The Launch

When I was a kid, shuttle launches were a big deal. In the weeks leading up to it, we would read about the astronauts in the “Scholastics Weekly.” We would know who was going up, what the shuttle’s name was, what kind of significant first we as a nation would accomplish this time. We’d agonize over weather reports, lament when missions were postponed. When at last the day arrived, a TV would be wheeled into our classroom so we could watch the significant moment on TV together.


We would hold our breath


“and we have lift-off” Mission Control would say, as if it was commonplace, mundane. As if they hadn’t worked all their lives to reach this one glorious moment.

Fortunately, the kids at Edneyville Elementary felt no such compulsion to hide our emotions. We would cheer, clap, high-five, and cry all at the same time.

To be an American kid in the early 80s was to be at the top of the world. A Hollywood actor in the White House, Olympic glory in Los Angeles, a space shuttle program that was the envy of the world- anything you could dream of seemed possible, seemed just out of reach, just beyond the horizon, just ahead of the space shuttle.

Then the Challenger happened.

We were home from school that day. I don’t remember why. My brother and sister and I were gathered in the living room. Dad was stationed by the TV, flipping the channel knob from one channel’s camera angle to another. It didn’t take long since there were only three.

We counted down and then…

The world changed.

I’d just done a report the day before on Christa McAuliffe,the first teacher in space. I looked at her picture that night, and I cried.

It was the first time I think I was affected by a news event, the first time I understood the significance of what was happening on TV.

Dad assured me the astronauts had felt no pain. I think we all needed to believe that. The alternative was too awful to contemplate. Dad said it was important to try again. That some goals are worth giving your life for.

I guess the rest of the country wasn’t as sure. I don’t remember watching another shuttle launch at school.

On Sunday, we took the kids to the Yokohama Children’s Science Museum to watch on the big screen as a Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (along with an American and their Russian host) took off for the ISS.

The place was packed. In the entrance was a life size cut-out of Hoshide, along with a timeline detailing his life up until this point.

Upstairs, my kids squeezed together into a space meant for one. They watched as the camera cut away to the astronaut’s elementary alma mater. They held hands and held their breath as they watched the countdown.

Behind them I stood, since the seats were all filled, and winced as the count got to zero. I wanted to preserve the innocence, the sense of potential as vast and wide as the ever sprawling universe.

I thought the world had lost that. But it was only me, only us.

The excitement and wonder are still very much alive in the children of Japan.

Call me impractical, but I don’t think you can put a price on that, and I’m not sure the money saved by scrapping the shuttle program will be worth what it costs our children.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. gaijinwife
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 19:40:43

    Over in little ole NZ we had none of that. I really don’t remember anything spacey from growing up – bar my 21st when I had a space party and two friends came as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (and yes I had to wikipedia that for the spelling, after first nearly putting Lightyear). I think its great you’ve got those memories -and that your kids get to share some of the excitement.


    • hamakkomommy
      Jul 16, 2012 @ 21:00:11

      I researched this a little bit after writing it (better late than never, right?) and I couldn’t have watched it live from home. I doubt that I would have known the difference, given that I was eight at the time and probably too surprised by what I was seeing to worry about the details. No idea why we weren’t at school. For a moment there I thought I’d call Dad and ask him. Don’t think I could afford the long distance fees.


  2. Xana
    Jul 17, 2012 @ 07:31:28

    I was in 7th grade. Math class. The first time (and only time) I ever saw a teacher cry. She had applied for the program.


  3. Skhylar
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 07:04:34

    I know what you’re talking about. The life of a child in America has changed dramatically since I was younger [although my childhood did become a nightmare once transferring to public school for personal reasons, but I digress]. It’s sad I have to wonder that, if I choose to raise my son here in the US, will he ever develop a connection with nature, will his imagination prosper or shrivel, will he get to actually be a kid or will he be ruined by the pressure to grow up that’s starting earlier and earlier?

    Suffice to say preservation of innocence will definitely be on my pro list of moving to Japan during my son’s younger years as opposed till waiting until he’s a young adult. We’ll be moving in a few years- after I finish up college- regardless where because the city we live in now has more bad than good in it.

    As an American raising your kids in Japan, how do you feel that affects your children? Do you think a childhood in Japan is worst better or equal to one in America? I’m just looking for opinions here to make a educated decision.


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