Europa is a moon of Jupiter. Planetary scientists believe that underneath a shell of ice there may be twice as much liquid water as is on the planet Earth.
Eupora is a town in Mississippi. In the 2010 census, it had a population of 2,197.
What do they have in common? As best as I can tell, pretty much just me.
Sixteen years ago, I was editor of the weekly newspaper in Eupora. Today, I support the development of a rocket that could be used to send a probe to Europa. And I think that may be the only point of commonality between the two.
Last week, I was back in Mississippi around the test firing of an engine for that rocket at Stennis Space Center; the longest I’ve spent in the state in nine years.
Driving down, I had some extra time, so I drove to the Stennis area the slow way. I get back to Mississippi fairly often, and revisit most of my old stomping ground at least every couple of years. But last week I also had the opportunity to pass through towns that were the exception to that, places I hadn’t visited in 16 years.
I stopped at two newspaper offices and met current caretakers of publications I’d been general manager of. You hear a lot about the decline of the newspaper industry, but word hasn’t reached Ackerman, Mississippi. The town has a population of about 1,500 people, and still supports a weekly newspaper. (In those places where the newspaper focuses on local news, the local community still supports it.)
Huntsville is and to some extent always will be home. But Mississippi is and always will be a part of me. Time I spend there is restorative.
My first full day down there last week, someone asked me why I’d gotten in so late. As soon as I answered, I realized that the answer to that question was also my biography — I’d gotten to NASA via a long and winding road through Mississippi with detours through small towns and stops at several newspapers.
I had a great time at Stennis last week. The engine test was amazing, and I was honored to get to be there for it.
But I also had a great time getting to Stennis last week. It was so nice to have the opportunity to revisit places that helped make me who I am.
I’m grateful for where I am.
I’m grateful for the journey that brought me here.
I look forward to the day we reach Europa. But I’ll never forget the days I spent in Eupora.