NASA Schooldays
Houston, Texas

Memoir by
Anne Cox


May 2004


Although I knew it then, I only appreciate now how great it felt to push into the Space Age.  Sometimes it shocks me to realize that there are so many people today (taxpayers, voters, legislators, as well as kids) who never knew how it felt to be part of this huge advancement.   I was only an elementary schoolgirl when it began, but that change reverberated throughout my school years in steamy Houston.  We may not have had air conditioning, but we had a hearty space program!  We were Americans, and we were touching outer space!

I'm definitely pro-NASA; it's part of my enculturation as a native of Houston.  We grew up immersed in space-this and space-that.  I never got tired of it all, and the affinity must be even deeper than I realized.  For instance, when I last ordered checks for my personal bank account, I chose a beautiful pattern of muted jewel tones that represent artists' concepts of space.  Other checks, more impressive for their realism, are shots of Saturn by NASA's Voyager 2 from a distance of 21 million miles, and of spiral galaxy NGC 3184 at a distance of 25 million light-years away.  These check designs were not chosen as a political statement for me; they were simply reminders of beauty in space and in the creative, collective effort of determined Americans.

Remember when the word astro became the prefix to just about everything?  Astroturf, AstroDome, Astro Hall, AstroWorld, even Astro Burgers, Astro Car Wash, and Astro Cookies!  Some terms picked up enough speed to push past the cultural gravitational barrier of Houston, but others were localized to the region.  We lived it and we loved it.  NASA, space, and our astronauts were part of us.  I'm not sure it occurred to anyone I knew that there was another way to be.

I was exactly at the right age for these events, and I could feel the excitement as our teacher would wrangle and roll a big television into our classroom so we could watch a launch or a landing.  Unlike today, it was a very big deal in the 1960s to watch television during a school day, so just the break in the usual routine to sit quietly in the dark absorbed in the grainy black-and-white images heralded a major event in our lives.  And yet, these space events were ordinary at the same time in such a curious way.

One time, while pumping gas at a station near the I-10 freeway where the train tracks were, I happened to look over at a train pushing past.  The first segment, then the second, then the third of a NASA rocket were being shipped to Cape Canaveral to be sent into space.  I didn't have to go see the rocket — the rocket had come to me!  It just rolled on by, but I was touched by the sheer proximity and coincidence and magnitude of the event.  That event meant something then, and it means something now, which is why I remember it so clearly.

I also went to high school with some of the children of our astronauts, including Bonnie White, who is my age.  She is the daughter of brave Astronaut Ed White who died in the flash fire on the launch pad.  She was beautiful, bright, and gracious, and I can't see mention of his name without also thinking of her.

Somehow, I never thought it would end.  It's an optimistic trait of our human nature that we grow up thinking the events and people we know will always be with us, but it is the same youthful mind that is so shocked when we can't count on the comfortable parts of our lives to continue.  Where do we go now, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory? Lately NASA and JPL have had their long-term priorities questioned and their missions seem in turmoil. I hope these are not decisive setbacks, because they are a harsh shock for an adult with a youthful heart.


© 2004 Anne Cox

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