austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

The future's not ours to see

Wally Schirra was the first astronaut I ever saw in person. That wasn't from much particular pre-planning or my eagerness to search him out; it's that when I was of the right age to attend elementary school, I was living in a township which had seen a rapid growth of population and tax base in the early 1960s and responded to one coming need by building seven new elementary schools, and if you're building seven elementary schools while it's still 1961 out there's only one naming scheme you're going to be allowed to use. With that, it's obvious which of the elementary schools I went to, and why he'd therefore be the first astronaut I would see in person.

I'm almost certain that it was in second grade, and I must have known he was one of the Mercury Seven astronauts by that time, although I couldn't tell you when I learned that. I was a space enthusiast early, about as soon as I was able to read, with the result that I just don't know when it was I learned about the structure of the solar system as we amusingly thought it was in the pre-Voyager days, or who the Mercury Seven were, or how big a Mercury capsule was, or so on. I just grew up with them, the way other kids grew up knowing how to kick a kickball so that it would actually leave the ground or go beyond the pitcher. (I still think it has to be telekinesis, which they were taught the day I was out so a physician could jab me with four tines to see what kind of a rash resulted.) At this late date I don't remember anything that he talked about, although I remember thinking it odd that he wore a suit, just like anyone's dad might.

I'm fairly sure that by the time the space shuttle Columbia first flew I knew something of Schirra's place in space history, and being the only person to fly the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules, because I remember thinking early on how neat it would be if he were to fly on the space shuttle too, and maybe whatever came after the shuttle. It would still be cool, although it would take me a while to understand why that wasn't likely. I think when I was ten I didn't quite understand how you could go from being an astronaut to doing anything else. I'm still a bit fuzzy on it. About the only thing that disappointed me when The Right Stuff came out was that Schirra had pretty near no role in it. I don't ultimately have a point here; just mutterings.

Trivia: Wally Schirra was the first person to fly three times into space. Source: Apollo By The Numbers: A Statistical Reference, Richard W Orloff, NASA SP-2000-4029. (This may be my most over-documented trivia point yet.)

Currently Reading: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M Barry.

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