Sunday, 26 October 2008

To infinity - and beyond

I saw a Space Shuttle mission take off from Cape Kennedy on August 27th, 1985.

It remains one of the most memorable events in my life, and I will be forever indebted to Charlie Crockford & Linton Higginbotham for dragging me first all the way to Florida and to a cheap motel in Cocoa Beach...and then for them managing to drag me to a perimeter fence of the Kennedy Space Center at first light the next morning, after we'd driven all night from (sweet home) North Carolina. And what did I see?

I guess most people these days think Bud Lightyear/Tom Hanks have both been to the moon. Must admit, Apollo 13 is a favourite movie of mine. So is The Right Stuff. I am old enough to remember blurry black & white pictures of men on the moon. Of my childhood I remember Nixon a snake, Ian Paisley worse, huey choppers in Vietnam.

My favourite TV show was Star Trek - to boldly go...Even now I do enjoy a stolen episode of Stargate , a re-run of any Star Trek, or one of the new Space 1999 episodes.

I loved this book. I knew bits and pieces, as a child of the Apollo generation I have the memory built into me. What happened to man's burning desire to explore? When did we chicken out? The remarkable people of this story never did - reading of the later Apollo missions makes it obvious how close we - MANKIND - were to taking the next big step as well. Of course it costs money to put missions & men into space. Of course it is dangerous (life is dangerous. Never had an accident?)

Putting our species into space is a fantastic investment. Selfishly, the technological return is guaranteed. My mum loved her first Teflon frying pan - it was from NASA. I remember her saying that. I remember washing that pan and also thanking NASA. Often.

Why on Earth aren't we exploring space better? Witnessing a space shuttle take off was an amazing thing to behold. Just like this book, which takes you right there with the astronauts, it was a kick in the guts when the sonic boom hit us, miles away. My reaction then was to leap up and down trying to escape Earth's gravity myself...a day later I was jammed in Miami between hookers fighting over a stolen TV and a hurricane, trying to get to Hemingway's Chair in the Keys!

Loved this book. Knew the story but couldn't stop turning the pages...