...so I went on a long desert hike, both on my feet and in my head.This "hiking" in my head alternated between beating myself up, then to begging the powers that be for some kind of break or as I liked to call it, a lucky Bic lighter so I could start the fire.I had no idea at the time and would not know for nearly a year, but that day March 11th 2002 turned out to be an illuminating and life-changing day. Even without this knowledge, plans born out of my now 1 year old epiphany felt somehow reconstituded. The fire had been stoked and my sails were filling once again. Ironically that night I was unusually restless. Falling asleep wasn’t a problem, staying asleep was problematic. I’d drift off only to awaken 20 or 30 minutes later. Now awake again and nearing 2 am, I did a bit of channel surfing just to break up this rythym and perhaps find something to hypnotize me into a deeper sleep. Channel 99…100…101… nothing that would provide the needed background hum I felt would drone me into a restful trance. I then hit NASA TV…”well, that might work”…I think to myself. But I watch for a bit and quickly realized, the shuttle is up and it looks like they’re coming home! That’s pretty cool…but shoot, this isn't going to help me sleep…". I’d never watched one of these, a reentry that is, on NASA TV, and couldn't recall the last time I'd seen any live coverage. So, despite the late hour, I surrendered to my curiosity and my restless head to watch the process unfold. Judging by what the commentator was saying, I’d probably be up until 2:30 or so, if I wanted to watch it all the way to the landing in Florida. I knew basically how the landing process worked, but as far as exactly when, where, how long, or what folks on the ground could see and where it was possible to see it, I really didn’t know. I remembered that in the last 10 minutes of reentry the shuttle flies like a plane and it produces sonic booms. Before that, there is a superheated part of reentry where the shuttle is like a meteor streaking through the atmosphere. But you had to be relatively close to the landing site in Florida to observe that phenomenon, say within 1500 miles or so. I'd never even consider the possibility that one could witness a shuttle reentry first hand from Arizona. Then I saw that the reentry path for STS-109 carried it over northern Mexico. The commentator probably stated some facts (I can’t recall specifically) that made me consider it might be possible to see Columbia in the sky to some magnitude. I've only learned since the STS-107 accident that it was in fact Columbia, and that this early morning marked her last successful reentry.
As the television graphic showed her starting to glide over Baja California, I took a look out my south-facing back patio. Not expecting to see much if anything I none the less gave it a shot. I thought possibly I'd spy something like when it passes over while in orbit; a little dot of light. I live in a two-story townhouse complex. To the south is a long two-story unit, there is a small gap to the SSE where I can see almost to the horizon, but for the most part my southern exposure is pretty ragged below 12-15 degrees. Armed with a pair of binoculars, I kept going back and forth between looking out my patio, then back to the TV. I was looking above the building to my south, that’s probably 20 degrees high or so. Seeing nothing, but not expecting there to be much to see, my efforts started to wane. Probably about 2 or 3 seconds before saying to myself…”ah whatever! I gave it a shot”, out of the corner of my eye, a glowing, bluish, florescent vapor trail with a vivid orange, cigarette cherry-like head, raced just above the horizon. Had I not known the shuttle was reentering and had mearly chanced onto this sight, I'd never had put it's distance at 250 miles, as it seemed so near to me. For that matter, I wouldn't have even guessed it to be a shuttle. More likely I would have guessed?...well, I don't know. It quickly cut across that little gap and was poking in and out, above and below trees and building lines for 10 seconds or so. I kept jumping up as high as I could, but I couldn't prevent it from being swallowed up. Wow! I could not believe it. The sight was truly spectacular. And although I just caught a glimpse, I was very lucky I saw anything. It was moving so fast and my "window" was so small, had I looked the wrong way if only for a few seconds I would have never known it had even taken place. Leaving such a special memory, I knew next time there was an opportunity to catch another reentry, I would maximize the experience and hopefully share it with others.
