Godspeed Atlantis July 9, 2011Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Ad Astra, Atlantis, Mayans, space flight
The television was something from the Jetsons, an oblong grey box with rounded corners, dials for tuning, volume, brightness and contrast. The speaker sat behind a fat grid of perhaps one-quarter inch square openings below the dials. Two bright aluminum antennas rose on pivots from just behind the cabinet, atop the protruding cathode ray tube. It is 1962.
A camera fixed on the towering rocket and gantry, delicate wisps of gas drifting, a shorebird in the foreground launching itself into the sky. The gravelly voice of Walter Cronkite, America’s wise uncle, marvels for us all at men who strap themselves into tiny metal capsules atop a hundred thousand pounds of explosives and point themselves at the sky.
The television’s picture was black-and-white but informed by the photos from National Geographic of a black to deep to be rendered by 1950s pixels, of the Terran browns and ocean blues and leafy greens and cloud tops from an angel’s view, the perfect curve of the horizon with its blur of atmosphere, the sirens of Magellan.
Imagine if you will a future [the narrator says in his best Rod Serling voice, smoke drifting from a cigarette like condensation clouds from the rocket] in which America is too busy with distant wars, with the notoriety of crimes and stars, with the paper’s payday sales flyers to be bothered to reach for the stars. I watched rapt as what may be the last launch of my lifetime unfolded, held my breath as the weather forecasters hesitated then relented and said “go”, then wept like an old fool at the words “main engine start” and “liftoff” and “cleared the tower”, the roaring fireball and contrail obscured as much by my own wet eyes as by the low cloud cover.
Our last space craft is christened Atlantis: an apt name. If we cannot dream of flight beyond discounts to Aruba, will not cross oceans without three meals a day and nightly shipboard entertainment, if we do not have the foresight attributed to the people of mythical Atlantis, we are left with the sooty gray streets of morning smelling of exhaust, a starkly black and white newspaper I am afraid most mornings to unfold, mad rumors of the end of days. I do not believe the Mayan calendar foretells a date. Suspended in a museum, its cryptic glyphs intelligible only to experts, it tells us instead of the price of endless war and ecological disaster, prophesies an end we cannot precisely foresee but must expect.
The words God speed spoken by Houston one last time into a microphone; I may never hear them again. We are left with God help us all.
Hail Atlantis. Ad Astra.