Early mornings, tired eyes glare daggers at aluminum and steel that doesn’t yield. But will it hold?
Five hundred pounds of thrust, ten seconds of acceleration, and just a hundred pounds of fiberglass and metal to take it all.
It gleams dangerously in the dim cold light, is this the one that is too much? Is this the last time it rests heavily in its foam cradle, soaking up the fears of its creator?
0700 and the motor goes in, ringing aluminum against aluminum as it is secured.
He laughs nervously when someone jokes that the motor is in backwards, his eyes double check to make sure it was just a joke.
The black powder is poured, danger and held breaths. Two grams, three, four… let’s make it five.
Parachutes rolled and packed with the care used when swaddling a baby. The fabric feels thin through his fingers. Paper mache, to be deployed at fifty miles per hour. He’s sweating as he fumbles the nose cone, but it goes on straight.
Screws, bolts, straps, an endless array of wires and electronics.
GPS, HFR, barometric sensors. Crafted in a clean lab, playa dust coats them, and is brushed off gently.
It takes three people to carry it to the Range Safety Officer, who’s sole purpose is to scrutinize his handiwork.
Everything is examined, explained, double checked, the motor is opened up, the seals inspected.
He is given approval.
The Launch Control Officer assigns a launch pad, and the long walk begins.
One and a half thousand feet, hands sweaty against the smooth side.
The pad is a metal beast, burned char black and dull from a hundred flights, it brokers no compromise.
It will go up.
They lower the twenty foot long rail, slide it on smooth, and point it up into the sapphire blue.
A switch is thrown, and it wakes, electronics sending data, a steady beep each second.
He looks at it one more time before turning away, and walking the long walk back.
The crowd hums, eyes out on the horizon, waiting.
The speakers click, and the LCO speaks.
The countdown starts.
Five, Four, three, two, one.
A few hundred people hold their breaths.
A spark, ammonium perchlorate takes easy to the flame, a gout of spit fire curls down under the pad a puff of smoke, and then there is fire. Twenty feet of brilliant yellow flame, it climbs with breathtaking speed, it keeps going and going, mouths agape, the crowd waits for the worst…
Like a needle threading smoke into the sky, it climbs.
Mach one, Mach two.
Ten thousand feet, twenty thousand, thirty, forty, fifty… sixty…
Beyond even the keenest eyes, a pop and the first parachute catches the air.
Telemetry says it’s safe, falling just right.
At five thousand, a larger parachute opens, and the crowd points, a black speck drifting down, touching down just a mile from its pad.
It’s the happiest day of his life.
His dream came home.
This is what a rocket is, to me.
The moon makes a cold comfort, a judgemental eye of a night light, watching me, judging me.
I have my reasons for laying alone, sober, quiet while others shout and carry on.
Laughter makes a loud echo.
But here, in the middle of nothing, and everything, there is a tiny bird.
It pecks curiously at the ground as though to ask “was this here before?”
Before we came here, and defiled nothingness. We leave dust and forgotten ash where there once was a blank slate.
Peck peck, we paint with fire and fury, and the little bird will be the only one who sees our art.
Unable to judge, it’s questions are simple.
“What is it?”
“It is our shell, our nest.”
The bird moves on, and rocket fuel burns. We both take flight.