Where were you the day a man fell from space?

October 17, 2012 

I know that given the 24-hour news cycle these days, four days can seem like a generation — the important happenings of our ancestors bearing little importance on the immediacy of the now. But can we revisit what happened four days ago?

A human being from Europe jumped out of a hot air balloon from just about outer space, then proceeded to go faster than the speed of sound — presumably doing that thing where you see the fireworks and then hear them a second later and someone in the crowd reminds everyone how light works — using not an airplane, not a rocket, but only gravity. Said human being then unbroke the sound barrier by violently tumbling through the air and throwing a thin layer of plastic into the sky, and when he returned to Earth, landed on his feet.


For starters, the space jump was easily the biggest moment for gravity since earlier that morning when it brought syrup from a bottle onto the nooks of my freshly made waffle.

More importantly, though, was that Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull’s little ditty provided a rare good-news captivating moment for my generation. I’m not going to insult the memory of the moon landing by directly comparing the two, but the space jump had a mix of excitement, wonder, fear and, well, space, that invited a similar impression.

Only time will tell whether Sunday will be a “where were you when?” kind of a day — if it’s not obvious, I get the feeling I’ll remember it closer to “yes” than “no” — but it’s probably the first time I’ve experienced a moment along those lines that was positive. I never had anything like a “moon landing”; the only time NASA was ever that effective in my lifetime was the Columbia disaster. The other big “where were you?” moments likewise fell on the negative side of the spectrum: Sept. 11, Columbine, the death of bin Laden (an event many see as positive, though, to me, seemed more of a somber closure to the 9/11 attacks).

Perhaps that’s the nature of negative news, that it takes us more off guard. It’s probably telling that I remember where I was when Kanye yelled at Taylor Swift because of Beyonce, but I don’t remember my exact location when our country elected its first black president. If so, I feel like that’s even more reason to trust my intuition that Felix’s space jump was something really remarkable.

What I know is that for one hour on an NFL Sunday, a daredevil mission funded by restless students, muscley gym rats and sorority girls at nightclubs totally enthralled me, my roommates and millions online, all chatting on Twitter, Facebook and other what-have-yous. A real-life Buzz Lightyear (”falling ... with style”) broke the sound barrier and lived to tell about it, and I took a mental picture: Huddled around a computer, with two other people, on a slightly comfortable blue couch, eating a Belgian waffle.

Andy cannot believe he didn’t buy a waffle maker sooner.

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