The following day I did a bit of research on the shuttle and more specifically the reentry process. Really just the parts that dealt with the paths taken on reentry, and I quickly found out my viewing opportunities would be rare and possibly even non-existent for many years. The research revealed I might only get a chance with missions to the Hubble space telescope. This was because of the angle or as they term it, the inclination of the orbit, relative to the equator. I read that nearly all shuttle missions were launched to the International Space Station and those missions ended with reentry paths nowhere near Arizona, due to this "inclination". But I do remember taking note of one sort of oddball mission. STS-107 had a “flatter” 39 degree inclination, which was only about 10 degrees steeper than the mission reentry path I had witnessed the previous night. I wasn’t sure if this "flatter" mission would provide me a viewing opportunity and I also recall that this particular mission seemed to be kind of in limbo with launch dates shifting and indefinite. After this bit of research, it was clear that what I saw was indeed rare for an Arizona observer, but sometime in the future I may get another chance...
...the world seemed to be getting crazier by the week. The talk of war with Iraq bothered me intensely and I was militant with my friends that disagreed with my stand. I attended a much-anticipated Peter Gabriel concert in mid December, waded my way through the holiday season, sweated out the first three weeks of a ridiculously warm January and struggled with some tough personal decisions. The emotion taken from the Peter Gabriel concert left me with a feeling that it was time to fish or cut bait. That it didn't matter that I hadn't a venue to express myself, my thoughts, my concerns. That it was a simple human resposibillity of mine to do anything I could to help out, to try and find answers through the only tool at my disposal...creative writing. A full commitment to this might get me back to being able to created in a visual medium as was so rewarding years before. Now into my 40's I felt the undeniable weight of time pressing down on me and crazily, the theme of a Peter Gabriel concert kicking me in the ass to commit...
...It was around the 21st of January, when I noticed the shuttle was up and then took note that it was that rather odd STS-107 mission, the one that I might possibly have a chance to see reentering. I found out that it was scheduled to land around nine in the morning EST on the 1st. “Hmm? That’s 7am my time. That might be good…the sun is rising at about 7:30”. But what path was it supposed to take? NASA doesn’t publish the ground track until a day or so before landing. My first guess was that it would probably come in farther south then the one I’d seen back in March, possibly passing over southern Baja rather then northern Baja. If that were the case I'd most likely have to drive hundreds of miles to observe it. I was certainly willing to drive some distance to catch it, though I had limits. I couldn't even play with the question of how far might I go until I found a web page, a discussion group on satellite observation, a week before reentry. One contributor made a post about 107’s probable reentry path; he also had charts for a 39-degree entry. Southern Utah! Now that was doable. Now if the weather held up in Florida, southern Utah and for northern Arizona. I’d just have to take off at about 1am in order to cover the 300 miles to Page, AZ by 6am or so. I could just go to the flatlands north of Flagstaff, but that would leave me close to 200 miles south of the track. There wasn’t much I could do except hope that the weather stayed good. I didn’t want to go alone. It’s not much fun if you can’t share the experience, but I told my 15 year old son Christopher that he didn’t have to go if he’d rather not. I sold the idea to my friend Tom and he seemed willing if not too terribly excited about the travel involved. The thought of driving 300 miles in the middle of the night didn’t thrill me either. We could stay in Flagstaff the evening before, but I was well aware that often shuttle landings are postponed on short notice.
