Steve stood off to the edge of the large open space with the limited spectators, happy that he could be here to witness the historic event. Gazing at the cloudless sky through squinted eyes, the bright sun warmed his skin and baked the earth. Closing his eyes he could remember all the details, minute by minute, the sounds, the voices, even the smells as the distant memories coalesced and played in him mind like a movie.
No one knew he had come, not Oscar or Rudy. No one. Could anyone truly comprehend the significance? Would they really understand the immense depth of emotion seeing its fruition after all these years? No, he knew no matter how hard they tried only he could know what this meant to him.
Faint mumblings were heard around him in the distance but he remained standing alone, watching and waiting. It had taken years for this moment to arrive, history in the making yet it seemed like just yesterday he had made his substantial contribution to bring it to completion. It was just minutes away and he wondered how it would make him feel. Would it have been worth it? Would the price have been too high? He wasn’t sure but he knew he couldn’t leave that spot until the job was done.
Avoiding interactions with the others present he had nothing but memories to sift through and occupy his mind for the hour leading up to the event. Taking deep breaths he tried to be calm. Reminding himself what was done was done; he couldn’t change history even if he wanted to. His once normal life, one that included the dream of a wife, children and a 9 to 5 job, was no longer an option. The cards had been dealt and he played them the best he could. That realization, on such an emotional day, cause tears to fill the blue eyes behind the aviator sunglasses. No one ever said life was fair.
The murmurs behind him became louder and he looked to the northern sky. There, a tiny pinpoint against the light blue, was the object of his long morning vigil. The crowd stood in awe of the sight before them. The large white ship with its cropped wings, black nose and belly glided, without power, towards the waiting desert. It would be the first time in history a manned space flight returned to earth in a re-usable spacecraft, a space craft to be readied for another day of flight.
Seeing the ship, nose pointed down, dropping through the atmosphere like a brick, Steve’s chest tightened. Without their engines could they control the touchdown enough to prevent a catastrophe? It grew larger and larger as it approached the hard lakebed. Slowly the tightness in his chest was replaced with feelings of achievement and pride as he watched it touch down, main gear first, a long rollout then the nose wheel settled to the ground. The drag chute was deployed to slow the immense craft to a controllable speed.
Steve barely heard the loud cheering behind him, his mind locked on all the years of hard work that culminated into this moment, the long nights of study, and hours of testing, failures that were corrected over the years. Yes, the vision was finally realized and in the beginning he had been an integral part.
The seven-men crew enthusiastically descended the metal stairs sharing smiles and handshakes with NASA officials. The small crowd of on-lookers excitedly joined in and surrounded the astronauts. The flash bulbs went off and video cameras rolled with the commentary of the news reporters, preserving this moment for future generations.
The flight and its safe return to earth were considered a success by both professionals and laymen alike. Steve watched from afar with hands shoved in his pockets as the men enjoyed their moment in the spotlight. Yes, the space shuttle’s first mission was a success, one that started with the first flight of an experimental plane called the HL-10.
As Steve stared at the immense bird he marveled at how much like the HL-10 it was but on a much larger scale. He, a boy from a small California town, had helped to bring the vision to reality. With a crooked grin he turned and headed to his car unnoticed. Maybe the price wasn’t too high. Maybe it was just meant to be. Maybe it was destiny giving him another opportunity to contribute to history.