In 1987, I was a newly minted college graduate with a degree in the extremely business relevant area of Fine Arts, looking for work. I'd done some radio broadcasting. I'd done some work in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library's AV section. I'd used a mainframe. I'd studied religion. In other words, I had utterly no marketable skills.
So I contacted an agency for secretarial placements, and somehow ended up with a job as the Administrative Assistant to the Coordinator of the NASA Teacher in Space Project. My primary task -- to handle the public mail for Barbara Morgan, who had taken on the role of NASA's Teacher in Space, after being the backup to Christa McAuliffe. I mailed educational materials around to the Teacher in Space Ambassadors -- the 2 teachers from each state who were semifinalists. I gathered some statistical information about their speaking and educational engagements. I enjoyed the heck out of hanging around NASA Headquarters, and all of the interesting people who worked there.
But I'm not well-equipped for a life of secretarial support work. As I enter midlife, I'm amazed that I was able to hang on as long as I did, honestly -- it's a miracle, really. After about 2 years, I left for a job handling logistics for a Navy RADAR program, entered government contracting, moved into IT systems work, and never looked back.
But I always said that if Barbara ever flew, I'd want to be there.
Then about 3 years ago, I had a baby, and a lot of things fell off my own personal RADAR in the interference of long nights, diapers, bottles, pacifiers, daycare drop-offs and wet milk-smelling kisses. And it snuck up on me.
Last Friday, I came to the sudden realization that I'd nearly missed it. Barbara's mission, STS-118, was scheduled for next Tuesday, August 7th, at 7pm. I panicked. How could I have let that sneak up on me? I must have been distracted, chasing my 3-year-old son. And that very thing nearly prevented me from following up on the dream of 20 years to watch Barbara fly.
I have not for one night been further than 20 miles from my son, and on that one night, he was at his grandmother's house as a kind of "testflight" of his own. We both survived the separation that night, but there's no question that I felt the extra tension on that particular heartstring until my boy was back at my side the following day.
And so the prospect of jetting off to Florida and leaving my family behind was just not something I felt prepared to do on short order -- asking my husband to take over child care duties for 2 full days was the icing on the cake. I decided to try to get a good-wishes message to Barbara, and send my love with my friend and former colleague Ed in the public affairs office.
My husband told me I was nuts. "GO!" he insisted. I had no idea how to even begin to make arrangements. But Ed quickly responded: "they're having a conference. Here's the contact information."
And 20 years later, the hospitality of the Teacher in Space community is fully intact -- I got a happy-to-hear-from-you from everyone I spoke to, and a seat on the bus to go view the launch, and with the other "friends of TIS," a welcome to the conference activities. One of the conference participants even offered to let me "bunk" for the night I'll be there.
And so a few hours of arrangements later, I have tickets, a car, a hotel room, and a seat on the bus for the show I've been looking forward to for nearly my entire adult life. I'm sure my excitement pales by comparison with Barbara's, and any of the members of the Teacher in Space community, but I'm still hardly able to contain my delight, and my prayers for a safe and joyful launch and return. My camera is packed!