I recently heard
an amazing statistic that said seventy percent of the people alive
today weren’t alive when man first landed on the moon. In the
forty-years since we set foot there and in the thirty-seven years since
we left for the overwhelming majority of humans one of mankind’s
greatest achievements is only a historical event and not one they
witnessed firsthand.

For me, I was lucky enough to be born before any person ever left
the planet to first venture into space. I am one of those lucky 30%
that has been around since the space age began and NASA’s birthday and
mine are so close that we could celebrate them together. As my father
remarked last year before his passing it was only appropriate that NASA
and I would celebrate fifty years of existence at the same time and
that it had to be either a sign or a cosmic coincidence on a grand
scale that we both took our first baby steps together for few outside
the space program could have that same undying passion for space that I
have had for so long. It is the dream that just won’t go away.

There are many threads and paths in life that we follow. Some we
stay on for a long time others are just a short trip and of course
there are always detours long the way. Space has always been my dream.
It is the one path and the one consistency that has been with me since
as long as I can remember. All I would ever tell people when I was
young as that I wanted to be an Astronaut. Tough talking words from a
kid whose great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all Baltimore
City Police Officers. There was tradition established and a heritage to
follow, but that didn’t matter to me. Space was it. In watching old
space shows like the adventures of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger I wanted
to be on his crew as he moved effortlessly in a rocket across the
stars. The graphics were lacking, but the imagination wasn’t for before
there was a Captain Kirk roaming the universe for Starfleet there was
Rocky Jones, Space Ranger flying in his OrbitJet, the reusable
spacecraft that took off from and returned to earth. Maybe Rocky
inspired a few Shuttle designers?

It’s a special feeling to have been there at the beginning and watch
as we went from standing on the Earth and looking up to standing on the
Moon and looking back. Suddenly, a generation had moved from the once
far-fetched science fiction of Jules Verne to science fact, but I think
it runs even deeper than that. It is that curiosity that burns inside
of us when we look at the heavens above and want to know what lies
beyond. That insatiable quest for new knowledge and to try to
understand what can’t be easily explained by the naked eye. The same
thirst that inspired the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Goddard,
and Von Braun to look up and wonder what is out there? How do I get
there? That is what inspires all of us “dreamers of space”.

In many ways our love of space is a part of the DNA of who were are.
It is something that is always with us, something that is integrated
into the fabric of our being, and something we can’t change. Space
enthusiasts come in all types and from all walks of life, but they
share that same passion to understand and conquer the mysteries of
space. In a bit of humor and reflection of the time I remember an
exercise in first grade where we had to pick a country and write to
their embassy for information. I picked Russia. I wanted to know more
about their space program. As I wrote their address on the envelope I
was then told by the Catholic Nuns that I could pick any country BUT
Russia. Seems writing to them would get me on some list and nobody
wanted to be on a list back then. I wrote anyway and they sent me a
square glossy brochure with a red cover and Sputnik on the front. The
brochure wasn’t only about space, but it reflected the time we lived
in. That achievement was their national symbol of pride and during that
time reaching space was ours too.

Feelings about the space age were different back then. We could look
around and see typewriters not computers, phones had rotary dials, most
people still owned black and white televisions since color was too
expensive. Usually at around 12:30am or 1:00am you could hear the Star
Spangled Banner play followed by a static noise as television stations
went off the air. Today, no station is ever off the air its news and
entertainment programming runs 24×7×365 on hundreds of channels not
just three or four. Rockets and putting people it to space WAS the most
visible technology of the era. Our lives on Earth were also simpler
back then or so it seemed, but look at what we could do – we could send
people into space! In the movies at the time “Westerns” seemed the most
popular genre. It helped draw a stark contrast to the way things once
were in America from when the “new frontier” meant the western United
States to the new frontier of space. It was the perfect setup to show
how far we had come in so little time. Horses and dusty plains were no
match for rockets and shiny space suits. It had the effect of making
the steps of progress look that much bigger.

