What is it about space that is so fascinating? All the possibilities that lie within it. We not only love the technology that gets us beyond our atmosphere, but also the inventions that have changed our lives thanks to NASA: GPS, the heart pump, Lasik eye surgery, WD-40, cordless tools, smoke detectors, enriched baby foods, sneaker insoles, and scratch-resistant glasses.
But more than all of the cool gadgets and beauty, space has always set a standard for how we should treat each other and ourselves. The first Moon landing came at a time of great turmoil in this country, and it helped momentarily erase the hatred and fear in people’s hearts. In the ‘60s people looked to the heavens for hope that the future could be better. And I looked to the sky at age 11 to keep me from crying on my way to 5’7”. I believe anything is possible, and space has always symbolized that for me.
Tears streamed down my face as I watched Atlantis blast off for the last time July 8. And I know I was mourning that 11-year-old girl’s fresh wonder at these beautiful machines.
Over the last 30 years the triumphs and tragedies of the shuttles weaved into the tapestry of my own life. I was 16 and dealing with my sexuality when Challenger exploded. I was at my first job at Turner Broadcasting when the crew of Endeavour fixed the Hubble Telescope and we saw just how massive the heavens are.
And almost full circle I was again at home, this time recovering from my kidney transplant, when Columbia broke our hearts over Texas. The drama of space flight has made me realize that our lives and our planet are both fragile and incredibly tough at the same time.
Sadly now when I watch movies like “The Right Stuff,” “Apollo 13,” and even “Space Camp,” I know that this wondrous phase of human history is over. There will be no more heroic tales at Cape Canaveral of men and women strapping themselves into seats for the ride of their lives, knowing they may not return. Now those men and women will sit behind remote panels controlling drones in far away places.
Decades ago astronaut John Glenn was isolated in a pitch-black room for hours during his training and blindly wrote the following to pass the time:
“Then use all your inborn talents, Use them each and every day, Add to mankind’s store of knowledge, Make them glad you passed this way.”
I know no rover or rocket will ever swell at these words. But such unmanned space flight is all NASA has planned for the future. So to the men and women from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle missions, I say this grown up kid and her long legs are glad you passed through my skies.
Melissa Carter is former co-host of “The Bert Show” on Q100, where she broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in the city and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Keep up with her at www.melissatimes.com.