It is difficult for me to write this next section without sounding maudlin or seemingly going for false sentiment. But it’s important weight in this recounting. Personally, this was the last week before big changes had to be instituted in my life or I was going to get myself into a bad situation on many fronts. I was staring at my soon to be crossed Rubicon. The battle awaiting on the other side, was struggle mostly with my own deficiencies for a realization of artistic achievement. But for now I was delaying the crossing by wrapping myself up in this shuttle mission. I have always been a fan of the space program and more specifically, the people that are the space program. They, for me, embody an incredible spectrum of attitudes and qualities that I feel is short on abundance elsewhere in the world of movers and shakers. Dreamers AND doers! I the dreamer, who never really has done the hard work to make dreams come true, stare jaw agape as I hear of the accomplishments of these astronauts. In addition, they always strike me as such nice people. Maybe it was because I knew there was a good chance I’d get to see them come home that I watched them more closely or saw them more clearly…but I don’t recall thinking with that mindset. Maybe it was because I knew I needed to start conducting my life at least somewhat like their’s, that I was taking notes, so to speak…but that doesn’t ring a bell either. I do remember consciously juxtaposing the positive spirit of that mission to the disheartening insanity of what was turning just a couple hundred miles below them. Furthermore, this mission seemed set apart from the previous 5 or 6 missions I’d peeked in on via NASA TV. Yes, it was fundamentally different in that it didn’t have to go and meet up with anything. It just had to get a little distance away from earth in order to do some scientific studies, but I don’t think that is what made it seem different. Astronauts always seem to have a unique look in their eyes, before and during their flight. NASA folks probably have a name for that condition. But with these 7 the effect seemed even brighter. It, for whatever reason, also felt (for the lack of better words) more like a personal or people mission. One example was I found something endearing about Kalpana’s petiteness. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful, because I knew of all her accomplishments and was in awe. I can still see her manipulating some large combustion-thinga-ma-bobber and her hair all over the place. Just people stuff. This isn’t me looking back through the lens of what happened…I was thinking it then. One reason I’m sure I centered more on the people aspect was there was so little of those earth shots I love so much. Just a whole bunch of boring bubbles, strange turning things and crewmembers working etc…I know! I know! They've jobs to do! Well maybe some day I’ll get that EarthCam channel! 24/7 Earth from orbit TV. Now that's narcissism on the grandest scale...
...In the days just prior to reentry I pretty much lost myself in this adventure of mine. I hit the overkill button as far as learning everything I could about space shuttles. I read up on the complete reentry process, but very little of what I could read up on dealt with the part I was hoping to observe. The description I found dealt primarily with the shuttle’s actions in the final 100,000 feet of altitude and not much about the part I was hoping to observe. Anyway, it was all far to technical for me to really get it or “put me onboard”. I also wanted to convince my son to come along, so I looked for pictures of a reentering shuttle. I could only find some fuzzy long distance shots, so I tried to create some pictures basedon the brief view I had of STS-109 less than a year ago.
I also wanted to give whoever might tag along a better feel for what they were truly witnessing…what that bright streaking light would really look like if you could see it up close and clearly. Again, I had to create my own pictures based on what information I could gather. I got a bit obsessed with detail. I tried to guess what the sky would look like. What the angle of trajectory and the speed would be. Then put some graphs with the pictures etc…losing myself in the whole deal. No harm done for it’d all be over in a few days and I’d have to come back to earth and deal with the reality of a metaphorical river crossing. But I guess it got pretty bad when I started redoing the pictures based on updated ground track information and weather forecasts for my viewing locale…”he’s losing it”!
My son decides he does want to go, though I don’t think my graphics did much of the swaying. My brother Scott calls on the 30th and says he’s coming into town (from the Bay area) around midnight on the 31st. He apologizes for the late notice, especially because he doesn’t really need to come into Phoenix right now. I have to tell him that I plan on being asleep when he flies into town , so he’s going to have to get to my place by his own means. I tell him I can't pick him up at the airport because I’m going to try to catch a shuttle reentering and will be sleeping when his plane lands. After I explain to him the details, Scott says he wants to go and I think that’s just great.
3 days before the reentry I had decided going all the way to Page is just too much…too far. I settle for viewing it from north of Flagstaff. It’ll be lower on the horizon, but the Wupatki National Monument area has a nice downward slope to the north and very few trees. It’s only about 190 miles away, which translates into about a 3 hour drive as opposed to 5 for Page. This is about having a great memorable experience and shortening the drive could really help.
2 days before the reentry NASA finally published the ground track and I am thrilled to find out the track is at least 75 miles farther south than I had expected, not to mention it was official conformation the reentry paths I'd seen were valid. The actual track ended up being 110 miles closer or farther south than I'd expected.
