Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Rockets Red Tape
by Kernon Gibes

It's a magnificent sight. For some, nothing else comes close. Even the most ardent anti-government program free market radical often has a soft spot for it. Ayn Rand did. What is it?

It's the sight of a rocket rising in the air. The efficacy of human ingenuity embodied in a single, concrete work. A rocket, perhaps made with your own hands, defying gravity, and returning gently back to earth. (Well, gently IF the parachute opens!)

A lot of boys and girls remember their first rocket. The film "October Sky" dramatized the spirit of "rocket boys" in a highly compelling way. I recommend the movie. But this story is about my son, Nathan, and his first rocket.

He decided to paint his rocket white and red because he had blue decals, and the idea of a red, white and blue rocket made him think of the American flag, and he thinks of America as the greatest country on earth. He knows some history, and understands that not all countries are equally free.

It was all he could think about for days. Launching that rocket. It is not a big rocket, but he is not a big boy -- not yet -- he's only 7. But it is his rocket. He put it together himself at a summer physics class we enrolled him in. The point of the class, besides having fun of course, is to teach kids some laws of motion and facts about rockets -- you know -- science stuff. Maybe one of the kids in such a class will grow up to be a rocket scientist or an astronaut. That is, if they're not deflected along the way (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

So, yes, I heard nothing else but how we needed to get rocket engines for days and days and days. Nothing nags quite like a kid with a pet project. Finding such stuff isn't all that easy. Perhaps there isn't much of call for it. But we did track it down, and we did get the engines.

Everything was ready, and the big day arrived. But so did the police.

You see, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, it seems that some people are not so brave and not so enamored with freedom. Some people are afraid of amateur rockets. Some people are afraid of everything. And, of course, the Nanny State is here to cater to such whims. There is only one way to be 100% safe. And that's the way, unfortunately, we sometimes seem to be headed.

The person who taught my son's class had been launching rockets in that park for years, and had previously cleared it with the town. But a woman who feared for her car, drove home, and called in a complaint. And the police managed to find some dusty statute prohibiting launching missiles. The "payload" in my son's rocket consisted of nothing more than balsa wood, but the police, naturally enough, error on the side of the squeaky wheel.

Rockets red glare? No, just red tape, I'm afraid.

(Postscript: We actually did manage to launch his rocket a couple of times before the long arm of the law showed up. So, we had a lesson, not only in the natural laws of gravity and motion, but also in the less predictable laws of man.)

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