It was also a time when the world seemed to be falling apart with
assassination of President Kennedy, protests, riots across the country,
and some of those just a few blocks from our house in Baltimore. I
remember tears running down my mother’s face as she came up to tell me
late one evening that Bobby Kennedy had been shot and killed. For a kid
the world seemed a crazy place to live, but then there was space. It
seemed to be the one thing we all rallied around. You couldn’t go to a
gas station without getting a moon map with your fill up (most people
don’t even remember when someone pumped your gas for you!), a poster
with the history of the Mercury and Gemini program, or a chart of how
we would get to the moon (I still have those) and my bedroom walls were
covered with them. The Gulf gas stations at the time were giving away
cardboard punch-out lunar modules that you popped together which I
promptly hung from a string over my bed. If you’re wondering… yes we
really did drink Tang back then. Truth be told that stuff was awful and
always tasted watered down and I could never seem to get the mixture
right. Perhaps you needed to BE a rocket scientist to get the formula
right, but if it was good enough for the astronauts then I had to tough
it up and drink it down. I had also written to NASA several times
during the 60’s & early 70’s and received copies of bulletins and
signed (autopen) pictures of the astronauts. So passionate was I that
even though the photos came in an envelope marked “DO NOT BEND” the
mailman bent them anyway stuffing it into the mailbox. When I saw that
I marched to the Post Office and complained. They must have had a good
laugh that a 9 or 10 year old kid would walk in and complain about mail
delivery, but I left little doubt in their mind about my passion for
space and I’m sure they understood. It was a magical time and I
couldn’t get enough of it. It seemed the thing I loved everyone else
loved too.

As with all things, neither the good nor the bad times would last.
In 1968, near the height of the space program I sat by myself as a
ten-year old in the McHenry Theater in Baltimore watching 2001 A Space
Odyssey. Seeing the amazing, realistic depiction of space on a giant
screen was wondrous and I thought this is where we will be in 2001. I
just couldn’t wait for the calendar to flip fast enough. This is what
space was like and what our future in space will be. After all it
seemed like we were on such a roll in the quest for space. If we could
land on the moon in less than a decade look at what we could do before
the end of the century. Up until that movie there was nothing that ever
visually compared to what space was like. The pictures and videos from
the space program didn’t paint a view as broad as Stanley Kubrick
could. He captured the beauty and the solitude of space as no other had
before. I ended up staying twice to watch it in a nearly empty theater
and even today when I watch it I get that feeling of awe coming back –
that powerful reminder of what I felt when I first saw it and the
lasting impression it made. That I could even walk a mile or two alone
to a downtown area and watch a movie without a question being asked or
a fear tells you how different an era it was. Soon after came the moon
landings. It was an event with a small gathering of people at the house
watching CBS and Walter Cronkite (of course) in something very
reminiscent of that opening scene in Apollo 13 (the movie) and then
watching a little later as Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface. Wow!
We did it! I don’t think my smile has ever been as big as it was that
day when we touched down on the moon.

In some strange way right after that it felt more like the end then
the beginning. It was as if we had reached the top of the mountain
looked around and saw there was nowhere left to go but down. The
constant coverage of the moon landings soon became less and less as
each mission went on. It went from non-stop coverage to selected
coverage to a few minutes on the news. By the time Apollo 15, 16, and
17 came along it would barely get any coverage except on the nightly
news. Those of us who loved space were being starved of information and
the realization of our dreams. You just couldn’t find coverage anywhere
and for all the build-up and effort no one seemed interested anymore.
All of the people there to support the space program and keep it alive
had gone. No more posters or toys from the gas stations, no television
coverage, no more magazine covers on Life, Look, and Time. The air had
come out of the space bubble all at once and everyone seemed to have
been affected by it. Soon Nixon, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the
quirkiness of the seventies had ushered in a different focus and it
seemed the space age was becoming a relic of the sixties and not a
foundation to build on for decades to come. It was as if when Gene
Cernan left the moon for the last time that we had suddenly run out of
heroes and adventures in America.

