A Fan of NASA

A Fan of NASA

I have a confession: I’m a NASA junkie.

It all began when I was a kid. I remember sitting in front of the TV in July, 1969, watching a fuzzy, black-and-white picture as Neil Armstrong took the first step onto the moon. Not long after, I began following the Apollo missions closely.

I had a poster of the Apollo 11 moon landing hanging on my bedroom wall. I wrote to NASA to get pictures, pamphlets and anything else NASA-related. My pride and joy was a model of the Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo launches. It was taller than I was!

Even as an adult, I kept following NASA’s work. It was incredible watching the space shuttle take off with the giant fuel tank and solid rocket boosters strapped to its bottom. Even more incredible was the way it glided to a landing — looking like a cross between a graceful bird and a flying brick.

Of course, like most Americans, I wept over the Challenger disaster and the loss of its crew. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news and how shaken I felt. But NASA bounced back, making safety a priority in future missions.

Even after the shuttle fleet was officially retired, NASA kept working. I was in my 30s when the first Mars rover, Pathfinder, made its landing and sent back beautiful panoramic pictures from the Martian surface. Cassini went to Saturn, photographing the rings, the moons and Saturn itself. And who could forget New Horizons and the pictures it took of Pluto and its heart-shaped ice patch?

But all of this is really background. As a grandpa, I love finding ways of connecting with my two granddaughters. We do lots of things together, including reading books, watching TV and playing games. Recently, however, I found a new and unexpected way of connecting — a shared love of space and space exploration!

Just a few weeks ago, Space X launched its first manned rocket. NASA live streamed the launch.  It seemed like there were cameras everywhere! You could watch the mission controllers readying themselves for the launch. You could watch the astronauts inside the capsule as they did their final checks on sleek, new touchscreens. And at the launch pad itself there were two or three different angles that gave you a perfect view of the rocket as it waited for the final countdown.

My granddaughters enjoyed everything about the launch. We all listened as the mission controllers went around the room giving their go/no go for launch. Then everyone joined in for the countdown. And when the rocket took off, they “ooohed” and “ahhhed” at the giant plumes of flame and smoke. The cameras followed the rocket for miles as it pushed higher and higher. There were even readouts showing you exactly how high the rocket was and how fast it was going. My granddaughters would run into the other room keeping everyone up-to-date about the rocket’s altitude and speed.

There will be many more launches to come. I hope I get to enjoy all of them with my granddaughters at my side. A new generation of NASA junkies is born!

Where were you when man first landed on the moon? Jay Stoneking shares where his passion for NASA and space began and how it has grown throughout the years.