“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
~ Neil Armstrong, 10:56 pm EDT on 7/20/1969
Though this beautiful sentence had been uttered nine years before I was born, it has had a huge impact on my life. Even before I became familiar with Apollo 11’s mission to the Moon, I was infatuated by the Cosmos. I dreamed of becoming the first woman astronaut and religiously studied everything there was to know about the celestial bodies, cosmic laws and theories, types of telescopes, types of spacecrafts...I even spun in circles for long periods of time just to get myself ready for the astronaut training in which I wanted to prove that I wouldn’t get dizzy in case my spacecraft entered an unexpected vortex or a wormhole.
I remember exactly what sparked my desire for such an out-of-this-world occupation. Night swimming. Every night before I went to sleep I stared at the sky. My bedroom window was on the sixth floor, so the light from the street lamps didn’t quite get the chance to pollute my view. The apartment building in which my family lived was one of the very first ones in the new development that grew like mushrooms after a heavy rain in an area that was mostly fields of potatoes and hills with small forests. This sort of seclusion from the rest of the city granted privacy, silence, and (on cloudless nights) spectacular possibilities to observe the night sky.
I would lie motionless on top of my blanket and gaze past the Moon, into the vast blackness above me just before I dozed off. My body would get into an odd, trance-like state as I felt myself lift off the bed and hover just above it even though my legs, arms, and torso felt like they were made of lead. Then, I would close my eyes and swim off into space. I was (and still am) an excellent swimmer. The frog-like kicks of my breaststrokes would propel me from my bed, out of the window, and high up above our twelve story apartment building. I would hover for a while above the potato fields, the tips of the trees, then, with more kicks synchronized with the movements of my arms, I would swim up through the dark sky, past the last layer of Earth’s atmosphere, out of the orbit, and far, far away where our known Universe expands into a never ending blackness filled with clusters of light that only I could reach. Eventually.
As I grew older, my desire to become the first woman astronaut (could the world handle a woman on the Moon?) grew stronger; however, the rude awakening that came in the form of the realization that I lived in a small communist country (Czechoslovakia at the time) where such dreams were actually threatening nightmares to a political regime which emphasized that women should only be teachers or doctors or nurses or cooks or [insert any other occupation whose fundamental role is to take care of or to cater to others] shattered my dream, and as soon as the Iron Curtain came down and I decided to flee to the country of the free, I was too old to realize my childhood dream.
And so it is my deepest desire that when I die, I’d like my ashes to be taken out of the Earth’s orbit and scattered amongst the cosmic matter where they can float off to the farthest reaches of space and twinkle in the light emitted from the billions of stars that illuminate our Universe.
The Horror; the Peace.
Dark void with Flares.
Your guess—as good as Mine.
The Unknown; the Fear.
God Speed, Mr. Neil Armstrong! (8. 5. 1930 – 8. 25. 2012)
What did you see on the far side of the Moon?