Cinco de Mayo, 2021

Prose, including snippets (mini-memoirs).
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Cinco de Mayo, 2021

Post by sasha » May 5th, 2021, 4:55 pm

Sixty years ago today... Cinco de Mayo, 1961... I was a chubby, crew-cut 5th grader, hopelessly in love with those awful sci-fi B-minus movies that overran the 1950s: giant insects wreaking havoc in our cities, evil aliens intent on conquest, and intrepid spacemen exploring alien worlds....

So when the newly-formed space agency NASA announced that New Hampshire native Alan B. Shepard would become the first American to ride a rocket to the edge of space, I was keenly aware that rocket ships blasting off with spacemen inside were about to become Real. So on the appointed day, I asked my teacher if I could stay inside during recess and listen to the flight on the radio in the teachers' lounge along with the rest of the staff. She said, Sure.

So I did, and I probably understood not even 10% of what I was hearing. The technical jargon might as well have spoken in Esperanto. Every so often I'd hear something I could grasp - "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Liftoff!" "Oh, the view is tremendous..." "Zero-G and I feel fine..." But references to max-Q, tower jettison, fly-by-wire, 0.5G lights... all went uncomprehended. It made it all seem mundane, somehow. And in 15 minutes it was all over.

Although aware that I'd just witnessed history, I wasn't exactly sure what it was I'd witnessed - only that it had something to do with turning my cinematic fantasies into reality. Gus Grissom repeated Shepard's flight a few months later, and I was able to watch it on TV with Walter Cronkite filling in some of the details I'd missed. By the time Glenn finally reached orbit a year later, I'd read enough to appreciate the import of what was going on. I chewed my nails during Glenn's reentry because I knew what would happen if his heat shield fell off, as a warning light at Mission Control suggested was about to happen; I waited anxiously for the recovery forces to find Scott Carpenter who landed 250 miles off course; and I read with excitement some of the missions being planned for the new 2-man spacecraft under development, which included rendezvous, docking, and long-duration flights of a week or more. I was hooked. And I still am.

There was a time when I secretly wanted to be an astronaut. But that time has long since passed. I know better now. I'll watch from down here, thanks.
"Falsehood flies, the Truth comes limping after it." - Jonathan Swift, ca. 1710

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Re: Cinco de Mayo, 2021

Post by mnaz » August 30th, 2021, 1:01 pm

I was just coming out of toddlerhood when Apollo started. For some reason it didn't make much of an impact on me-- though I remember drawing the inside of a space ship in a big portable storage closet in the basement. It really wasn't until 1994 (25th anniversary of Apollo 11) when it sunk in-- what we had accomplished all those years ago. Kinda blew me away, belatedly. Then Apollo 13 came out the following year, and I couldn't wait to see it. I went to see it in the theater three times. And yes, I'm with you. I'd rather watch from down here.

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