Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Monday, June 21, 2004

  Countdowns...

On friday Bruce Damer told me about today's planned launch of SpaceShipOne out of the Mojave desert. We talked about the failure of the rotaryrocket company - there was no way they could ever build the engine, there was no gimbals, no means of controlling the ship - and we talk about how beautiful and elegant Rutan's design is in comparison - he tells me that the government is finally seriously considering using prize money to privatize and incent business to finally Get us OUT THERE - and all I can think of is:

Oh Damnable Hope!

He tells me: he's taking an RV, that Jerry Pournelle, & the old contact crowd - will all be there. I blogged later that day about it... and spent the weekend in a obsessive state - I obsessed about VOIP, about work, about everything but what was really bothering me....

Yesterday Greg put together an expedition to drive down there, he invites me, I refuse - "I have work to do", he leaves at 7, I take a nap and figure out why I don't want to go.

And at 10 , Elf and Claire called me - Elf's like, "let's go to the desert, dude - the launch is all over the TV" and all I can think of is that I already lost my chance, not just hours before, when greg left for the Mojave, but in 83, or in 86... It seemed so long ago that my heart was filled with hope again for the space program, that a shuttle tile graced my stove in proof of faith, in proof that others shared the same faith.

I finally have a grip now. on what's been gripping me all weekend.

Dread. Hope. Grief. Hope.

I had figured that no-one but the contact crowd cared about the Space X prize - but the media has the spin on this one right - it's the first manned american space launch since the Columbia went up in smoke, the first true private spaceflight and there are 555 news articles on google about it.

People are flooding into the Mojave desert to see with their own glistening eyes a new single combat warrior take on the heavens, filled with their own hopes of maybe having sex in space one holiday or pulling up stakes and moving out to the asteroids....

It's 1:00AM now. I can't sleep. I write a long fantasy to my tuscany lover - but end that more awake than ever. So I pack up Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" and Chris Kraft's "Flight", and carry some OJ and some rum down to my outside office. My cat follows me and jumps into the spare chair. I turn the heat on... tune into Radio paradise (they are playing Weem -

"Freedom of choice is what you got
Freedom from choice is what you want."

and then kicks into David Bowie - "The man who sold the world" and I can't help thinking about The man who sold the moon...
Hope. Grief. Hope. No choice for me but to start looking for some station, some internet channel that will carry the launch live in the morning. No choice but to ride it out, to write it out, to smoke endless pipefuls of tobacco, and to hold a vigil by myself until the launch at dawn. Maybe I'll get some work done. Maybe I'll finish a piece I've been stuck on. Maybe.

Rutan can't fly his ship himself. He had a heart attack years ago, like Delos D. Harriman, that keeps him on the ground.

I light two candles, one for SpaceShipOne, the other for it's mother ship, White Knight, and I light a third candle for all the fallen angels - and for Rhysling, but the flame sputters and goes out. I spend time missing my guitar

I hate countdowns. Just hate them. Oh, this ship uses rubber as fuel and laughing gas as oxidizer and I have to smile at the thought of that, but I read each breathless article on news.google.com, breathlessly -

Greg's probably there right now, taking comfort in the companionship of those that can still face a dawn like this with anticipation, and hope, not dread. Maybe they are all hanging out in an RV, feeling that sense of wonder that I only rarely feel anymore, drinking drinks, seeing the stars up close and personal....

My cat can't walk through walls, but she jumps in my lap, and butts her head against my arm, making it tough to type, being warm.

I lean back, stroking her, wishing I was stroking someone else, holding someone else, doing anything else but waiting through the night, with my cat. I wish I was waiting for the launch at dawn with greg, paul, burt, bruce, jerry - with the thousands in the desert that all share in the shards of the magnificent dream.

"There is an enormous hunger to fly in space and not just to dream about it." said Rutan, yesterday - and that's the hunger I feel now, not the hunger for sleep, the endless unslaked hunger for space I've had ever since I was 4.

Maybe the last 20 years of missteps into space end today, maybe the next 25 years will see the surge of humanity into space that I thought was inevitable when I was growing...

Oh, I can hope, and maybe, now (at 5:00 AM), I can sleep.

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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