Small Steps

To infinity and beyond!

The final frontier.  As a kid, I’ve never acquired the obsession with space travel that so fascinated the prototypical ‘geeks’ of my generation.  Before high school, my friends and I began to specialize: the road to anime, the way of the superhero, the path of fantasy, the . . .  starport to sci-fi.  Most of us would explore other genres as well, adopting one another’s obsessions in time.  I introduced Dasad to Tolkien; he led me to comic shops, where I began collecting Batman; our friend, Lloyd, reveled in mecha anime, magical girls, Dragonball and Pokemon.  We all loved video games so finding common ground proved easy.

Still amid all the late movie marathons and gaming sessions, their interest in space and future tech never really stuck.  The nature of space and its prerequisite vacuum always seemed overwhelming and claustrophobic at the same time, like the paradox of a man trapped within infinity — or Marty always running out of time in Back to the Future.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space. — Douglas Adams

Ergo, I bypassed all the Star Trek, the Battlestar Gallactica, the Deep Space 9 (which I understand is still Star Trek), and even Star Wars (which is really space fantasy, as opposed to hard science fiction), specializing my geek training in fantasy and Earth-based science fiction (Jurassic Park and anything written by Ray Bradbury).  Still despite my reservations, the concept of alien creatures, strange worlds, and advanced tech capable of traversing planets and their moons did however attract my imagination.  What can I say, I like to travel.

One of the true bureaucratic crimes of 21st century is the dissolution of NASA.  Though I don’t always understand space travel, I do appreciate the value in it.  And visiting the Air and Space Museum at Dulles (The Hanger) over the weekend, you feel the space program’s loss more than ever.  Dasad and I had gone to the museum over the weekend to watch The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX (Not the smaller pseudo-IMAX of your local theater, but the original Corillian-sized screen.  The Bat deserves it.).  We managed to tour the exhibits, more like monuments, before it closed.

The shuttle alone merited the detour.  Filling the western-most hanger, the sheer size of the spaceship proved overwhelming, awe-inspiring.  Despite what Tolkien might infer about the common man and Dasad might argue to his lady-friends, size indeed does matter.  The crowds circulating around the hull like ants congregating around an oddly-shaped sugar cube confirmed that the grandiose and monumental haven’t lost their attraction since the days of Ramses and Rome.

“This thing has seen more of the world than you or I will ever,” I muttered to Dasad, who’s making a study of the exhaust system.

“We’re going to Japan this fall, right?” he returned.  “That’s something.”

“A pinprick, dude.  A drop of water in an endless sea, that’s what we’ve seen.  But this . . . this ship has seen the whole picture.  The entire empire of human existence and its tragic limitations.  Only the stars remain and we’re too frail to seek them out.  Like that quote from Die Hard:  ‘And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.'”

“Wasn’t he quoting Plutarch?”

“Whatever,” I said dismissively.  “The point is in terms of exploration, this machine has surpassed us all . . . well, maybe not Buzz Aldrin and maybe a few dozen chimps, but the vast population of humanity are shut-ins compared to this thing.”

“I should have figured you’d wax poetic,” Dasad sighed, suddenly making a beeline to the bathroom.  “You always get esoteric when you watch Batman.  Give you an hour and you’ll be quoting Shakespeare.  I’ll leave you to your ruminations, Hans.  The pad thai is pushing through my digestive tract like a freight train.  Be back in fifteen or maybe an hour.”

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” — Julius Caesar

So maybe I do wax poetic, now and then.

After lunch, Dasad and I had several hours before the movie, and several minutes before we could park at the museum.  Though visiting The Hanger is free of charge, parking costs $15 until after 4PM, when its free.  So we walked through Shoppers Food to gaze at the colossal donuts.  Dasad nearly collapsed with excitement, practically squealing: “Aww, they’re so cute. Deformed too . . . but so beautiful.  So very beautiful.”  He’s got a thing for pastry.

The parking lot was full by the time we arrived.  The movie was scheduled for 7:30, nearly two and a half hours away, so we decided to tour the museum for an hour before jumping in line.  Even after two days, the Dark Knight would attract crowds especially for an IMAX show.

Once again I showcase my shaky photography skills.  Still the size of the entire museum is immense.  You feel like you’re walking among a collection of monuments, a century’s worth of aviation history.  Dasad seemed to be able to recognize the planes by sight, noting the F-14s and X-35 hover jet.  He knew it all — or at least more than me (natural history is my forte).

Still, being a student of history, I recognized a few relics.  These kamikaze planes were amazing to see.  If I remember, the Japanese nicknamed them Sakura, after the cherry blossoms, which litter the pathways and gardens around DC in early spring with pink and red pools.  A fitting name, if you think about it like that, I suppose.

A Nazi plane or more specifically Dornier Do 335, if I remember correctly.  While Dasad dealt with some . . . intestinal issues brought about by his Thai food, I snapped a few photos of the WWII-era planes.

Clipper Flying Cloud.  I love this plane.  When I win the lottery, this will be the kind of plane I fly around in, pretending I’m Indiana Jones or Nathan Drake, off searching for treasure in the Amazon.  The whole body and look of the plane suggests romance and adventure.

The last suit you’ll ever wear.  I imagine astronauts floating there in the middle of space, like a tiny insignificant moon circling the globe, your home, seeing it all stretched out before you.  Most guys don’t say it but deep down in our bones we all desire to be Superman: reach for the impossible, protect our families, stand impervious to the world’s monsters.  Floating there above the Earth, though.  That’s about as close as humans will ever get.

Somehow while snapping this picture, David Matthew’s ‘Satellite’ popped into my head.  It’s any wonder though how sci-fi fans can accept the oddity of Hollywood’s robots when you realize the real thing is just as bizarre, if not more so.

And finally, the money shot.  The whole hull of the shuttle is composed of tiny plates, which I suppose help stave the heat during reentry.  However, standing close to the craft, the patch-work surface gave the craft the consistency of paper mache or Lego building sets.  As I told Dasad, this thing has seen more of the world than either of us will ever.  And for that reasons alone, it deserves respect.

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