Friday, February 1, 2013

The Explorer's Ball

In case you haven't noticed, this year has been a little different for me. Chris and I are newly married, we have had house guest for about 5 months, I have been traveling way too much, and our house is in a constant state of "remodel". It's been a little hectic, ok? In fact, I'm traveling on my birthday this year (joy!  ....sarcasm) without Chris.  

So, he did something special this year; after my travel schedule was rearranged due to other circumstances he bought us tickets to a ball. Yes, a BALL!! But it wasn't just any ball, it was the "Explorers' Ball" at the US Space and Rocket Center, to welcome their new Skylab exhibit. And the VIPs? All 8 remaining Skylab astronauts!!!!!

And if you ask what Skylab is, you are dead to me.

Here are my thoughts on the experience:



Our table of 10 included an older couple, the husband of which worked with Dr. Wernher von Braun, and the wife was proud to tell us that they used to have the Skylab astronauts over for parties; an older man and his middle-aged son, he worked on the Saturn V and took his family to see most of the Apollo launches; and 3 "younger-generation" couples (us included), all of us were too young even for Skylab, the moment we were celebrating tonight, much less moon landings or Saturn launches.

But it was clear we were outnumbered. The mighty Saturn V hall was full of a 1960's era NASA family, they had gathered in commonality and were enjoying reminiscing about the "restroom situation" during the Apollo 11 launch or the swamps down at the Cape or how down-home von Braun was. We were all captivated by their stories, silently and sometimes not-so-silently wishing our own work could someday make such an impact, hoping our stories might inspire the next generation just as theirs were inspiring us tonight.

As the astronauts spoke of their time aboard Skylab, the problems they encountered, the engineering they admired, the entire room was entranced by their space-faring experiences. The nostalgia in that moment was seeping into my bones and I could hardly contain the emotions I felt about NASA and the future of our manned spaceflight programs. These men had accomplished the impossible, they had used ingenuity to design a crude space station from left over Saturn parts, and they had no reservations about employing only days-old fixes. They trusted each other, and valued each other.

It was hard for me to listen to these seasoned voices tell us all about the pace, the feeling, the ride, the experience, knowing that they are getting older and in time, won't be around to share their stories anymore. And its only hard because my generation doesn't have a moment like this (yet). We aren't even equipped to launch our own US astronauts. For a girl like me, this place, this position is absolutely embarrassing. It's a slap in the face to those eight men and the others from Mercury, Gemini and Apollo; it's a step backwards from the engineering and politics that landed men on the moon; and its in direct contradiction to everything this country boasts about and encourages - more science and engineering jobs, remaining a technology leader.

I am so thankful that I had a place in that room tonight. Maybe I and others present might be lucky enough to be a part of the solution someday. Maybe we will be the champions of a smart and efficient space program, maybe we will have stories about camping out before a milestone launch, maybe someday we will be members of a panel speaking to a room full of supporters, a room full of a 2000's era NASA family.  

Until then, Godspeed.

Chris and I with Homer Hickam, of Rocket Boys and October Sky fame.  
Me and Owen Garriott, Skylab and shuttle astronaut. 
Skylab astronaut Jack Lousma with Chris and I.
I got a chance to meet Dr. George Mueller, one of my personal role models, and previous Associate Administrator of  the NASA office of Manned Space Flight.