Looking up there…………….


50 years ago, in 1961 a young girl was dreaming, spaceflight, space travel. A very romantic young Russian Yuri Gagarin (I was sure he was really royalty) had gone up into space and come back to earth. My understanding of royalty was a bit shakey, but the man was royalty of a different kind, those fortunate enough to be able to work in the space programs and eventually have those experiences.

There was only a little on the news in the evenings, but the newspapers were a little more useful, as long as the housekeeper hadn’t used the pertinent bits in cleaning before I came home from school. Finally a few weeks later at the drive-in, on the news was footage related to this event, one of the few times as a child I demanded we LISTEN and WATCH the news. (I suspect the other times had to do with a spate of royal weddings)

When I was younger I had been fascinated by the name SPUTNIK. Not really understanding what had been done, it held all the mystery of foreign places and achievements. After all that was my first year at school, the year before my brother was born. He and I came from different generations, me from those born before space flight, he in the era when humans had sent objects beyond our own sphere. (Not very far to be sure).

1963 first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, news slowly trickled out. The nuns didn’t mention it; there were enough of us chafing at the thought of the limitations society placed on women, even at that early age.

By 1963 when the Americans successfully finally launched Telstar and opened up the possibilities of using satellites for communications, and the Russians sent the first WOMAN into space I was annoyed that my branch of the family had come to South Africa and not gone with those who ventured to the USA. After all had I been there I would have been spotted by the NASA people and snapped up as a trainee. (Me ……… and all the millions of others who dreamed of a career flying).

By then I had devoured the available books at the library on Von Braun and others, designing and building rockets, first for killing in WW2, then moving to the USA and working on the space program. Moving from a means of killing to the greatest adventure of all time. I think I was naïve enough not to believe that it was just another aspect in the cold war really – otherwise the funding wouldn’t have been enough).

Then in my last year at school, in the middle of our winter, the GREATEST ADVENTURE EVER, going to another body in space. Ok, so it was only OUR MOON, but it was so different. How could one study when such events were happening? Hopping about on an almost airless plain, having travelled so far and in danger. Far from rescue should anything go wrong. Oh how I wished my life had been earlier, male and lucky!

Reading over the years of the space laboratories Salyut and Skylab. Manned and unmanned. Learning, learning…….. Imagine being one of those designing the experiments to find out how different things were in space?

1980’s Space Shuttle, magic, they went up, came back and could also go up again. None of the hopeful landing in the sea and hoping not to crash on land.

By then I had accepted gender and location (amongst other things like an inadequate grasp of mathematics) was going to ensure I never did get out into space.

And then a few years ago, my HERO. Mark Shuttleworth who had made himself very wealthy in the .com boom PAID for a trip. Just like that. Physical training, months in Russia preparing, then the flight. Oh how I wished again my life had been later, and again different and lucky.

Some years ago I went to install computers in interesting places, one being the satellite tracking station at Hartebeeshoek. Oh the pictures, earth from space is so very beautiful. Our gem of a planet, how I’d love to be up there, looking down and loving her.

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18 thoughts on “Looking up there…………….

  1. Wonderful dream, Sidey. Learning… yearning… To me the greatest miracle was the ability to use the same spaceship more than just the once! I remember those landing previously – holding thumbs that they would make it safely!

  2. My dad was one of the electrical engineers from Bell Labs who worked on the launch of Telstar.

    We spent the summer in Maine, in a cottage on a lake, so that he could work long hours to communicate with our friends “across the pond.”

  3. Sidey, you might enjoy this excerpt from my Dad’s Autobiography:

    There was going to be live TV coverage during the first acquisition of the satellite. We had no TV at the cottage but Barb and the kids were invited to a nearby neighbor’s house. So they all got to see me on TV.

    Irwin Welber and I were at the control console, but he chose to have me run the station since I had done most of the practice runs. He got on a regular telephone to the stations in England and France. Fortunately all went well.

    We acquired the satellite in about 9 seconds after it came over the horizon and sent and received TV pictures for about 30 minutes until it again dropped below the horizon. The next day we had headline coverage in many newspapers.

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