Saturday 26 June 2021

'Slow Down for Armadillos' by Rachael Dunlop

Just past the army checkpoint on the way into Cape Canaveral, we see an armadillo on the road. It’s dead.

At Kennedy Space Center we line up to have our photos taken in front of a giant globe wrapped in the NASA logo. I scuff my feet to remind myself it’s the same globe I’m standing on.

We’re herded onto buses for the tour. The NASA rocket assembly building is, we’re told, one of the biggest single-chambered buildings in the world, but the flatlands of the Cape steal all sense of its scale. I can pinch it between my finger and thumb.

In the main hangar there’s a Saturn V rocket suspended on its side. It reminds me of the giant blue whale I saw once in a museum in London. In its shadow is a tiny piece of moonrock, worn smooth by countless fingers. I stand in line to touch it too.

Finally, we shuffle into the Space Shuttle Experience. We watch a movie about the doomed project, stifle smiles at its cheery cheesiness. The movie ends and the screen goes translucent. The black snout of the Shuttle looms through the gauze and we pass into the hangar, a church-reverent murmur moving through the crowd. I climb the ramp and lay an arm over the curve of Shuttle’s flank as if comforting an animal. Each heat-pocked tile fits within the span of my hand. I cry, at last.

On the ride back our guide asks the driver to slow down so we can see a baby armadillo bustling out from the undergrowth. His tiny armoured body carries him with confidence alongside the road, his journey as monumental to him as ours to the stars. I follow him with a fingertip until he disappears into the palm of my hand.

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