Sunday, March 14, 2010

Modern Days to Remember & Celebrate

My Grandma once told me that as long as you're learning, you'll remain alive. Naturally, I'm big on learning something new every day. I learned minutes ago that today is "Pi Day," as in the mathematical constant 3.14.
Math has never been my forte. But I recall understanding "Pi."
If you haven't figured it out yet (tough Saturday night?), it's "Pi Day" because it's 3/14, or March 14.
It's a wonder that there aren't more mathematical/science/technology-based holidays in this technologically-fueled world. Perhaps one day in the near future we'll be celebrating the birthdays of technology's icons, such as Bill Gates and Steven Hawking, just as, or if not more enthusiastically than we celebrate President's Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
I'd be a strong advocate of sanctifying Albert Einstein for a day of remembrance - a scientist with a soul who actually had the character to caution against a certain and devastating use of his own discovery.
And while we're at it, why not a John Glenn Day (1st American to orbit Earth, 1962) or a Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Day (1st Americans/people on the Moon, 7/20/69) or a Yuri Gagarin Day (1st person of any nationality to orbit earth , 4/12/61)? Or what about a Sally Ride Day, for the first woman in space?
But for now, Happy Pi Day to all you mathematicians out there. Long may you calculate in health & happiness!
Speaking of space, I've been meaning to mention NASA's Space Shuttle Program. As a child of the 60s, I was a keen and enthusiastic observer of the space race. I understand the value of exploring the unknown, but I've always struggled with the justification of huge space expenditures when weighed against starving children, uninsured Americans, etc.
And the idea that once we've screwed up this world to the point of no return, we'll blast off and find a new world to ravage, well, that simply makes me sick to my stomach. If space tourism becomes a contributing element to the greater economic good of the nation, then God's speed to cosmic vacationers.
As far as the space shuttle is concerned, it's personal.
A month or two ago I read with dismay that the last shuttle launch ever will take place in September. Postponements may change that, but none the less, the space shuttle will soon be relegated to the past. And as I've said, I understand the need to move on.
But I have to tell you, the space shuttle launch is one of the most truly spectacular, breath taking, emotion-stirring events I have ever witnessed.
The first launch I witnessed was by day, and was quite a surprise. Sitting behind my desk at a newspaper office in Indian River County, Florida, I noticed my co-workers exiting the building in a large pack. Cigarette breaks were not unusual by twos and threes, but this was everyone at once.
I nonchalantly (as the head of the news staff, I didn't want to appear ignorant of whatever situation was developing) rose and fell in at the back end of the exodus.
Everyone was looking up. Could the sky be falling? And where was that pesky Chicken Little?
"Space shuttle launch," came the gruff voice of my news photographer in a knowingly discreet whisper.
"Are you kidding? " I replied in a sequestered hush. But the hush wasn't as secret as I had intended it to be.
"Sure, Liz, " came the matter-of-fact, but never discreet, southern drawl of one of the sales women.
"You can see the shuttle launch from right here. It's just up a ways in Brevard County," she added.
With that, the group encircled me, the newcomer & novice, gently maneuvering me to the front of the pack, each adding a home-spun tidbit of what a wonder this launch would be.
As the shuttle appeared, I froze in awe of the striking sight. My heart literally began to beat harder as the shuttle soared up, up , and finally away, in billowing, ethereal white and almost-blinding silver. It sounds corny, but I felt as though I was one with the astronauts, and with my crowd of co-workers, and with all who were witnessing that thrilling, glorious launch.
I saw one more day launch, but the most beautiful was the night launch I witnessed.
I was camping in the Ocala National Forest, due west of Daytona Beach. I was told we would see the shuttle launch in the pitch black of the southern night sky, but I never imagined how vividly we would see it.
A brilliant ball of flaming, pulsating orange-red light & energy sliced upward through the night sky, accompanied by a streaming, glowing tail that grew, then lingered, then finally disintegrated into oblivion in a sparkling flourish, as the fiery orb ascended and finally disappeared into space.
Again, breathtaking, indescribably moving, the very real feeling of being one with the shuttle astronauts, of being right along side them, shooting into space, heart beating wildly, as though it might leap from one's chest and into one's mouth, and on into the vast beyond.
Simply awesome.
My former husband used to schedule business trips to Florida around the space shuttle launches. I understood from his enthusiasm that the launches must be a sight to behold. But never in my wildest dreams could I have conjured the stirring spectacle, visually and emotionally, that I experienced first hand.
I've seen a few headlines in the past days indicating that Florida senators are trying to save the shuttle program. Obviously, that's what state senators should be attempting for the good of the local job market and economy.
But if the shuttle program becomes a thing of the past, I'll always be honored to be able to say that I witnessed a truly wondrous event.
And if others who have witnessed space shuttle launches feel the same way, and I can't fathom that they don't, maybe someday soon we'll be celebrating National Space Shuttle Remembrance Day, perhaps on January 28, the anniversary of the dark day in 1986 on which the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off.
Official day of remembrance or not, I will remember the space shuttle launches that I was privileged to witness until the day I die - and perhaps beyond!
What do you think? Be well. Be happy.


  1. It's nice to read something from someone so interested in the Space Race! I used to love reading about the history of it when I was growing up, though back then of course almost all our information was about the US space program. If you're interested in a game that recreates it, in the early-mid '90s Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space was released. It's been ported to Windows, Linux, and Mac, and is enjoying a bit of a revival lately. You can download it from Sourceforge:

    Happy launchings!

  2. I'm so glad to know you enjoyed the post! I'll check out the game with my son (11). Thanks for leaving a comment. It's gratifying to hear from readers!
    All the best to you,
    Lizzie B.