A Very Good Year

6473f9ff-24d8-4172-a6ee-90481a78d49bA new year is almost here. And as I look forward to 2016, I smile as I reflect upon so many New Year’s Eves of the past. A couple stand out in my memory.

As a junior surgery resident, someone had to cover the pandemonium of the Emergency Room at the John Gaston Hospital in Memphis on the night of December 31, 1976.

It was my turn, and I wasn’t happy about it.

I had worked all day and would have to handle the chaos for another 12 hours. Needless to say, there were a lot of partiers who were soon to land on my doorstep. I found it unnerving knowing that some of them would not live to see the new year. We were there to do our best, to pull them through, and I‘d be another year closer to finishing my training. Just before midnight, some of the nurses came out of their lounge with trays full of cups filled with faux champagne, so we—and the patients who were allowed to join in—could ring in the new year together. It was a short and pleasant reprieve before more ambulances rolled up to the back door, not exactly what you’d call the fanciest of celebrations. It was a reminder that a new year had arrived and, as a team, we were together to greet it.

New Year’s Eve 1985: totally different!

I had finished a remarkable year with my first flight into orbit, into space. I had become a “real” astronaut with that flight, with memories no one could ever take away from me. My husband, “Hoot,” was very close to making his second flight, this time as Commander. In fact, the crew had suited up and strapped in for launch earlier in December only to have the launch scrubbed moments before lift-off for a major malfunction. When a quick assessment showed the problem would take a couple weeks to fix, the launch director wished everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year; then, sent everyone home for the holidays.

The next launch attempt was to be January 6, 1986.

The families were delighted to have the crew home for a while—but they had to go into quarantine on December 31. As long as the spouses were well, we were allowed to visit, but it meant we would have to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the dilapidated crew quarters at the Johnson Space Center. I remember it as one of the best of times. Sitting on old couches with our feet up on the furniture, surrounded by the couples we had grown so close to in the previous year and looking forward to a successful Shuttle flight (and what we thought would be a wonderful year), we clinked glasses in that old warehouse outfitted with moldy trailers, hugged, and thought we were the luckiest people in the world.

Sometimes the assessment of the past year depends upon what we made of what happened and how we choose to assess it. The new year will certainly bring surprises, some good and some not, but again: it is ours for the taking. My wishes for you are that you will make the best of whatever comes along.

Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

– Rhea


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  1. Another great article. Thank you!!! Just watched the Martian thought of you the entire time!!!

  2. I love commenting after reading an interesting article.


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