Story 14 – Discovery
In my list of Forty Stories I Love to Tell, there are two different types of stories. Those I am definitely, without a doubt going to tell and those I may tell, depending on circumstance. This story falls into the latter. Many stories I tell because of a connection to a current event, which is often what prompts me to tell one of these stories in the first place. While I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go to California to see the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Today as Discovery is headed to the Smithsonian for its final resting place, I recall not just the chance to see it land, but too, my fascination with space.
Even as a kid, I studied the planets, learned about their composition and their moons. I’m fairly certain that in the fourth grade I shared that Pluto had moved closer to the sun than Neptune during show-and-tell. It was a big hit. Each year in science class when we discussed Astronomy, I’d always be the kid who raised his hand and explained this abnormal, ecliptic path around the sun and that when listing the planets in order, the correct answer, for the next twenty years or so, was Pluto then Neptune.
The landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery took place at Edwards Air Force Base near Los Angeles. I remember waking up at about 2:30 in the morning and then watching with several hundred thousand of my closest friends in a cold desert in March. What I do remember about the landing was how quickly it happened. We heard the sonic boom, I saw it quickly glide across the sky and then it was out of our site and on the ground.
When I returned home, the local newspaper called and wanted to interview me for what would be my very first news interview. When asked to explain what it was like, I innocently replied, “It was a big boom-boom and there it was.” I have since done dozens of newspaper, radio and television interviews and I always keep that quote in the back of my mind for fear of repeating it. I like to think of it as my personal version of “boom goes the dynamite.” (Google it)
Today, I have a few space apps on my iPad in which I often explore our solar system and the nearby galaxies. I am as much now, if not more, fascinated by the planets. When visiting The Kennedy Space Center about ten years ago, I saw Atlantis on the launch pad and Columbia was in its bay, being prepared for the flight that would end tragically. Recently a friend posted a photograph of Discovery from Kennedy and of course, I replied, “I saw that land 23 years ago.”
I keep a photograph of that Space Shuttle landing on a shelf as a reminder of limitless possibilities, which is what outer space represents to me. So today, as Discovery is lifted away to Virginia, I think back to when Pluto was still a planet, when I was pictured on the front page with a bad high school mustache and of course, the lives lost in the two tragic shuttle disasters.