Destiny Beckons


Oh the sight of the mighty machine, the iron shine of a golden dream. On the edge of the ocean, a potential explosion stands so tall and so serene. I’ve got two little boys and a girl in bows. We were first in line just to see the show, to count down the seconds as destiny beckons into the arms of the astral glow.

And we’re gonna see a rocket, we’re gonna see a rocket blast through the last of the atmosphere, up and away to the great wide open, adrift in an airless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion — I’m stuck down here.

Just look at the ground on the grassy hill. It’ll lift you up but it holds you still, ’cause gravity binds us but glory defines us — it’s the greater pull of a perfect will. And they say the ground is gonna quake and groan. They say the sound’s gonna shake my bones. It’s so full of meaning, alive and careening into the grace of the great unknown.

And we’re gonna see a rocket, we’re gonna see a rocket blast through the last of the atmosphere, up and away to the great wide open, adrift in an airless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion — I’m stuck down here.

We stood among the multitude, we saw the rocket rise in a fiery hue. It defied destruction to ride the eruption. I have found this much is true: that love alone can carry you up and away to the great wide open, adrift in an endless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion. I have found this much is true: love alone can carry you.
Rocket, by Andrew Peterson

I’ve posted those lyrics before, and I’m sure I will again before it’s all over. Which is to say, September, maybe? Only three launches left. After this current mission, we start retiring orbiters. Weird.

I didn’t even realize it myself until someone pointed it out to me last week, but Monday’s launch marked a rather cool milestone for me — I’ve now seen all three orbiters launch; Atlantis on last year’s STS-125 Hubble repair mission, Endeavour on STS-130 two months ago, and now Discovery.

This was my third shuttle launch and my second night launch. More impressively, after my string of scrubs, it was the fourth launch in a row that I actually got to see. Monday’s countdown was utterly without incident, which was actually disconcerting. I had that happen with Hubble, but I wasn’t waiting as long, so it wasn’t as weird. Spending four hours on the Causeway Monday morning, I kept waiting for something to come up — the chance of fog increasing, a technical issue arising on the vehicle, bad weather blowing into Zaragoza, Spain. Something. It would have made me feel better, actually. A storm at the trans-Atlantic landing site three hours before launch time would make me feel a little more confident that something wasn’t going to come up out of nowhere 10 minutes before launch.

The launch itself was beautiful. Spent a bit less time behind the camera, and a bit more time with my binoculars. It’s an amazing sight. Awe-inspiring. And Discovery was visible forever as she crossed the Atlantic. I wish I could do it justice, but I can’t so I’m not even going to try. There are three launches left. Go.

And I’m serious. Do it. Go.

A friend of mine commented on my Facebook as I was driving down that he was envious of me being able to do this. People comment on how lucky I am. And I understand that not everybody can go. If you’re reading this overseas, yeah, that’s a major investment. But I have friends here in town who talk about how lucky I am. The truth is, the only difference between me and them is that I do it. And they don’t. My job doesn’t pay for me to go down there. They don’t even give me the time off. I use vacation, and I pay may own way. I spend many many hours in the car. But I do it. Because it’s worth it. I’m blessed to be able to, I realize. Not everyone is. But way more are than do. Do it. Go. Be lucky, too.

And along those lines, I have to mention: Monday was a year since my engagement was called off. It’s been a long, strange, interesting year. And Monday, even getting a speeding ticket on the way back, was an awesome ending to it. A GREAT day to close out that year with.

I thought to myself Monday that I never would have dreamed a year earlier that I’d be marking the anniversary by completing my set of orbiter launches. And it took a second to realize how true that was — when the engagement was called off, I had never seen even one shuttle launch. All three launches I’ve seen, along with the Ares I-X launch, have been in the year since then. In addition to a crazy amount of other stuff. Back in September, I went to Big Spring Jam with a friend, and was posting lyrics from the artists I was going to see as my Facebook status. One of the main people I was going to see was Trace Adkins, and the main song I knew of his was “You’re Gonna Miss This.” And there was no way I was posting that as my status. ‘Cause I was still depressed about where I was, a couple of months out from the second (or sixth, or something, depending on how you count) time Susanna had broken up with me. This wasn’t a period of my life I was going to miss. This was a period of my life I was going to endure to get to better days.

But the truth is, with a bit of time and tide under my belt, yeah, it’s hard to make the argument that the last year hasn’t been one of the better times in my life. And, to be sure, I don’t mean that as a slight against Susanna; this isn’t some sort of “man, I’m so much happier” jab. Heck, among the times she came back and wanted to be friends again or wanted to be involved again, she was a part of a fair part of that year in some way, and contributed to some of those good times along with some bad times. Such is life.

Thankfully, I’ve had other people in my life, however, who have shaped that year as well, modelling what it looks like to live a life less ordinary, or encouraging me to do specific things I’d not done before. I watched the STS-131 launch with someone I’d met down there for 130, and when I told her that she had played a role in encouraging me to go, and thus in me completing the set, she seemed surprise. “Why wouldn’t you have?”

And that’s the trick, isn’t it? That’s how she saw it — “Why wouldn’t you?” And when you look at it like that, it makes a lot of sense. (Thanks!) But that wasn’t how I was looking at it. Before last May, I was taking trips to watch launches (or scrubs, as the case was), every year and a half. This past weekend was my third trip in about five months. Why not?

So that’s my challenge. I realize not everybody is interested in seeing a launch, and I respect that. But if you’ve ever said “Oh, I’d like to see one” THIS is your chance. THIS is your opportunity. Three more, and it’s done. You have a choice. You can go, or not. And I’m sure there are any number of practical logistical concerns that could stop you. They did me for a very long time. But the way I had to look at it when I went down last time for what was supposed to be the final night launch was, OK, honestly, which of these things is going to matter more to me 10 years down the road. In 2020, would I rather be able to talk about how glorious the shuttle was lighting up the night sky on one of its final missions? Or would I rather be able to talk about how responsible I was one Monday in February 2010 by cleaning my house?

This is your opportunity. Time is running out. If you want to go, you need to do it. SOON. And, really — why not?

2 Responses

  1. wow. wow. Not sure I was ready for such an call to action.

    Any chance of an update on this post? Cause I’ve got a few questions:

    1. Is there a significance to the launching of orbiters? Aren’t there also shuttles to watch being launched?

    2. The launches are ending?? What? I want to know more about why, and what about the international space station missions?

    3. Have we already missed our chance?

  2. 1) Ah, I lapsed into NASA-speak. The orbiters are the space shuttles. There are other rockets, but no other manned U.S. vehicles right now.

    2) Yep. The space shuttle architecture is aging, and is limited to only supporting missions in low Earth orbit; we haven’t gone more than the equivalent of a few hours drive by car in almost 40 yeas. The U.S. is now working to develop new vehicles that will make it possible to leave our backyard again. There’s a possibility these will be used to support the International Space Station; in the meantime, Russia is providing all crew transport for all of the ISS partners.

    3. NO!!! There’s still two launches left, and a third may be added. The schedule is still in flux right now as some issues are being fixed with the fuel tank for the next launch, but check here for more information:

    http://www.nasa.gov/missions/highlights/schedule.html

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