I should have seen it when it came out, I even wanted to, but I didn't watch the movie WALL*E until a couple of days ago. I'm sorry it took so long. What a wonderful film. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you do. There is in particular a scene in the movie that almost made me weep. Not because it was so sad, but it was so beautiful. When WALL*E first sees the wonders of space, I imagined that our brave astronauts were in as much awe as WALL*E. What must they have saw, thought, felt upon seeing a never-ending expanse of stars, asteroids, planets, universes? All from a vantage point NOBODY ELSE has first hand?
The whole NASA situation touches me deeply on a very personal level. Chalk it up to having had the privilege of growing up in Space City, USA, aka Houston. We were home to the Astros, Astrodome, Astrohall, Astrodomain, Astroworld, Rockets, Johnson Space Center, etc. WE WERE SPACE. It was inescapable, really, that I would be infused with a love for space. In fact, the very earliest thing I remember wanting to be was an astronaut. As early as, I guess, first grade. I wanted so badly to go to space. Please remember, this was the time shortly after we had set foot on the moon, "Star Wars" (not the Reagan kind yet) was blowing everyone away, we were watching SkyLab in the night skies. The future seemed wide open, the march into space and other planets our destiny. Most kids, when asked where they wanted to go on a summer day, would say "Astroworld", or the Zoo. I, too, loved those places, but my heart belonged to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. There, they had the most awesome thing in the city: the Burke Baker Planetarium. It was always my response, my most cherished place to be. There, with maps of the stars projected on the massive domed ceilings, I could really feel like I was that astronaut, hurtling through space. How wonderful! It was my special hangout with mom and dad whenever time and finances allowed.
Growing up with parents who bought a telescope (even though the lights in Houston made most viewing too bright, and we would have to take a trip out to the country to be able to use the thing) to appease their little girl, and who had the patience to learn how to use it so they could show her how it works, didn't hurt either. Most kids' heroes growing up are sports stars. Mine were astronauts. I could click off their names in rapid fashion: Shepard. Grissom. Armstrong. Collins. Glenn. Heroes, all. As mentioned in a previous blog, I admired the character Maurice the most in "Northern Exposure". It was because he was an ex-astronaut. I loved that part of the story. He always paid tribute to NASA by wearing a NASA cap. At first, it was the stylized NASA "worm" logo. As that fell out of favor, and NASA brought back their older logo (good move!), so did Maurice's cap change. Not many people probably noticed, but I sure did. I sometimes wonder what happened to that little girl's dream of being an astronaut. I guess a lot of life got in the way. I just wish it was the one thing that I didn't abandon. Seeing WALL*E brought back so much of that passion, that love of space to me.
Funny, I feel the same way about the movie "Apollo 13". That is another wonderful movie that really hits home for me, and stirs up those emotions. It showcases the brilliance of the minds of NASA, their "failure is not an option" attitude, and the outstanding qualities of its fine men and women. Gene Kranz said the Apollo 13 "disaster" would be NASA's finest moment, and so it was, thanks to the ingenuity of its people. That ingenuity brought our men back home. I remember that NASA well. I now mourn its loss. We lost three fine men in our first Apollo mission, and if we thought in those days like we tend to think today, we would never have ventured a mission again. But back then, we had too much spirit and determination as a nation to let it stop us. And so we persisted until space travel became routine. I believe that we as a nation lost our way when NASA became TOO perfect, space travel became TOO mundane, and there were so many other things vying for our attention in those turbulent years that we took the notion of space exploration for granted. There has been a little consolation for me that if I would never have the opportunity to explore space, at least other brave men and women could. But that consolation is now gone. My gosh, Houston was even snubbed in not receiving a retired shuttle. But I won't even go there. I can't.
With the end of the shuttle program, our future in space remains questionable. It feels to me as if we are in limbo. It is man's nature to want to explore, to go beyond. Once, we could. Our men and women at NASA deserve better. WE deserve better. I know, I know, it's the money thing.
How can a price be placed on a dream? Where do we go once we've lost the Age of Aquarius?