As a child of the 1950s, I was a fan of space travel almost from the time I could first read the comic strips. And plenty of those were about space. There was Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford and even Alley Oop got in the act at times. (Seriously!)
And there were space movies. “It Came from Outer Space,” “This Island Earth,” “When Worlds Collide,” and many more. All the way up to more modern times, programs on television and movies like “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Alien,” along with “Planet of the Apes,” and others. Wow. What a lineup.
People my age may remember when the Russians launched “Sputnik,” when we couldn’t get the little grapefruit-sized “Vanguard” off the launch pad, much less into space. Well, it was the Army to the rescue with the “Explorer.”
And then there was Project Mercury, with Astronauts Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter and Gordo Cooper. And Deke Slayton, too, even if he never got to travel in space until much later. One Sunday in July of 1969, I was in my car in Montgomery, Alabama, with my wife and son when we heard the Apollo 11 lunar lander had touched down on the moon, and nothing seemed impossible after that.
To borrow a line from “The Right Stuff,” “Without the bucks there’s no Buck Rogers.” (I don’t know if they really said that, but it makes sense now—space travel is very expensive.)
If you were glued to a television set on Monday, Nov. 26, you witnessed the “seven minutes of terror” as NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory waited to learn the fate of the “InSight” probe to Mars.
What the early accounts of space travel never really presented or visualized were the vast distances in space, as well as the cost of sending even tiny instrument packages across those vast distances. Wanna visit the Planet Pluto? (Oh, I forgot. It’s not a planet anymore.) Well, just hop in my rocket ship and we’ll be off. It’ll take about 10 years.
Space travel is fueled by many things: exotic fuels, money and imagination. Imagination has brought us many scientific miracles. With that imagination, we touch the sky and touch the stars. Thanks to all who made possible what we have already achieved.
Oh, I always believed!
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.