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Baseball and Paris June 9, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Space.
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I love it when I have something cool to look forward to on television. There is precious little I ever really want to watch and I don’t have TIVO or a DVR, so when something is scheduled that I want to see, it’s like a little Event. And today was the scheduled launch date for the space shuttle Atlantis to head out to the International Space Station.

I love shuttle launches. I remember falling in love with them when I was in Mrs. Beck’s fifth grade class. Space was on my mind; I was preoccupied with the return of Halley’s Comet, since there was a good chance that I’d get to see it again before I died. My favorite field trip was to the planetarium, and I was fascinated with learning to identify constellations to the point where I fell asleep outside in my backyard one winter night, to my mother’s horror, trying to chart and memorize the portraits in the clear night sky.

Nineteen eighty-six was a tremendous year for space news, and the schools were abuzz because Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was scheduled to go into outer space with the astronaut team. I remember very clearly the day of the Challenger launch. It was six days after my ninth birthday. There weren’t enough televisions to let every classroom watch by itself, so two other fifth-grade classes filed into our classroom and sat down in the rows between our desks. I remember being glad I had a desk.

Mrs. Beck turned off the fluorescent lights and we sat and watched the pre-launch while our teachers chatted with us. As the T-minus count numbers ticked downward, we chanted along with the announcer like it was the dawning of New Year’s Day. We’ve all seen video of what happened. The rockets flared, the shuttle launched…and then came the horrible branches of smoke, the panic chatter from the television, and the horrified gasps of our teachers.

This was 1986. There was no instant replay. One of the teachers turned off the television. There was no more to see. No one tried to deconstruct the tragedy; it was before the age of 24 hour analysis and commentary. We were overwhelmed just trying to process the image and the loss. I remember how quickly the conversation turned into our teachers’ recollections of the Kennedy assassination, which most of them had seen on television when they were about our ages. And I remember very clearly Mrs. Beck, the first teacher I ever loved, saying to us somberly, “You will never forget this day.”

She was right. It was my first national tragedy, the first time my heart joined the rest of America in the solidarity of suffering. It was my first experience with heroism, and it inspired a love for those astronauts which later developed into a love for space exploration. I wouldn’t discover science fiction for another five years, but when I did, I was hooked.

As an adult, I had the good fortune of living just a few miles south of Cape Canaveral for about a year, with the added bonus of being a stay-at-home mom. I had the incredibly good fortune, not only of getting to pick up the NASA channel on basic cable, but also to be able to watch the shuttle launches on television, then run into my front yard and look to the northeast and actually see the shuttle burn a bright point past its smoky trail into space. Our area code there was 321. How cool is that! I’ve witnessed three space shuttles physically take off and leave; two from my front yard in Indian Harbour Beach, and one, incredibly enough, from the campus of Manatee Community College on the WEST COAST of Florida.

So I was psyched today to watch the launch. I know from watching previous launches that if the shuttle misses its window, it can take days for conditions to be optimal enough to permit a launch. However, I still wanted to see it. There is a television behind the bar where I work, and I asked the bartender if he’d change the channel from the baseball game to a news channel.

He agreed. The countdown was at three minutes. Three lousy minutes. After one minute, the complaining started. No one wanted to watch the launch.

Have you ever seen a baseball game? I mean, really watched one? Baseball is the most boring game on earth to watch. It takes forever for anything to happen. Pitch. Swing. Did he hit it? No. Pitch. Swing. Did he hit it? No. You’d think I could take five minutes out of the game just to watch the launch, just to hold my breath with the rest of the Americans who care about space…

It took one more minute for the conversation to turn to Paris Hilton’s return to jail, and all the speculative crap that went along with it.

Oh, well. It’s not the first time I’ve felt like Diane Chambers. I remember watching the speed of the shuttle increase steadily in miles per hour, and I wondered why the rate was not given in kilometers per hour. Was it to make the numbers more meaningful to the American audience? Now, I’m the first person to step up and say that I hate the idea of the US converting to metric as its everyday standard. U.S. Customary units are MUCH more practical for everyday use and conversion, but that’s another rant all on its own. But for science, only metric will do for its capability of addressing the microtiny to the macrohuge in meaningful relationships. So why not KPH?

But I can’t complain. I may not have liked the celebrity train wreck noises my co-workers were making, but at least I got to see the launch up until the first booster dropped. Then, it was back to baseball. I mean, consider the ramifications if something were to go terribly wrong with the game, and the fans were not there to root, root, root for the home team.

If they don’t win, it’s a shame.

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