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The Little Review
Making No Compromises With the Public Taste
Poem for Thursday 
Thursday, 30th December 2004 12:38 am

High Flight
By John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.


I've posted this poem before, but it goes with the photos -- it was written by a pilot during the first world war, but the first time I ever heard it, Ronald Reagan was reading it at the memorial service for the Challenger astronauts. So of course I thought of it last February when Columbia failed to return from her last mission. Now, however, I have finally seen their predecessor with my own eyes, and -- I am about to confess to uber-geekdom here -- I feel quite possessive of the first space shuttle, because I was one of the thousands of Trekkies who wrote to NASA asking that the orbiter be named Enterprise in honor of Captain Kirk's. (In my defense, I also wrote to Gerald Ford asking why the US was not going to build a Halley's Comet fly-by, and got a nice letter back from someone in his administration assuring me that it wouldn't be necessary, so when the US was the only nation with significant capacity for spaceflight that did not study the comet from space and the newspapers were asking why, I could only harrumph.)

I know I promised to post various photos from the Smithsonian, Philadelphia and the Baltimore Zoo, but they will all have to wait, because since the weather report had changed, we decided to postpone the zoo until Friday and instead went to The National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. My children had been there but I had not, and they were most entertaining tour guides -- they remembered where everything was and some of what they had learned from their previous trip. So I got lots of information about the tiles on the shuttle and which engines went with which rockets. Among the more interesting artifacts were astronaut food that looked inedible, and, worse, the waste elimination systems (apparently astronauts nowadays wear Depends during spacewalks in case of emergencies). I have known for years that I could never have been an astronaut because I'm too claustrophobic to survive in the capsules, and it's worse up close.

It's so strange seeing Nippon and US rockets next to one another in the space hangar, then walking into the aviation hangar and seeing the kamikaze planes and the Enola Gay, and realizing that these things were all built within my parents' lifetimes, as well as the Concorde and the 747 -- the planes and computers that brought the world together, and the ones that nearly tore it apart. I remember how, when my children learned that the first atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan by the United States, they were absolutely flabbergasted -- to them Japan is our greatest friend and ally, home of Nintendo and Sony -- how was it possible that during the century in which they were born, there could have been a war in which Japan was the enemy? I suppose this is how my grandparents felt when I didn't understand their residual knee-jerk superstitious Yiddish muttering whenever Germany was mentioned; my sense of the Holocaust when I was much younger was as ancient history, whereas to them it was something that had happened during their lifetimes to people they knew. And yet I understood when they explained their terror of Sputnik rather than any thrill that humans had put a satellite in orbit. My kids know Russia only as a big European country, not a piece of a terrifying bloc that could have triggered global annihilation, which was my sense of the USSR when I was in elementary school. The world feels so much safer than it did when I was younger, and I keep wondering how we've ended up with people scared enough to elect a president whose ominous lies about weapons of mass destruction has given him the power to make it less safe for the rest of us.

This evening, in keeping with the theme for the day, sort of, we watched Airplane II: The Sequel. The kids had seen Airplane for the first time not long ago, so they finally know why apaulled and I are always saying, "Looks like I quit the wrong week to quit smoking," even though neither of us has ever smoked, but they did not know the reference for, "First the earth cooled, and then the dinosaurs came..." whenever someone asked what happened. So now they do, and they also know that according to the insane producers of this movie, it was taken for granted not only that there would be commercial space shuttle flights to the moon but that gay marriage would be legal and unremarkable by the dawn of the 21st century (and, well, that all men would know about some clinic in Des Moines because the writers did not predict Viagra but you can't have everything). The sequel is still not nearly as good as the original but still a lot funnier than a lot of what passes for comedies these days anyway. And, you know, William Shatner turning out the lights on the bridge.

The shuttle Enterprise in the space hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Many of the tiles have been removed from the outside for use on later shuttles, and the inside contains no equipment (even the front viewports are gone), but this massive frame that once took off from the back of a 747 can be walked around completely.

Here's a rear view, with Spacelab on the right.

And here's one of the engines -- those big round things in the previous photo, including the interior wiring that can't be seen on the orbiter itself.

Just to give a sense of the size of the thing, here's a shot where you can see the people on the other side of the hangar from beneath the shuttle. For another perspective, there's also a suit from a space walk hanging from the ceiling.

NASA's astronaut quarantine facility for the first men on the moon, lest they should have brought rare lunar bacteria back with them. I'm sure this useless piece of equipment cost a fortune to build.

The descent module of a Vega spacecraft. The Soviet Union launched two, each of which sent a module to Venus where they broadcast for less than an hour about the planet's atmosphere and soil before burning up. The larger part of each craft then did a flyby of Comet Halley and revealed that its surface temperature was much warmer than expected. See, someone was doing the work on Halley...

A miniature R2-D2 on the model of the mothership used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which also has a cemetery, a Volkswagen, some airplanes, beer cans and other anachronisms built in that the model designers knew would not be visible in the film, given the planned angles and lighting effects. (You had to figure I'd get some more sci-fi geekery in, didn't you?)

I'm sad about Susan Sontag and Jerry Orbach, feeling odd for being sad about a couple of famous individuals when there are so many thousands dead, but it's always the ones who touched your life in some way whose loss you really feel, you know? I'm so pissed at how little money my government is willing to pledge and how US citizens affected by the disaster have apparently been left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, in the spirit of denial or at least distraction: apparently I am wrong about Harry being way, way too young for me, as I thought I was putting in the right answers to get Lupin or Black or Snape but noooo...

With Which Harry Potter Male Are You Most Sexually Compatible?

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