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Of Science Fairs and the Cosmos (No, I Don’t Mean Cocktails …)

Growing up, my first aspiration was to be an astronaut. I can remember being in elementary school – fifth or sixth grade, I forget – and writing an article for our school newspaper, The Quarter Reporter, on a typewriter – describing the experience of getting up at some ungodly hour, lying on the couch, trying not to wake everyone … and watching the first Space Shuttle launch.

Columbia. April 12, 1981. Four days after my 10th birthday. That’s the kind of obsession it was.

I have every article in a 10-part series that The Philadelphia Inquirer did about the program leading up to that launch. In hard copy, cut out, pasted into a scrapbook and stashed in a drawer in my childhood bedroom. Still.

Now, of course, the shuttle is orbiting the Earth for the last time. And though the big dreams attached to the vehicle – it being a “workhorse” and taking people into space each and every week – never came about, I’m struck by how sentimental it was for me watching it blast off for the last time.

It was huge, and I felt connected.

Like many, I’m sure, I remember where I was on Jan. 28, 1986 – biology class at Indian Crest Junior High School in Souderton, PA – when someone announced over the loud speaker that Challenger had disintegrated. On board: A teacher and several very smart, well-educated, vital humans whose names I was able to recite for years after the event.

I remember the faces of the Columbia crew that perished in 2003 and being glued to the television for hours on end, truly saddened and worried we would never go back up.

I remember our return to space two years later – the first female commander, Eileen Collins, at the helm, a graduate of my alma mater, Syracuse University, flying Discovery (STS 114). I remember thinking we were back.

So it was with warmth and happiness that I read of the Google Science Fair and some young girls’ (ages 13 to 18) research into asthma, cancer and brain-controlled prosthetics.


You rock, girls.

The greatest accomplishments that I can claim in my school science fairs were demonstrating the concept of viscosity in baby-food jars filled with different liquids and building a model of the Wright Brothers’ plane out of balsa wood. Noble efforts, mind you, of which I’m proud to this day – but not exactly a cure for cancer.

As for me and my space aspirations … well, along came junior year in high school and a Physics class that, to this day, I believe I passed because I played a good third base. (No offense to the teacher, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. On the baseball field, well, that was another story … I did.)

So much for the space dream.

Instead I can type 80+ wpm without looking and write the hell out of just about anything. For this I am thankful.

But if someone came to me tomorrow and said “we need a writer / blogger / whatever on the next STS flight and we want you to go” … don’t get in my way. ‘Cause, baby, I am so going up.


Updated 7 p.m. ET: Check out http://www.abc.com and World News with Diane Sawyer for more on the Google fair.

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