Passion, Love, & Being Cut Open

[This post was written on Valentine’s Day and is reposted here.]

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Cupid’s Arrow.”

Today is as much about passion as it is about love.

Eight years into our friendship, Mark walked into a Caltech Performing and Visual Arts production in cargo shorts, his right calf adorned with Buzz Aldrin’s iconic photo on the moon. I couldn’t understand why anyone would commit such an indelible image to their skin!

We had vastly different initial experience with space exploration. At 7 years old, my first NASA-related memory was witnessing the Challenger Disaster on live television. The “first teacher in space” Christa McAuliffe hailed from my maternal family’s town in Concord, NH. Afterwards, I kept my eyes fixed on terra firma. Mark’s first (and still most prominent) passion – humanity’s exploration of the cosmos – was permanently cast when he was also 7 years old. He watched with the world as Neil Armstrong stepped off of the Apollo LEM and onto the lunar surface, stating those immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Although his less-than stellar eyesight had grounded him from a future donning a snazzy white suit, he’s still quite the space enthusiast! Endeavor’s last mission landed squarely in Los Angeles. Since the shuttle’s arrival, Mark shares his passion with thousands of museum guests. And how has his first love changed me? Nowadays, I tend to look up more often, more hopeful.

“We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff,” Carl Sagan once explained.

I invite you to join us on Yuri’s Night under the shuttle on April 12th, 2015 with groups from Virgin GalacticCALTECHNASA Jet Propulsion LaboratorySpaceXThe Planetary Society, and many others celebrating Yuri Gargarin, the first human to journey into space. As we set our sights on Mars – a planet exclusively populated by robots – we can’t help but reflect on our own humanity and the implications such a feat would bring.

What about today? Today is as much about passion as it is about love. Today also marks the 25th anniversary of the Pale Blue Dot photograph taken by Voyager 1 from ~6 billion kilometers away. And, as with any other day, if/when Mark opts to regale me with another story from among the stars, I smile. Regardless of the overture, I hear in his voice the same characteristic as clearly as a thousand times before: genuine happiness.

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