This post by Garret Fitzpatrick was originally written in October 2008. We share it here to remind us to step back and remember why we are here - and what’s worth staying here for.
Whew-I made it!
One full year on the job.
(NASA, I’m writing you this blog entry as a combined present for our anniversary and your 50^th^ birthday. Even though I’m technically late on both and you might have been hoping for a more substantial present like a bouquet of tulips or a nice dinner at that fancy French restaurant in town or a pearl necklace-yeah right on my salary!-I hope you won’t use that in future arguments over which TV show we’ll watch on Tuesday nights. I’m still voting for House, for the record).
I started full-time at NASA back in August 2007, having graduated the previous May after spending five co-op tours at JSC over the previous four years. They say you usually don’t start talking to yourself or addressing the agency as your significant other for at least 10 years, so I’m thrilled to be ahead of the curve on this one.
A year might not sound like all that significant to most, but to me, it’s a huge milestone. An-all-too-welcoming stroll down memory lane brings me back the image of a college junior, tying a tie eight times before getting it right the morning of his first day as a co-op, then staring wide-eyed at the monster Saturn V rocket lying on its side in the grass at the main gate of the center, an ominous sentry to the unsuspecting kid who still couldn’t believe he had landed an interview with the agency, let alone to be actually sitting in his car outside its gates.
But apparently I tied that tie well enough to get hired on as a full-timer, joining the ranks of men and women whose ingenuity had inspired me to crack open the differential equations textbooks (ugh) and survive the all-night college library exam studying (read: cramming) to get to where I am now, celebrating a year of ups and downs, triumphs and failures, exploring questions and trying to make the agency a little better place than when I got here.
Wednesday I drove through the gates at JSC and I thought of that first day on the job. I glanced at the (relatively) recently-built giant building enclosing the massive Saturn V; the beast of a rocket built to billow colossal plumes of fire and smoke and taught to reach constantly upward into the heavens as the height of our audaciousness, fueled by a defiant dream and the lure of the unknown, now asked to bathe in shadow, awaiting a lifetime of staring at a wall of corrugated aluminum siding while tourists gawk at the grandeur of man’s creations and NASA employees drive past, largely oblivious to its tormented suffering in their rush to meet the next impossible schedule.
A rocket that took astronauts to the moon all those years ago…
What if I had just finished up my first year in 1968, instead of 2008? Would I have this same excitement? Would I be so driven? Or, more importantly, would I be talking to myself like this?
I wonder what it was like to drive through that same gate on the way to a day on the job, working towards a goal of lifting humans to heights never before reached, to our knowledge, in the history of the universe. To live in a world where man had not yet walked on the surface of another heavenly body. What was that world like when those preconceptions of man’s limitations were shattered?
I can’t imagine such a world because the people who drove past that gate and many others like it for so long have given me the gift of seeing the world through different eyes.
In our rush to figure out how to improve the openness of the agency and either anoint or discredit the past, current, or future generations of engineers and rocket scientists, leaders and dreamers, heroes and soldiers of exploration, let’s not forget to take a step back and smile at that gift.
Even if some of us weren’t around when it was given.