Saturday, February 20, 2021

I'm going to tell you a story

Not all of this story is necessarily accurate but it is and it remains as I have remembered it for most of my life. I have a clear vision of this event and it’s always the same. I can’t tell you how long my participation was but I do recall a certain degree of waiting in anticipation. The anticipation of a child warps time. The event itself was mere moments. Could it have been 10 seconds, could it have been close to a minute? I couldn’t say but it seemed to be long enough. There are also pieces of this story which I have had to build by reviewing historical data much later in life.

On August 12, 1960, NASA launched a communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch was a second attempt to position a satellite designed as a passive communications reflector to relay transcontinental and intercontinental telephone, radio, and television signals between points on Earth. The first, failed attempt, was made in May of 1960. That satellite was named Echo 1. The successful launch in August was dubbed Echo 1A. Both Echo 1 and Echo 1A were basically reflective Mylar 100’ wide balloons. They were nicknamed “satelloons”. Within a few hours of launching Echo 1A reflected a radio signal from somewhere over California to Bell Labs in New Jersey. The message was an address from then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower in which he said, “The satellite balloon, which has reflected these words, may be used freely by any nation for similar experiments in its own interest.”

Echo 1A was also visible to the naked eye over most of the planet. On Friday, August 12, 1960 I was four years and just about four months old. I don’t know what day exactly my experience with Echo 1A took place. Perhaps it was that hallowed Friday. What I did know was, this was something really special. It was explained to me why it was important before going outside. Whatever evening it was we knew where to stand and when to look up to the sky—you know, give or take. That we was me, my dad and the a guy who lived next door named Ted. Ted was the guy with the binoculars. I recall testing the binoculars out and that they didn’t really work for me. I remember my dad holding the back of my head and watching a tiny dot move through space. Or, I convinced myself that I saw it. What I remember most vividly was being on the front lawn, maybe 50’ from where I am sitting right now, looking into the southern sky on a clear early evening and experiencing something that I could feel was the future, with my dad, and knowing that my dad was excited about it. Oh and there was Ted but I remember keeping my distance from neighbor Ted. Ted had some issues.

So, why did I decide to write this event down now? Well, I had a recent email discussion, be it brief, about memories and how we remember things, pointing to a study out of Northwestern University several years ago which basically stated that each time we remember something it’s actually a reflection of the last time we remembered it. What I didn’t mention was, I don’t entirely believe that to be true. This story I’m telling is just one of many where I see the same visual every time I recall the scene. It’s a moving picture. Anyway, that discussion had me going on memories for days now but the biggest trigger for recording this particular event was the landing of the rover Perseverance on Mars. I just watched that for a second time. Most space missions of major significance, maybe even some minor ones, have had me flashback on the Echo 1A experience. There’s a part of me that lives in wonder—questioning, there’s a part of me that lives in resentment and there’s a part of me that grieves the loss of my dad to a tragic automobile accident just shy of six months after the launching of Echo 1A. And there is another echo in this story, it’s my mother’s voice saying, your father would have really liked to have seen this. 


  1. What a cool and moving recollection!

  2. That's not an event I've got any recollection of at all but I'm glad you do. Nicely done with the photo.