I’d been waiting for years—literally years for this day. The momentous achievement of mankind’s drive plus Mother Nature’s good nature blending to successfully explode off this planet with the intent to mine another for life.
I know that sounds a little cryptic, so I’ll rephrase.
I would confidently say I can nail the moment my firstborn knew she wanted to be part of a team of people who propelled objects off the planet with the hope of landing them on any other orb.
It was somewhere in between her firm commitment to understand propulsion by studying toys as she repeatedly chucked them out of her crib and the choice of her first words: air pane.
Her eyes continually scanned the sky—spotting the tiniest of specks—following their trajectory until out of view.
The schooling from then till now far surpassed my levels of understanding somewhere around upper middle school—and I could spot the trend as early as fifth grade when she’d apparently announced to her math teacher that the curriculum was far too easy and please place her in an advanced class.
Her teacher, of course, called to inquire as to whether I had pushed my child to this task, and I replied saying, “Nope. My math goals for my kids are to make sure they can balance their checkbooks, not work on Wall Street.”
It was always shocking to walk into Chloe’s bedroom and see the walls plastered and the floor scattered with the computational hieroglyphics of what I believed belonged either on the cell walls of a madman, or the stone walls of a caveman.
Apparently, they were assignments.
They could have been blueprint ciphers for a big bank robbery she was involved in. I couldn’t tell.
Eventually, she figured out the entrance code to a crackerjack college and thereafter received the passwords that landed her a position on that long ago dreamed of team.
Chloe now works for her personal godhead of all space agencies and has been preparing for the very same day I’ve been preparing for, only with a little bit more effort.
I’d say we’re nearly matched on enthusiasm though.
NASA’s new rover—an adorable little fella named Perseverance—could have easily been first prototyped by Pixar, as it has been anthropomorphized with heartfelt fervor and will no doubt have Disney releasing some new full-length animation about its hero’s journey shortly.
Perseverance was scheduled to leave our Earth around July 17, 2020, but due to some last minute touch-ups with makeup, and NASA’s motherly stuffing a few more bits in the little guy’s backpack before stepping his first foot onto the Atlas V bus, his launch date was delayed until July 30th.
The preparations leading up to this date went something like this:
Chloe: Would you like to come to the launch site next year in July as my guest?
Me: Hella yes.
Chloe: Mother, I am about to be issued your guest pass for launch date. It’s five months out yet. Do you still want to come?
Me: Hella yes.
Chloe: Mother, this Covid thing may be a concern. There’s been some talk about a possible spread. Are you still in?
Me: Umm … yeah, mostly.
Chloe: Mother? Have you made a will? I know it’s only May, but I can’t wait to see you.
Me: Wait. What?
Chloe: Launch is just two weeks away, and I’m guessing you’re not coming.
Me: Chloe, I desperately want to, but I’ve been told that in Florida, the moment you disembark the plane, you’re handed a flyer—not for timeshares anymore, but cemetery plots. I’m thinking I’m going to have to Zoomcall into NASA on this one, kiddo.
Chloe: I understand. I’ll make sure you’ve got the right links and time schedule.
Let’s skip forward to the big day, links and lineup of launch window noted.
Twenty minutes before launch:
Chloe: Remember, the most important and crucial stages to watch are—of course—lift off, then less than a minute later the rocket has to make it through Max-Q—that’s critical, and then, about an hour after that, comes Atlas V’s rocket separation from the spacecraft. Got it?
Me: You betcha!
Laptop open, ready, live. Countdown in progress. T-minus 50 seconds … (I hold my breath and watch the clock.) 10… 9… 8… (insert squeals of excitement)… 5 … 4 … 3 … (aaaand—stream on screen freezes)
Me: Wait! NOOOO!!! (tosses computer, scrambles for smartphone, howls while relinking link)
NASA: With the RD-180 main engine running, the Atlas V vehicle successfully rises vertically away from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Me: Dammit! Dammmm– I stop mid-blubber, as I suddenly recall there’s no time for tears. It’s Max-Q time!
Me: (Link is relinked. Eyes are peeled on rocket. Fingers are crossed for all good luck gods to see.)
NASA: T + 43 …
Me: (stream on smartphone screen freezes) gasp … looks to sky … shouts obscenity
NASA: (hourglass stops spinning and smartphone reconnects) The Atlas V rocket passed through the region of maximum dynamic pressure during ascent through the lower atmosphere.
Me: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!
I cry a little. Shower. Make coffee. Reboot both screens and sit through countless minutes of perky NASA spokespeople who remind me of what I’ve missed and, of course, highlight what’s to come.
I place laptop and phone a small distance away from me in case I’m the one with bad juju energy. But it doesn’t matter …
NASA Perky People: After accelerating the Mars 2020 spacecraft to a velocity of 24,785 mph, or about 11 kilometers per second, relative to Earth, the Centaur upper stage shut down its engine and is now re-orienting itself into the proper position for separation of the Mars 2020 payload.
Me: NASA, stop with the teaser trailer, and why don’t you admit what’s really gonna happen on my side of the screen.
NASA: It is now T + 57 minutes and the Centaur—
Me: (both screens freeze) Bingo.
I knew it. I knew it would happen. It was no surprise.
Chloe texted twenty minutes later with words that sounded like she was skipping across a playground with a Popsicle in each hand.
Chloe: Did you see it? Did you see iiiiit?!!
Me: Success! Congratulations, kiddo! How utterly thrilling, right?
Chloe: I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day. Wasn’t it amazing to see it live?
Me: Well …
Chloe: Oh, sorry, Mom. You know what I mean. I got to see it live, but seeing the livestream is only a couple seconds delayed. It’s still amazing, yes?
Me: It’s so amazing.
Chloe: And at least you’re safe at home. I’m sure it was the right choice.
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