After working on Friday the 31st, I fortuitously find a link to a NASA site that can give you all sorts of numbers for the shuttle pass, if you know where you are. I, still hiding in this little adventure, eat it up and spit it out in the form of more trivial charts and graphs. What wasn’t trivial was that the spot I settle for, now could not be much better. What wasn’t going as well was the weather. As late afternoon turned to evening, thick high clouds covered northern Arizona. The forecasts were saying “partly cloudy” for my viewing spot, but the satellite maps weren’t looking good. The southern 2/3rds of Arizona was mostly clear and I seriously considered only going a little north of the Phoenix area to view. The shuttle would have been very low on the horizon, but a low and clear view would beat high and behind a deck of clouds. In the end, I guessed right and went all the way to Wupatki..
I tried to sleep 4 or 5 times that evening without much success. Even good old NASA TV couldn’t put me to sleep. I had one thing happen in trying to sleep, that because of the mishap I can never forget. “1 in 125”, that ratio ran through my head a couple times while I was half asleep. I hadn’t thought of those numbers since I’d heard them in the early 80’s. I don’t even know if those numbers are correct, but I remembered that to be the probable failure to success ratio expected for shuttle missions. A far more pleasant thing I will never forget is how Columbia had said "good morning” to me the four mornings prior to the Saturday reentry. I generally wake up about 6:45am. Early on Tuesday the 28th I rubbed my sleepy eyes as I watched Columbia cruise across my southeast sky. Wednesday she glided high through the southern sky as dawn was breaking. Thursday morn, I sipped my coffee while watching Columbia ride high across the north. Then Friday lower across the northern sky and into the sunrise. She kind of “walked” by me, which made Saturday morning even more special.
Scott showed up at about midnight, waking me from a hearty 45 minutes of shut eye. I never did really get back to sleep, so about 1am I started packing up my car and checking the weather via the internet. The satellite pics were so-so as far as cloud cover, but I was going to Wupatki clouds or not. Tom showed up at about 2:30am. I got my son up and we all loaded up with coffee and anticipation and hit the road.
It was great! Scott, Tom and myself had not been together, as a trio, for many years. For the next 3 hours, on nearly vacant interstate highway we had fantastic discussions. Tom and I almost always gravitated to some pretty heavy themes in our conversations, but these were very special, especially with Scott in the mix and my son soaking it all up. Iraq, the economy, Bin Ladin, greed, purpose of life, perception of the U.S. abroad, relationships and a good dose of sports talk to round it all out. If we had gotten to Wupatki and it were so cloudy that the shuttle were not visable, we would have been seriously bummin, but we would always remember it as a good and memorable time had by all....
...We arrived at “the spot” just after 6am, which was perfect. It was cold, at least by my standards. Living in Phoenix, 20 or 22 degrees feels very cold. I hadn’t videotaped anything with any real gusto in a few years (see my past). I had a fairly good idea of what to expect and I wanted my tape to be an overall reflection of the event from varying perspectives. Knowing I might never be in this position again I wanted to cover a lot of angles. Pick the shuttle up as soon as possible, get a wide shot for perspective, get a close-up for the reality, follow it as long as possible and…and…and actually see it with my own two eyes. I pretty much covered all the bases I feel, though “looking up” caused me to “lose it” a couple times. Problems: It was cold and I couldn’t wear gloves and do a decent job, the tripod head’s grease was stiff from the cold , so the head stuck and jumped. Obviously, I could not at least consciously, know how important this tape might be, but if NASA had called me and said…”Chris, we need you to do us a favor and videotape the shuttle for us”. I could have, through preparation and employing the skills I had picked up in my videographer days, given them exponentially more information. Even basic items like not cleaning the lens or using the highest format are facts that make me cringe.
