Friday, September 21, 2012

Close Encounter of the Endeavor Kind

"Of all the routes it could have taken over Sacramento, to end up flying right over me and, judging from its flight path, possibly right over the top of our house seems so wildly improbable. Only the biblical God could have worked such a miraculous improbability! I'm now a believer! LOL" ~ My Facebook comment

I never expected to be so lucky. I knew Space Shuttle Endeavor would be flying over downtown Sacramento this morning on its circuitous route to its final resting place in Los Angeles, but I thought the only way I'd see her was on TV.

Oh, I could have caught the bus and braved the downtown crowds to see her for sure somewhere around the State Capitol building some five or so miles from my house, but I didn't want to spend $5 and take the trouble to do that, and, besides, they don't call Sacramento the "City of Trees" for nothing. Trees and tall buildings would have probably blocked my view so much that I would have seen only a little of the shuttle unless I went to the top of one of the parking garages where big crowds were gathering even an hour or more before Endeavor's scheduled appearance.

No, I decided that I'd walk to a local park a few blocks away from my house and look toward the South at the appropriate time on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, I'd see Endeavour as a tiny speck in the distant sky. Other people had gathered there too thinking the same thoughts I was but feeling no more hopeful than I was until, quite suddenly, we heard and saw a fighter jet and then the shuttle carrier with Endeavor riding on top of it, and a few moments later it flew almost directly over the top of us at an altitude that I'd crudely estimate to be no greater than several hundred feet. It was flying so low over us that it seemed like I could have almost hit it with a rock had I wanted to. I couldn't have asked for a clearer, more unobstructed view of her, and I realized that her flight path would probably be taking her almost right over my house.

It was a spectacular sight for someone who has thrilled to NASA's manned space program from its inception in the late 50's. I won't ever forget what I saw today, and I feel quite confident that, just as I can still remember watching spellbound in my school classroom live television coverage of Mercury capsule splashdowns in the Atlantic Ocean, the schoolchildren on the playground and in the field adjacent to the park won't ever forget seeing Endeavor fly low over their heads this morning, and perhaps it will inspire one of them to become an astronaut and be part of a lunar colony or an expedition to Mars someday. And maybe it will inspire many others to support the space program during the difficult years to come when government will be pressured by economic challenges and political shortsightedness to slash federal spending on our once glorious space program to the bone.

Endeavor flew twenty-five missions into space and racked up over 120,000,000 miles. But none of her flights were as meaningful to me as the one she took today, and I'm so glad I took a chance and walked to that park for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.