It was a Tuesday, and a cold afternoon in February, 1962. Ten years old at the time, I sat in class in Houston, Texas, with my friends Johnny Nicholas, David Snow and Roberta Holiday. Mr. Davis wheeled in a huge old TV and we watched the launch. Friendship 7 was headed into space with John Glenn aboard.
It was a big deal to me, and I was on the edge of my seat. Just the year before, I’d discovered science fiction in the local library, a simplistic children’s fantasy story titled Zip-Zip Goes to Venus, and I could not get enough of SF.
Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land had been published in 1961, but living in a time and place where pre-teens were protected from the infinite horrors of sex, I would not be allowed to discover it for another four years or so.
I had had to settle for Tom Swift Jr. — embarrassing literary monsters such as Tom Swift and His Spectromarine Selector! Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet X! Tom Swift and His Triphibian Atomicar! (I was tickled decades later to learn that the taser had been named for Tom Swift’s Electric Rifle.)
But I’d also discovered Zenna Henderson’s wonderful Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, and Alan E. Nourse’s Tiger by the Tail. Best of all was H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, a first contact story of short, furry aliens who surely must have served as the model for Ewoks.
Space! We were going there. All of us together, in our imaginations, and some of us for real, as individuals. It might be anybody. It might be me.
Those early dreams evolved into quite a different future for me, but I never lost the delight in what might be possible, and what became real.
It’s why I like this so much:
But the spectacle also sparks a certain disappointment. On Feb. 20 of 2012, it will be 50 years since the launch of the Friendship 7. It was 50 years ago THIS year, on April 12, 1961, that Yuri Gagarin flew the first manned orbital mission.
I know things take time, but … dayyum.