WRIT LARGE: Ch 11, Part 3
The Art of Giving First
“So,” Olivia addresses Beth who is seated opposite her, “What do you do, Beth?”
“I work for Virgin Galactic,” says Beth. “I’m Chief Astronaut Instructor. I obtained my masters in astronautical engineering and I used to work for NASA.”
Beth’s smile is genuine. I wonder if she is used to the gasps of surprise whenever people discover what she does for a living, because when Olivia sets her glass down on the table, leans forward, and says, “Oh, my, God. You’re an astronaut,” she shrugs and laughs openly. “Have you literally been into space?” Olivia asks.
“Uh-huh,” says Beth. “I was the first ever passenger on a commercial spaceflight back in 2019. So, I literally have the privilege of telling you that I was the first person to enter space on a commercial flight, unstrap, and be weightless in the spacecraft.” Her eyes are wide as if even she is still startled by this revelation.
Olivia laughs. “You’re a real live spacewoman. Can I pinch you?”
“Feel free,” says Beth, extending her arm.
Olivia reaches across and pinches her arm gently. “Yep, you’re real.”
“Whoa!” says the youngest of Bernard’s grandchildren. “You’ve been on a rocket.”
“Not a rocket,” says his brother, “a spaceship.”
“Can I go on a spaceship?” asks the younger lad. “Grandfather, can I go?”
Bernard smiles at the child with affection. “Maybe one day. Who knows what will happen with commercial space flights?”
I ask Beth if she will tell us all how it felt to be unstrapped on the flight. “After the flight, I spoke at the Earhart Summit at Purdue, which is where I gained my masters, and I told the audience then that it felt magical. And I guess that is still the only way I can describe it. Magical. Because, despite the training, nothing can prepare you for the reality of floating above the Earth’s atmosphere. I’m buzzing for the first paying customers to enjoy the experience and then try to describe it.”
Olivia turns to me. “Maybe you should try it; you and Leann. You’re both writers – if anyone can put it into words it will be you two.”
“What do you say?” Beth asks us. “Is space flight on the bucket list?”
“I’m not sure it would be for me,” says Leann.
I add that it certainly isn’t something I have ever given any real thought to.
Olivia jumps in. “I’m curious, Beth. When you were a little girl, did you ever think that when you grew up, you would be an astronaut?”
“Maybe not an astronaut,” says Beth. “I mean, I was always fascinated by the idea of people travelling into space and landing on the moon. I was always interested in physics and engineering, taking things apart and figuring out how they worked. It was a gradual progression into aeronautical engineering. And then I met Richard Branson.” She shrugs.
Olivia shakes her head. “I still can’t believe it.”
“I would love to do a podcast with you, Beth,” says Cathie. “Would you be interested?”
“Sure,” says Beth. “Any time.”
“If we get a chance, maybe we can arrange it here in Malaysia. What better setting for a podcast with Beth Moses than a resort in the clouds?” I ask Cathie if she would consider space travel at some point. “Why not?” she says. “What would be the point of commercialising a mode of travel if no one takes advantage of it?”
I am pondering several responses to this statement, including what I know would be my wife’s instant reaction: carbon footprint, climate change, and billionaires and their toys, when Olivia also reacts with, “But this is space we’re talking about!”
“What would be the point of commercialising a mode of travel if no one takes advantage of it?”
I take my first sip of champagne while the desserts are served, all sweet and beautifully presented along with a silver platter laden with fruit. The boys take to the stage first and belt out their rendition of ‘One Last Time’, the eldest lad looking awkward and self-conscious as he holds the mic in front of his brother who sings with a child’s absolute fearlessness.
Lim Kok Thay takes to the stage after the boys. Everyone cheers as the music commences; ‘Daydream Believer’ is one of those sing-along songs that everyone who has ever been slightly inebriated at a party would confess to having sung all the way through. It certainly gets everyone at the table singing and waving their arms in the air, including the boys. Tuah was not wrong. Lim Kok Thay is a natural performer as well as a genuinely nice guy. When the song ends, he replaces the mic on the stand and bows while we all clap and cheer.
Returning to the table, he places his hands on Olivia’s shoulders and says, “Your turn, my dear.”
Olivia grimaces. Putera reaches across and squeezes her hand. “You will smash it,” he says. She smiles at the westernised term and glances at Beth who is already shifting her seat backwards to stand.
As promised, they sing ‘The Climb’ loudly and in tune, Olivia’s eyes on Putera for the duration of the song.
“Well done,” Leann compliments them when they return to the table. She turns to Beth, “What are your plans for tomorrow?”
“I don’t really have any.” Beth shrugs. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Well, I would like to take the Skyway down to SkyAvenue, and enjoy some retail therapy, if you would care to join me. Not that a cable car would be so impressive to someone who has travelled into space.”
“Hey,” says Beth, “I still love a cable car, especially one in such a spectacular setting.”
“Can we come?” asks the eldest boy. “We can go to the indoor theme park.” He quickly glances at Bernard who in turn glances at Olivia.
“Theme park it is,” says Olivia.
I wonder if she is waiting for Putera to suggest an alternative way to spend the day, and am happy when he adds, “I think I will tag along too, if that is okay?”
“Oh, I love a good rollercoaster too,” says Beth, high fiving the eldest boy.
“You will not be disappointed,” says Lim Kok Thay with pride in his voice.