Columbia made her pass over us and it looked spectacular. Three things really caught and surprised my eye; A little puff of “smoke”, a bright blob floated behind the shuttle and in my haste I called it a “chunk”…what is a parcel of light called anyway? Then there was another blob and then it cruised into an indescribably beautiful sunrise, but ok! I'll give it a shot. That sunrise sounded like Mozart. If all had gone right I would have remembered this trip as much for that dawn as for the shuttle’s pass, it was that amazing. I thought I had done a decent job on the tape, but I…”didn’t do a perfect job”. All of us left some curious sound bites on the tape, before and after the sighting, but none of us had any suspicions Columbia was in trouble.
We quickly packed things up and headed to Flagstaff to eat breakfast. My lack of sleep was now strongly effecting me so I didn’t drive. I noticed the car radio’s clock reading 7:16 and I mentioned that…“they’re landing right now…well, they should be landing…now I’m going to have to deal with the ‘post-reentry blues’ “. I, for whatever reason segued straight from that to…”you know?...I’ll never forget how strange it was when I went camping and didn’t know about the death of princess Diana, with all the hype, until the story was 3 days old…strange for there to be such a huge story and your completely oblivious”. We ate in Flagstaff and talked of everything but the shuttle. Christopher wanted to go to Sedona, on the way home, because he’d never been there. I just wanted to go home and sleep, but I said ok, let’s go. By the time we arrived in Sedona it was about 9:30 am (2 ½ hours after the reentry). Scott wanted to pick up one of Sedona’s red rocks to take home to his wife, so we stopped at a hiking spot at the at the base of a hill. Just as we were starting our hike, Tom gets a call from his wife. She tells him the shuttle had disintegrated over Texas.
For me, it was as if everything went into slow motion, my head felt like it was ringing as if a firecracker had gone off to close to my ear. My head was throbbing. It seemed like a minute or two, but it was probably only 20 seconds when I thought of the tape. “I taped it…those chunks probably were really chunks!” My head started spinning…”I might have THE tape…is this why I felt a personal connection to this mission?…my synchronicity, holographic, quantum reality readings and writings…that sunrise, wow! Look at that sunrise now…the almost obsessive creation charts, graphs and pictures?…the incredible conversations we had had on the way up…is this really happening?…1 in 125?…what is the right thing to do with the tape?…This is NOT my 15 minutes of fame!...Sedona? And its vorticies!..Help Mr.Wizard!…Scott brings his GPS for reasons he can't explain?…the impending war…if not for that sleepless night last March??…NASA is going to want to talk to me!…what happened?” Everything I’d seen, heard, done, said, decided I needed to do over the last 10 days and actually over the last two years, now had a new spin. My little, “get away before getting to it”, had got me into something that might be more than this timid soul could handle. I started thinking of the gypsy curse- "may you get what you want". If this is the miraculous "Bic lighter", what good is it? The whole thing spun and twisted on that long drive back to Phoenix. We all just kept saying and thinking…”I can’t believe it”. After awhile I asked if we could stop talking about it, but sure enough I’m the first one to start it up again. We don’t stop moving for anything. We get back into Phoenix and the first place the car stops is at an intersection. I’m numb and blankly staring out the front passenger-side window as my car rolls to its first stop. My gaze stops at a gap in a row of oleanders at a cemetery. Nearly perfect rainbows dance in the spray and mist of sprinklers. You'd have to have been riding shotgun in my head for the past couple years to understand how heavy that sight was for me, so I won't even try...well not on this page!
I play the tape one time and make a copy at the same time. After watching and listening to it I start convincing myself that I am going to become the “What The Heck Is That!!!” guy, due to my exuberant narration over the surprising events. That is not a good thing. I can just send the tape to NASA and that isn’t even a possibility, but I know I could get a little needed money. I decide that I can’t not get a little something out of it. It is profiting from a tragedy, but I did put a fair amount of work into it, so there shouldn’t be any bad karma. Over the next two days I center my concerns on, first off, how to best get this to the media. Secondly, trying to keep myself from permanently being attached to (at least what I think) the hyped angle of it’s contents. Keep in mind, with the exception of the WFAA video from Texas, I saw and heard of no other video the first four days. I also kept remembering how I couldn't find any images of a reentry on the internet, well hardly any. To my knowledge, I had the only video of Columbia before the break-up. My worries over the potential media hype was good in that it distracted me from the deeper issues for the first few days. The heavy thoughts were there, but the path that that tape took on it’s way to NASA, had to be dealt with immediately. I quietly let several broadcast outlets know I had some videotape they may be interested in seeing via email, but I guess they get a lot of people trying to dupe them when events like this occur. Nobody responded. After a day and a half, I called the CNN assignment desk. I was put on hold and after about 20 minutes I took them up on the option to just leave a voice message. I advised them that I had about three minutes of the reentry on tape and that they'd definately want to see it. They never called back.
