This last Sunday witnessed an extraordinary event in New Mexico. It was a flight into space for everyday passengers, not astronauts. It was not anything like the first time in America, which saw Alan Shepard Jr.’s flight on May 5, 1961. That was watched by 45 million people, all holding their breath as it launched. The Russians, with whom we were in competition, like a current soccer game, had us beat by a three weeks. Yuri Gagarin went up April 12, 1961—and the race was on.
Albuquerque had a lot to do with the Mercury 7 astronauts, because Lovelace Hospital was chosen to help prepare these dynamic space rangers, who were put through mental, physical and psychological training.
My family had moved here from Iowa in 1962. My aunt Margaret, a nurse anesthetist at Lovelace, knew all seven of the heroes of that day. She was proud and honored to be part of the race and spoke of the severe testing the astronauts went through. It made us love them even more. The entire world now found space travel more than a sci-fi novel. WE were there.
N.A.S.A. meant National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and in 1958, only those who worked for NASA were part of outer space. Civilians got to stand back and cheer. Space was for governments only, no pilgrims, no adventurers, no travelers, and no tourists allowed. Until last Sunday!
The space race was won after we had circled the world often in capsules. We won the world of space exploration on July 20, 1969, when we landed on the moon. When our astronauts landed, 600 million viewers watched. We sent Russia a letter, “Na-na, na, na-na,” and with our tongue out, declared, “We won.” Then came space shuttles and the International Space Station. It was no longer front-page news.
This had happened before with flight. In the beginning it was exciting to see the sky full of Snoopy and the Red Baron. They used planes mostly for observation in the First World War, shooting at each other with sidearms before they could mount guns that wouldn’t shoot the propellers off the planes.
And after the war, pilots went from town to town to sell rides in their planes. It was called, barnstorming. Hmmm… How to make a living with these new planes? First it was delivering the mail. Charles Lindberg not only conquered the Atlantic alone, but he also flew, in 1926, the first mail run from St. Louis to Chicago. Then came the golden age of flying people: Airliners were invented. People could fly to Hawaii or from coast to coast. It was akin to the passenger trains crossing the U.S.A.
Airplane travel was expensive. They served you porcelain cups, plates and cloth napkins. Early stewardess were nurses, too. But, as inventions and planes progressed, airlines learned to pack more customers on aircraft and, if you are lucky today, they give you a bag of peanuts and occasionally water. We used to dress in dresses with hats and gloves to fly. Today you take off clothing and comfort rules. Back to space.
We all have experienced life beyond this planet. We watch Star Trek. In these shows we see our future with more room in cabins and cuter looking space suits. I am not sure Uhura ever had on slacks under her very short skirt! Food replicators are worn out in Voyager. Today at the Space Station they finished their last bottle of Tang. Nowadays they even have ketchup and mustard.
Virgin Galactic and its founder, Richard Branson, have given us a way for civilians to travel outside of our atmosphere. It is the threshold of the future, maybe without the China cups, 10 Forward or holodecks… yet. But just wait. It is coming. How about a Roaring Mouse on the Moon? Over and out.