With the last shuttle mission underway a lot of people are recounting their experiences growing up and following the US space program. I never was that into it. I read sci-fi and dreamed of escaping to another world, but I never paid much attention to the space program.
That changed a bit in seventh grade because my science teacher was one of the ten finalists to be the first teacher in space, a spot ultimately won by Christa McAulliffe. She took every opportunity to share what she learned in her training and it was fascinating. We watched the Challenger launch in science class the morning on January 28, 1986 and were horrified when the shuttle exploded. The first thing that went through my mind was "That could have been Ms. Salyers!" She was my favorite teacher and it was gut-wrenching.
My partner Myron's father was a Captain in the US Navy. One of his missions was to lead the flotilla that would have picked up the capsule from the first moon landing if they had to land in the Atlantic instead of the Pacific. He spoke only vaguely of the experience, and said he was temporarily granted Cosmic Clearance so he could be debriefed. Unfortunately he never got to meet the astronauts, or at least he never talked about it. I'm still in awe that he was there for such an incredibly important point in human history, and there was a reasonable chance he could have played a role in it.
I wasn't glued to the TV for launches and I can't even name all the space shuttles, but the space program has still been an inspiration.