I caught the bug even before July of 1969. I knew all the Mercury and Gemini astronauts, I knew the Apollo astronauts as they were introduced in the papers and on the Dick Cavett show. One Christmas was especially great when my mom and dad got me the Gemini Space Capsule along with space suit and tether for my GI Joe. I spent hours floating through space tethered to that Capsule and even practiced splashdowns in our pool. I loved the space program and thought sure that one day I would take a ride from the troposphere to the stratosphere and maybe even into the mesosphere or thermosphere.
Then reality hit, it hit me when I was turned down by the US Airforce because of my two high school knee surgeries; and it hit NASA with budget cuts, wars, economies, and a "what's the point" attitude. Now with the space station nearly complete, only a few shuttles left to fly there is a malaise of what to do next.
This week, while visiting my parents and son in Florida I tethered myself to NASA again. I felt like a kid looking at the rockets, watching launch videos, watching the launch of a weather satellite from the beach and feeling the excitement of taking another small step into the Final Frontier. I believe that our deep desire to discover something new, something exciting, and something totally OTHER is a exercise of God's image within all of us. ALL of the scientists of old sought to discover the earth because within that discovery they would find a picture of the Creator. From the 50's and 60's came that same sense of discovery disguised as a space race with a cold enemy. Yet it wasn't the Russians that pushed us to space, they may have lit the pre-burners, but it was discovery of God and his creation that compelled us. Through the small, thick window of a Command Module we wiped off the moisture and said like Moses of old, "Show me your Glory!"
Ronald Reagan quoted JG Magee on January 28, 1986 on the day of the Challenger explosion, "We will never forget 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." Yet Magee's intent, as a WWII fighter pilot, was to describe to his parents the feeling of flying. Here is the poem in its entirety:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer 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.
I long again to float weightless and look at the earth as more of a satellite than a resident. To drink water that comes to you as a floating sphere and dream of an amazing creation and creator. Maybe I won't touch the face of God but I would love to catch a glimpse of his reflection as he passes. I hear tickets on Virgin Galactic are now down to only $200,000 and the new space port is being built only a few hours away in New Mexico. Time and health may be running out for me but in my mind I still "top the wind-swept heights with easy grace." Won't you join me?