She was born in Drogheda in late ’49, a few years after the second war. Her da’ was a mechanic, but in a previous life had been ground crew for the raff and while she handed him his tools, he used to tell her stories about the fellas who flew. Sometimes they made it back and sometimes they din’t.
In ‘62, when her big brother left home, he handed down his science fiction magazines which he’d loved but outgrown. She’d bury herself in the stories, emerging only when her da’ asked her to help with a car.
She wanted to be The First Man In Space, but after the monkeys and dogs, a Russian called George got there first. Then she wanted to be The First Man On The Moon, but that Eagle landed without her. She would have settled for being the First Woman, but after a dozen men went and came, and after they stopped going in ’71, that would have made her the Thirteenth Man, and she were superstitious.
So she went to university and became an engineer, which in her eyes was just like her da’. In her first few jobs she worked on some great engines, but she was always fascinated by getting the most out of a fuel, and then by what could actually be used for engine-fuel. It was modest work mostly, though it did play a small part in getting the Hubblescope into orbit in ’90.
And then a few months before her 50th birthday, she saw something in one of the Hubble images and it wouldn’t leave her. The image was of a stellar nursery, ‘a playground for the stars’ as people liked to call it with a chuckle before they’d make some reference to Hollywood or Monte Carlo.
So she called in some minor favours and had a high-detail image printed and framed, and she hung it in her bedroom so that it were the last thing she’d see before she slept. Her man thought it were pretty.
It looked like some kind of craggy fantasy mountaintop shrouded by wispy clouds, but there was something in the cloudlike trails that she couldn’t quite grasp and it lingered with her. Behind the glistening lights and otherworldly shapes, she kept thinking of fuel stores, like her da’ used to talk about on the airstrips, and of what it might take for a person to pull and stretch those clouds into a continuous line.
For the best part of eight years, while her subconscious worked out its niggles in her dreams, she continued unassumingly with her work, until in ’08 she published her only paper. Which is when, though most of it never noticed, a small part of the world sat up and started paying attention to that little girl from our little town who wanted to be a spaceman. And that’s why so many of you are here this afternoon, to pay your respects to the superstitious daughter of a car mechanic who saw something in a picture that nobody else could see, and knew how to join the dots.
We are here to mark the passing of one of our town’s sisters, who left us just a few months before the first mission that, because of her, carries our name. Once our service is concluded, the good Captain here will take her ashes and prepare them for loading into the ship which leaves our little planet at the end of next month, which is when Elsie-Anne becomes The First Light Man.
If you’d like a copy of Elsie-Anne’s paper “Space Mountains: Fuel Stores, Freeways or Pipelines? Join the dots for Faster Than Light Travel”, there are a few that have been kindly donated by her family, which you’ll find by the collection box on your way out.