Once A Fond Memory; It Now Brings Sadness
With good reading material tucked under my arm, I made the familiar walk to Gate 31 at Amarillo’s airport.
That’s where the 4:40 afternoon flight to Dallas always flew out of. Then I’d transfer to a Little Rock flight.
I made that trip more times than I can count during the five years I lived in Texas.
That day, in 1999, I saw a group of about 25 people gathered beside the gate. They were waiting on the plane that I’d fly out on. Children with hand-made signs and a couple of TV crews.
I thought to myself, wonder who is coming?
Never the shy one when it comes to questions, I asked someone.
They were waiting on Rick Husband.
The name was slightly familiar but just who he was didn’t immediately come to mind.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"The astronaut," the woman said.
Right, I thought. I remember. Amarillo’s favorite son. He was coming for his first visit home after flying on the space shuttle to the first U.S. mission to the International Space Station.
That’s pretty cool, I thought. I’ll get to see him.
The Southwest Airlines plane pulled up to the gate and the TV crews turned on their lights.
Dressed in street clothes, the attractive man flashed a boyish grin as he walked into the concourse. Some hugs out of the way, he strode up to the microphones and was cordial as he answered all the questions.
I stood close by and watched.
His interviews done, he didn’t walk away. He squatted down — to be closer to eye level with the children – autographed their signs and chatted with them.
His was the face and name that came to mind first Saturday morning when I heard the news that communication had been lost with the shuttle.
I wondered if he was up there. Probably because I really couldn’t name any other active astronauts. And probably because he’s the only one I ever saw.
Sadly, he was one of the seven. He was the commander. He was doing what he first declared was his goal when he was 4 years old … to be an astronaut. It was something he achieved after four tries to get into the program.
Space flight now is not like when we were children … when we’d have black and white TVs with rabbit ears in our classrooms and knew their names … the likes of John Glenn and Gus Grissom.
I’m not sure I even knew a space shuttle was on a mission though I think vaguely I did. Maybe it was because of the news of Ilan Ramon from Israel being aboard … that country’s first astronaut.
His family was interviewed. The son said he wasn’t scared for his father, the little girl was. After the tragedy, her mom said the girl was always fearful of her dad’s planned flight.
The words said by the child at liftoff – "My daddy’s gone" – haunt me.
She may well have known what the rest of us didn’t.
Space travel has become so commonplace we give little thought to its dangers.
Saturday brought us down to earth.
(Kate Dickson can be reached by email at: email@example.com)