10:41am, 28th of January. Smith walked through the threshold and set foot onto the air bridge. The door to the bright, gleaming rocket lay not ten strides away from him. He looked down through the bridge’s metal grates. They were red. Through them he could see all the way down to the icy ground, several hundred feet below. It was cold. He could hear the rocket creak and groan and had to assure himself it was alright, the rocket always expanded and contracted when it was cold. It was alright.
He walked briskly across the bridge. He didn’t look down through the red grating again when he crossed it. He didn’t like looking down. It reminded him of being high above the ground, dropping thunder on the forest in Vietnam. He was glad that the windows in the rocket only pointed upward.
As he crouched to fit through the hatch, he paused in the threshold. Reaching to his chest, he removed a small pin. It was firm in his hand. On one side was emblazoned the word ‘NASA’ in blue. On the other side, that morning his wife had scratched the agency’s motto. “Per Aspera ad Astra”– through hardships to the stars.
He brought the pin up to his lips, kissed it, then leaned out and let it slip from his hand through a gap in the bridge’s red grating. It fell, fell, fell through the cold air for what seemed like an eternity. He thought he saw it land near the base of the boosters, but he couldn’t be certain. It was too high up to make out such a small object clearly. It was too high up to hear it land either. The rocket was creaking too loud anyway. He stepped back into the rocket and looked out. He sighed. He paused, then pulled the hatch shut.
The ignition flared; its flames enveloped the pin. It melted into the ground. The Challenger rocket lifted itself into the sky.
Freddie Coffey is a rising senior at the Collegiate School in Manhattan. While now firmly a New Yorker, Freddie was born in the UK, and attended Eton College on an Oppidan scholarship until he emigrated at the start of his sophomore year. A long time poet and writer, Freddie founded and directs The Decameron Project (decameronproject.org), a non-profit organization that connects thousands of students, teachers, and passionate authors worldwide through the power of storytelling during the pandemic. Freddie is a contributor to and editor-in-chief of his school’s literary journal, Prufrock.