My wife and I are watching the NASA rocket launch on TV. And I am a nine-year-old boy again. I am cheering for the two-man space crew and it’s a wonderful day. This might be the first true entertainment I’ve enjoyed since this miserable quarantine began.
Thirty-six minutes until launch.
We sit before the television with popcorn, tortilla chips, and beer. I am giddy. Which is a welcome feeling. There hasn’t been much to be giddy about during a coronavirus pandemic.
“Go Crew Dragon,” says my wife, giving me a thumbs-up.
That’s official spacetalk, you understand. The crew is named Crew Dragon. We speak this way because this is a bona fide space party and we’re not thinking about sad things like infection-rate curves, death tolls, or cholesterol. Astronauts are launching into the cosmos for the first time in almost a decade. Pass the bacon cheese dip.
My phone dings. It’s a text from my old friend Billy. “ARE YOU WATCHING THIS?!”
We text in all caps the same way we might do during baseball games. Because that’s the kind of grown-up guys we are.
The Demo-2 mission is a big one, and it’s nice to finally have something to cheer for. God knows, we don’t have any sports right now.
The mission is being piloted by Douglas Hurley, former Marine fighter pilot, and commander for the last shuttle flight in 2011. His copilot is Robert Behnken, former test pilot with over 708 hours in space, and six spacewalks. These guys are the real deal. I think I’m going to pee my pants from sheer joy.
I don’t know about you, but I have needed a little good old-fashioned entertainment. The COVID-19 crisis has suspended every cherished American institution. Baseball, basketball, maybe even college football. Yellowstone is shut down, the Grand Canyon is a ghost town, live concerts are a thing of the past.
Not to mention that I’ve been stuck inside for 70 days. I can’t even remember the last time I had a simple pizza delivered. I just don’t feel comfortable eating takeout delivered by a guy wearing a surgical mask and hazmat suit. It spoils my appetite.
But never mind that. Today: Space, the final frontier.
Twenty minutes to launch.
In honor of this historic occasion I am holding a miniature toy rocket that my uncle gave me when I was a toddler. It is a replica of the Apollo 11 mission rocket, the Saturn V SA-506, which launched from Merritt Island, Florida, in 1969. The same mission that carried Neil Armstrong to the moon.
During each commercial break I fly my little rocket around the den, making thruster noises with my mouth. I’m also wearing a NASA T-shirt my wife bought me last Christmas.
Eighteen minutes to launch.
“I CAN’T WAIT!” texts my pal, Billy.
Billy and I go way back. I remember when Billy once stood up in class and loudly proclaimed to a teacher that he wanted to be an astronaut. The teacher wore a big smile. And, in her inspiring educational voice, she answered the Youth of Tomorrow by saying: “For crying out loud, be realistic, Billy.”
Guys like Billy and I need this space launch today because it’s kind of electrifying, and this is the first time in a few months that we’ve felt a hint of normalcy.
And here come the astronauts.
“Turn it up!” I tell my wife.
Out of the operations building walk two very cool hombres in NASA flight suits and space helmets, waving to admirers. Good God. These men will be flying in the Great Beyond in only a few minutes.
Cue commercial break. There is a brief pause. When the commercials are over, I can tell that something is wrong on TV.
Suddenly, there isn’t much enthusiasm coming from the news people like before. This is highly unusual. Normally, news persons stare into cameras and grin like they’ve just discovered teeth. But right now they are long-faced. They cut to another abrupt commercial break, almost like they’re stalling for time.
“Hey!” says my wife. “What happened to the launch?”
Yep. Something is definitely wrong here. The commercials roll again. We see an endless river of ads for TV shows, hardware stores, prescription medications, attorneys, and over-the-counter mucilloid laxatives.
My wife and I are trying to stay positive, but we can both feel something has shifted. So I am flying my tin spaceship to the kitchen on an intergalactic voyage to the refrigerator for more beer.
That’s when I hear the news on TV:
“Well, folks,” says the anchor in a low-pitched voice. “The Demo-2 mission SpaceX launch has been aborted due to inclement weather.”
My little toy rocket loses altitude fast. I am crestfallen.
My phone dings. “@#^$*&!!” texts Billy.
And just like that, it’s over. We turn off the television. My wife and I sit in silence for a few minutes.
This has been a tough spring for everyone. A lot of wonderful things have been postponed, aborted, and eliminated. I’m not complaining, but I miss regular life. Not only that, but I miss people, I miss hugs, and I miss the way things used to be. I miss having somewhere to go. I freely admit it, sometimes I wonder if our world will ever be the same again. Sometimes I wonder too much.
But my wife doesn’t look upset. She just smiles and says, “Cheer up, my little astronaut. Today was a good day. And isn’t today all that really matters?”
She’s right of course. She usually is. I guess I’d better put this silly rocket away.
Go Crew Dragon.