Friday, July 08, 2011

Childhood's End

I'll always remember where I was on April 12, 1981. At my grandmother's house in Clinton township, Michigan, sitting on the floor of her living room, watching the TV as the first space shuttle lifted off. I remember it so clearly that I can now recall the fuzziness of the picture (ah, the days before HD everything), the rug burns I got on my hands from running them to and fro in pure excitement, even the texture of the corduroy pants I wore. It's like it was yesterday.

I was nine years old. I was very much into space, and at the time I wanted to be an astronaut (I would soon grow too tall and clumsy and have awful eyesight, all of which kind of put a crimp in those plans.) Young and Crippen, the two men test-flying the shuttle that day, were my heroes. It was the beginning of a new era, one that would open up cheap and easy spaceflight to all. And there I was, witnessing it. Anything was possible.

As I write this, I'm on the cusp of forty. I'm sitting in my apartment, in Kawanehoncho, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan, in my living room, on a futon on the floor. I'm watching the very last space shuttle launch ever, my wife at my side.

Thirty years gone by!

I finished elementary school, junior high, high school, college. I worked crappy jobs. I worked cool jobs. I went to Japan, worked, got married, came back to the States, watched the economy crash, went off to Japan again.

In those thirty years, I've seen a lot of wonderful things, and a lot of bad things. I saw the space program fall far short of expectations, saw the promise of cheap spaceflight go by the wayside as the system was still too delicate and balky and complex. I saw far greater advances made in computers than I could have imagined, as I sit here watching TV on my laptop, a device smaller than, and almost as light as, the three-ring binders I carried around as a nine year-old. Here I sit, blogging to the world, with all the information of our world at my fingertips. All of this, all those times, all that progress and heartache, bookended by a pair of fiery launches, a beautiful spacecraft rising in a familiar arc, taking to the sky.

It's gone now, the pad empty, off into orbit and into history. And as I watched it rise for the last time, I reached back across those years, and shook the hand of my nine year-old self, and I shared a moment, and a dream, and the adult that I've become felt, if only for a moment, that anything was possible again.

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