Space: A Love Story
I have always been fascinated by space. In my youth, I would often sneak out of my window well past my bedtime to lie on my back in the back yard and gaze up at the sky. I wasn’t looking for Mars or Venus, or to find and name the constellations; I was looking for the Millennium Falcon and the starship Enterprise. I knew both were fictional, but “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” had me looking to the stars for adventure and for answers.
Sneaking out of my window came to an abrupt end one warm summer night when I fell asleep on the lawn and my parents called the police, thinking that I had been kidnapped. I didn’t lose my love of space; I just needed a better approach.
This was when I discovered the public library’s non-fiction section. I had always gone there for story time, and to read more about “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” but now I wanted to learn about real things. Space things.
I clearly remember the first book the librarian showed me. It was children’s fiction about building a rocket to fly to the moon—and eat it. I liked cheese as much as the next six-year-old, but I wasn’t buying what she was selling me. “I want a real book about rockets and the moon.” I crossed my arms and stamped my foot, indignant that I was being handed what my mother recalls me saying was a “baby book.”
The librarian left with a smile and returned with a much different book. This book was big—the size of my six-year-old torso—and so thick that I had to hug it to carry it to a reading table. I took the book triumphantly, and when I opened it I was teleported to 1969 and the Apollo 11 mission. The book was mostly pictures, but I was an advanced reader; I knew most of the words that I was reading, and I asked for a dictionary to learn the ones I didn’t.
I spent five hours in the library that day looking at photos (most in black and white, but some in color) of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and the Saturn V rocket. I learned about booster rocket stages, lunar modules, and those immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
My love affair with space continued for another two years, until 1986. That was a very bad year for space.
On January 28th,1986, five NASA astronauts and two civilian payload specialists—one, a school teacher—were killed when the launch of the space shuttle Challenger ended in tragedy. My class watched it live on CNN; it was a Catholic school, and after the disaster, the entire school went into the gymnasium and prayed.
It shook me pretty hard. When I got home, I cried. Then I renounced my wish to be an astronaut.
When I was ten years old my parents bought our first VCR. This was significant, because it was the first time I saw “Star Wars” since I’d seen it in the movie theater when I was six. Then came “Star Trek II”, and then “The Last Starfighter.” My parents kept renting and purchasing science fiction movies for me, and I fell in love with space all over again.
Space still scared me, but it no longer made me sad to think about travelling there. I knew it was dangerous; Spock died in “Star Trek” and Obi-Wan Kenobi died in “Star Wars,” but suddenly things just seemed normal again. The shuttles were running again, science fiction was being consumed again, and I was reading books about space again.
My love of space continues today. I stayed up to watch the Mars Curiosity rover landing, I was overjoyed when Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson briefly had “Cosmos” back on the air, and I gushed over black holes colliding and proving Einstein’s theory of relativity. While my dream of becoming an astronaut never came to be, I believe that space will save us; when people can see how small our planet is from space, when everyone can experience Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot,” we will come together to fix what ails our world.