Building America.

©Ryan Schierling

There was a headline today, something about a train derailing in Alabama, or Tennessee, or Georgia. The train was carrying parts for the Space Shuttle. I think 'space shuttle' was capitalized. Capital 'S', capital 'S'. I wondered if that was necessary, or NASA trademarked, or just misplaced pride heaped on an aging space vessel well past its prime.

Since I don’t read news stories (only the headlines), I imagined mechanical, potentially space-bound bits and pieces scattered along the rails throughout Alabama/Tennessee/Georgia, flotsam and jetsam that would possibly be looted and turned into distillery parts or guerilla art projects. I wondered about the clean-up effort required, and if the laborers hired would need clearances to handle NASA shuttle parts, or if they had to sign non-disclosure agreements just to make minimum wage for picking up hoses and fan belts and orbiter RCS engine pieces.

These thoughts segued into cold war scenarios, when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were shuttling nuclear missiles around on rail cars in the dark of night, clandestine movements - silo to silo - away from the prying (daylight only) eyes of then-high-tech satellites.

(Now, we thoroughly scan the entire visible, invisible and audible/sub-audible spectrum (read as: USN cryptologists' credo - "In God We Trust - All Others We Monitor."))

I remembered the abandoned missile silo 30 miles outside of Emporia, KS, back at the end of the 1980s - creeping through the heavy steel doors late at night, spray painting the concrete innards and igniting homemade Molotov cocktails that burned white-hot, lighting up the chambers filled with debris, government issue steel desks and the echoes of our rebellious teen-aged war cries. Most tunnels down into the shaft had either been flooded or pumped full of concrete, corrugated steel tubes with ladders leading nowhere.

Ten years prior, silos with active warheads and ready-to-be-fueled missiles dotted the prairies of the midwest, behind chain link and razor wire, but still visible enough to those prying classified satellite eyes above and all of us local yokels on the ground. We were in the middle of the middle of nowhere, and yet, if nuclear war was suddenly the only option available to Washington, D.C., we'd have been the first of the general public to know - by the multitude of trails streaking skyward before the civil defense sirens ever sounded.

Goodbye, Moscow. Goodbye, Wichita, KS.

Goodbye, tomorrow.

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