End Of An Era … And Childhood Dreams

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 26 2011 @ 8:28pm

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A reader writes:

The man in the video you recently posted on 1970s space colonies is my father.  My mother also worked for NASA for many years.  The two of them worked together on some of the first, if not the first, experiments that tested the lunar samples of Apollo 11 for traces of carbon-based life. 

Our "funny family stories" involve tales of things like the time Mom pulled the alarm in the lunar sample research facility, causing the place to lock down, thus quarantining herself, my father, and every other scientist right when my father was supposed to be leaving to give a press conference to a nation desperate to hear more about what we learned from man's first walk on the moon.  Once things were cleared and the quarantine was lifted, my father was able (after literally running the entire way) to make it to the press conference.  To his eternal chagrin, the accounts in the New York Times of this first moment of national "fame" spent little time talking about his work and more time commenting on how sweaty and out of breath he was.

Although I was born after the space settlement projects had already taken place, the artwork that Alexis Madrigal uses in his post covered the walls of my childhood home. 

I spent countless hours of my childhood staring at those illustrations, imagining what life was like for the colonists they depicted.  While my father retired from NASA when I was young, my mother continued working there, most notably on the project that would result in the International Space Station.  When most kids accompany their mom to work, they're likely stuck in some office, but for me, it meant playing in the mockups of space stations and space capsules.  My parents would bring me along on business trips, where it wasn't uncommon as a child to find myself sitting next to an astronaut listening to tales of what it was like to be in space.

Like many children of my generation, I spent quite a bit of time playing with Star Wars action figures.  Unlike most kids, however, playing with such toys didn't involve imagining some galaxy "far, far away," but rather something that seemed incredibly plausible, if not downright inevitable.  I'd probably examined the depictions of life in space more than anyone else in the world having grown up with all those paintings. I'd played on the mockups of space capsules, and I'd talked to people who had actually been in space.

Seeing all this attention on NASA and space travel has brought back a flood of childhood memories.  It's strange to read people's opinions of this "fantastical" era that's so intertwined with my own youth.  Its like stumbling across websites written by strangers discussing your childhood toys and the games you played with them.  In one sense, it makes me feel incredibly lucky to grow up the way I did.  They fill me with pride for the things my parents accomplished, yet, at the same time, it feels a bit like there are a million strangers poking their fingers into my mind and messing with my most cherished childhood memories.

While everyone else is talking with interest on the subject, to me, it just serves as a reminder that the future I was so certain I would live as a child never came to pass.  Maybe it will someday, but not in my lifetime.