How to Love a Space Geek – A Guide for Family and Friends May 19, 2011Posted by craftlass in life lessons, marriage, NASA, space, travel.
I’ve written before about the challenges of being addicted to rocket launches but the people who have it worse, far worse, are those who love us. It’s not just shuttle addicts this applies to, either. For example, astronomers (amateur or pro) come with a lot of baggage, including the need to stay up all night or close to it, planning around events like meteor showers, and either spending insane amounts of money on gear or making far less than they should if professional. However, since the last shuttle launch is rapidly approaching, I am going to focus on the non-space-worker launch freaks here or else I could wind up writing a whole book.
The first thing you need to understand is that seeing a launch, to us, is not just a cool thing to do. It’s a compulsion and, frankly, one of the healthiest ones around. A launch gives us a high greater than any drug and it lasts forever. I repeat, forever! This does not mean that one is enough, however. Oh, no, not at all. Each launch is unique, from the countdown events to the way it rises to the sound to the trail it leaves in the sky. I’ve only seen three and could espouse endlessly on the characteristics of each. The first one changed the way I look at the world entirely and the successive ones have reinforced that and brought me closer to being who I aim to be. I have seen the power of the human brain and great teamwork and my faith in humanity has been restored. This makes me a better person on every level.
The second thing is that a launch is more important than almost anything else could be. Each launch happens exactly once and it’s on its own schedule that individuals can not control. Birthdays come every year on a fixed schedule, as do anniversaries, and they really don’t have to be celebrated on the date itself. Things that might be extremely important to you do matter to us, but we have to balance their significance against a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which each launch is, no matter how many we may see. This is especially true now, with all the lasts for the shuttle program happening. Let’s put it this way: I would miss my own wedding for a launch if I was getting married. Seriously. It has nothing to do with how much I care about my significant other, it’s just that it’s possible to move even the fanciest wedding and not at all possible for me to change a launch date. I missed STS-132 for a friend’s graduation party and I will regret it until the day I die, even though I love this friend with all my heart and have a no-regrets policy in general.
Third, going to a launch is expensive and we don’t care. As long as we’re not on the verge of losing our homes or internet connection, no debt is too great. We look for ways to make it more affordable, like sharing houses or driving with people, even if they are total strangers. However, some expenses just can’t be avoided, like changing plane tickets or losing deposits due to a date change. I didn’t eat an actual meal for an entire day at this past launch and I didn’t care at all, the launch fed me more than food possibly could. Great things require sacrifice at times and there are few sacrifices too great.
Fourth, launch dates are flexible and we need to roll with the changes, not just financially. STS-134 got pushed back about by two weeks and, for me, it made more sense to stay for the duration than to fly home and back. Adding to the confusion, it took days after the scrub of the first attempt to find out what the new date would be, so many people stuck around until it was clear the delay would be more than a week. Choosing to stay longer is not an indicator that we don’t care about you or that we’re behaving badly while away, it’s just the way things have to be. After all, once we’ve gone to so much trouble to attend the greatest shame is to miss the actual event just because someone wanted us to come home.
Fifth, we are a community. The friends I have made through interest in space and attending launches are my family just as surely as anyone actually related to me. We support each other when life gets difficult and celebrate together when good things happen. This does not diminish our love for anyone else, but we have an understanding that is deep and eternal and shared only with those like us. We’re of all races, religions (or lack of such), national origins, economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and vocations, yet we have a common bond that makes none of that matter except as something more to talk about. Oh, how we talk! Endlessly and enthusiastically, over beer and food and the smell of rocket fuel. We teach each other, learn from each other, grow together, and are always better for it. It’s like attending years of college in just a few days, the bonds are that powerful and the learning is that broad if you want it to be. What could be better?
To put all of this another way, do you really want to be resented for the rest of your life/relationship/friendship because you got in between someone you love and their passion? Is it worth a few extra days together or a few dollars?
I’m lucky, I have the most wonderful partner in the world, who lives by these values, even to the point where he supported me basically missing his birthday two years in a row for space events that weren’t even launches but deeply mattered to me. By the same token, if he had to miss mine for a chance to dive the Great Barrier Reef or live out another dream of his I would give him my blessing in a heartbeat, even if it hurt on some level. That’s what partnership is, encouraging the person or people you love to take life by the horns and explore everything they feel a need to any chance they get even if it’s inconvenient or painful.
I’ve watched a friend argue terribly with his wife over staying in town a bit longer during a launch, another miss a launch due to a family birthday (and he will now never see one), and even had one who spent a lot of money to get tickets for him and his son (it would have been the son’s first launch and a wonderful educational opportunity) only to have his wife put down her foot and prevent them from going. This breaks my heart and are hardly the only examples of similar issues. Once these chances are gone, they are gone forever. Sondheim got it right when he had Cinderella state, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”
So, if you truly value your relationship with a space geek, don’t stand in the way or give a guilt-trip. Clear the path or even join the fray and who knows? Maybe you’ll find that it will affect you in a positive way, too, even if you couldn’t care less about space yourself.