Carrying the Torch

I’ve said before that the exploration of space reminds me of the Olympic torch relay.  So here is a note to all you relay runners who carry the torch every day in your work; to those who have retired from the race, and to those who dream of carrying the fire one day.

Not everybody gets to carry the torch up the stadium steps and light the cauldron in the presence of tens of thousands and the virtual presence of tens of millions.  Only a very few get to carry the torch in moments of glory.

Not everyone who carries the torch is remembered, only a few names are ever announced.

Not everybody gets to carry the torch over the mountain tops, just a handful get to carry the fire through magnificent vistas.

Not everybody gets to carry the torch where it is cheered on by adoring crowds.

Somebody has to carry the torch in the rain, somebody has to carry the torch through the valley, somebody has to carry the torch through the warehouse district and the swamp.  Somebody even has to carry the torch in places where the onlookers jeer.

But the the torch has to be carried.  If the flame is ever to reach its goal, if the cheering multitudes are ever to see the final runner holding the torch high, it must to be carried. 

Space exploration is like that.  Some days are glorious days, some days are awful, and most days can be tedious. 

But if we stumble, and the torch falls, and the light goes out, then all the dreams and all the sweat of all of those who came before us will be for nought.  And all the hopes for those who might have carried the torch after us will fade away in the night.

We don’t get to chose the section of the course we run.  We just get to carry the torch. 

Celebrate with those who carried the torch in glory days.  Know that glory days will come again. 

Don’t forget to hold it high, even  in ordinary times, even in the presence of those who jeer. 

Because those who carry the torch, carry the future in their hands.

Because even if you have to run through the desert and never hear the cheering throngs, you are still carrying the fire. 

And how well you run your distance is the only reward that is truly worth having.

24 thoughts on “Carrying the Torch”

  1. With all that has been happening the last few days, your words remind us of where we were where we are and whats to come.Continued success and thanks.

  2. Dear Mr. Hale,

    Thank you for the words you have written. They will mean a great deal to those many thousands that enabled a nation to do something truly great that will be remembered forever and inspired so many to carry the torch into the future themselves.

    Sincerely,
    Les(a real engineer inspired by those in our space program)

  3. Mr. Hale:
    Please pass on this suggested tribute to Walter Cronkite:
    I know you have already named Node 3 – “Tranquility” – a very fitting name, but with the passing of Walter Cronkite and the great contributions he made to NASA and his passion for space exploration, would it not be fitting to name the Cupola the “Cronkite Cupola”?

    He said many times that he would love to go up and see the view, so why not name the Cupola after him.

    Thanks for your consideration. I am not affiliated with the Cronkite family, NASA, or any other aerospace or scientific organization. I just want to pose this suggestion of lasting tribute to Mr. Cronkite, who made me passionate about the Space program, and a loyal viewer of NASA TV every single day

  4. A superb salute to the many unseen and seen torchbearers who have carried NASA’s extraordinary visions into reality, and still are. They are unequaled in humanity’s accomplishments and will always stand among our finest heroes, heroines, and role models for the rest of the world.

  5. Your words are so appropriate, especially today. There have been so many great “carriers of the torch” whose names will only ever be known to themselves and just a few others. So today as we celebrate and remember the Astronauts of Apollo 11 as they got to “carry the fire through magnificent vistas” lets also remember the thousands that got them to that point. Well said, Wayne, well said.

  6. Mr. Hale,

    Thank you for such a beautiful tribute, on such an appropriate and important day, to both those in and out of the spotlight.

    My late Dad was one of those who was not in the spotlight and his name isn’t in the history books, but doing his job, by his own high standards, he helped all the astronauts make it into space, and to the moon and back.

    I’m very proud of his accomplishments, even if he will forever be in the shadow of the moon. He was never one to seek the spotlight, but to me, he will always be as bright of a star as the astronauts he knew and admired so much.

    Again, thank you for such a beautifully written tribute.

    Sincerely,
    Laura
    North Texas

  7. I totally endorse your sentiments as described by a most appropriate metaphor.

    The decision makers in the current debate regarding future funding and objectives in space would do well to consider your words. If they do ‘..stumble..’ not just the hopes and dreams of past and future torch bearers will ‘..fade away in the night..’, but also the notion that humanity has a higher purpose other than to exploit and consume will also surely die.

    Civilisation and culture have, throughout history, been driven by expansion of physical horizons. The exploration and eventual population of our solar system is essential to the continuance/progress of our civilisation and cultural integrity.

    Money spent in this endeavour is an investment in our future, which will return unimaginable economic and cultural benefits.

    To those who say lets first solve poverty, global warming, cancer etc: There will always be ‘..the other thing..’ but if all we do is the ‘other thing’, the ‘other thing’ will not be worth doing.

    I hope those now deciding the future funding of the space program are men and women of vision. If not, mankind’s prospects are extremely bleak. We should project manned presence into the solar system now because it can be done now. The opportunity may not arise again.

