Alan Clive’s world turned dark in his early twenties. He never saw his kids or the neighborhoods he lived in after he left Detroit, or the office at a federal agency where he’d come and change people’s lives.
Deep space, though? He can see it like no one else. Or better yet, really, because distant planets are the stuff of fiction, and the soaring stories of science fiction’s greatest writers have starred in it.
Wednesday afternoon, Clive Bond slid sulky From the Earth’s atmosphere and space experience for the same. He did some of his ashes, anyway, and his son is so confident in gravity he’s enjoying the ride.
“I’m so happy for him. I’m sure he loves it,” said Michael Clive, 37.
A gram or two of what was considered the remarkable Alan Clive was packed as cargo aboard an Orbitech satellite that was lifted through the clouds by SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Picture a roll-width cylinder of quarters placed in a rectangle the size of a microwave oven, describing a north-south orbit for about 10 years, traversing every point on Earth as the planet orbits beneath it.
Michael and the rest of Alan’s family were in Cocoa Beach, Florida, for the boot, to watch what once seemed like stuff of fantasy.
He said they were thinking about the books that were the focus of Alan’s life, and that became their soundtrack.
Robert Heinlein. Ray Bradbury. Isaac Asimov. Alan Clive read all of the classic authors’ meteor showers from the least until the unfortunate genes and clumsy techniques of early surgeries left him with a permanently detached retina.
All he did after that was get his Ph.D. From Michigan, he became a history professor, wrote a book about Michigan in World War II and moved on to a 23-year career at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Civil Rights, making sure people with disabilities had the same support as anyone else during natural disasters.
And, of course, continue to absorb science fiction, mostly through an early home scanning machine that reads aloud in a fluffy voice that appropriately sounds like a B movie robot.
In Alan’s final moments in 2008, Michael and his sister Misha read to him from one of his favorite elementary school novels, the 1952 novel of events called “Stairway to Danger.”
Michael said they thought the familiar story might make it easier for him to move on. It certainly made it easier for them.
Flying cargo for first class fare
Alan’s journey into space was a much freer project than Starship Enterprise.
After he died at the age of 64 of prostate cancer, his children contracted with a company called Celestes To deposit some of their father’s ashes on the moon, a service that starts today at $12,500.
Plans for a Vulcan Centaur missile that was to carry the payload were announced in 2014 for a company called United Launch Alliance, but they have not yet entered service. Michael made a deposit in 2012, and after waiting a decade, Celestes suggested redirecting some of Alan’s remains to the less ambitious voyage.
He and Misha, 40, thought that sounds good. At 2:35 p.m. Wednesday, it looked amazing.
The rocket is about 230 feet high, “but we can get it in sight from about 10 miles away,” Michael said, “and then once those engines are ignited, you can see nothing else in the world but that rocket. It’s the brightest damn thing I’ve seen in your life.”
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The second stage continued to go into space with its payload of small satellites and the ashes of 47 people. The first stage turned around and went home. When I landed, a thunder rumbled across the landscape.
You couldn’t write it better.
Alan Clive grew up west of Palmer Park at 14425 Curtis Street in Detroit. His children were born near the capital, but they know the address because their father rubber-stamped it in books he particularly cherished.
Judy Goldwasser, of Bloomfield Township, who went with him to Winship Elementary School and kept loose contact through the decades, said he “radiated a sparkle, perhaps because of that and the thick glasses he wore, always looking a little different from the rest of us.”
She said he’s still open minded, friendly, and funny. “We always knew it was heading on a different path than ours,” but back in the 1950s, no one expected that path would include orbit.
His children shared his passion for the stars, Michael also inherited his poor eyesight. “I am not blind,” he said, “because there is better surgery now.”
The director of computer graphics in Castro Valley, California, actually worked at SpaceX for a few years, although this was more coincidence than ambition. Misha lives in Rockville, Maryland and works in clean energy.
Michael said their father taught them about the solar system, about the power of imagination and courage — not supernatural things, but the everyday kind where you “repeat the things you need to do over and over to move forward and act in the present.”
They watched him form his world, even if he couldn’t see it, and felt so powerful on Wednesday, they gave him an amazing new sight.
Contact Neil Rubin at [email protected] or via Twitter at @nealrubin_fp.
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