I jumped in the car this morning to grab some coffee at my new favorite coffee joint in town and, rather than turning on the kiddos' CD, I instead tuned into a local country station (I live in Oklahoma, remember). As we neared our drive-thru destination, the host of the morning show announced that a viewing of the space shuttle Atlantis launch could be seen at the Planetarium of a local Air and Space Museum and as I turned up the volume, he shared about the poignancy of this launch, the last manned shuttle launch of the space program.
Last manned shuttle?
I peered in the rearview mirror, saw my two kiddos smiling back at me, and decided that the Planetarium was exactly where we needed to be. It was still early, but I was now on my own mission of making this mini trip happen, in a blaze of the-kids-need-to-experience-this glory. I called my friend and told her about the launch and asked if she wanted to enjoy a historical adventure (and a chaotic one), a challenge which she graciously accepted. I came home, packed some snacks, put on makeup, and went to pick up my friend and her daughter. As we cruised in the minivan to the Planetarium, we reminisced on what the space program was like when we were kids. Who didn't want to go to space? Most kids, at some point, want and expect to experience space travel. When I was Cub's age, the Challenger shuttle had just been lost and the country mourned together the brave souls who were so close to space but never made it there. The space program was an important part of our education and it was a little sad to think that our kids, while they will probably be exposed to the exploration of space, won't necessarily live in a country that budgets for its own astronauts to go there. An understood cut, but a sad one, nonetheless. The end of a chapter in an endless book.
We pulled into the parking lot, put the girls in the jogger, and headed inside. By this time it was standing room only, the dark room full of spectators and local TV crews filming the launch on the large screen. We got there with nine minutes to spare and watched as mission control gave the go and charged the shuttle with safety and "godspeed". Those few minutes were punctuated with switching the babies and taking trips to the lobby to walk around, but when the twenty second mark came, we were all in there together, standing at the very back, watching history unfold. Cub held onto his Bullseye horse and watched in complete silence and astonishment as fire poured out of the burners. When the countdown came to ten, everyone in the Planetarium started counting out loud, the excitement building with each number. When it came to ONE! all of the cell phones came out, snapping pictures of the shuttle as it poured smoke, trembled, and all 4 million pounds of fuel and ship slowly rumbled and lifted off of the ground. There were cheers, and, I'm sure, a few tears.
And that was it. Within a few minutes, the moment was over.
We gathered the kids and schlepped them back to the car, and drove home.
I know that the kids won't remember what they saw today (although Cub loves saying, "Today I saw a space shuttle fly high in the sky!"), but I love that they were able to experience the poignancy of sending their fellow countrymen to space for the last time, for a long time. To enjoy, for a few moments, the unifying excitement that it brings, in that small Planetarium, full of strangers who, on a countdown from ten, cheered for the same thing.
To remember that, no matter how frequent, it is a bit of a miracle to witness men piercing our atmosphere, forging into the vastness of outer space.
Have a lovely day.