Today, this guy is my hero.
Not only is Lar de Souza a brilliantly talented artist and cartoonist, not only is he one of the brightest, kindest personalities in my Twitter feed, not only does he have one of the most epic beards on the planet and wicked cool vintage glasses, but this guy has traveled from Canada to Kennedy this week for a NASA tweetup and a chance to see the final flight of the shuttle.
Had you asked me in middle school what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you I’d like to be a cartoonist, but I’d definitely be working at NASA. You know how overachieving kids have the unreasonable dream and the more realistic yet lofty goal.
Funny how things work out.
Challenger blew up four days before I was born. I grew up in a southern Houston suburb, surrounded by NASA employees during the brave post-Challenger years when the American space program stared death in the face and then dared to keep moving on. A childhood of reading Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein put crazy ideas in my head, and then regular school and scout trips to the Johnson Space Center told me that no, those weren’t that crazy at all. I wanted the moon and the stars, and I had plans to get there. I was going to college to become an engineer, and I’d be helping to build the next shuttle (which, at the time, was already being planned – sort of) as part of NASA’s ginormous brain trust.
Then in 2003, two things happened to bring all of that to a screeching halt: Columbia and Calculus 2. On the morning of my seventeenth birthday, breakfast was interrupted by shocking news footage of the future of American manned space flight silently burning over north Texas. NASA all but shut down until further notice.
Columbia was the last straw. After a series of embarrassing mishaps brought about by an agency trying to run too fast on too little funding, people had died – again. The true end of the shuttle program was finally visible. The plans for the International Space Station were scaled back. The designs for the shuttle’s successor were scrapped. Higher-ups were canned. A lot of my neighbors lost their jobs.
I no longer saw a viable future for myself in the space program.
The same year, I barely passed Calculus 2, and chickened out on my plans to be an engineer. That kind of math was *hard* and really, why did I need that much pain and suffering? What was the point of engineering school now, without my bright shiny future at NASA?
Today the final shuttle mission has launched with absolutely no concrete plans for what is to follow. NASA has general ideas about how America will be launching humans into space in the back half of the decade, but today’s launch is the last until further notice.
In short, I’m feeling pretty jaded.
(At least I’m in good company – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s and Phil Plait’s sentiments mirror my own and tend to be much more informed and eloquent, if you’d like to see more.)
I share all this not to be a “Debbie Downer” on this auspicious occasion, but to make you understand how emotionally invested I am in this final flight, and to show just how much it means to me that Lar de Souza has been showering the internet with kid-in-a-candy-shop tweets from Cape Canaveral for the last two days.
Here I’ve been getting all weepy and philosophical about this final flight, and he’s been geeking out, unperturbed by threatening weather, thrilled to the point of incoherency just to be there, to see a launch.
He’s taking me back to hopeful, starry-eyed, fifteen-year-old me, and making this experience more sweet than bitter. And for that, I love him more than I can possibly say.