Realizing one of my tween dreams: Space Shuttle Discovery

Realizing one of my tween dreams: Space Shuttle Discovery

When I was a tween, I badly wanted to be an astronaut. I wasn't unique. A large majority of tweens in the 1980s had dreams of orbiting our planet as a member of NASA.

Today's thirtysomethings were tweens when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred, and it's a very vivid memory for many. Attendance at Space Camp was a common wish among this age group, and I was so very excited when my family stopped by Huntsville, AL just to see it. Attendance remained a dream. The movie "Space Camp" starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston and Joaquin Phoenix was required tween viewing in 1986, and an instant tween favorite. A friend says that taking friends to see it is one of her favorite birthday parties ever.

Given that my tween years featured a fascination with space, imagine my excitement today when I got to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air & Space Museum and see the Space Shuttle Discovery.  It is displayed as if it just landed from one of its 39 successful missions in space. I was instantly transported, not to space but back to my tween years. The hangar housing Discovery was very quiet, and standing next to the giant orbiter and seeing the tiles that have been marked by reentry into Earth's atmosphere brought about feelings of awe and reverence.

Then, I got to try out the Shuttle landing simulator. It is apparently the one or similar to the one used at Space Camp.  Apparently, patience does pay off, and good things come to those who wait (for many years). Really, I didn't want to spin in the multi-axis trainer at Space Camp because I was pretty sure I'd vomit, so this is probably my best case scenario.

The gentleman running the simulator was stern. It was to be taken seriously. This was not a game, or a toy. He turned children away. I was ready to take it seriously. I'd be ready for nearly two decades. I sat down in the set and grasped the control.  The closer we came to Earth, the sweatier my hand was. It seemed very real, and even though it required only minor movements to properly align for landing, the task seemed to be of great magnitude.

Then the volunteer operating the simulator told me that I had pulled up when I meant to push, and I remembered the prior weekend when I told my husband to turn left when I meant right. Reality, and my adult foibles, came rushing back. I wasn't great at it, and I was reminded that there are some good reasons I didn't become an astronaut (and not just because of my crummy eyesight), but I landed it. A thanks to the person watching who pointed out that I was perfectly centered on the landing strip's middle line. I (somewhat) successfully got to do a shuttle simulator in the same building as the Space Shuttle and I realized that this had been a dream of mine as a tween.

I was at the museum on a work outing and when I finished, an older coworker who had decided to watch patted me on the back and said, "Good job, kiddo!" I felt very much like a tween, and that was a good thing.

If I'd had a bucket list as a tween, this would have been high on it.  The experience made me remember the excitement and possibility that comes with that exciting 8-12 year old age group, and made me want to talk with my tween about her highest aspirations and encourage her to reach for the stars.

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