Somebody Sign Me Up

Almost everyone I know would want to go.  From today’s “Jacksonville Business Journal“:

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority came closer to opening up a commercial spaceport at Cecil Field after a federal environmental study found no significant environmental impact to the proposal.

Ever since I was a kid building models of the Gemini and Saturn V rockets, I’ve wanted to go to space.  I may never, because ponying up $200K for the privilege is not exactly in my budget … and Andie’d want to go too, so we’re up to $400K just to play.  But just the thought that people could be traveling to space just 25 or so miles from where I live is pretty exciting, and I hope it happens.

guscap The county where I grew up was home to three astronauts, which may be more than any other county in the country.  Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom was from Mitchell, a small town in the southern part of the county.  Grissom, as you probably know, was tapped to be one of the Apollo astronauts, but was killed in a tragic fire in the capsule of Apollo I during a ground test.  There is a memorial dedicated to Grissom at Spring Mill State Park.  One of the Mercury capsules is there.  Not Grissom’s actual capsule, which was only recently recovered from the ocean, but a similar capsule.  You can get close enough to look inside the viewport and see the cramped space the astronauts occupied during sub-orbital and orbital missions, as well as what’s left of the heat shield that protected them during re-entry.  It’s a pretty amazing place.

Ken Bowersox also claims Bedford as his hometown, though he was born in Virginia.  Ken was a few years ahead of me in high school, so I didn’t know him well, but when he was named as a Shuttle pilot and commander, I felt the pride that everyone from our little town felt.  ‘Sox commanded the most recent Hubble telescope repair mission.  And Charlie Walker from Oolitic was a mission specialist on a Shuttle mission.  You’d look a long time before you’d find another county that claimed to be the home of three people who had flown in space.

I was 11 years old in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon.  I was at summer camp, and the camp director let some of us who were a little bit older stay up late into the night and watch on the tiny 9″ television he had in his cabin.  Of course, it didn’t matter that the picture was fuzzy and grainy, coming over the air from a station in Indianapolis to Camp Palawopek in Brown County(where do they get those names).  I can still see us gathered around the little TV and just being awestruck by the fact that a person was walking on another planet.  Like so many kids my age, we followed every launch and the astronauts were our heroes.  I never lost my interest in space.  When Discovery exploded on launch, I was watching live on television at work at KTMS in Santa Barbara.  When they returned to space, I was cheering along with the rest of the nation.  I still try to go to the beach to watch the launches, which you can see from here.  And before they stop flying the shuttle in 2010, I want to be down at Cape Canaveral to feel it  shake my bones.

So now, maybe, people will fly into space from Cecil Field.  Interestingly, I spoke last night with one of the people on the board of the “X-Prize” foundation.  Commercial space flight may not begin like a shuttle launch, with enormous amounts of smoke and fire.  More likely they will take off and land like a conventional airplane, or maybe be carried to altitude by such an aircraft and dropped into the sky.  Cecil Field is unlikely to become Mos Eisly, at least anytime soon, but I hope that someday in the not-too-distant future, I can walk into a hangar at Cecil and see a spacecraft.  And not one on display in a museum, but one that can still go to space.

But mostly, I just want to go.  If there’s an ultimate Bucket List … flying into space, even a sub-orbital flight … would be high on mine.  Right up there with sailing around the world, diving Truk Lagoon, and a demo ride with The Blue Angels.

All the kids who stayed up late to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, or never missed an episode of “Star Trek” just wanting to believe it could be real, would probably be right there in line with me.



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