Garrison Sterling ran his glove along the four-foot rocket model, feeling for spurs and cracks. His month's work needed to be perfect before delivery to the science museum in Waco. Illuminating the gleaming white orbiter with his flashlight, Garrison considered the space shuttle's stunning beauty.
Just one flight, he thought, for the millionth time since the acceptance letter from NASA. Just once into the dark expanse of space, one rumbling liftoff from a launch pad, to circle the planet and gaze down on her continents and oceans, to float weightless. But no, not for him.
He jiggled the silvery, ribbed main engine thrusters to make sure they’d hold up to minor bumps. He confirmed the position of every decal and the color of every painted line; details matter. And then, as he always did, he inspected the space shuttle's grey-tipped delta wing, running his fingers along its leading edge as if checking for foam insulation damage.
In the quiet of his workshop, surrounded by spray paint of every color, bins for PVC fittings, and an Apollo 13 poster, Garrison paused to remember his friends.
The public hadn't known their names—Husband, McCool, Anderson, Ramon, Chawla, Brown, and Clark—until they perished in the East Texas sky, but Garrison had trained with them. He’d been slated to fly with them.
Sweat from his nose landed on the bay doors. He wiped it off and blew to evaporate the moisture. This wasn't the time for mistakes.
His phone buzzed, and Rocket Man filled the silence. Garrison fished it from his pocket.
“Mister Garrison?” the female voice asked.
“It’s Mister Sterling. Garrison’s my first name.”
After an awkward pause, he said, “Can I help you?”
“You’re the Mister Garrison with the telescope?”
He sucked air through his teeth. “Garrison’s my first name. Last name’s Sterling. And yes, I have a telescope out at my weekend ranch. I’m sorry, ma’am, but what do you want?”