I thought I’d share a humorous little anecdote that is probably indicative of what the average American knows about our legacy in space. Before I do that, though, allow me to set the scene.
Today begins a week on the calendar which reminds us that going into the black is never something to be taken for granted. On this date in 1967, a flash fire in the command module during a test on the launch pad claimed the lives of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Tomorrow, January 28, will mark the 33rd anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after launch with the loss of her entire crew: Dick Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. And Friday, February 1, will mark the anniversary of the 2003 loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
Over the years, I have written fairly extensively about these events and the astronauts whose lives they claimed, since I believe very strongly that it is indeed a rough road that leads to the stars, and if we do not continue to dare to push farther into the black, then these brave, extraordinary men and women will have died in vain. If you’d like to read any of my previous posts, just search the January and February archives on this site.
This year, however, I’d like to discuss, however briefly, this week of somber anniversaries within the context of our larger mission here at Take Back the Sky, which is to convince Elon Musk’s commercial space company SpaceX to name its first Crew Dragon after Serenity, the ship in Joss Whedon’s sci-fi television series Firefly and subsequent motion picture Serenity.
While it is true that we want SpaceX to name the first Crew Dragon Serenity after a ship from science-fiction, in much the same fashion that the first space shuttle was named Enterprise after the starship from Star Trek and SpaceX’s workhorse booster rocket the Falcon 9 was named after the Millenium Falcon of Star Wars fame, there is more to the name Serenity than a reference to a space western with a cult following, and at times like this, that becomes apparent.
If you google the noun “serenity,” you will find that it means “a state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled.” The word itself suggests balance and harmony, with no hint of turmoil or conflict. This is, of course, precisely the state of being we hope the late astronauts of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia have now found. Though the phrase “rest in peace” may have become almost cliché in this era of social media tweets and soundbites, when I hear the word “serenity,” I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group Rush, who wrote in the song Presto, “I am made from the dust of the stars, and the oceans flow in my veins” or the words of the English poet Sarah Williams, who wrote, “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” I believe that if the next spaceship to carry US astronauts into space from American soil were to bear the name Serenity, its name would, among other things, serve as a living, working memorial to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to further our understanding of the stars. And as the first privately built, privately owned spaceship to carry US astronauts into space as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, it would send a message that we not only hope they are at peace, but that we, the people, fully intend to carry on their mission– that they can rest knowing we have the watch now.
SpaceX completed its static fire of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon on January 24, and the ship’s unmanned demonstration flight is expected to take place next month. If you agree with me that Serenity would be a good name for the Crew Dragon, to honor those astronauts we’ve lost or for any reason, now is the time to write a letter or postcard to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell to let them know you want to see the ship bear that name. You can find the address for SpaceX as well as some tips for contacting them on the “Take Action” page of this site.
And whether you choose to contact SpaceX or not, don’t forget to say a prayer, light a candle, lift a glass or do whatever you personally find to be appropriate this week to honor the memory of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.
Ad astra, per aspera.
“Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take the sky from me. Take me out to the black, tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back. Burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from me. There’s no place I can be, since I found serenity. You can’t take the sky from me.”– Joss Whedon, The Ballad of Serenity
In 2004, the Chicagoland Browncoats decided to hold a one-night banquet that was planned as a formal Sino-Western ball like the one in the Firefly episode “Shindig.” The event was such a hit that Browncoats decided not only that they would do it annually, but also that they would host it in a different city every year. This unique shindig, officially dubbed the “Browncoat Ball,” has moved from location to location, year after year, and has gradually evolved into a full weekend of social activities, sightseeing at local tourist attractions and celebrating all aspects of the Firefly and Serenity ‘verse.
Previous Browncoat Balls have been held in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Austin, Portland, Charlotte, Warwick (RI), Albuquerque, Phoenix, Greenville (SC), Virginia Beach, Salt Lake City, and most recently Gettysburg, PA. This year’s Browncoat Ball will be held August 17-19 in Washington, DC.
I attended my first (but hopefully not only) Browncoat Ball last year, and after my weekend at the Gettysburg shindig, I am convinced that every serious fan of Firefly and Serenity should make it a point to attend this event at least once. While every ball is different, I hope that the following account of my time at last year’s ball might give you some idea of what to expect if you decide to go.
Over the years, Browncoats the world over have found a variety of creative ways to express their love of Firefly and Serenity. One of the most unique has been through song, and Firefly-friendly artists like the Bedlam Bards and Marian Call are quite well known in the Browncoat community.
Another musician with whom more and more Browncoats are becoming well acquainted is Sean Faust. Faust, who lives in Bergen County, New Jersey, has become a regular fixture at CSTS events in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia area in recent years. His new song “Signal,” which was inspired by the movie Serenity, was released on May 20, and Faust will be donating a portion of the proceeds from its sales to Equality Now through Can’t Stop the Serenity.
Take Back the Sky recently interviewed Sean Faust about the new single, as well as his love of music and the Firefly ‘verse.