THE LAST FLIGHT

The 747, Endeavour and the two chase planes fly almost over our heads as a small group of us gather atop one of hills in Culver City.

Today a travel-warrior made her final flight, past Venice Beach, Disneyland, The Queen Mary, Universal City, Malibu and even home sweet home, Culver City. This is Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last hurrah before she grabs the big room at her new retirement home. The California Science Center near downtown Los Angeles. Like thousands of others, I seek higher ground to snag a view of this miraculous machine, riding piggy-back on a great big 747.

But this is not my first close encounter with a space shuttle. My father was an aeronautics engineer and a fabulous writer. He signed on with NASA shortly after the Russians sent freak-out waves through the Pentagon when they launched the first satellite into space. Sputnik. The space race was on and my father worked in “public relations.” To the best of my knowledge that meant he translated techno-space lingo into…well…English. He was also privy to national secrets. I’d climb on his lap, bat my big eye lashes and say “daddy, tell me a secret.” He’d laugh, “but then I would have to kill you. Ha Ha Ha.”

Able and Baker on the cover of Life Magazine, June 1959.

My father’s claim to NASA fame was that he named the first two monkeys that went into space. And came back. Alive. According to the directive, one name had to start with an “A” and the other a “B.” The in-laws lobbied him to name the monkeys after them. That would be Abraham and Bernice.

When you see the pictures of little Able and Baker, now you know the back story. In fact the in-laws were so pissed off about the name thing (I mean get over it folks…) my father threw up his hands in frustration and moved my mother and me to the other side of the country. Los Angeles.

Aerospace was hot in the land of sunshine and my father thrived. He was here for Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttles. That’s when we begin our years-long ritual, my daddy and I. In the middle of night, we drive a couple hours northeast to the Mojave Desert, Edwards Air Force Base, and watch the Shuttle land.

Another beautiful desert sunrise. Another beautiful shuttle landing at Edwards. We get plenty lucky with this photo!

Because my father was in the press corps, we get up close and personal with hardware and staff. First you hear the double sonic booms, then off in the distance you see a small dot in the sky that grows bigger and takes the shape of a bird. Suddenly it’s the Shuttle, gliding earthward at break-neck speed. There is desert silence when it lands and passes us in a whoosh as the parachutes deploy behind.

Space-age vehicles at the ready as the astronauts wait patiently to get the hell off…

Then the dusty thing sits on the tarmac for a few moments before it is quickly surrounded by an assortment of specialized sniffer vehicles.

 

 

 

 

At that point my father goes to the pressroom for the flight debriefing and I wander into the gift shop to buy the latest shuttle t-shirt. The design is different for each mission and is almost always groovy in a “Jetsons” kind of way.

 

 

Challenger Logo

In 1983, we watch Space Shuttle Challenger’s first night landing. Ever. A Xenon light, as bright as a mini-sun, beckons the shuttle toward the runway. All the other lights at Edwards are turned off and the press and visitors are given green glow wands to wave (and light the way to the bathroom, I presume). It’s eerie and magical. Fast forward two and half years. It’s a Tuesday morning in January, 1986. My father calls me on the phone, emotion slicing through his voice, “turn on the television, Cali, we lost Challenger.”

That was our Challenger. They were our astronauts.

Busted! My father catches me taking a nap before the shuttle lands…

My father watched Endeavour’s early flights from home. By now he was too ill to take any middle-of-the-night sojourns to the high desert. These and other memories come flooding back as I watch Endeavour circle the city. I remember my daddy, the “space thing” we loved, the time we spent together, looking up. I’m grateful to him for bringing me to Los Angeles. And I keep those little monkeys, Able and Baker, in my heart too.

 

My father would have been front row center to watch Endeavour come home to Los Angeles

3 Responses

  1. Shirley Torstenson
    | Reply

    Dear Cali,

    What a personal and touching recounting of your family ties with the Space Shuttle. Thank you for sharing. Hope that you get a great view of the Endeavour! Hope that you take tons of photos, would love to be there too, but not willing to brave the crowds or traffic. May seeing the Space Shuttle brings back many more wonderful memories of your special times with your amazing father.

    Thinking of you,
    Shirley

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Thanks Shirley! Yeah it was personal, but I am gratified to see how many hearts are touched by seeing this magnificent machine roll through the streets of Los Angeles to its new home at The Science Center downtown. As I write this, it is halfway to downtown and throngs of people are surging forward along the way to grab a little view of history. Up close and personal. Indeed.

  2. Stephen Fry
    | Reply

    Oh Cali, it is yet another beautifully conceived and written essay. Thanks for sharing your life and memories with us. Incidentally, tonight I’m accompanying Frances with my uke in a parody on “Mame” honoring a friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By checking this, you agree to share the information provided with Cali Rose as stated in our Privacy Policy.