‘In the Planetarium’ a poem by James Doyle

In the past couple of days we marked two events in the history of U.S. space exploration: man’s first walk on the moon and the end of the space shuttle program.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Noble Wilford recalled his coverage of the moon landing for the New York Times from NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“July 20,1969 — a date that lives in my memory as the great divide, the B.C. to A.D., in my journalism career. It was the day of the first walk on the moon by humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and I covered the event for The Times from mission control in Houston.

I began my front-page article with a sentence as simple as it was astonishing:

Men have landed and walked on the moon.

Two Americans, astronauts of Apollo 11, steered their fragile four-legged lunar module safely and smoothly to the historic landing yesterday at 4:17:40 P.M., Eastern daylight time.

Neil A. Armstrong, the 38-year-old civilian commander, radioed to earth and the mission control room here:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

On July 21, 2011 the space shuttle Atlantis landed on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ending the 135th mission and 30 years of the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Today visitors can tour an exhibit at the site in Florida “displayed as only spacewalking astronauts have seen her before — rotated 43.21 degrees with payload doors open and its Canadarm (robotic arm) extended, as it has just undocked from the International Space Station.” 

Astronauts still travel into space. As I write this, the 60th woman to fly in space, Kate Rubins, orbits among the stars above us.

I wonder if this Friday’s poem was written for her by a friend who accompanied her on a school field trip to the Planetarium.

In the Planetarium

I read the palms of the other
kids on the field trip to see
which ones would grow up

to be astronauts. The lifeline
on Betty Lou’s beautiful hand
ended the day after tomorrow,

so I told her how the rest
of our lives is vastly over-rated,
even in neighboring galaxies.

When she asked me how I knew
so much, I said I watched
War of the Worlds six times

and, if she went with me to
the double-feature tomorrow,
I’d finish explaining the universe.

I smiled winningly. The Halley’s Comet
lecture by our teacher whooshed in
my one ear and out the other.

James Doyle   ‘The Long View Just Keeps Treading Water’, Accents Publishing, 2012

(Photo Scott Kelly #YearInSpace “Looking out to the Milky Way”)

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