“So how ‘bout that whole folding of the fabric of time thing?” I asked when it was finally my turn in the long line of people forming a queue.
“I beg your pardon?” an elderly NASA engineer asked, his two furry white eyebrows fully sewing together in the middle of his face.
“Time travel,” I clarified. “You don’t have to keep the research bits a secret from me. I’ve got a badge and everything. I’m allowed to be here.”
I felt a sharp yank at my elbow and was spun out of the line and pushed toward the conference hall’s exit doors.
I heard the engineer ask the assistant at his side to find new batteries for his hearing aid as he thought they were going a bit dodgy.
I detached the sharp claw around my arm and glanced over at my daughter’s face. It was a little more red than I thought healthy—like the color a kid’s face turns when they’ve been holding their breath after you tell them they’re absolutely going to eat every last bit of liver on their dinner plate thank you very much.
And then they explode.
Chloe could have gone either way.
“I thought I told you I was going to vet each one of your questions to panelists,” she said, crisply.
“Yes. You did say that. But you were busy talking to someone who was showing you how to cure cancer in space—or something like that—and I thought that info was too valuable to interrupt.”
She gave me her best oh my god I can’t believe we’re from the same genetic material face and walked down the corridor toward a display of spacecraft materials—textiles that could absorb great gobs of angry heat.
I’d need to make it up to her. I was here—at NASA’s 100th centennial celebration and symposium—as her plus one. I’d been given access to all the talks, lectures, panel discussions, power point slideshows, and live beam-ins from the ISS.
I was meeting and listening to some of the greatest scientists, engineers, and administrators of the great big NASA family—a family Chloe has been dating for the last four years—and I’d better not be the black-socked and sandled potted uncle who blows it for her by showing up at the posh annual family BBQ asking where I can set up the bouncy castle I’d just rented for the event.
She wants a large, shiny ring from these people. I should really help her get it.
So I sat quietly for the next many hours. A full two days of many hours. I listened to people explain what had been taking place the last one hundred years in labs and clean rooms—that part I called history—and what would be taking place in the next one hundred years but mostly on spaceships and extraterrestrial terra firma—that part I called magic.
Human exploration, space technology, mission objectives, and interplanetary sleuthwork—a bazillion talks showing what happened to the lecturer when someone made the mistake of saying to them, “Betcha can’t make this happen.”
It’s the hair-raising results when smart people get bored and have access to wind tunnels.
Now, I’m not going to say that every single speaker had me at the edge of my seat, wide-eyed, and breathless. There were plenty of rumple-suited, mumbling lectors who lost their places or couldn’t figure out how to work a laser pointer. Moments where I would turn to Chloe and accusatorily whisper, “That’s not a real word,” or request that she explain to me in one sentence or less how nuclear fusion for space travel would work.
But the videos were definitely thrilling bits of rousing drama. In fact, I’m pretty sure that NASA uses one guy from Hollywood to do all the musical score work because all of it was EPIC. Like academy award winning musical compositions. I felt heart-melting stirrings in my soul when seeing a scientist simply unfold some foil. It could have been what he was having for lunch, but I didn’t care. I just want to see if eventually Ridley Scott will ask Matt Damon to play that guy on the big screen.
At the end of the symposium was the massive NASA gala. Tuxedos, sequins, fish and chicken, politicians, musicians, astronauts and journalists. The early computers, the young engineers. The daring old stories and the futuristic visions.
It was a room filled with people who had done great things, and with people who dreamed of doing great things.
It was a room that held the remarkable past and the unfathomable futures. It was filled with an electric energy, the promise of possibility, a gritty determination.
Yeah, it was filled with a lot of waiters too.
I thought that by the end of the night I had done my utmost to behave. To absorb the sagacious words of pioneers at the frontiers of space. I’d kept my hand at my side and simply remained fixed on their words, their proposals, their data, and their accomplishments.
I did not chase people into the bathrooms to ask burning questions about Mars, or the moon, or asteroids, or multi universes.
Except for that one guy, but he hardly counts. Because Chloe doesn’t even know about him, so mums the word on that bit, capisce?
I thought after all my good behavior we could finally go home and find some real sleep, as we’d been crashing in a hotel room whose air conditioner sounded like a gargantuan Kitchen Aid blender stuck on liquefy—or annihilate—samey samey.
But then the gala’s emcee made one last announcement before dismissing us for the night. “We’ve got a surprise for you! There’s a dance party downstairs—a DJ, a sparkly ball, big speakers, and a lot more alcohol. Go have fun NASA!”
I saw Chloe turn to me with a face that displayed the happiness a farm hound shows when he’s spotted a field full of cowpie patties.
“NO,” I said firmly.
“You owe me,” she said.
So we went.
And now I am absolutely positive time travel exists, because I would put a big ole bet that most of these scientists and engineers wouldn’t want any of their dancing film footage to get out into the public—and if there was a threat of doing so, they’d travel back to this event and erase it.
It was like watching colts try to stand immediately following birth.
Okay, to be fair, a couple people knew some archaic dance moves, but seriously, no one should be doing the Robot anymore, or the Running Man, and especially not the Sprinkler.
Except I’m going to make one allowance: there was one move they were all exceedingly good at.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration should be damn proud of a century’s worth of work. Seeing their past accomplishments was a trip back in time I was honored and astonished to experience.
But hearing about their future? Nope. I don’t want to skip over one single second of it.
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