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How to Love a Space Geek – A Guide for Family and Friends May 19, 2011

Posted by craftlass in life lessons, marriage, NASA, space, travel.
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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.

Dragon in the sky after STS-131

This was created by the trail of STS-131, a unique formation lit up from beneath by the rising sun just after the launch.

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.

The author poses with the trail from STS-134

Me with the trail of STS-134 from the privileged vantage point of Turn Basin. Notice the extreme joy on my face, which barely represents how I felt in that moment.

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?

The Big House at the Countdown Clock

Members of my first household for the STS-133 NASA Tweetup (the Big House) pose with the famous countdown clock at the KSC press site. Mostly strangers a couple of days before this was taken, now people I would do almost anything for.

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.

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Comments»

1. james - May 19, 2011

I could not have put it better myself.

craftlass - May 19, 2011

Thank you, it really can be hard to articulate these things, took a lot of pondering! 🙂

2. Gawain - May 19, 2011

So glad you got to see Endeavour fly, and glad to see that your partner is sympathetic to the “incurable condition” of being a space geek!

craftlass - May 19, 2011

Thanks, you certainly know how things like delays and uncertainty go… If it’s hard on us it goes double for our SOs, I’m sure! Incurable is the perfect word, too.

3. John Richards - May 19, 2011

What an AMAZING article. It articulates everthing i feel about watching launches of ANY kind.

Watched STS-133 from the NASA causeway and i am now offically hooked. I’d watch a car launch if they’d make it go on a rocket!! 🙂

ROCKet ON!!

Johnniemojo

craftlass - May 19, 2011

Hahaha, have you ever seen the car shuttle episode of Top Gear? It’s fantastic, look for it if you haven’t. They actually did just that!

Thanks so much!

4. Jeanie - May 19, 2011

YES!

As I said–the dedication, the humanity, the CONSCIOUSNESS of the great honor to be able to touch it just barely…

that’s what sucked me in immediately.

Experiences and connections are worth any price.

OK, I suppose I should go blog about this now. 😉
GREAT meeting you! I wish I’d known about SpaceUp Houston beforehand–I was in the area!

craftlass - May 19, 2011

Wow, I inspired a post? That’s too cool, thank you!

I would never have guessed just how connected we would all feel from doing this together, but the human element is definitely just as, if not more, precious than the event itself. One of the reasons each launch is so different is who you spend it with, on top of the uniqueness of the launches themselves. Every time I meet wonderful people and am so glad it included you this time as well.

Sorry about SpaceUp Houston, maybe you can make it to NY…? 🙂

5. Redshift42 - May 19, 2011

Of course, the easiest way is to be one yourself. 🙂

craftlass - May 19, 2011

LOL, yes, that is the best! My boyfriend has become more and more of one over time, which has definitely made everything more fun. Hoping he actually makes it to 135 so we can share this… You two are very lucky to have this in common. 🙂

6. MDBenson - May 19, 2011

Excellent words. Echos a lot of stuff I just cannot get through to some people around me back home.

Should be a hand-out leaflet to all Space enthusiasts’ friends and family!

craftlass - May 19, 2011

Thanks! Yeah, it’s very hard to articulate, I was just lucky that suddenly the words seem to flow. I’ve been struggling to explain this all to many friends…

A leaflet, huh? I like the sound of that! Maybe I’ll make a pdf version people can print out…

7. Allan Manangan - May 19, 2011

Thank you for writing this post. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Regards,
Allan Manangan
@AllanManangan

craftlass - May 19, 2011

Thanks, really glad you liked it! 🙂

8. Montsecor - May 19, 2011

Wow, that is so true. And you’re right, as you know, I have really supportive parents, but not everyone I love gets it. I can only hope to be able to support the people I love in that way… 🙂

And thanks, again, for putting my thoughts in words… 😉

craftlass - May 20, 2011

You’re welcome, and I’m so glad this resonates with you! It is hard for people to understand almost any passion this strong, especially when it’s at all unusual. As someone who has always enjoyed unusual things, I’ve spent a lot of my life explaining… lol.

Thanks for all the kind words!

9. John M Knight - May 19, 2011

Yep. Very important to recognize and respect the passions of those around us. Wonderful article!

craftlass - May 20, 2011

Thanks! Yes, this applies far beyond going to launches, but to relationships of all kinds. We may not understand why our loved ones have the passions they do but it’s important to let them explore them to the fullest. A good relationship helps someone become the best self possible rather than standing in the way, and that sometimes means supporting even the things that might seem downright nutty or sometimes pull that person away for awhile. Love means accepting someone for exactly who he or she is, not trying in vain to change that person. The latter is the recipe to misery for all involved. Unfortunately, that is all-too-common…

10. Spacegary - May 20, 2011

Wow! Fantastic writing. Thank you. You perfectly capture the emotion of seeing a launch. Now how about your thoughts on those beautiful machines, the Space Shuttles? We will never see their like again.

craftlass - May 20, 2011

Thanks! Oh, I’m sure that is a coming post and likely a song or three for me, but first, I had to do what I can to make sure that people who want to get to that final launch… It’s a pressing concern! Nothing I can write will actually change the end of the program, it’s coming rapidly and out of everyone’s hands now. If I can help even one person get “permission” to attend one last launch of this magnificent vehicle, I will consider this post a raging success, whether it’s their first or hundredth!

Stay tuned… 🙂

11. spacegary - May 20, 2011

Good point about encouraging others to view a launch. Even a scrub is a great experience! And you don’t need to be on the NASA causeway to enjoy it. Remember these can be seen from quite a distance, and the thought that you’re watching something leave the planet with people on board never changes.

craftlass - May 20, 2011

Yes! Some of my favorite experiences have actually been scrubs. And you definitely don’t need to be on-site to enjoy it, every time except STS-133 (when I knew I was in the tweetup) I was planning to watch from outside and just happened to get lucky enough to get inside at the last minute. People watch from all over central/south FL, even as far as Tampa you can often see it. The pics of STS-131 from Disney World were mind-blowing!

Excellent points to bring up, thank you! 🙂

12. jimmy brown - April 30, 2013

Please contact me, I need to ask you a question. Jimmy Brown.

13. Spacegary - April 30, 2013

Can you please contact me about using this description in a book? Thank you. gary (at) atlantapixel (dot) com


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