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Destination Mir -- 09/19/00

Damn Geocities made me lose my entry for Sept. 18th... I was typing it in directly to the geocities file manager (and yes, I did use "save and continue editing" but it still messed me up) instead of notepad. So now I'm starting from scratch but this time I'm being smart enough to go back to working in Notepad... starting from the same starting point... I wonder where I'll end up...

Mark Burnett (executive producer of Survivor has reportedly signed a deal with NBC for a program to be called Destination Mir. A group of would-be astronauts (uh, cosmonauts?) will engage in training for a space mission with the winner actually getting a ride into space to the Russian Mir space station. The program will probably be broadcast next fall with the actual launch to follow later that year or early in 2002. I had first heard about this concept during the summer. Supposedly Burnett had first approached NASA but they just laughed and told him to go away. So he went to the Russians and they said show us the money. Then he visited the networks and NBC bought it for $40 million. (You can read a news article about it.) Unlike Survivor, which pitted the contestants against each other, Destination Mir will supposedly emphasize cooperation and teamwork.

There has been some criticism of this project but I think it is fascinating. I did not see any of Survivor even though the eventual winner turned out to live in the town where I work (and thus aroused considerable local interest) nor have I seen any of the Big Brother series. But I will watch Destination Mir! Oh yes, I will be glued to the television when it is on. In fact... I keep having a little fantasy of being a contestant on it.

I must confess to feeling pangs of envy when I learned that Mircorp (a company which is leasing Mir from the Russian government) is going to be running commercial activities on Mir -- including flying tourists to Mir -- and that multimillionaire Dennis Tito may become the first commercial passenger to fly into space. Tito -- who is two years older than me -- is a former rocket scientist (he worked for Jet Propulsion Lab on some Mariner missions to Mars) who got more interested in playing the stock market (he runs Wilshire Associates, an investment firm that manages billions of dollars). He is reportedly paying $20 million for his trip. I understand completely. Believe me, if I had his kind of money I wouldn't hesitate to write out a check. It would be worth every penny. (You can read a news article about how Dennis Tito may become the first tourist in space.)

I have always been star struck -- no, not movie stars or tv stars or rock stars -- I've always been fascinated by space travel. Truly, since I was a child... in fact, I cannot remember a time when that wasn't a dream of mine.

In my very first entry in this online journal of mine I remembered looking at a full moon:

Tonight I sat on our rear deck, feet propped up on the railing, staring up at the moon in a star-filled sky, remembering watching a full moon on a warm summer night in our backyard when I was very young. I was an avid fan of the Alley Oop comic strip in the daily paper and one of his recent adventures had involved space travel. My father pointed at the sky and pretended to see Alley Oop flying to the moon in a space ship. I knew that he was only joking and yet I stared skyward wanting it to be true, longing to see that rocket flying to the moon. A few years ago, just a couple of months after my father's death, I was running in cold March twilight with a full moon rising and I remembered my father and the moon on that long ago summer night and I began to compose a poem as I ran. Watching the eclipse I realize that I want to post that poem here.
I was not yet school age and yet I was in love with space travel. Many kids are fascinated by space travel but I swear that I was hooked on it as a toddler. When I was a very young child my father's aunt lived with us. She was a sweet elderly lady, thin, very thin, white hair, wire-rimmed glasses with thick bifocal lenses, very frail looking... and she loved to listen to spooky programs on the radio... mysteries, adventure stories, private detectives, and science fiction programs. I would sit with her as she listened. My mother once told me that it was incongruous to see this little old lady and this little child sitting quietly as the most horrifying sound effects came from the radio. She shrugged it off as being Aunt Ida's idiosyncrasy and thought that none of it would mean anything to me... I was just too young. Ah, but I became hooked on science fiction stories and especially hooked on space travel.

It was a bitter day for me when I was in junior high school and had to get eyeglasses. I had read countless science fiction novels about space travel, had absorbed every non-fiction book I could find on the topic, had listened to all of the radio programs (The Adventures of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet!), had seen the movies, seen the television programs and I knew that space pilots would have to be physcially fit, bright, educated, and young... but above all they had to have 20/20 vision. I could no longer daydream about flying in space. Of course I knew that 20/20 vision or not, I coudn't really go into space. Space pilots would have to be young, early twenties or so, peak of physical fitness and abilities with lightning fast reflexes... and since we were not likely to go into space until late in the century and would likely not reach the moon until the very end of the century... well, obviously I would be much too old.

Yeah... so one thing that really startled me was Kennedy's proposal to go to the moon... and I got to watch on television as astronauts landed on the moon... and I was only twenty-six years and the guys on the moon were way older than I was. And then, a number of years later, I was watching a shuttle mission and the mission commander, a man in his late forties who was a grandfather, put on a pair of reading glasses.

Of course, thanks to Richard Nixon (who was busy slashing NASA funding even as he was congratulating Neil Armstrong) and the short-sighted political hacks who have followed him, the number of moon landings was cut and we've not been back in almost twenty-eight years (Apollo 17 flew in December, 1972). We went from the Alan Shepard's sub-orbital Mercury flight (May '61) to the Armstrong and Aldrin's moon landing in eight years and two months. Now NASA seems to be an unimaginative bureacracy shuffling paper.

I can vividly recall a dream I had once had... not as a child... I was thirty years old, almost thirty-one... and in my dream I had the opportunity to travel into orbit... and when the main engines cutoff I could feel the weightlessness... I had been afraid that I might feel nauseous but I felt fine... it felt as if I were falling but it wasn't a scary sensation... I was delighted... and then I got to look out the window and see the earth below and it was just like I had always imagined it, just like in the science fiction stories, just like in the NASA pictures... but it wasn't like that at all because it was real... I was there, floating in the space craft and looking down at the earth, seeing the curvature of the Earth, seing the blackness of space and the millions of stars (not twinkling, no atmosphere, just countless pinpoints of light against blackness) and the clouds and the seas and the land and I had tears in my eyes because it was just so absolutely beautiful... and suddenly I realized that it wasn't real, I wasn't floating in space, I was just lying in bed, waking from a dream... and I never wanted so intensely to be able to return to a dream, to return to that floating sensation and to that view of such beauty that had been snatched away from me.

Will I watch Destination Mir? Damned right I will!

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Uh, in case you were wondering, although this had the same beginning (Destination Mir) it wandered down a different path and ended up quite different compared with the entry that vanished into cyberspace...