When I was a wee lad of nine, I had a teacher named Mr. Jones. A short, portly Welshman, he was typical of the species: hairy-faced, pot-bellied and prone to restrained violence. His notoriety held our younger minds suspended in fear as we approached the requisite age for his class, as he was known for dishing out six of the best, not with a cane or a birch, but with his bare hand.
Older kids would tell us stories of his smacking hand leaving welts on their grey-trousered backsides, how they would prefer the cane or even a paddle. I only got six off him one time, but believe me, one time was all you ever needed. Anyone who got six twice was simply a moron.
Nonetheless he was a decent teacher and taught the usual variety of things nine year-olds have to deal with; mental arithmetic, rugby training, and those great nuggets of childhood talent, the creative essay.
I loved writing as a kid, and was probably a lot better at it then than I am now, mostly due to time constraints, or at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Of course, the audience when you’re nine is a lot more forgiving.
The point of this entry is that as a nine year old I was once asked to write an essay on any holiday I wanted to take in the future, and I wrote about something very close to my heart, namely visiting the moon for fun.
Now, back then, I hadn’t heard the term “commercial space travel”. I’d never seen a rocket launch nor had I much knowledge of the Apollo program, although all this knowledge was soon to be devoured. But, in my little Welsh village school we had been pulled into the lunchroom to watch the first ever re-entry of a reusable space transportation system: the Space Shuttle Columbia landing, and that blew my tiny little mind. So, my space flight knowledge was merely beginning at that point, and as I wrote my little essay I envisioned a world where we would all jump in a spaceship and fly to the moon for a picnic.
I knew that as a species we’d been to the moon, although I wasn’t really sure how often. I did know that we’d not been able to for a while, and then all of sudden, we did. It seemed then, and still seems now, a natural progression that eventually, as with the car and the train and the airplane, we’d simply get better at it until everyone had a rocket ship.
So, I wrote about future moon travel holidays, I think I may have said somewhere around 2000 because back then *everything* was going to be possible by 2000. Flying cars were due any time now, personal rocket packs for getting around town, and I had only recently finished planning my tilting village concept – whereby I intended to place villages on a very slight adjustable gradient that would tip during the course of the day ever so slowly, the point being one could always cycle or walk downhill both on the way to work *and* on the way home. This of course assumed that everyone lived on one side and worked on the other, but in my young mind all these things were possible with a little sensible planning. (SimCity has – for the most part – proved my hypothesis correct.)
Well, I handed in my essay, and although I remember being graded relatively well for its’ composition, Mr. Jones saw fit to deride me a little in front of the class for my crazy, hallucinogenic scheme, one that would surely never happen, one of those things of sci-fi books and comics, fit only for Buck Rogers and his cohorts.
Yep, old Jonesy himself told me it was a silly idea and I should pay more attention to realistic goals. Where did I *really* want to go on holidays, he asked me. I couldn’t make him understand I really, really, really wanted to go to the moon. My reasons have changed over the years, reasons that began with some vague understanding of cheese and distance have now morphed into some atheistic delusion of grandeur, and if truth be told I’m now more interested in Mars than Luna, but dammit, I still want to go.
So, it is with much satisfaction, yearning and hope that I have been following the X Prize, a 10 million dollar competition to get a commercial manned flight into sub-orbital space.
It is with anticipation and butterflies I’ve followed the work of Burt Rutan.
And with glee, mirth, and general love for being a human in these most amazing of times I point Mr. Jones and you, the casual reader, to the news that today, this twenty-first day of June, 2004 (perhaps not surprisingly the day of a most glorious summer solstice) that man did indeed launch a rocket into space. Not a government, or a corporation, or a space agency. A man.
Today, man enters a new era. I tip my hat to Burt Rutan, ace designer. Paul Allen, visionary funder. And Mike Melvill, the first civilian to ever be awarded astronaut wings. Rock on guys, I’m waiting to buy a ticket.
Today it is truly damned beautiful to be alive.