In an uncanny twist of events I had the opportunity last year to attend the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s annual gala. This event is attended by everybody who’s anybody in the world of space exploration, from rocket scientists to moonwalkers to authors of books about space (I’ll get back to that point in a minute). Ok, so “everybody who’s anybody” might be a tad of an overstatement, but it’s still quite the star-studded event. For me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I had a fabulous time pretending to part of a world to which I really don’t belong.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, in another strange twist of events I was fortunate enough to go again this year as the guest of my co-worker and soon-to-be co-author David. (Again, more on that in a minute.)
One of the things that made this year’s event cool for me, personally, was that the night’s events crossed my NASA world with my chosen career, journalism. One of the people receiving an award that night was Hugh Downs of television journalism fame. I remember watching Hugh on 20/20 when I was a kid. Yes, I’ve been a news junkie for quite a long time. So to see him in person was quite the highlight! I particularly enjoyed the nice video message from 20/20 co-anchor Barbara Walters. Let’s just say there were quite a few things in there about people believing you and giving you chances to do great things that I could relate to. ;)
The gala really is one fancy shin-dig, complete with more silverware than you know what to do with and classy table decor. At each place setting was a rocket lava lamp that we got to keep at the end of the night.
Last year I sat in the “media” area which was kind of on the outskirts of the dining area. I watched most of the on-stage speeches and award presentations on the screens spread throughout the center. This year our seats were directly in front of the stage, one row back from the “VIP” area. Directly in front of us were the mayors of Huntsville and Madison. One table over was the astronaut table. Hugh Downs table was also just one table away. So this year’s supremo seating was quite awesome. This is why I said everybody who’s anybody includes authors of space books because David ended up being quite the VIP himself. Last year a photo of the cover of David’s book, Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story, was one of the items revealed as new additions to the museum. The photo was flown to the International Space Station with Richard Garriott, son of Homesteading co-author and Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott. Two little-known facts about this item: the photo was printed at Target, a fact Target-lovers like I can be proud of, and on the back of the photo are several sits of initials, including mine.
This year there were no David-related space artifacts revealed but he was still mentioned in a big way as one of the evening’s special guests. He was mentioned at the first of the list, in fact, and another quite famous author in attendance wasn’t mentioned at all, so I was happy for him to bask a little in his own glory.
The mood at the gala was a little bittersweet, which is in itself is quite memorable, because as this event was celebrating the history of human spaceflight, the future of human spaceflight was (and still is) uncertain. In the days leading up to the gala, rumors were circulating that the president’s budget proposal may cut part or all of the Constellation and Ares programs that were to take humans back to the moon. Here we were, among past and present rocket scientists and astronauts, dining underneath the mighty Saturn V rocket that took humans to the moon the first time, pondering what the future may hold for humans in space. It felt like a very historic moment, and those of us who were there were very aware that we were not only celebrating history but doing so at a time when history is actively being made. Quite surreal to be there at this moment in time, and really to just be there at all. Thanks, David.