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December 1st, 2002

Out of Radio Contact

Embrace Those Moments

 
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When I was young and na�ve and honestly thought that little girls who could not add or subtract in their heads could grow up to become astronauts, I presented significant sums of allowance to NASA Line , an 1-900 number that allowed the dialee to eavesdrop on Houston-astronaut chatter during space shuttle missions. Occasionally a commentator would break in to translate the flying acronyms.

Imagine the yo-yo of horror and delight I shot through upon moving to Cape Canaveral when I discovered that what I had been listening to was the live audio track of NASA TV mission coverage, which I could now experience all day, every day�for free.

Always one to glut on over-information, NTV (for nothing is officially attached to the American space program without first being sanitized as a rimshot of letters) burns forth in my apartment whenever I’m home and Americans are orbiting. The programming puts astronaut life in the harsh rocket glare of mundane reality, as there is a great deal of:

“Cryro stir.”

“Copy, Houston.”

“Set switch 41-B to position O-7.”

“Copy.”

I mean, that’s some compelling reality television.

But occasionally, the orbiting spacecraft will pass out of radio contact, and Earth and space are forced into temporary silence. The screen flips to telemetry data and the intermittent overhead shot of quiet, darkened desks in Mission Control. I am always startled by the sudden silence, and often poke my head around the corner or glance up from the keyboard to make sure everything is zipping along at a normal eighteen thousand miles an hour up there.

I wonder what the astronauts do with these large, lovely blocks of nothingness. Their schedules are crammed wall-to-wall with cleanup duties, scientific experiments, and exercise, but I’d be surprised if they don’t every now and then�at the crackling silence�tilt their heads and steal a glance at the stars above, the curve of the Earth below, pondering their lonely place in between.

Sometimes we all feel as if we’re hurtling along at eighteen thousand miles an hour. But you don’t have to collect an extraterrestrial paycheck to find sudden silences in life. There are stop signs; there is computer reboot time. Embrace the occasional lack of radio contact with the world. Hug these small spaces of nothingness. They are there for you, to fill merely by being.

 
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The Author : Mary Beth Ellis
Mary Beth Ellis writes from Orlando, Florida.
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