In a recent Friday Links post I included Don Pettit’s great poem Halfway to Pluto. It was only in retrospect that I decided that Pettit’s writing was worth a discussion of its own. Other people took notice as well, including Pettit’s fellow ISS flyer, Ron Garan.
I like where Garan is coming from. However, he may be mistaken. I recently read Falling to Earth by Apollo 15 CMP Al Worden and I remembered that he was something of a poet after his flight. I couldn’t remember when exactly he started his composition. In chapter 11, titled Celebration, Worden discusses what it was like to return from a moon mission.
I would sit in my living room at night, wide awake. It was quiet and peaceful, but my brain still went a mile a minute. So I grabbed some old coffee-stained legal pads and began to write down my vivid impressions of our flight. Unlike the technical debriefing, I relived the flight in emotions and remembered images. The words flowed freely and easily, and after letting them sit to one side for a while, I realized I had written something that might best be described as poetry.
I didn’t do anything with those papers for years. But when I mentioned them to some friends in a Houston poetry group, they grew excited about the first poems written by someone who had traveled to the moon. They said I should publish them. I left the poems in a drawer for a few more years, but eventually I did publish them, in a volume called Hello Earth: Greetings from Endeavour.
Worden’s book is listed at Amazon, but only used copies appear to be available.
In browsing chapter 9, Earthrise, I can’t find any reference to Worden starting his writings while on Apollo 15. So it seems Ron Garan may be correct that Halfway to Pluto is the first known poem to be written from space. But I don’t want Worden’s contributions as first space poet to be forgotten – nor Al Bean’s contributions as first space artist!*
There is a clear theme among returning astronauts regarding how spaceflight changes your philosophy and outlook on humanity – this is what is commonly called the “orbital perspective.” This is such a consistently reported feeling that it is probably much more profound than can be put in to words. I’d like to see more astronauts use creative writing, rather than just memoirs, to try to convey those emotions. I hope Don Pettit is blazing a trail!
I’ll leave you with another quote from Falling to Earth,
Earth had seemed limitless when I had walked out on launch morning. Now it was a faraway sphere, so small that it was hard to believe everything I had done, everything I had seen, had happened down there. I now felt apart from Earthly affairs in a way I can’t describe. Perhaps you have to go to the moon to feel it. But I could see that Earth was truly finite. That distant ball could only support so many people and contain so many resources. Once it is gone, it’s gone. If humans didn’t unite and organize their lives, I pondered, we’d be in trouble. Our parochial interests, whether religious, economic, or ethnic, are all best served by trying to keep our tiny island in space livable. IN fact, to live any other way suddenly felt like insanity to me.
(from chapter 9, Earthrise)
*do all astronaut’s named Al have a creative streak?