One local station finally bit on it, so I just went with them. The experience at that particular TV studio was a mixed bag of things unfolding exactly as I had expected and unexpected disappointing what I viewed as unprofessional methods. Even though I had given them plenty of information the previous night, it was as though I had just walked in off the street with this tape. They didn’t know who I was and then they didn’t have anything on which to play an 8mm tape. Home video IS 8mm! They rounded up a consumer camcorder, slam the tape in, patched it to a Beta machine and pulled a copy. My brother and I couldn’t believe how nonchalant they were. I think they thought when I mentioned “NASA”, they thought I was referring to an island in the Bahamas.
I told them right off the bat that our comments on the tape could easily be taken out of context, considering what we now know. And I explained what the reality was, but I don’t think they thought that would get the same mileage as…”shocked father and son witness the beginning of the end…tonight at 11”. In the end, they still sold it that way, but I was going to politely refuse to add to their “coloring”. Right away they brought in the perky blonde host of the morning show, to ask me questions about how and why I was there and how I felt about what happened. She’s a good person and that became clear to me even as she “worked me” trying to get her human interest story. But I didn’t want any part of it. I tried to explain to her that while I felt privileged to be in a position to possibly help NASA, I had designs on doing some big things in the future. If I were too clearly attached to this tape, I’d have to pull what I call a “Forrest Gump”. I admitted it seemed an odd attitude, but it was just me…odd. She asked if I might do a live telephone thing the next morning, but I knew where that might end up…some embarrassing brutal honesty. I have to admit, it was great to get sweet-talked or molly coddled from a TV image that’s gotten my engine started many a morning, but I stuck to my guns.
Next, they brought in the hard news reporter guy. He, right out of the gate wanted to let me know he was a big fan of the space program also. We spent a good ten minutes talking about what might have happened to Columbia. He then went on an odd diatribe about how the people who had witnessed the Challenger explosion were unable to accept the reality at the onset… how they were ”incredulous”. Then, how he himself denied reality at Candlestick Park in ’89 as the earthquake rumbled through the bay area. I let him do his spiel and then I told him…”I know that’s your job, but you’re not going to get me to hype it”. What I wanted to say to him and which was also the brutal honesty I feared would come out in the live telephone interview, was this: On January 31st you folks had a story, an inspirational story, a story you couldn’t have possibly over-hyped. It would've read like this- 7 people, 7 regular people…not daredevils, thrill seekers or egomaniacs are going to ride inside what is tantamount to a meteor, across the skies of America. They won’t be doing this because they want to, but only because they have to, as it is the only way to return to Earth after their long awaited research mission in space comes to a conclusion. You will be able to witness this spectacular sight first hand, as these people in the space shuttle Columbia, race across the northern Arizona sky at 18 times the speed of sound…shortly before 7 am tomorrow morning, on their way to a landing at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center…our news team will be there to cover the story. Well, they didn’t cover that “sexy” story. If they had, and stations in Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Reno, Sacramento and San Francisco did the same, NASA would've had dozens of video tapes to help solve this mystery. If all those stations, in all those cities had run that story and Columbia had safely landed, the thousands of people that witnessed it would no doubt remember it fondly the rest of their lives. Now that is a news story.
