Reflections on the launch of OA-5: Remembering
ABOVE PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — It was a trip meant to last about four days. When all was said and done, nine had elapsed. As most of us are aware, travel in the post-9-11 world is not what one would describe as “fun”, and covering the return-to-flight of Antares had been an interesting challenge.
After a stressful day getting still and video cameras shipped out and taking an unplanned “grand tour” of the State of Virginia, I made it to Salisbury Airport, only to misplace my phone, which a gracious TSA member recovered and returned to me.
I was feeling frustrated as of the two stills and two video camera stations we set at Pad 0A, only one had acquired acceptable video. The still cameras were defeated by condensation (dew) on the lenses of the cameras.
I was beyond thankful that Mark Usciak, Stephen Nolte, Charles Twine, and We Report Space‘s Jared Haworth were on hand to provide much-needed assistance and pointers. However, after three days, two trip extensions, and the usual issues that accompany travel these days, I fell into an all-too-familiar depression.
During one of the days in Chincoteague, I was approached by NPR to speak about Elon Musk’s plans to send people to Mars. It was nice to be recognized for my experience and to have somewhat of a distraction.
The launch, of course, was an unparalleled success and I was able to return home.
Flying out of Salisbury, Maryland, on an American Eagle DHC-8 (pronounced Dash Eight), I began to have doubts about the quality of coverage we were providing and wondered (as I have done frequently in the three years since our team formed SFI) if we were having the impact we had set out to.
Flying into Philadelphia International Airport, we passed over a tanker berthed in the waterways far below; it had been christened the Cosmic. A smile crossed my face, but the stressful week still plagued my thoughts: Were we reaching the public and sharing the importance of spaceflight?
Upon reaching the terminal, I entered into the airport and was met by one of the attendants who glanced my way and did a double take.
“Hey, were you at the launch last night?”
Always willing to talk space, I told him that I had and showed him our homepage. Another double take. I was starting to think I owed this guy money.
Did I owe him money?
“My son and I watched you last night; we watched your podcast!”
Whew, I only had a debit card on me.
As we began a discussion about the mission, I showed him pictures from the S.S. Alan Poindexter’s launch, and I noted that the conversation switched from the flight, then to his son. It was obvious that he had high hopes for his child to stick to his dream of becoming an engineer.
I got into telling the space exploration story to ensure that we never lose another crew, and if I can do anything to encourage young people to follow STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields? I’ll do it.
I handed him my phone and asked for his e-mail address and told him that when I got home I’d prepare a care package that I’d send to him. His excitement grew and he kept thanking me for what I was doing.
In the business of telling the truth, one is rarely thanked.
At that point in time, this was something that I needed to hear. One would think that being contacted by NPR to address space matters would be enough to drive home the importance of, to paraphrase Gus Grissom, “Doing good work.” What I learned from OA-5 is that, while it’s great to have a platform like NPR to drive home the importance of space efforts, it is far more rewarding to hear that a child, who wants to build spacecraft when he grows up, tunes into our show.
I’m now 43 years old; I’ve served in the military and in law enforcement, and it was my privilege to have the opportunity to do both. Knowing that, some 12 years after I started down this path, that I managed to reach even a single child and potentially impact them in the manner I had set out to all those years ago, was one of the most humbling experiences in my life.
We have spent more time, funds, and energy than I care to think about to make SpaceFlight Insider what it is. Having such an unexpected experience at an airport terminal may not have helped me change my religion, but it certainly made me feel like someone up there thought I needed to hear that our efforts were not in vain.
Chiding myself for allowing myself to get down, I boarded my plane for Orlando reinvigorated and ready to do an even better job of sharing with the world that when the ground trembles under the fury of rocket engines, the skies light with hypergolic fury, and a new star joins the heavens, there’s a very terrestrial – and important – reason for it.
The views expressed in this feature are solely those of the author and do not, necessarily, reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.