Only in America could a ragged kid from the cotton fields of Oklahoma grow up with a dream to rocket into space—and find it come true. Publication of my second Science Fiction novel, Sanctuary, released this week, reminded me of how I learned I was a finalist for NASA’s Journalist-in-Space Project in 1986. I actually had a shot at flying among the stars.
Nearly seven years previously, I had resigned as a police homicide detective to become a full-time freelance writer/journalist/photographer. My first novel was published, a second book in the works. Kathy (second wife), son Joshua, and I moved far back into the woods and lived for eight months in an 8×16-foot “tool shed” while I built our “real house.” The real house was now finished, but I wanted a house with natural native rock siding. I wrote in the mornings and worked on the house siding in the afternoons.
This was a period after I had become completely disillusioned with mankind, having witnessed little but death and violence and the dark side of humanity for 14 years as a cop in Miami, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma. We didn’t have a telephone; if I wanted to talk to you, I would make the contact or you could write a letter.
To reach our cabin in the woods, you first traveled a highway, that turned into a blacktop, that became a gravel road, that morphed into a dirt road, that transitioned into two tracks through the forest, and finally ended at a single walking path through the oaks to the cabin. You really had to want to find me to get that far.
I was outside in the sun wearing only cutoff blue jeans and a pair of old combat boots, working on my cabin, when I suddenly heard a commotion coming through the trees. A gaggle of newspeople with cameras and TV feed, more than 20, suddenly emerged and fell all over themselves filming me while I stood there all sweaty and covered with cement dust. The news of NASA’s space finalists had just been released. I was one of them.
That evening, I appeared on major national TV networks almost au natural, as it were. News anchors made great fun at billing me “Li’l Abner goes into Space.”
(NOTE: The “Teacher-in-Space” flight crashed, after which NASA canceled the “Journalist-in-Space Project”)
We who were Human on Vrodia Kirkos, at least we who were still part human, had waited a thousand years for our own kind to come again—but none ever did. We longed for a signal, a sign, but the universe remained silent, eternal and unchanged…