Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab – words as familiar to my generation as Chevy or Ford. Words that appeared on my vocabulary list in my open-concept school room, words that were part of the nightly news, the Friday filmstrips, a welcome respite from Saigon, POW and Watergate. Growing up in Houston, space defined our city and imaginations. A short ride down I-45 and we could press our faces against the glass and see where the astronauts trained, we could touch a rocket and wonder at the gray rocks collected from the moon. We absolutely believed that by 2015 we would have overtaken the skies in our flying cars and that robots would cook our meals just like on the Jetsons. Some things did come true, FaceTime looks an awfully lot like the Jetsons’ video phone and although it’s no Rosie, I do have a robot named Roomba vacuuming my floors. Space was a destiny, not a project or experiment for us, we wanted to see Neil Armstrong’s footprints in the moon dust for ourselves. We were the generation born looking up.
To be a child in the 60’s and 70’s was to live in two worlds. One world was limitless, exciting and forward thinking with new ideas and discoveries and the other stark, vivid and real, it was the world where fathers and older brothers didn’t come home from the fields and jungles of Vietnam. Kids then were not sheltered in the way they are today. Families watched the evening news together, we saw the scenes of war, famine and inequality and even at an early age understood that the world was not a fair place. We were expected to accept that fact and change it where we could and to be deserving of the sacrifices being made by others. Society was slowly changing, but it was still a culture that largely believed woman to be unsuitable for science and space and too many of us believed it was out of our reach. I am thankful today for the early female scientists and astronauts that worked hard, pushed back and broke the barriers. I am thankful that my granddaughter gets to grow up seeing women command space expeditions, design rockets, and pave the way to other planets.
For so many years, PBS, National Geographic and other periodicals were my knowledge maps. They provided news about current missions and upcoming explorations, but now I follow NASA and many other space agencies on Twitter, short small bursts of pure science. One account I follow is Astronaut Commander Scott Kelly and the pictures he takes of the earth from space are mesmerizing and beautiful. Scott Kelly is one year younger than my husband and me, he’s one of us, a part of our generation’s time and place in history. I can’t help but believe this gives him a unique perspective and gratitude for what he is doing. He is living in space for a year, he is living the dream of a generation and I am grateful for his willingness to share it.
Thank you Commander Kelly for representing us, the kids of the 60’s and 70’s, the ones who looked at the moon and said “I want to go there one day.” The next time you pass over Houston, give us wave. We are still looking up.
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