A Boy Named Jim....

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The following three pictures were copied from an old Indonesian Youth magazine, "Semangat" - ( an indonesian word for Spirit), - dated back to January 1970. I was a freshman majoring in Physics at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia at that time.

The first page of the article about Space Race back in 1970

The article carried the story of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of 1960th. The title is "A Small Dot Under The Big Sky." There was a picture in the second page of Wernher von Braun , who was then the Center Director of NASA  Marshall Space Flight Center. Even though the article mentioned Huntsville, Alabama, it's not as if I knew where it was.

The second page. Note the story of 'A Boy Named Jim' on the right.

The article really got my attention since as soon as I finished reading, I sent a letter to the editor. I don't remember now, what had exactly prompted me to send that letter. What I still remember vividly was, instead of sending me the picture, they published my letter in the May issue of that year. Yes, it was soon to be forgotten, together with whatever dream I had at that time.

The Letter to Editor Page of Semangat, May 1970 issue.

Back in 1993, when I came down to Huntsville, Alabama from Penn State for a job interview, a friend of mine took me for a sightseeing. As we were passing by the von Braun Civic Center  (or von Braun Center as it is called now), I recalled the story of this letter to the editor. My friend and I had a good laugh when I told him the story. I have never thought that some 6 years later after that visit, I would have had a  chance to work at the same place mentioned in the article shown above some 30 years ago, namely:

Marshall Space Flight Center - From NASA Archieve

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (From NASA Photo Gallery)

When I joined the Payload Operation Control Team for the International Space Station, I remembered that letter again, and asked few friends in Yogyakarta to find me a copy. Fr. Frans Susilo SJ, my math instructor when I was at GMU, was kind enough to locate a copy from the library of  Kolese St. Ignatius in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and emailed the copy to me. I owe a thank to Fr. Susilo for providing the copy that I can share with you here. Recently, Marthen Tahun from Yoyga revisited the library to get another copy for me.

Here is the loose translation of the letter with notes in parentheses for the benefits of the English speaking readers.:
Bad copy of the text of my letter to the editor
Dear Editor,

I am from Kupang, Timor. A new comer to Yogja(karta). Soon after my arrival, I found (your) Semangat (magazine) and instantly fell in love (with it). The reason was, it matches my taste. It is good, it is beautiful and it is inexpensive. I like the picture of Wernher von Braun (S. January 1970 p.5). Can I get a copy of it? Even his photograph (would be OK). I am a fan of von Braun, (currently) studying at FIPA*.  (Aristone Tanone, Djogokarjan 60 A, Jogjakarta).***


Editor's reply:
Patience, young man, patience. (Your) 'Semangat' (magazine) won't run (away) when  (you) chase it. (The last sentence was actually taken from an Indonesian proverb, which inspires people to be patient by saying that a mountain won't run away when you chase it. The editor simply changed the word mountain to the name of magazine.
*FIPA = Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Science of Gadjah Mada University.

As far as I could remember, the first dream job I wanted to be was a 'pilot' - a word that I learned as a 4 or 5 years old boy from an older cousin, who happened to drive a big truck. This of course was slightly deviated from the tradition where every generations in my family simply ended up as merchants. Pilot is a chauffer of an aero-plane, my old cousin Tek Goan  told me. Of course it was a career that I had never contemplated again when I grew up. By the time I graduated from high school, my dream had totally changed from that of a 5 years old boy. I had a choice to become a scientist, an engineer, or a physician. Well, I only passed the Physics Department entrance exam which would need less tuitions and fees compared to the other two departments - engineering or medical. There were no more 'pilot' dreams in my college days. Other than that, I also remember that soon after Gagarin's first flight, as a schoolboy in the fourth or fifth grade, I wrote a letter to him. However, that letter was one of the laughing material for the adults around me and I doubt it ever reached Yuri Gagarin. This matter had never been brought up again in my family, after the political turmoil in 1965 in Indonesia, where no one would like to deal with anything related to the former Soviet Union or PR China.


At Huntsville Operations Support Center Front Door

With Increment-2 ISS Astronauts

Huntsville Operations Support Center - ISS Payload Operations Center

Did I ever dream that one day I would be able to work at a place where von Braun was once the Center Director? I don't know. However, there is an interesting short story with a title 'A Boy Named Jim' on the second page of the article. They even misspelled the word 'English' as 'Inglish' for English Corner. Reading that story exactly 30 years after it first appeared in that magazine, along with the Indonesian proverb asking for patience from the editor's reply above, gave me a strange feeling. Coincidence? Who knows. However, should these stories inspire other boys or girls out there, especially those who also wonder, what is up there beyond the starry night sky, then the efforts to put up this page has not been wasted. (June 25, 2002)

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