Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wonder

As a child born in the 1970's, I can only imagine what the the atmosphere was like in the homes of North American families on July 20, 1969.  I've heard stories about the neighbourhood parties; everybody crowding into the homes of those who owned televisions at that time to catch of glimpse of Neil Armstrong taking those ground breaking first steps on the surface of the moon.  The most vivid recollections seem to be from children.  Unhindered for the most part by the constant barrage of news about the tensions surrounding the Vietnam War, their imaginations were left to soar.  To picture themselves right there alongside the brave astronauts of Apollo 11, picking up moon rocks and seeing if any bits of it had the consistency of cheese.  Their wonder was pure.

My own personal love of the space program was with me throughout my childhood.  I don't personally remember any kind of launches before the first manned shuttle, Columbia, launched in April 1981.  I seem to remember watching it live early in the morning, or perhaps I saw a replay of it later in the day but that didn't matter.  I loved the shuttle.  I dreamed of flying in one myself.  My grandparents picked up a small toy version and I played with it everywhere.

When my mother and I moved to Virginia, Ontario (between Sutton and Pefferlaw) to move in with my mom's boyfriend (who is now my step-father) on December 24, 1985 I was given an extraordinary gift.  They had wall-papered one side of my bedroom with a massive mural of Space Shuttle Columbia, and I could remember staring at it for hours (when I wasn't staring at my Commodore 64 on the other side of the room).

When the horrific Challenger explosion occurred in 1986, I remember being relieved that my beloved Columbia hadn't been the one to go.  Could you imagine having such a massive reminder of a tragedy like that on your bedroom wall as a youth?  However, my own sense of wonder was tarnished by the incident.  Perhaps that was combined with my own frustrations surrounding my school experiences or perhaps from the death of one of my friends, but when we moved from that house into a larger one in the same town I had no real regret of leaving that mural behind.  My enthusiasm for the space program had faded.

That's not to say I wasn't sad of course when Columbia did end up having its own tragedy in 2003...but that was more from the loss of life than from a childhood attachment.

I don't believe my story is uncommon.  Whether it's from the evolution of the internet or from 24 hour television or from reality television stars being treated with more fame than astronauts, the average children of today seem to have lost their facination with space.  Even the landing of the rovers on the Mars surface doesn't seem to have as much impact on the kiddies than the next episode of I Carly.  They seem to see it as something monotonous, too scientific and not flashy enough.  They need something to excite their hearts again.

Enter Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull.

When I first read about the Red Bull Stratos program, I was slightly skeptical at first.  It sounded like something from a Simpsons episode.  Was Felix going to pop out of the craft with a big keg of red bull feeding into his suit, acting as his sustinance? How would a pressurized beverage act at 38km up?  Thankfully these weren't questions I needed to delve into as they didn't become important.  Sure, the name was plastered everywhere so the corporation will certainly do well, but this was all about Felix and the jump.

If you've been living in a cave, most of the information on this jump can be found at Red Bull Stratos.  But basically, we've got a very brave and experienced base jumper, who's noticable achievements include jumping from the Christ Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro (and he used a crossbow to set the line up that he used to climb it in the first place) and the Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan.  This is a guy who's just got massive cahones and uses that to his advantage.  He doesn't have a doctorate in astrophysics and didn't spend time at MIT.  His credentials are from the Austrian military practicing parachute jumping...it's all about airtime.  High altitude airtime.

In this world where extreme sports has crossed over into the entertainment world, from Jackass to Tony Hawk to probably a hundred thousand Youtube videos of kids trying the dumbest things for a laugh, what better way to re-ignite some facination back into our youth from this incredibly brave guy who's seemingly unafraid to try something new.

I watched the video today with facination.  My internet feed grew worse and worse as the time progressed.  I guess more and more of the world was surfing over to watch.  Nathaniel would join me for awhile and then go back to playing Angry Birds on the laptop.  I tried to explain to Kyle that the little dot at the bottom of the huge balloon was a man but he didn't quite get it.  Eventually I had to go turn the television on and find a channel that was showing it as the video online froze completely.  I momentarily thought that if this had been 1969, I wouldn't have had to channel-surf past religious programming and golf channels.  It would have been only the one thing on at that time...anywhere.  We would have been sitting on the floor until our bottoms ached, brought to wonder by difficult to see images.

I hope we find that wonder again.  Thanks to Felix, there may be some hope.

11:56pm

Music Playing: Kraftwerk's Autobahn (Rm) and Kraftwerk 2 albums
Podcast of the day: Stuff You Missed in History Class


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