Thursday, March 3, 2011


First the unexpected silence,
Main engine start;
Billows of cloud pour into the silence, softening it.
But only for a moment.
Then the cheer goes up, the unending exultation
That is drowned only by the sound of thrust
Rippling the air, the ground,
Our clothes bits of fabric that ripple like fragile flags
With the power of distant flight.
Then the sound, that stuttering roar,
Echoed by the roar of the crowd.
For a few moments, the sky has two suns,
One a burning flame, a mechanical torch shot out to light the darkness,
Poised atop a pillar of smoke, dancing up and away.
Then the torch becomes a candle, then an ember
Falling toward our horizon as it reaches for orbit
On the other side of the sky.
The roar is gone,
The shudder of thrust has moved into our hearts, our guts.
It is in our marrow, impelling us outward and upward.
We are launched into a new life, a new world,
Opening eyes new-burned in the rocket-fired twilight.
Our next steps onto the grass are our first:
Still unsteady, but the slow beginnings of flight.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Following the Star: Epiphany thoughts

Thursday was Epiphany. It's not a holiday I ever grew up celebrating or, truth be told, one I think about much the rest of the year.

The story of the Magi is a powerful image: men coming from a far distant land, following a star, and looking for the promised hope of the world. There are lots of theories about what that star might have been, whether it was a natural event or a supernatural phenomenon, and even whether it happened at all. But those are questions for someone else.

I wonder about the kind of men who would pack up and leave their homelands for months on end, just to follow a star that seemed to give a promise of something new at the end of the journey. That's a daring thing to do.

Last November, I flew out to Florida to spend a few days in the company of people I'd only known from Twitter. We all gathered to celebrate our shared dream of humanity in space, and to watch the space shuttle Discovery fly. As it turned out, the shuttle was unable to launch at that time. Some waited in Florida for weeks, patiently showing up for each new launch attempt, while others had to return to jobs and schools. It's been two months since the original launch date, and we are still waiting. But what strikes me is that everyone is waiting with such great joy, eyes fixed on the ultimate goal: the beginning of a new era of human spaceflight. We laugh every time the launch date is pushed back, though there is frustration as well. Jokes abound regarding the "longest Tweetup ever" and Discovery's attempt to single-handedly prolong the shuttle program.

We are all very different people from different walks of life. Some of us are religious, many are not. Some work in the sciences, many do not. We have photographers, artists, writers, nurses, and retail workers among us, not to mention a slew of musicians. And we are all following the same "star," holding on to the promise of spaceflight, watching and waiting and trying to encourage others to come along for the journey.

And where will this star lead me? I don't know. The Magi didn't know where they would end up, either: they had to stop in Jerusalem and ask for directions. I doubt they expected to find "He who is born King of the Jews" in a small house in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. But they followed anyway. And I am following my star, because even if I end up in a place I do not understand, this is a journey worth taking.

Lead on, star.