It took a long time for me to make my first trip to the Kennedy
Space Center and I’ve been there many times since. It wasn’t until
after 2000 that I actually set foot on the grounds. I can’t explain why
it took so long. I’ve been all over the country, but never in Florida
until I went to KSC. It is a hallowed ground where giant rockets and
giant men walked in an era marked by a strong national will and quest
to achieve mankind’s greatest feat. My love of space makes KSC feel
like home. I can go there with no purpose other than to walk around and
be close where the space program was, where it is now, and where it is
going. Whether walking around the Visitor Complex, out at the Saturn V
center, looking at the VAB and launch complex or taking the “Then and
Now” and “Up Close and Personal” tours it feels strangely like I belong
there. Driving by on the tours and looking at the VAB I couldn’t help
but think that inside that building is where we built our moon rockets.
What it must have been like to see a Saturn V or a Shuttle stack
assembled there and even just seeing the OPF knowing I am this near to
the Space Shuttles feels like I am amazingly close to the dreams of
space.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about being at
KSC. Others dream of going to exotic locales, but what could be more
exotic than where the machinery of space is launched. It is a place
that rekindles in me the best of what America can be even during the
worst of times. It is also the place that stands proud and tall in the
annals of history and a place that I feel a connection to – that thread
that has been woven into my life since long, long ago. KSC is symbol
today of what we are doing to keep the conquest of the heavens alive
and a reminder of the brave souls who risk(ed) it all to keep that very
dream alive for all of us. I often joke to my friends that one day I’ll
retire there and run for Congress or even just be a tour guide to do my
little part to bring that magic back.

We’ve been waiting a long time to recapture that feeling of the
space race as it was in the sixties, to get a bold, new mission and to
find another mountain to stand on and not look down, but up or out to
the next tallest peak we could climb. It is up to all of us to continue
to reach out and educate all that we can about space so that the dream
of human spaceflight doesn’t end on our watch.

NASA people are a special breed and close to my heart. I saw my
first Shuttle launch in 2007 from the causeway and through a casual
connection got a chance to see a landing at the Shuttle Landing
Facility and that led to an opportunity to view another launch from the
NASA VIP section as a guest of NASA. The people are fantastic and did
all they could to make it a memorable event. They had no idea how much
those small gestures meant to me or how good it felt to be a part of
that, and all due to one reason only – a common passion for space. I’ll
continue to be an advocate for NASA and the space program educating
anyone who will listen for all my days. I owe the space program for
being that one constant that was always there as a part of me when
everything else was changing, the thing that always kept me interested
in science and what was out there, and that always challenged my
thinking about our tiny world as it sits in the vastness of space. I’ve
written my own blog and I have my own web site
that chronicles what I’ve seen related to space as I’ve crossed the
nation or peered through my telescope. There’s still more to see, more
to do and many more skeptics to win over.

It was by chance that I stumbled upon Twitter, my first search was
of course “NASA”, then “Space Shuttle”, “Space”, “Astronomy”, etc. and
it brought me inside amongst new friends who shared that same passion
for space. While the window is closing on any opportunity I may ever
get to work at NASA just being linked to the likes of @absolutspacegrl,
@flyingjenny, @apacheman, @contnclimr, @bethbeck, and so many others at
NASA and other followers of space has made me feel like an insider to
the program, and like I am there every step of the way. Oh how I wish
we had Twitter back in the 60’s! Neil could have been sending tweets
from the moon! We have something special in the Space Tweep Society. We
are connected now in ways that no generation before has been. We are a
collective group of those who are passionate about space and we can not
only educate others, but use our broad reach across the planet to keep
the dreams of space alive. Perhaps it will be something we say,
something we write or someone we will talk to that will be the spark
that lights the fire so that they can make their dream of going into
space or working for NASA a reality and carry that same passion for
space for the rest of their lives that we all do.