  8. I totally endorse your sentiments as described by a most appropriate metaphor.

    The decision makers in the current debate regarding future funding and objectives in space would do well to consider your words. If they do ‘..stumble..’ not just the hopes and dreams of past and future torch bearers will ‘..fade away in the night..’, but also the notion that humanity has a higher purpose other than to exploit and consume will also surely die.

    Civilisation and culture have, throughout history, been driven by expansion of physical horizons. The exploration and eventual population of our solar system is essential to the continuance/progress of our civilisation and cultural integrity.

    Money spent in this endeavour is an investment in our future, which will return unimaginable economic and cultural benefits.

    To those who say lets first solve poverty, global warming, cancer etc: There will always be ‘..the other thing..’ but if all we do is the ‘other thing’, the ‘other thing’ will not be worth doing.

    I hope those now deciding the future funding of the space program are men and women of vision. If not, mankind’s prospects are extremely bleak. We should project manned presence into the solar system now because it can be done now. The opportunity may not arise again.

  9. Forty years ago I dreamed to carry that torch.
    Life was different, that dream faded away. Like an embittered man I look back to that night, but I still believe that it was the gratest night for all mankind. Please continue carrying on the torch to new highnesses, for all us.

  10. …and you wanted to retire! Try writing what you’ve written from home, as Joe Public, and what a difference that chair you’re in makes.

    There is another perspective. One of my favorite “Babylon 5” episodes was “A View From The Gallery”. It was a “typical” day as seen from the perspective of two station maintenance men.

    Wayne, there are those of us who never get to carry, or even hold that torch, but because of what we do, we help to make it possible for those who do.

    Most of NASA is like that…for every astronaut we see, there are 10,000 nameless, faceless people working diligently to enable them to carry that torch.

    So, here’s to you, those stalwart servants who change defective LH2 flanges, make sure the tires are inflated to exactly 300 PSIG with dry nitrogen, clean the orbiter’s windows, make sure that the toilet paper and duct tape are exactly where they need to be…and walk alongside the Mobile Launch Platform on its journeys to the pads, listening for the slightest sound of trouble.

    Perhaps in a sense, we are in fact carrying our own torches…

  11. Yes, I agree. From the time I was a small child watching the first astronaut, to the day my friends and I sat watching the first moon landing on color TV, I’ve carried the torch. Thanks for the metaphor.

    As one who knew early on that I would never be an astronaut, I can still dream that my descendants or those touched by my work will know the joys of space exploration. I can imagine and carry the torch for them.

    “…Don’t forget to hold it high, even in ordinary times, even in the presence of those who jeer.

    Because those who carry the torch, carry the future in their hands.

    Because even if you have to run through the desert and never hear the cheering throngs, you are still carrying the fire….”

  12. Well said Mr. Hale.
    I am not a torch carrier, but I help pave the way for those that are and what I hope are future torch carriers. We need to keep the path open and keep the torch moving forward. Once the flame reaches the caldron we must protect it from being extinguished so that it may be carried yet again to a new cauldron.

  13. I neglected to mention someone else who’s never seen, but important nevertheless…the people who pick the torch bearer up whenever he or she stumbles and falls.

    We all have our places in this effort…sometimes it takes an unusual set of circumstances for us to realize that we do have a role to play.

    One of my favorite movie quotes, from “The Sandlot”…

    “The Babe”: Let me tell you something kid; Everybody gets one chance to do something great. Most people never take the chance, either because they’re too scared, or they don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.

  14. I just wanted to check in, and tell you that was lovely. Even for those of us who are not “carrying the torch” in a professional capacity. Good words.

    And to point out that you’re definitely not a curmudgeon. 🙂

  15. Thanks for your inspirational words, Wayne! I passed them along to my small team of torch bearers, and I know at least one of them appreciated it besides me, based on the feedback I’ve gotten so far. As a former distance runner myself, I could especially relate to the metaphor.

    I was privileged to carry the torch alongside you directly for a few months back in the 1980s (remember OMS Software Gaging?), and although we’ve taken different paths we both continue to carry the fire. Keep those inspirational posts coming!

    Still carrying the fire after 27 years,
    John

  16. Wayne-

    Great post! I was fortunate enough to be 19 years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

    Your moving words are a tribute to all those “in the trenches” who do their jobs day in and day out to the best of their abilities to keep the dream alive.

    God bless them all for their efforst because without them it never would have happened.

    Thanks.

  17. very poetical essay Wayne. the first conversation you started was almost a year ago and you are still holding on to the torch! keep going

  18. As an educator, and aerospace enthusiast, I appreciated your analogy. At the start of another school year, it was an appropriate reminder. Thank you.
    Most sincerely,
    Leesa

  19. Great write up Wayne. I really think it captures how many of us feel about our vocation for the manned space flight program. Too bad it feels like the one spitting on us is our president and our administrator!

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