I wasn't actually planning on writing a long post today.
I got home from dropping Alex off at school and turned on my computer, planning to find a pretty picture from my archives, and add to it some words about how excited I am that my friend Alice, who is an amazingly talented writer, is finally launching her e-course on The Practice of Writing, designed for anyone who thought they might have an author inside of them crying out to be noticed. Alice is brilliant, and I know it's going to be amazing. You should check it out.
And that paragraph, right there, was going to be the end of my post.
But then, when I turned on my computer, I saw a tweet flash by mentioning something about how Space Shuttle Endeavour, the Space Shuttle Endeavour, would be flying over Houston this morning, before landing at Ellington Field to spend the night, before heading to its final resting place in Los Angeles. This was going to be the last time it would ever be possible to see the shuttle in flight.
My friends, I have always been passionate about NASA. (My mother tells me that she will always remember July 20th, 1969 for historic reasons, not because it was the morning that Neil Armstrong made his historic first moonwalk, but because it was the historic morning that I finally slept through the night, 4 days after my 2nd birthday. I like to tell her that as a child whose zodiac sign is ruled by the moon, I was always going to be restless untll someone finally made it to its surface. She always responds by grumbling that had to set her alarm to wake up early to see Armstrong's walk, therefore space travel screwed up the one good night's sleep she could've had in 2 years.
My dad, the engineer, used to call me over to watch the blast-off of every Apollo mission on our old black-and-white television. We watched the first shuttle land, huddled together in a hotel room on a family vacation, back in 1981. In 1986, I was thunderstruck, sitting in my college dorm room with strangers, watching the Challenger explosion, and dumbfounded that it happened again in 2003, with the Columbia disaster. And most recently, I remember feeling sad -- really sad! -- when I learned that NASA was retiring the Space Shuttle program last year. I grew up with manned space travel. It was the end of an era.
And so this morning, in uncharacteristic spontaneity (trust me on this, I'm a planner), instead of settling down for my usual day, I took a quick shower, grabbed my camera and flew out the door to Ellington. There was no way I was going to miss this.
Once I got out there and parked, I was thrilled to see that so many other people had the same idea. Hundreds of people poured out of their cars, including kids (damn, I wish I'd brought Alex), and NASA was ready for them:
They even had a few soldiers and airmen around, in case, I suppose, the crowd decided to bum rush the shuttle:
They were cool, though. I even got one of them to salute me:
And then -- THEN, my friends? -- Endeavour did not one, but two fly-bys!
Sweet Mary Margaret.
You would've thought that the crowd would go nuts with this, right? But, no, the crowd was generally quiet -- awed, I think. But the cameras, cell phones, smart phones, iPads -- they were everywhere, man:
And each time Endeavour sped past, after everyone had taken their shots, they would look at each other incredulously. Can you believe that? I heard people murmur. Isn't it beautiful? Humans built that!
Finally, Endeavour did one last turn, and landed on the runway in front of us:
It was only after Endeavour was moving slowly in front of me, and then finally parked, that I noticed how old she was looking (but I imagine re-entry will take a lot out of a girl). For the first time, I understood why NASA had retired the program: it was time.
But see, here's the thing: America needs these types of programs -- especially in times like this, when the country is so divided among political lines, economic lines and even racial lines. America needs organizations like NASA -- ones that inspire its people to work together, to cheer its successes together. It needs programs like this to inspire its children to dream. Together.