We settled up on what would be fair compensation. I gave them a dollar figure that felt right and they accepted. I’ve been told I could have gotten plenty more than I did receive. There is a part of me that says I should have really pushed for the networks, but the better part of me whispers I did it right. I then told the TV station to notify the Arizona Department of Public Safety and they sent an officer over to pick up the tape.
I didn’t hear it personally, but everyone kept telling me I was all over the radio that afternoon…”Look at the chunks comin’ off it! What the heck is that!”…as the TV station teased the story. It was a very odd feeling. Then again all of this from the beginning was so very, very strange from the emotional standpoint. I was being congratulated by friends and family, but that didn’t feel right! Though I knew why they were doing so. The thought of the attention was frightening, but the thought of it’s possible intrinsic value brought near euphoria.
The actual presentation of the tape was done in good taste. There was some exaggeration and a failure to point out those three specific odd events on my tape. Then again it wasn’t a science program…it was just the news. B minus. I was curious to see how it would propagate around the country and selfishly how the light would strike me. Still thinking it might be the only visual evidence and yet to understand that the impending war would push the story "below the fold" after only 4 days. I was hopeful that a combination of the way Scott and I presented information to the local station and in a communications dodge game with any additional media inquiries, that the“characters” attached to this story would get scrambled. A game of “telephone” with the press…it worked! No station, newspaper or website has the correct or even the same “people part” of the story. We’re kids, we’re a couple, Scott shot the video and I’m his son, Tom shot the video, I’m young, I’m an astronomer or even a woman. The day following the initial broadcast I started getting calls for interviews from the New York Times to the Associated Press. By this time, the involution of my thoughts and how all of this played up against my theories and suspicions had my mentality shifting to personally uncharted and uncomfortable states. This excelerating condition had me even more reticent to talk to the press about my unusual videotape. I kind of blew up on one of the local reporters and from that point on I just didn’t answer the phone. I did receive a phone call from a representitive from the Johnson Space Center who wanted to personally thank me for my tape which apparently had been broadcast on Houston television. Getting that call was as good as it’s gotten, so far in my life...
...for days, due to the whirlwind of thoughts in my head I could only manage about 2 hours of sleep a night. I really couldn't work so I took some time off. Every minute that I didn’t see or hear of any other video, I convinced myself I had the “Zapruder film” of the Columbia disaster. Through a NASA official I found out two days after my tape hit the media, that there was other video and that eased my still contorting psyche. Apart from the obvious; that I was actually watching Columbia just 3 minutes before it disintegrated and killed the 7 astronauts, I struggled immensely with a myriad of questions. Echoing, was that night nearly a year ago when I could not sleep that ended up giving me a powerful if only fleeting glimpse of Columbia. The coincidence of my somewhat irrational decision to go for my dreams and the launch of the final Columbia mission occurred on the same morning. My near obsession with the mission and (in my mind) the counterpoint it represented to the world situation; A world that seemed on the brink of the saddest of wars...a world as inharmonious as I could ever recall. The ridiculous minutiae in my drawings of Columbia before the accident and more. Add in my half-baked theories and philosophies of Quantum consciousness and/or connection and it felt like a far out movie story line and I was the protagonist (no doubt, self-cast). I was connecting dots that should not have been connected or inventing dots that probably weren’t there and then connecting them…trust me, that can leave you with some unusual mental vistas. The morning of Wednesday the 5th, Secretary of State Colin Powell was to justify this saddest of wars with his delivery of “the proof” to the U N. MSNBC had a “countdown to proof” clock ticking down in the corner of the TV screen as if it were a game clock. I won't try to explain how that plot line intersected with mine, but it was pretty spooky inside my little movie. If this continued much longer, I'd have to find a picture of the mythological Cassandra to go with my well worn Sisyphus photo for my wallet.
