Space Race

I. 1985—Even as the Cold War is ending and the fever pitch of the Space Race is waning, the Soviet Union and the United States are still trying to one up each other in space exploration.

When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut. Reach for the stars, they told us, and I took it literally. I read about Sally Ride, the first woman in space, who said she never had set meal times growing up. Instead, she would make and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when she got hungry. She credited this freedom for making her independent and, ultimately, giving her the spirit of an astronaut.

“She’s just like me!” I told the teacher, who froze and gave me an odd, scrutinizing look. “Well, basically,” I blushed. We didn’t have a set meal time. We ate anywhere from 5 to 6, whenever my dad got home. And when my brother “the picky eater” complained about the food my mom cooked, she said he could eat a bowl of cereal instead. It was always a standing offer, even if he rarely took her up on it. The teacher relaxed and moved to the next table.

                                   reflected sunlight—

                                   the moon’s face

                                   a static smile

II. 1986—The United States has a setback, at least in public support of the space program.

Then there was the Challenger disaster, for which they pulled us out of class, had an assembly, and later even showed us the video footage on one of those giant televisions strapped to metal carts that the teacher’s checked out and wheeled from classroom to classroom. I remember wondering what we were supposed to be learning from this. Civilians died. One was even a teacher. A teacher. I remember everyone, not just the teachers, said this like it meant something.

                                   too tired for stargazing—

                                   the new moon


III. 2004—The United States has shifted funding from exorbitantly priced NASA missions to more terrestrial problems like the Middle East.

Today, I am in graduate school and even still I enjoy the occasional dinner at my parents’ house on weekends. I didn’t study engineering like everyone expected. I didn’t even continue studying biochemistry or molecular biology. I studied character, I studied motivation, I studied tragedies. I teach dialog, I teach poetry. I like to think that the stability of having traditional family meals has made me a better person, if not an astronaut.

                                   Perseus rising—

                                   the full of the moon

                                   in earth’s shadow

IV. 2013—the United States officially retired the space shuttle program two years ago and has ceased manned flight missions.

On the news, they are showing a local young woman whose dream has come true—she is going to be an astronaut. “They still have those?” I ask my husband. “I thought that was over.” An ambition I assumed my daughter would never get the chance to have—oh well—better to be that firefighter, that ballerina, anyway. Better to help, to delight, to save, to teach. Better to sweat together than to explore the cold of space locked in your own suit, I always told her.

“Yeah. They go up on Russian rockets,” he says, “in some kind of Tortoise and the Hare reversal of fortunes.”

“Huh,” I say, as I go back to cooking dinner for the three of us.

                                   pinpoint stars—

                                   near and far a pinpoint

                                   just the same  

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