StarsGrowing up poor in the hills of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, I was forever intrigued with the idea of flying and space. My pets were often wild birds—George the Hawk; Timmy the Crow; Donald the Mallard…I would toss a feathered corncob with a scrap of meat attached high into the air to watch George snatch it out of the sky. Timmy followed me wherever I went in the hills, flying overhead or riding my shoulder.

I decided I could fly like them when I was about twelve. I built wings out of an old bedsheet and, flapping my arms, jumped off the top of the barn. You can imagine the crash.

Nights out ‘coon or ‘possum hunting, I lay in the grass or on a boulder and gazed up into the stars and wondered…

I enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after I graduated high school. As a Naval Journalist stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, I not only wrote for the base newspaper but launched and edited a Naval aviation safety bulletin. Which gave me access to fly with pilots anywhere in the world—A3D jets, helicopters, cargo planes… Whatever flew, I was bound to be aboard at some point.

Later, as a Miami, Florida, cop, I earned a pilot’s license to fly small aircraft. I took my sons flying when they were still toddlers. One of them later became an Air Force flight surgeon.

Enlisting in the U.S. Army Special Forces, I parachuted out of airplanes on missions all over the world—Asia, Europe, Latin America… After I grew too old to remain in the military, I became a member of the World War II Parachute Demonstration Team in order to continue jumping.

In 2001, I set a transcontinental flight record by being the first to fly across the U.S. from San Diego to St. Mary’s, Georgia, in an ultralite aircraft called a “powered parachute.”

But the highlight, the epitome of my flying career came in 1986-87 when I was selected as a finalist to fly the space shuttle into space with NASA’s “Journalist-in-Space Project.” I had an opportunity to actually fly among the stars.

Unfortunately, the shuttle with the “Teacher-in-Space” aboard crashed—and NASA cancelled “Journalist-in-Space” and all subsequent projects of that nature.

A huge disappointment.

NASA sent me a letter asking if I would still be interested in the project were it reinstated. I replied with a single sentence: “In a heartbeat.”

Charles W. Sasser is a freelance journalist/author/photographer with over 60 books and thousands of magazine articles in publication. Naturally, his publications include works on paratroopers, pilots, space, and SciFi.