As a little girl, I became fascinated with space travel. I know that came from my dad, although I'm not sure of the specifics. I don't remember one great moment where I thought "space travel!" but it became part of my consciousness just the same.
I wasn't particularly interested in planets or stars or science-type stuff. It was the astronauts that caught my attention. The idea of manned space exploration; of people leaving the planet and floating among the stars. Just the thought amazed me.
The movie The Right Stuff came out when I was a kid (I wouldn't read the book until much later), and when it was on cable, I was allowed to watch it. I watched it a lot. I started learning about Project Mercury, which led to Project Gemini. And then I really fell in love with Project Apollo.
It was the sense of adventure. It was the romance of it all. The idea of dreaming up the impossible and making it a reality. Traveling to the moon and back.
To this day, I can tell you all about the original Mercury Seven Astronauts. I can tell you all about the rockets and craft that got the American Space Program underway. I can tell you the life story of every astronaut from Alan Shepard (the first American in space) to Gene Cernan (the last man on the moon). When the moon is full, I can point out all of the Apollo landing sites, then give you the specifics about each mission.
There has never been a time in my life when space flight was science fiction. It has always been reality. I've watched it unfold, secondhand though books and magazines and documentaries, and right on my own television - countless space shuttle launches and landings, images from Mars, astronauts fixing the Hubble Telescope, building a permanent space station. I've witnessed astronauts who are orbiting the earth at 17,000 miles an hour interact with a rock band and their audience at a U2 concert. (Talk about convergence of all things good and true...)
The adventure. The magic. The romance.
This week the last ever space shuttle mission was launched. It was beautiful and amazing. And it made me a little sad. Not because this chapter is over, but because there is nothing waiting to take its place. We are not looking toward a new frontier. We're just stopping.
And the world could really use a little magic.