Like so many kids of my generation, I grew up wanting to be an astronaut. So much so that this inspired one of the most long-standing rifts between my mother and me. Not that she didn't want me to be an astronaut. We never really discussed that. What we discussed was what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted the S.T.A.R. Team Adventure gear. I made a careful list. I asked for the helmet, that came with the astro-headset. I asked for the space utility belt. I asked for the remote gripper device, or R.G.D as it was called by those in the know. I did not ask for anything else that year. On Christmas morning, all of these items were there, under the tree. Addressed to my younger brother. It was years before I could bring myself to speak to my mother about this bizarre mix-up. How could "Santa" have made such a grievous error?
She told me that when she looked at the age range on the boxes, they were recommended for children six to eight years old. In 1971, I had just passed that window. My mother believed these toys would be more appropriate for her youngest son. Developmentally. I could have blamed Ideal Toys for making such an obviously poor marketing decision. Instead, I blamed my mother with a grudge that carried over for decades. I should have blamed Scott Carpenter.
It was Scott Carpenter who, along with his six Mercury compatriots, would usher in a world in which young boys like myself would announce proudly that they wanted to be an astronaut. It was an occupation that did not exist prior to these brave pioneers. His trip into outer space preceded my arrival on earth by less than a month. His capsule, the Aurora 7, was ironically christened after a celestial event but also happened to coincide with the intersection of the streets on which he grew up. In Boulder, Colorado. By the time I was born, I already had a national hero to whom I could look up. As I grew up, I didn't spend as much time on Aurora Street as I did at the park which would bear Commander Carpenter's name. There were other parks in Boulder, much closer to my own home, but making the trek out there was special, mostly for the three-story rocket which stood as the centerpiece of the playground.
I climbed up the ladders and slid down the slide of that towering monument more times than I could ever count. I was still going there in high school with my friends, late at night to continue my explorations, leaping from the swings in an attempt to experience just a taste of what Scott Carpenter must have felt during his four and a half hour orbits of the earth. Each time I leaped out of the seat, I pushed for just a little more of that weightless feeling, only to come crashing back to the sandy pit at the base of that rocket. It was still a few years after that when I took my final flight from that launching pad. My senses were dulled by chemicals that were unnecessary for my adventure, but made the trip all the more interesting. Until I landed on my left knee, tearing five of the six ligaments, requiring surgery and months of rehabilitation. As I lay there in the shadow of that jungle gym disguised as a Mercury rocket, I quietly retired my commission in the low-altitude space explorers. My astronaut days were behind me.
Now Scott Carpenter has gone where so many men have gone before. He went on this last great voyage ahead of his good friend, John Glenn. It was John Glenn's who went into space just before Scott, and he wished his fellow pioneer luck with these words: "Godspeed, John Glenn." It was these words with which Glenn bid his fellow S.T.A.R. Team member farewell. I echo them today. Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.
And I forgive you, Mom.