I stood there in the flat Kissimmee Prairie in Florida, the sky was like Montana's, vast to the horizon. Now elderly, I recalled from my youth the night I first looked through my cardboard-tubed 4.5 inch reflector and wondered about the moon, planets, and stars and wished I could soar amongst them. I remembered watching a solar eclipse with my young bride. Astronomy was my favorite subject and I knew that if I studied hard I might have a chance to do what Buck Rogers did in comic science-fiction.
I recalled another day, as on a fast train racing through a dream, I had completed my engineering education and was seated at the launch conductor's console at Cape Canaveral's Launch Pad 36, ready to launch the first hydrogen-propelled rocket on mankind's expeditions into the cosmos. As the countdown clock indexed toward zero, the last remaining hold allowed visitors in the blockhouse to move about.
I looked to my left and a towering man approached me and said: "Good luck, Arnie". It was Wernher Von Braun.
I was proud, and thrilled. I knew of his life-long yearning to go to the stars, and I recalled, in hurried thoughts, the night I looked through my first eyepiece at Saturn. Now I owned a 4.5 inch refractor of more durable construction, and enjoyed, when the hustling life of a rocket scientist allowed, nights of awesome views of the moon, planets, and stars. I hoped, in that last relaxing moment before the countdown resumed, I someday would be able to aim a more powerful telescope at one of these hydrogen-fueled rockets pushing its way toward the stars.
I knew, as the countdown rolled on, I would be helping to contribute to the science of such star-bound machines. I remembered the prophetic writings of my friend, Krafft Ehricke, written in 1948:
"At the end of the 20th Century they finally shattered the chains which kept them in bondage of time and space. Vigorously they had invaded the realm of nature, making themselves masters of energies never dreamed of before. What had been achieved in a relatively short period was really amazing...."
My time travel halted as I snapped back into the now on that lonely prairie, standing before my latest astronomical instrument. I thought about how many of those hydrogen-filled rockets had pushed so many spacecrafts to the planets and stars, and powered engines that got man to the moon, and I had been a part of it.
I was old now, the dream of physical travel to the stars would not come true for me.
I did know I would get at least one more chance to peer through still a larger 'scope and catch a glimpse of a glint of a Centaur on its way to the stars.
It would come true, it had to, because I had looked through that cardboard-tubed reflector so many years before.