Last night, my friends and I cozied up on our own sofas, with adult beverages in-hand, and Zoom-watched the latest SpaceX launch carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station. We’d viewed the previous SpaceX launch together before there’d been a scare to our “bubble” which forced us to do more Zoom-ing instead of gathering.
Despite our apartness, we were still giddy kids. We watched the educational, pre-launch commentary in silence—except for the bit about how the space station astronauts get drinking water which caused a flurry of web browsing and data confirmation—but we quickly quieted while the countdown ticked to zero. Although not as dramatic as the previous daytime launch, the liftoff still made the heart beat a little faster. We said nothing, but we knew each of us were willing the rocket to slice through the atmosphere without incident. Only after the first stage booster separated did we start to talk about what we’d witnessed, and we again fell silent to watch that booster successfully land on its floating dock (which, by the way, is so cool).
You see, we were three Air Force veterans, and we knew the significance of these SpaceX launches. Each successful one takes humankind a little further on the path to full space exploration, and deep down, we want to be a part of it. Granted, we’re all science nerds, too, so the complexity of it all fires up those synapses which tend to go dormant with everyday living. But for a couple hours, we get to dream the same way we once did as kids.
Speaking of kids, neither of theirs joined us in our viewing. The same had happened during the previous launch. We’re hoping it’s because the kids think we’re weird and don’t want to hang around with us to get somehow embarrassed (oh, the teen years) by our cheering and fist-bumping and toasting, the last two virtually this time. What would hurt us is if the kids just aren’t interested in space. Never mind how the thought of that twists a knife into our geeky hearts, but their ambivalence could somehow mean a disregard for dreams.
We know the current space projects have some future commercial slant to them; it’s a nascent industry which the majority of people don’t regard as possible or even necessary. Yet like those who first envisioned computers in our pockets and information at our fingertips, people who look to space as not only a new frontier but also as a burgeoning industry are those who could easily shape tomorrow’s world. Our kids should be interested in these launches because they are their future.
Perhaps if my friends and I didn’t make the launches such a big deal, the kids would watch. But doing so would be denying us the chance to dream, the chance to feel young and optimistic again, the chance to know humankind is moving forward. All we can hope for is that the kids keep listening to our conversations—and we know they’re secretly listening—and absorb some of our excitement, become curious about the ideas and “what ifs” we toss around, and consider the science behind space exploration when it comes time for them to fill out college applications. And maybe one day, they’ll surprise us by reminding us of a launch time and joining our little party.
To the astronauts orbiting this beautiful planet, thank you for following your dreams and inspiring us to do the same.