Sunday, August 07, 2005

Failure is NOT an option

For my son's 6th birthday, which was a week after we had his pool party with friends, we decided to finally drive to NASA to see SpaceCenter Houston, otherwise known to most as Johnson Space Center. We bravely took our 16-month-old, hoping she'd be stroller-friendly for the day.

I think I was more excited about this than my six-year-old. All through my elementary school years, I wanted to be an astronaut more than anything. Then, just before middle school, I changed my mind and thought being a detective would be WAY more cool. I know that the glamour of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys had something to do with this transformation for me. But, I always held astronauts in the highest regard and still do today.

I still remember where I was when we heard the space shuttle exploded. It was my sophomore year of high school. We were all being loud and obnoxious sitting in my English class just before the bell rang for class to begin, when suddenly a radio broadcast came over the intercom announcing what had just happened. Within minutes, our teacher had wheeled in a television set and we were watching what had happened in disbelief. No one left for their next class. We all just sat in a daze as we saw those brave lives just disappear in thin air. My good friend Dipu even went to school with one of the astronaut's children. I can't imagine what it felt like to have this tragedy hit that close to home.

Remembering back, for me, this experience was probably as close to what it must have felt like for my parent's generation to watch the horrific assassination of JFK. Sadly, since 9-11, I cannot say this is the worst moment I've ever witness in my life. But, it definitely changed my life a little when the shuttle exploded. Any remnants of those childhood dreams were instantly abandoned that day while tearfully watching that tragedy and my heart was broken.

So, back to our birthday journey--as we departed for the long drive to the other side of Houston, I felt a little giddy inside to finally be going to the space center. That giddiness was soon squelched by anxiety and then annoyance. Our hour-long drive became a stop for lunch and then a detour that actually caused us to arrive 2 1/2 hours later. Don't ask me how this happened. I'm pretty sure we fell into a black hole somewhere between McDonald's and the space center. My husband and I even debated going back home and calling the whole day a wash. But, it was my kid's 6th birthday. Failure was NOT an option.

Once we finally arrived, we pulled up to see 2 enormous daycares lining up kids to enter and three longer than long lines waiting for tickets. But, wait--at the zoo and museums in Houston if you arrive after lunch it is always smooth sailing. What was UP with this? I was definitely starting to think this whole trip was a bad idea.

After waiting for entirely too long in the line for tickets, we finally got inside, only to be smothered in a sea of bright orange daycare shirts all descending upon the most huge and awesome play structure I have ever seen. My son, who gets shy around a lot of kids, bravely attempted to go play in the 3-story climbing structure for a short while. I have to give him props for trying and for coming out in one piece without shedding any tears.

Next, we decided to jump on a tram early and go do the behind-the-scenes astronaut training tour in the real NASA buildings, hopefully before any daycare groups did thus avoiding the whole crowded mess. It was not to be. The wait was an hour and the tour was an hour. They made you unload your strollers before you got in line to wait for the tram. My daughter likes to run. Fast. She likes to watch us chase her. It is a game. My husband is strong, but I just couldn't see him holding her body for two straight hours while she performed her Houdini-like acrobatics and squealed to be released. That is no way to spend your 6th birthday either.

So, I sighed and we tried something different and gave up being able to do the tram tour this trip. Maybe next time we could come without "Miss Kitty" or maybe she'll be more "tame" by then where she'll stand with us for the tour. The first few things we did were OK. We got to see real space suits on display and watched a neat video on the space program and its accomplishments and tragedies. My daughter squirmed and squealed through it but we didn't have to leave. Then, we got to tour models of space shuttles and that is where the visit started to improve.

When we came out of this exhibit, we noticed some of the groups were gathering together near the front to leave. We decided to go hit the snackbar for some drinks. After we walked out of there, the place began emptying out rapidly. We saw several more exhibits, went inside the "cockpit" of a space shuttle and were mesmerized by the number of switches and buttons the astronauts must manipulate when in space. I was in awe and I instantly knew that there was NO WAY I could have ever been an astronaut. These men and women are the cream of the crop.

One ironic and sad thing I noted, while I wheeled my napping daughter into the gift shop, was the number of shirts, bumper stickers, etc that had the phrase "Failure is NOT an option" on them. Considering that we've lost two shuttle crews and the current mission has been plagued with scary moments, I took pause at this. There have been murmurings of abandoning the shuttle program entirely. What a loss for our country! I said a little prayer in my head for the crew, which I'd heard had managed to remove a flap of the shuttle exterior that experts were worrying over for their re-entry.

We ended our trip to NASA with promises to come back to do the astronaut tour and the knowledge that this was an incredible learning opportunity sitting only a few miles from us. And, for a day that seemed plagued with failures from the get-go, ours ended up being quite a success in the end.

I really hope that NASA has the same experience with the shuttle tomorrow as they land. I'll say another little prayer tonight for our brave astronauts who refuse to accept failure even when they facing troubles so many miles from home.

Our country needs this success. My six-year-old son needs to see these kind of successes too, so he can dream as I did of reaching for the stars. I don't want that dream to disintegrate in the air the way some of my ambitions did that day the shuttle exploded. Failure is NOT an option.


Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

Nice to see a picture of you guys!
Your trip sounded a lot like any trip my family takes with everyone present. One time, we drove the four hours it takes to get to my parents house- and it took EIGHT. We don't even know how it happened, but it was nightmarish.
However, I've found that almost always, the fear of going on a Major Outing is bigger than the actual trouble caused by the Major Outing. So I'm trying to do more with Baby, rather than taking the easy way out and keeping her at home.
If we're ever in Houston, we'll have to check the space center out!

8:20 AM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

I started to put a caption on that photo. Something to the effect of, WHAT WAS UP WITH MY HAIR? So, please, don't judge me by that frazzled pic. It was taken at the very end of our long day! HA!

I really relate to what you've said about the hassle/fear of going out being worse than it is when you're there. You've taken a great attitude about it by trying to do more.

8:38 AM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger Babs said...

LOVE the picture. btw, I was thinking "Hey, her hair is getting long... cool!"

2:09 PM, August 08, 2005  

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