My dad was an interesting guy. Trained as a tool and die maker in Chicago, by the time I came along in the mid-1960s he'd relocated to California, gotten married and was working in the southern California aerospace industry for what was then called North American Rockwell. He managed to get hired as a cost estimator, despite not having a college degree in anything related—he was just good at math and had astonishing attention to detail. This being the height of both the Cold War and the Space Race, much of his job was either defense- or space-related. If you could shoot it at the Soviets or aim it at the Moon, chances were that he or his department had touched it in some way, shape or form. Space in particular was a big deal back then—we were racing to be the first to the Moon, and the Apollo landings were events that nobody missed. Gathered around the television, listening to Walter Cronkite narrate the grainy black-and-white images on the screen, America was transfixed. My family was no different. I remember my dad being very pleased when he acquired a wristwatch that featured a command module and landing module as hour and minute hands, all orbiting a Moon at the center.
So today, on what would have been his 88th birthday, when NASA announced the discovery of liquid water on Mars, I can't help but think that Dad would be thrilled. This is a major discovery on our path to the stars, and it all started over fifty years ago with our first halting steps in space, plotted by men in short-sleeved white shirts and narrow ties using mechanical calculators and slide rules.
Happy birthday, Dad.