. Because of course they were. This is really strange to watch (even beyond the Tesla). I hate the spacesuits. I really hate the black head-to-toe suits of the ground crew, with the huge numbers on the back – it’s like a cross between Darth Vader’s office staff and Doctor Seuss. I really really hate the fact that there’s a perky young woman on C-Span discussing the social media reaction to coverage, including … pictures of cats. I don’t care about the lame questions some twits someone somewhere has (“What is the hardest thing about going into space?” REALLY?) I don’t care how upset someone’s three year old was when the launch was postponed on Wednesday. This is serious. This is really, really serious. This is science. This is one of the most dangerous things a human can do. This is two men sitting on top of a stories-tall explosive. This is … this is a small step toward getting back on track toward … All right, I’ll say it. Toward getting Star Trek.
I miss being sixteen. Don’t get me wrong, it was horrible in a lot of ways – I realized every one of my friends was awful, left school, probably would have benefited from lots and lots of therapy … But I still had an optimism, a faith in humanity, that has eroded away to almost nothing in the decades since. (See above, murder of George Floyd.) I miss the possibilities. I had stars in my eyes in several ways, and I believed we could get to a point where we achieved a post-scarcity economy, as Mission Log podcast always said, where we could have a peaceful exploration-oriented Starfleet, where there would be little question that every new race we’d encounter would be met with open hands and hearts and … and …
And now Donald Trump is trying to create a new branch of the military called Space Force and our only access to space, and to the International Space Station which this country helped build, has been for nine years hitching rides on other countries’ launches. And now US space travel is in the hands of a private company. I don’t even know what the logistics of that are. And my neighbors’ kids are running around screaming outside, as usual, instead of being planted in front of a screen watching history be made. I kind of want to scream out the window.
(Not for the first time in the past two and a half months.)
The nerves are getting to me at ten and a half minutes.
I’m even really nostalgic for a couple of years ago when I thought Elon Musk was just a genius, not an unstable kind of awful genius who tweets almost as stupidly as the president and who would give his son a moronic name. I’d really like to be able to unabashedly admire him right now. (Where even is he? Shouldn’t he be there? You’d think he’d want to be there.)
A minute and a half.
Please tell me nobody’s going to say “Go with throttle up”. That ranks up there with the vapor trails.
“Nominal” is a wonderful word.
Look how beautiful this planet is. From up there, at least.
The Falcon is meant to (and did! Beautifully!) land on a drone ship called Of Course I Still Love You?
God, life is weird.
All’s well. For a few minutes, everything is kind of great. I should quit while it still is.