Feb 1st, 2008

Across the Universe

I just saw this:

The Beatles are about to become radio stars in a whole new way.

NASA on Monday will broadcast the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” across the galaxy to Polaris, the North Star.

The story is full of embedded lyrics and the author obviously had a good time writing it.

What sticks with me though, is this: it is the 50th anniversary of NASA. I grew up just down the coast from Cape Canaveral, and the space industry has been a part of my whole life. My beloved cousin Milton worked on the Gemini project doing something with the space suits. From the very beginning, when a rocket launched, my whole elementary school would be trotted out to the playground, lined up and faced north, and with the little black and white portable tv in the classroom giving us the play by play, we would watch the vapor trail, and the bright flash of the booster separating from the body of the rocket. Then back we’d go into the school, to follow the rest of the story.

Perhaps those memories are why some of the short stories by Ray Bradbury resonated so deeply with me. In books like The Illustrated Man, there seemed to always be folks sitting on their porches on a clear summer night, watching the space ships take off from beyond the corn fields. Those stories seemed to be so close, just another year or two away from what was real in my life already.

When we drove to Newport for the summer, we would stop at a picnic area in Titusville, just across the St. John’s River from the Cape. We could see the rockets on their pads, and the giant buildings where the rockets were built. They were so big, we were told, that clouds formed in the upper reaches. I knew how to spell the word “gantry” and what it meant.

Why wouldn’t there be rockets beyond the orange groves and fireflies in the trees?