A few years ago, when NASA announced the end of the space shuttle program, my reaction was: “Nooooo!” I had always wanted to see a launch. The kids were young, and it would have been a very, very big deal to go to Cape Canaveral, but I signed up for the last three ticket lotteries and I told Christian that if we won, Alex and I were going and we had to make it work. Of course, we didn’t get tickets, and the space shuttles went into retirement, and I mourned the loss.
We’ve known for several months that Christian and I were going to be in D.C. this past weekend for the baptism of our new godson, and percolating in the back of my mind was, “Well, we’re not there to sight see, but maybe we can do one thing, and if that’s the case, I know what I want to do. I want to at least see a space shuttle!”
But I knew I needed to be available to my cousin, so it wasn’t until Friday afternoon, as I was frantically shoving groceries into the refrigerator and prepping for a mountain of cooking to keep the kids and their weekend caregiver in food while we were gone, that she called and confirmed there was time on Saturday afternoon for us all to meet out at Dulles.
Visiting the air and space museum evoked many thoughts and emotions, and I will probably process at least one more of those on this blog, but today is for the space shuttle. I’ve been a complete sucker for space as long as I can remember, from stargazing to Star Wars to E. T. and Star Trek. I nearly cried when got my bearings in the museum and caught sight of the nose cone peeking from the space wing.
Throughout the afternoon, whenever my cousin and her husband needed to take care of the baby or the preschooler, I returned to that hangar to marvel, to try to memorize what it felt like to inhabit the same place.
I thought I was prepared for the size, but I wasn’t. It was so big. When I finally made it around to the back and the main engines, it was hard to process that what I was seeing were the small engines, compared to the boosters that take center stage during liftoff.
And then, it didn’t look like I expected it to look. From a distance, on a launch pad, on touchdown, the shuttles looked black and white, but up close most of that black is gray, the tiles fading as they get older. And the patchwork of small panels contains lots of text—each tile unique to that specific spot.
The white siding looks not like ceramic or painted metal, as I’d expected, but like…potholders.
Up close, the space shuttle looks like it’s made of papier mache. The tips of the wings reminded me of those fold-up cars they give the kids at Steak and Shake. And this is what went to space!
I crashed three different docent tours over the course of the afternoon, learning new things every time. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
New bucket list: someday, get to see the inside of one.