The light at the top of the stairs to my loft burned out yesterday. This morning I got up around four o’clock, fixed my coffee, and started upstairs to my office. It was as dark in the stairwell as it was outside.
After the turn at the landing I could see my silent office idling like a space ship above me, the interior glowing from colored lights: orange on a battery-powered phone; a string of orange and green lighting the front of the cable monitor; little green ones on two printers; red outlining the switch below the computer monitor; and blue glowing off the computer power switch and the circle of lights on my wireless router.
For an instant I was a kid again, treated to a glimpse of the future. That was the way we pictured it, sitting in dark movie theaters on Saturday afternoons: black skies filled with stars, silver rockets aimed at the moon or Mars. Inside the ship, blinking lights illuminated sleek surfaces, beeps were background music, and grown-ups in stretchy suits guided the capsule past the inevitable meteor shower as it sped into deep space.
When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) originated in 1958, I was finishing eighth grade. I remember dreaming of space travel, which had leapt off the movie screen to become real. In the fall of 1957 Russia had launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite in history, and followed it a month later with Sputnik 2, which orbited the earth with a dog on board.
The dawn of the Space Age was an exciting time, a competitive time. In January 1958 the United States successfully launched Explorer 1, putting us in the race. Three years later a Russian, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in space. Alan Shepherd of the United States followed less than a month later.
One night I wrote a letter to NASA volunteering to be aboard the first rocket to the moon. I was quite serious. Whether the letter was even mailed remains a mystery; all I remember is sitting on our red couch in Glen Ferris, writing my heart out on a sheet of notebook paper.
NASA didn’t take me, and I lost my keen interest in space travel as it became more common and I grew up. If I had known in eighth grade that I’d be terrified riding in a regular airplane, my dreams would have been different anyway. But that was yesterday.