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Good-bye, ISS


1979. The year Skylab died.

Skylab’s downward trajectory took it over Washington, D.C. Passing at night, the local TV stations broadcasted the time it would be visible. My mother and I stood on one of our house’s balconies and watched as it flew overhead. A bright, fast-moving star. Really fast. In less than a minute, it was out of sight.


Later, while lying in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I watched on TV when Skylab launched in 1973. It was exciting. A real space station that would house real, live humans. I read every news report I could find on what Skylab had discovered about Earth and the sun. Every report I could about what the astronaut crews were doing while aboard. I would’ve loved to have read everything but this was during the Cretaceous, decades before the world wide web was invented.

A fading star falls to Earth.

Skylab’s demise wasn’t televised.

I felt terrible about it. This marvel of engineering (for the time, anyway), that had served its makers so well, was now being cast off like an old shoe. I was in mourning.

And now, the ISS.

I know, I know. Everything wears out, becomes outmoded, or both. Hell, I sure am. Technology improves, designs are more efficient, and whatever it is being built is better suited to its purposes. That’s certainly true of Skylab and the ISS. Skylab taught us much about extended visits in low-orbit, about living in space. That knowledge served as a springboard for the ISS, and gave us even more room to explore the effect of living in low-orbit has on human and animal bodies. Growing plants in low-orbit to see if it was possible, and it is. And there’s so much more we learned from the astronauts aboard the ISS.

See, I’ve always had a passionate love for machines. Big ones. Trains, ships, cars. Aircraft. Rockets. If it has an engine and is mobile, I’m your girl. I hate seeing them destroyed, abandoned, whatever. When Challenger blew up, I cried for three days. Yes, the loss of life was tragic–very tragic–but it was the loss of the shuttle that affected me the most. Same with Columbia, although I didn’t cry for three days. Maybe three hours.

Machines speak to me.

Does that make me callous? Some might see it that way. Honestly, I just relate more to machines than people. Always have. To me, they’re alive, not like carbon-based life forms, but alive in their own way. Like when I’m on a road trip. I don’t listen to music. I listen to the engine purring. Roaring, if I put the pedal to the metal. I listen to the tires singing on the pavement, listening for changes in the way they sound, meaning the road’s composition has changed. Rolling on concrete sounds way different than on macadam. Listening to the wind. On the highway, the sound the wind makes when I’m driving my truck is totally different from the way it sounds when I’m driving my Corvette. It’s the body design, of course. But listening to all that is music to me, and that’s all the music I need or want.

Space-going machines put me in a tizzy. Watching the Apollo launches when I was a kid. Back then, it was a big deal. At the appointed time on launch day, school stopped and children and teachers crowded into classrooms to watch it on televisions mounted on tall stands so everyone could see. My heartbeat sped up watching the rocket engines fire. At lift-off, I wanted to jump out of my seat and cheer. But I didn’t. It probably wouldn’t have been appreciated.

It still does that to me, you know. Watching rockets lift off. Even Bezos’s giant dick.

So, I’ll mourn the ISS just like I did Skylab.



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