Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Chance of a Lifetime

"Space. The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It's ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!"

Anyone that grew up in the late-80's/early-90's knows this as the first words we hear, spoken by the indomitable Jean-Luc Picard (read: Patrick Stewart), while the majestic USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) swells to dominate our 19-35" TV screens at the start of an hour-long adventure. If you're like me, those words brought a feeling of wonder and excitement! Not so much for what the characters of the show will run into, but more for the eye-candy and imagination fodder that only a trip into space could foster. As long as I could remember, my mind has been taking that fantastic voyage on a regular basis. As readers may note, I am much more partial to George Lucas' seminal space opera, but that does not mean I will overlook inspirations for my personal space fantasies.

By the way: I'll bet you read that opening quote with either Capt'n Picard or Capt'n Kirk's voice running in your head! I know that Kirk's opening is slightly different than the one above... but did you know it was almost this different:

Thanks to the good folks over at BuzzFeed for the image!
So if I'm more of a Star Wars geek, why all this stuff about Star Trek? Well, it all started a long time ago, in a neighborhood far, far away.... (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

My dad got to do some pretty cool stuff for the US Military. More specifically, he was a Flight Test Engineer for the USAF. Among his many contacts and adventures he became good friends with people in and out of other government agencies. One day, when I was a Padawan in my own rights, we got a visit from one of these friends. I was always astounded by what my dad got to do, but when this guy came to visit, my level of wonder exploded.  This guy's name is Jerry Ross. Oh, and he's an astronaut.

Check out Jerry's official Bio here!
During that visit, he brought the generic space photos we've all seen, topped with his profile pic of him in full astronaut regalia. He also shared a few stories. Unfortunately, that was so long ago, I could not even begin to recall all that was said. All that stuck with me was, "DUDE!!! This guy's been in SPACE!!!" He was the closest I would ever be to leaving the atmosphere on the Millenium Falcon. Obviously, I was pretty entrenched in the Star Wars mythos by that time. It didn't take much effort for my mind to make the (hyperspace) jump and come up with all these possibilities of what space travel could be.

Over the years, my interest in space travel and exploration ebbed and flowed like the tides. I never lost that wonder or grasp on my imagination. Then, a handful of years after that initial meeting, about the time Star Trek: The Next Generation really started to take off, my family was invited to a very special event.

Yup. We got to see, hear, feel, experience a Space Shuttle launch! Not only that, but we had invites to the "pre-launch party" (as I called it...) where we got to meet with the other astronaut's families. I cannot describe how unbelievably cool that was for a young person so enthusiastic about the space program as I was. We even got commemorative mission patches as souvenirs! (In the above pic, its the last one on the right on the top row.) That trip had my family travel to Florida for the launch. Then, we got to hang out at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center! We left Florida with my mind set firmly on becoming an astronaut!

Well.... Obviously, that didn't happen. I found other pursuits here on Earth that drew my attention away from becoming a full-fledged astronaut. But to this day, I have yet to lose that imagination. Since that trip, my family has received other invites to other launches for Jerry, but due to previous commitments (and in some cases budget issues...) we were not able to attend more.

About a week ago, I got a message from my dad stating my parents would be meeting with Jerry and his wife as they pass through my parent's home town. Being an older (and hopefully wiser) me, one would think my reaction would be rather subdued. Instead, I had a flash (very minuscule, I might add) of jealousy. You see, my two kids have been spending the last week and a half, almost two, with my parents. They went to North Dakota to visit family (almost to the Canada border!). They visited an ice cream factory/shop my grandfather used to work for. They will be going to an amusement park this upcoming weekend. But in the middle of all that, my boys got to meet Jerry Ross.

My boys are 4 and 7. Just about the same age I was when I met Jerry. I don't think they were as impressed with their first encounter as I was, but they did like hanging out with the Ross'. Both my boys have very active imaginations my wife and I try to encourage and stimulate in productive ways. Knowing their dad, it is safe to say they both are becoming Star Wars fans in their own rights. I can only imagine what their minds processed during that encounter!

My dad has his moments. When we were little, during one of the many moves, he made "passports" for me and my sister to get signed off on/stamped any time we changed vehicles or crossed a state line. That always stuck with me. Well, he did that for my boys on this two-week adventure. I have yet to see all the amazing things they commemorated in their passports... save one. Apparently, my dad knew well enough in advance to plan for a specific page for the encounter with the Ross'!

They signed off on the designated page, and Jerry listed the different mission numbers that he had been involved with. I know one day my boys will look back on this (probably read Dad's blog post!) and have a trip down memory lane of their own. I'm very grateful they have had this experience. It may not mean the same to them, but it's these moments that will shape these boys well into their future.

We pick them up on Sunday. There will be a flurry of rapid stories over the next week as we get back on a "school schedule." Eventually, the specifics of these adventures may fade into memory, but the overall impact will hopefully stand the test of time. I look forward to creating more memories with these guys.

Thanks for reading, and keep inspiring those around you! You never know what they will remember!

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