Only Yesterday: To the Moon & Back, 50 Years Later

NOTE: Imagine sitting in a front‐row seat to land a man on the moon. Kay Cox lived that as a family adventure with her NASA engineer‐husband, Ken, and their children. In this special edition of RoadBroads, we honor that first lunar landing a half‐century ago with Kay’s extraordinary memories of what is, no doubt, the wildest journey of all: space travel.

Guest blogger Kay L. Cox writes poetry and stories from her San Antonio home. She’s an experienced blogger (check out her writings on www.picklesandroses.blogspot.com). Earlier, Kay worked as an art and family therapist, teaching graduate‐level art therapy classes in the US and abroad.

Thank you, Kay, for crafting this powerful creation: our first‐ever RoadBroads poem!


When the Moon Calls

Kay L. Cox

Only yesterday
the last space shuttle went up mid crowds and cheers
but I feel a door closing
leaving me with only memories of the challenging times,
of the countdowns, the takeoffs, the fires, explosions and splashdown celebrations,
the Gemini, Apollo, Soyuz, even the more recent shuttle programs.

Only yesterday
I was 27 years old with a two year old and a nine month old baby
in a one and a half story Olde English style home,
white cottage curtains on the windows
in a neighborhood devoted to space exploration
beginning what I perceived as a very ordinary life.

Only yesterday
tour buses drove down my street
pointing out astronaut homes
while I changed diapers, made Kraft mac ‘n cheese lunches
peeled shrimp, ironed my husband’s shirts
and took the children to the pediatrician.

Only yesterday
I valiantly tried to give NASA office parties
but after 3 different fires…
in the oven one year, a chafing dish the next,
and finally the table décor that went up in flames, I gave up.

Only yesterday
I somberly drove home from the grocery store
around hordes of TV cameras and journalists
camped out in front of Roger Chaffee’s house
after the tragedy at the cape,
a terrible reminder of the immense danger in going for Earth’s orbit.

Only yesterday
on Christmas Eve my dad made eggnog in my kitchen
while I stood anxious and breathless with astronaut friends
in front of the TV waiting for communication
from Apollo as it circled around from the back of the moon.

Only yesterday
my ordinary life was feeding the dog
while waving to astronauts in helicopters
buzzing over their wives and kids
around the corner in their own ordinary lives.

Only yesterday
I put the kids to bed
with stories and kisses
while their father was having dinner in L‐A
after a long day at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
and I spent another night alone with TV.

Only yesterday
I watched our neighbor, Buzz Aldrin,
follow Neil Armstrong down a ladder
and plant a U.S. flag on the pale and dusty surface of the moon.
Now he dances with stars.

Only yesterday
the phone rang at two a.m.
calling my husband into work
telling him Apollo 13 was in big trouble,
not telling me I wouldn’t see him again for days.

Only yesterday
with only a 30 minute warning,
my husband brought a Russian delegation home for drinks.
I plied them with vodka,
made a run for much more
while a sympathetic neighbor supplied sausage, cheese, and crackers.

Only yesterday
I sat with my engineer husband on a hotel room floor at midnight
sipping Armenian brandy through the smoke of Cuban cigars
watching Russian and American delegation leaders
sign an agreement to collaborate on the Soyuz mission.

Only yesterday
I watched Challenger disintegrate shortly after launch,
Columbia fall apart and scatter over a Texas countryside.
I wept for the loss of crews I cared for as President Reagan
greeted grieving Challenger families in my husband’s office.

Only yesterday
with great joy and relief
I celebrated with friends,
successful flights
with wild splash‐down parties
at the Flintlock Inn, Maribelles, and the Outback.

The space program, like me, has aged and dwindled
but I have come to realize that my ordinary life
might be considered extraordinary,
leaving me to hope someday
other young families will participate
in another planetary project,
something much bigger than themselves.

A Road Broad Launch: Up Close & Memorable

Below me, the ground rumbled.

Above me, the sun burned.

Before me, a fireball rocketed the space shuttle Discovery skyward.

Around me, came—nothing.

The fireball’s flash of light came instantaneously,. But, sound travels much slower at ‘only’ 1100 feet per second.

I stood a mere mile from the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Delay had been the morning’s buzzword.

As the shuttle shot into the atmosphere, I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and waited.

Ears begged to hear what eyes saw.

Silence answered, round two.

Re‐living this event from March 13, 1989, I remember it as a Life Highlight. Third on my list, after meeting DH (#1) then marrying him (#2).

Discovery’s launch memory soars partly as a rebel’s reaction. It’s been a windy build‐up to this week’s Apollo 11 anniversary.

Houston, where I live, is celebrating the Big 5–0, too. First word spoken on the moon, after all, came courtesy of us. It’s beyond mere space travel. It’s jobs, lives, friends, and families. Plus, we answered a presidential call.

As DH and I describe our shuttle launch trip three decades later: answering a call, creatively.

Conjoin a Miami business trip with radio reporting gig. Our respective stations said yes.

We launched, neither of us prepared for the overwhelm.

On launch morning, we encountered an unexpected geomagnetic storm then extended launch delays. To Kennedy’s Visitor Center, we went. Pent‐up energy needed a new home. We played astronaut. We reread mission manuals. We interviewed other reporters.

Anything to relieve nerves that multiplied. Minutes morphed into hours.

Underlying the emotions were tough memories. The space shuttle Challenger had blown up two missions before.

Many of us at the cape that March morning had worked the Challenger tragedy in some capacity.

We were space junkies. Our press passes provided sensational seats to the shuttle ride. But, three years earlier, we’d learned those seats can hurt.

Still, we gathered again, some in the media grandstand and others along the camera riser. Ahead of us, at the horizon, stood the shuttle launch pad, heating up. To the upper right, do you recognize the iconic mission countdown clock?

Nine minutes to launch, we reporters settled down. It’s our ride, too, a journey of sensory overload magnified and delayed by pressure and sound waves. Physics I still don’t understand.

Finally, Discovery launches.

I eyeball the countdown clock and begin to pray. Under my breath, my mantra becomes “please get us past “Go to throttle up.’ ” Those became NASA’s last words before Challenger exploded.

As I pray, the ground rumbles as if a thousand trains are heading our way. The roar booms, threatening to raise us all up. I cup my ears. Teeth chatter, toes digging into floorboards. Where’s terra firma?

The winds arrive next, engulfing us in sensations that collide like shipwrecks, stacking one atop another. I brace my feet, clasp my desk space with both hands. My shirt billows in and out against my chest and stomach. The hair on my arms jerks to standing as my head curls vanish.

As quickly, it’s 75 seconds, we’re past go to throttle up and now, it’s all a memory. Giddy with overwhelm, I reach for my pocket camera, hands shaking. The professional must transcend the personal.

After the camera’s film is developed, I spot the blackbird flying close to the space shuttle

How did she survive Discovery’s launch?

Later I realize the bird was probably flying as far from the launch pad as where I was standing.

Perspective matters.

Isn’t that why we journey? To feel and to see?