"SPACE IS OUR DESTINY" was the title of an open letter to the editors of the NY Times and to President Ronald Reagan that I had published in 1986 after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster on January 28th of that year. Many people, including the editorial board of the Times, felt that the fatal explosion of Challenger proved that sending people into space was too risky and unnecessary. I strongly disagreed, and even volunteered to go on a shuttle flight if they ever wanted someone from the human services field on board, as Christa McAuliffe, a teacher was on board that fateful flight. (My wife at the time cried for a while, fearing that NASA might really take me up on it.)
What's got me thinking about space travel today? Well, last night I watched "WHEN WE LEFT EARTH" on the Discovery Channel, a mini-series running on Sunday nights. Last night's installment was on the "Mercury" and "Gemini" missions that were in preparation for the "Apollo" missions to land on the moon. What was so remarkable about watching the amazing footage of these first forays for the United States into space was the focused intensity and the raw excitement of it all - in government, in the media and in the hearts and minds of our populace. We were riveted, as one, on accomplishing something extraordinary. In spite of the Viet Nam War, the riots, the assassinations, Nixon, we still found something to unite about in John Kennedy's vision. His words, in "Today's Quote" above, and here, inspired a whole nation to reach beyond itself. He said this, in 1961, with a calm confidence that exuded a positive trust in the human spirit:
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."
As simple as that. And 8 years later, through all of our national dramas and tragedies, we did it. We went from never being in space to landing on the moon and returning in less than a decade.
I was only seven years old in 1961, but as I watched the show last night, I realized that I still knew every single one of the astronauts names - Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, Buzz Aldrin, Deke Slayton, Lovell, McDivitt, White, and of course, John Glenn. I knew their names as well as I knew Mantle, Maris and Whitey Ford and John, Paul, George and Ringo. And now, today, many moons later, while I've given up on ever playing centerfield for the Yankees or being a rock star in this lifetime, I still dream of going into outer space.