The Space Shuttle I Knew
*If I hadn’t been too lazy to drag my laptop to a Latvian coffee shop with a decent Internet connection, this would have been published on July 21st. But I was lazy.
When I was in elementary school, the space shuttle was doing piggy-back test flights. During one of these low-altitude test flights, the shuttle flew over my school in Deer Park, Texas, located not too far from the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake.
I was outside when the shuttle flew overhead. In the only incidence of mass hysteria I’ve ever been part of, all of the kids who were playing outside began to run after the shuttle. The teachers, with their longer, grown-up legs, sprinted to cut off the mass of children before they dispersed into the long grass of the field next door, explaining that we could never catch it. When they admonished us, they were panting from a combination of spring heat and exertion.
Not long afterward, I remember holding a shuttle radio antenna that my dad had made for NASA. (That’s the triangle piece on the very front of the shuttle, part of the black nosecone of the vehicle. It fit in the palm of my hand.)
The first time the space shuttle launched (in the early 80’s), I was in my elementary school cafeteria. There was an entire school of children crowded around one television set, and, if you squinted at the tiny image all the way across the room, you could see the white shape move across the blue sky on the television screen. For those of us in the back who couldn’t really see the TV, the teachers announced when the shuttle had launched.
In high school in La Porte, Texas, I was in a current events class just after we found out that Challenger had exploded. The teacher had been at a BBQ at Commander Scobee’s house the week before. She was sobbing while trying to keep control of the class, before going home early that day.
But this July, I was standing on the sidewalk with my Latvian friend outside a radio station Riga, Latvia, when someone came by and told us that the space shuttle had just landed for the last time. It’s a radio station that I sometimes listen to on the Internet.
If you’d told me thirty years ago where I’d be standing when such a moment occurred, I wouldn’t have believed it.