Strange as it may seem, I have believed all my life that I was late to this world. The subject has its explanation. A week before the birth, three astronauts from the Apollo 15 mission landed in the Pacific after a perfect reentry. Dave Scott, Al Worden, and Jim Irwin successfully put together an electric rover that cost NASA over nineteen million dollars (in 1971). Thanks to him, they were able to get far enough from their ship to bring home a 4-billion-year-old rock. My parents, who met in a bar in Rosas the night Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, paid no attention. Worden and Irvine were the seventh and eighth men on the moon. A clean routine for many. My mother was already out of her mind and ready for another kind of landing.
Like most Spaniards, in April of the following year, no one in the Sierra household paid attention to Apollo 16. And the Christmas celebrations of ’72, being a chubby, gluttonous kid, completely overshadowed the Apollo 17 broadcasts from the moon. Gene Cernan, the last to set foot on it, closed his ship, not listening to my parents, saying, “We leave as we came, with hope and humanity.”
I missed all that epicness. But in the years that followed, sticker albums like David Bowie’s Space Oddity or Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, sci-fi movies and even music on the radio burned into my memory and punished me for being born later. The greatest adventure in history passed me by without my knowledge!
It was during that childhood that I discovered that families in Cape Canaveral, Florida in the sixties would organize picnics near the launch pads every time they heard about a plane taking off. Most ended in disaster, like the old Atlas rocket that saw the seven astronauts of the Mercury program explode overhead in the spring of 1959. John Glenn was outraged, and Alan Sheppard – who had already topped another Atlas with his Freedom 7 – only then regained his composure: “Well, I’m glad they took it away from us. “In the middle”.
So, I grew frustrated with the lack of Cape Canaveral nearby. But all that, unbelievable as it may seem, changed a few days ago. Thanks to the efforts of a private company promoted by two engineers from Elche, they – like me – are latecomers to the space race. PLD Space has developed a 100% Spanish rocket program for the past twelve years, working to achieve the launch of satellites and commercial cargo into orbit. Thanks to a contract with the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), they were able to secure a cliff in Coto de Donana, on which they placed the launch pad. Now, after two last-second aborted attempts, it has launched its first rocket.
This time, of course, I was there. I’m not late. At two o’clock in the morning of October 7th, hours before Israel’s bloodshed, in total darkness, I descended the hundred and seventy steps and twelve landings that separate Mazakon Beach from the Parador National – which lies on the edge of the protected zone. Test – I saw it. In fact, Hoolwa saw more than just a projectile breaking through the night. There, on the beach, half a thousand people moved from everywhere, as if they had been invited to a feast. They were just as “late” as I was. Space parties. Most followed the countdown that the company broadcast live from their cell phones. The feeling of their closeness took my breath away and electrified me. I remember then the troops who went to tests of American atlases and lay down in their convertible hoods so as not to lose their mounts. I understood the incredible thrill of being able to distinguish a sound wave from a rocket and its light in seconds, and I shared with them for the first time the pride of seeing my country explore the unknown.
Actually, I understood everything. Rocket is not just about engineering. It is an invitation to dream.
With the Miura-1 flight a few days ago, Spain joined the elite club of space powers. We became the first European country to launch a private space vehicle, and we did it from peninsular soil. In no land: less than ten kilometers from Medano del Loro – the cliff presented by INTA – the three caravels that Christopher Columbus changed the maps of the world in 1492.
“I’ve been there,” I keep telling myself. “I’m not late.”
Hopefully, many more launches will follow soon, and one day, we’ll even manage to send one of our own into space with “hope and peace for mankind.” What do we need?