My chest gave an unexpected spasm, my throat squinched shut and tears flowed from my eyes. It was not only seeing Endeavor clinging to that huge jet on her last piggy back ride. It was knowing they represented the America in which I grew. The America with a space program and noble ideas about exploring the universe. Was it political even then? Sure. We wanted to beat our old foes, the Russians, to the moon and beyond. We wanted to dominate, we wanted and needed to win the space race, in order to preserve truth, dignity and the American way. I'm glad that today multinational astronauts work together as they explore space. I like a sense of earth space community.
Still, the space shuttle program represents a time of enthusiasm and discovery which parallels a time like that in my little life. I was in Orlando, Florida, standing with scores of people in the porte cochère of our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, on January 28, 1986, as Challenger left the earth. My cousin from Germany, our respective toddlers, the dog and I delayed our embarkation on a cross-country journey to California in a Ford Aerostar van to watch the launch in awe, as Challenger rose, magnificent and powerful, into the sky. But something went terribly wrong. The sound and sight of people shocked into screaming and running back and forth from the hotel to the landscaped berms beyond the valet parking area in psychic pain, is etched in my memory. My mind did not want to accept the truth. I had a moment of denial.
After our shock and long delayed departure, my cousin and I started across America. We had adventures. We had setbacks. We forgot the dog at a rest stop in West Texas, realized it, turned back and found her snuffling around some cacti in the desert near the Highway #10 onramp. We scooped her up and stuffed her into the back of the van. She, unaware that she had almost been a tasty coyote niblet, abandoned like a child in a forest in a Grimm's nightmare fairy tale, wagged her body in joy and licked the faces of our giggling children.
When I saw Endeavor yesterday, my tears flowed, not just for America, but also for my life, bracketed between 1986 and now-- difficult, great, up, down. Had I known in 1986 what would face not only America and the space program but also me, I would have probably retired to a bed in a sanitarium, staying inside the lines of an Archie and Jughead coloring book.
But that's not how it works. We take life on life's terms and do the best we can. We take America and do with her the best we can. We love her, that's the bottom line. If there is doubt, see something like Endeavor passing overhead. She should float by more often.