October Sky. It's one of my favorite movies. West Virginia. Coal-mining town. And a boy who makes good on his promise of becoming a rocket scientist. It's one of those movies that I watch to remember who I am and who I thought I was going to be.
You see, I was determined to become West Virginia's second astronaut (just in case you're curious - here's our first). I was going to get a Ph.D. in physics and go the route of many academics who have become members of the astronaut corps.
But then, I fell in love with Ty-man and realized my love for him was more than my love for a job in space. Before Ty, I was on track. I was working on a B.S. in physics (actually did manage to finish that), had spent 10 weeks doing undergraduate research in the field of plasma physics, and had an offer for grad school. But, I chose the Ty-man over grad school. I always figured OK, I'm married. Cool. In a couple of years I'll ditch the job for grad school. I can still do this. I can still make it. But then I felt the pull of a $40K salary and that eclipsed all plans of school. A few years later, when grad school crossed my mind again, the uterine time-bomb was ticking and demanding that it do the job it was paid to do.
And now? Three kids later? Even if I had a Nobel physics prize in my sweaty little palms, I think NASA would snort it's way to hyperventilation if presented with my resume. And honestly? NASA has become such a screwed up organization that I don't know if I want my ass strapped to one of their rockets, getting stuck on the ISS while they attempt to design a new crew vehicle with a pittance for a budget. All while the US government and Putin enter a decade-long pissing contest, keeping our astronauts out of the Soyuz capsules. The space program is such a cluster fuck right now.
But I miss it. I miss the vision. The hope. The dreaming. I sit and look up at whatever stars are visible from my brightly-lit cul-de-sac and I wonder if I could have made it, if I would have had the fortitude to set aside a family for the chance to see Earth from the windshield of a shuttle. Or if I could have done the job of an astronaut, knowing this dream job could kill me at any time and leave my loved ones alone.
I don't know. Anytime I watch a shuttle launch or get anywhere near Kennedy Space Center, I feel a happiness in me, like I'm home. But I also am left feeling empty with a wonder of what could have been.
Could I truly have been a Rocket Girl? And is it truly enough for me to be just Heather?