When I was growing up, there were no Rescue Heroes. Whereas today we have sports superstars, then there were one or two "very special" sportsmen (no women) like Babe Ruth, and that was it. There were comic book heroes, but they were mythical, not real, and not portrayed as real through the wonders of SFX. The notable political figures, George, Abe, etc., had all been dead a few hundred (or a few thousand years).
But there was one group of people who were clearly in the category of super heroes. These were people that had done things that no human in all of time had ever done. They were bigger than life. They were the best of the best.
They were the astronauts.
These were the men with the right stuff. They withstood rigors and physical tests unlike anything we had ever seen. They ventured bravely into the last frontier, a bitterly cold and airless, lifeless place, and they proved that mankind had not lost its spirit of adventure and exploration.
The seven Mercury Astronauts did more to affirm mankind's place in the universe than anyone who had come before them.
To aspire to be an astronaut was to aspire to godliness.
Okay, perhaps as a child I over-dramatized a tad. But as I lived through the formation of the astronaut core, I witnessed a birth of something never seen before. It was a very special time, a time when dreams were alive, and the vast unknown was a garden that we were setting off to explore, in all its wonder.
The more we learned about space, space travel and the more technology we pioneered, the less mysterious and wondrous the final frontier seemed. The space shuttle program was intentionally designed to make near Earth space travel routine and safe. It was still an amazing adventure, but not as magical somehow. But astronauts still had to have the right stuff, and becoming one was still a thing of honor.
Therefore, I was hit hard by the recent events involving Astronaut Lisa Nowak.
I am disappointed. I've been told I have no right to be. I've read that like ordinary people, astronauts "put their flight boots on one foot at a time". I've been told that things happen, and the more stressful the job, the more likely these things are.
Still, seeing one of the best, the brightest, come down so hard, so fast and so horribly, its almost like seeing Superman shoplifting.
So it is with some guilt and shame of my own that I hold out hope that it will be found that Lisa suffers from some sort of chemical imbalance, brain tumor or disease. I've even fantasized that perhaps she became exposed to some terrible substance while on her mission in space and isn't responsible for her actions. My worst fear would be to find that, like a love sick school girl, she jeopardized her entire career, and the reputation of the space program to satisfy a selfish urge.
I don't wish her any harm. I don't really want her to be sick. I hope she's well (or as well as can be expected), that she comes through all this, and somehow gets on with her life.
But try as I might, I can't avoid feeling a loss, a sadness, at the passing of something that may never come again.