Keith's note: Nancy Reagan has died. Thus turns the final page from an era wherein space exploration was elevated as an aspirational goal for America as well as a cause to ponder our own mortality. Only after Columbia did we again dwell on such matters as a nation. When Nancy Reagan revealed her husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis she helped part a long-standing curtain of secrecy that covered an insidious disease. She was a tireless crusader for Alzheimer's research. To my younger readers Nancy Reagan is just a name and Alzheimer's is something that is not on their radar.
A favor, if you will. The next time you watch someone from NASA, the aerospace industry, or the space community in their 50s and 60s - and you notice that they seem tired, or annoyed, or frustrated as they talk about a large program of exploration that is not doing as well as it should (or talk about one that is doing well) consider that there way be something going on behind the scenes. Having a parent with Alzheimer's can rob you of the most prized parts of your own life. Trust me.
Just as many of us in my generation reach that point in their careers - careers for which their parents sacrificed so much - and would be most proud, there is often no one left inside the parent to be proud of their child. Many older veterans from NASA's history no longer appear in public or are quoted in print. There are many reasons why, but in my experience, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are at the top of the list.
I am not asking you to do anything - other than to appreciate that there is a silent scourge that stalks the space family - just as it stalks so many others. The only thing that lessens the loss and sorrow felt by those who support those who are affected is to soar higher and further - in our case, into space.