Like many other kids, I entertained the notion of becoming an astronaut. On family camping trips, I would gaze up at the stars and imagine what it would be like to travel between them. I thrilled in the images of astronauts unbound by the limits of gravity, every small action becoming a dance through space. The life of a star-walker seemed so free. So captivating. So inviting.
But I didn’t see the big picture yet.
Like many other kids of the 80s, my school went positively hog-wild for the Challenger expedition. We wrote letters to Christa McAuliffe. We carefully selected payloads and supplies from lists, balancing needs against weights, preparing on paper for a trip we hoped we would one day make. We watched videos of the crew aimed at schoolchildren and we learned lessons recommended by NASA. The inflatable planetarium paid a visit and we were taught rudimentary celestial navigation. Our school even built a mock-up of the cockpit of the shuttle out of cardboard and foil where we would take turns running pretend missions.
By the time the actual launch date arrived, there was a thrum of energy vibrating through the school. All of our pseudo-preparations led us to feel like we were a part of that mission, an integral as the commander. That morning was endless as we waited for the lunch-time launch. TVs were located and rabbit ears adjusted to tune-in to the launch. Regular programming, both on TV and in the school, was suspended for the mission.
I remember the gasp more than the explosion. My teacher’s sharp intake of breath followed shortly by the news anchor’s wail. The kids needed another moment to reach understanding and then our cries began. For most of us, this was the first tragedy on a grand scale that we had ever experienced.
Interestingly, the disaster itself did not dull the allure of space for me. Instead, it drove me to understand more. As I sought out my own information, I realized that the videos and lessons presented to us were sanitized for our protection. We weren’t taught the realities of space travel; we were presented with the shiny happy Disney version.
One picture in one book rendered me speechless. It was an image of the command capsule from a pre-shuttle program splashdown. One astronaut was already on board the rescue boat, collapsed under his own weight. Another was being hauled from the hatch, his muscles unable to provide much assistance. On the next page, was the image that was always presented to the public – the entire crew standing together after the mission with smiles on their faces and hands waving in the air.
Just to take that picture, that little piece of fiction, in the days after landing would have exhausted the crew. Despite their healthy appearances, they could hardly walk. In the absence of gravity, their muscles atrophied. They became weak and unable to meet the demands of their own world.
A life of little resistance seems so tempting. The thought of floating through without struggle and being untethered to any ballast is appealing.
But the reality is not so attractive.
We need resistance to grow sturdy.
We need struggle to become strong.
During my divorce, I felt like I was trying to walk on Jupiter, my 120 lbs magnified by the gaseous giant to a staggering 283 lbs. Every action required immense effort as I struggled to complete even the most arbitrary tasks against the pull of the pain.
But each day, I grew a little stronger. More adapted to my new environment. I became less aware of the increased resistance as I became tougher.
And when it was time for my return to earth, I felt like I was floating.
The strength built for struggle filled normal life with ease.
Star walking on earth.