Blast Off!

Are you all aware that our country has another astronaut who recently joined the International Space Station? He left on March 19 on a Russian spacecraft from Kazakhstan. Don’t feel bad if this is news to you. The specifics were unknown to me. I think the event did not garner as much publicity as Mark Kelly being up in space for the past year. Unfortunately for all those brave men and women space travelers today, the launches now are just a small blip on our news reports.  This is so different than when I was a kid.

Back then, each launch was a major event carried by all the news stations and newspapers. I remember watching many of the blasts into space as well as the recoveries of the capsules in the ocean hours or days later.

My first recollection was when Grandpa took me outside to watch a Russian satellite, known as Sputnik, fly overhead. I was not quite 2 ½ when this event occurred, so I don’t actually remember seeing it, but I do remember him taking me outside in the driveway and telling me about it.  Sputnik was the catalyst which began the space race between the rival nations.

It was President Kennedy who in 1961 set the goal to land a man on the moon before the end of the sixties. The Russians were the first to have a man in space, and our country launched an astronaut just twenty-three days later. Although the astronaut, Alan Shepherd, was in space for just fifteen minutes, it was a big deal. Millions of Americans gathered around their tiny televisions to watch the event in all its black and white glory.

Unlike the space shuttles, which returned to earth on a runway like an airplane, the early space capsules had to be plucked from the ocean. You probably remember this from watching Dad’s favorite movie, Apollo 13.

Each time a rocket was launched, we would always watch and pray for the safety of the men, and later women, on board. Then we would view the return to earth, waiting to see the parachute open before the spacecraft landed somewhere in the ocean.

The moon landing happened on July 20, 1969, and we all sat in the living room and watched Neil Armstrong “take one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” The following month, Grandpa took us to New York City for the tickertape parade honoring the astronauts.

Then in 1981, the space program changed, and the astronauts began the runway landings, which was another very cool thing to see. Again we gathered around our televisions to witness the return of the astronauts, now in a very specific location.

So when did we become so disinterested? Apparently, by the time of the Challenger launch and subsequent explosion minutes later, the major networks had already stopped covering the events live because they had become too routine. The stations were actually getting complaints from people angry that their game shows and soaps were being interrupted. How sad for those astronauts, their families, and for all of us! Dad pointed out that the lack of coverage was already an issue as pointed out in the film Apollo 13.

We all know, according to Grandpa, that we are related to a cosmonaut (Russian astronaut) named Titov. Aunt Ar told me that when she accompanied Grandpa to Russia, his family confirmed this piece of family trivia. It turns out there are two Titov cosmonauts, neither one related to the other, and I have not been able to determine which one is related to Grandpa’s grandmother, Martha Titov.

One more piece of family space trivia involves Geoff and the first astronaut to orbit the earth—John Glenn. When Geoff was a little boy living in Maryland, a friend asked him if he wanted to meet an astronaut. What little boy would say no?

Similarly to how the three of you randomly liked to visit our neighbors (And you used the excuse that it was to deliver the mail, consisting of pictures you had all drawn), little Geoff and his friend knocked on the door of John Glenn’s house and were invited inside to see his astronaut stuff. Now that is very cool. Geoff gets many more points for that meet and greet han some of Jamie’s celebrity encounters!

The question now is: When we go to Mars, will America gather around their televisions to watch, or will watching media dreck be more important? I will be front and center!

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