I tried to distract myself by watching movies, reading or listening to music, but I could not shut down the cacophonous thoughts. I finally figured out that the best thing I could do was try to turn all this chaos in my mind, into something I could handle. Try to turn it into something I could ride, albeit rough. Morph it to something focused and identifiable. Already in trying to distract myself with music, three songs "pleaded" to be a player in my unbelievably synchronous "personal movie screenplay" and more importantly, they elegantly provided a soundtrack for the world in February 2003. They were the three most moving songs at that Peter Gabriel concert. Each song seem to describe an aspect of this ordeal for me personally and all “tip their hat” to Columbia and her fate lyrically at one point or another. I “medicated” myself within my take on each tune and moreso playing with graphical counterparts for each of those songs. One other tune by Bob Schneider sort of became the thread that tied them all together. Despite the fact two of them-“Here Comes The Flood” and “Signal to Noise” have a distressful tone, they gave me a bounded harbor in which I could focus. Here Comes The Flood is a siren for the dreamers…it cries-"you’re not naïve…you’re noble". Signal To Noise begs for those that see it to start their hammering or teaching... don’t procrastinate, because it’s getting late. Downside-Up … is for the incredible crew of STS-107 and the hope of gain from within the cloud of confusion and tragedy. Impossible for anyone but myself to accurately feel, but imagine how you might see those seven wonderful people looking back at you, and you knowing your life's course has totally been rewritten because they have died. Not that this attempted illustration by me has been that good at pulling you into how heavy and unusual this chanced rendezvous was, but it's at a minimum...a good story...right? And I'm really just trying to make it a "good" story...get it?
Those three songs, along with the gift of time, helped me to frame this occurence and help put some perspective on this event in my life. More importantly, enabled me to find some reasonable application for these thoughts and feelings. But I'm still working on the question, as to if I’m the worst or best cast actor for this role as the unsuspecting amateur videographer. It would not surprise me if almost no one can connect the meaning of those songs, with the events and world psyche and struggles in February of 2003. Most certainly it would be impossible for anyone else to hear them as filtered through the crazy matrix that is my head, but for me those songs presented anything but hyperbole. Nothing on this website love it or hate it ever happens without their inspiration.
I love art and I use art as a tool to examine and gain a greater understanding of all of this. For me, true art is like a suspension bridge to what is beyond where we are right now. If it’s good art, it is accessible! ...With the first tower of that suspension bridge securely planted right here, right now. Built from the thoughts and wares of when it was created. But without the second tower over there somewhere, it has no meaning or purpose. This second tower can't even exist until one begins to move beyond the first tower with eyes carefully following the various cables that only hint at the promise of tower 2. It isn't always there, but when it is, the desire for exploration, adventure and discovery is quenched...well, at least in the realm of the mind. Some people just never see it as a bridge or serving any purpose. For whatever reason, they sense no promise of a second tower. An idea just a bit too foggy for them to do anything more than stare at the first tower and perhaps say-“what’s the point? How much is it going to cost to build? What have I to gain by venturing out there?” The artist or the art lover is left with the task not unlike trying to describe color to those who cannot see. Or frustrated explaining the value of new tools of construction to those willing to settle for bad plumbing and a leaky roof. I'm afraid most people think of art and science as being at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but I think they are standing right next to each other and move closer each day. Science or more aptly put; the exploration of science has the same “suspension bridge” blueprints and faces those same critics and criticisms- “what’s the big deal or what’s the point…how much is it going to cost to build?…what is it going to actually do for me?” You can offer up the material improvement that justifies the first tower, but you’re left frustrated as they simply don’t understand how beautiful a future February sunrise might be.
The shuttle program was dealt a painful blow when Dave, Ilan, Kalpana, Laurel, Mike, Rick and Willie never walked off that bridge they so joyfully were helping to build. For those who lost or suffered personally as a result of the mishap the Greek philosopher Epictetus once said…
...“ Conduct me God, and thou, O destiny, wherever your decrees have fixed my station. I follow cheerfully. And did I not, wicked and wretched, I must follow still. Whoe'er yields properly to fate is deemed wise among men and knows the law of heaven. 'O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.”
Some people might characterize my last few paragraphs as pure fantasy or just plain corny and those people are probably right. And that is just fine, because I think we all should start writing this story with more of our heart and a bit less of our mind.