In the Path of Totality by Joe Harwell
Updated: May 22, 2019
Closely guarded secrets can only stay that way when a small, dedicated, some say fanatical group hold them. I was the ultimate skeptic when first approached two years ago by a trusted journalism colleague. If not for the depth of trust between us since I was a college freshman in 1972, and she a tenured professor in the Oklahoma State University School of Journalism and Broadcasting, I would have dismissed the invitation as a joke or hoax.
People my age weren’t initially considered for airborne observations but the final selections were given to thirty-four individuals willing to risk everything regardless of age. From my first assignment as an intern volunteering to take an extended spring break covering the fall of Saigon in 1975, risking it all to get the story framed the rest of my career. It also brought tough choices in relationships, which were always secondary to career assignments. Not having a spouse, children, living parents or siblings provided the final push qualifying me for select this group of explorers.
The very familiar voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Totality Mission Flight Director speaking from the top secret control center at Area 51 crackled into my headset. “Travelers, you’re on track and in position to intercept the eclipse over the Oregon coast. Ground and space based observatories, plus on-board sensors on your B2 Miradur are all dialed in. You know how much I want to be up there with you, squeezed into that amazing plane.”
The crew and passenger space was tight considering the modifications to accommodate us into a converted stealth bomber along with sensors and communication devices for our high risk mission. If everything predicted by the Totality Group succeeds, we aren’t likely to return to Earth. If unsuccessful, we could either perish or fail and never be able to share the experience with anyone.
Forty years ago when NASA established airborne observation of the solar eclipse, a small number of scientists briefly noticed an anomaly at points of maximum totality. Individual scientists began predicting the possibility of identifying a transdimensional portal. As NASA funding shrank, scientist advancing the theory sought and obtained private funding which aided in keeping the project moving ahead and out of the public eye.
As a journalist, I’d never heard a hint of this until my colleague contacted me. Now I’m poised on the precipice of the most important discovery in human existence. “Am I afraid to die?” is a question I answered “no” without hesitation months ago and I’m more confident in the reply now than ever. Just think, if a so called wormhole really exists near our sun and the technology we’re riding puts us through it, fear of death becomes practically meaningless.
Neil spoke again. “Wherever you end up today, you are explorers of the highest caliber. There won’t be ticker-tape parades or Presidential commendations for us. Only the satisfaction of fulfilled dreams which I’ll take over public accolades anytime. Peace, love, hope.”
The Marauder slipped into darkness and sounds of instruments humming and conversations between crew members and Mission Control filled my senses. We are flying at high speed and altitude, undetectable to ground based radar like a ghost in the sky. Suddenly I felt something between extreme euphoria and a premonition of doom swell up into my chest and head. The pleasant side of it was more enjoyable than anything I’ve ever experienced. The doom aspect was similarly extreme in the other direction but kept being balanced by the euphoric sensations.
My mind was totally distracted from assigned mission tasks. In fact, everything about the mission and craft faded completely replaced by something akin to being in a sensory deprivation tank. The tug between terror and euphoria continued, now taking on the sensation of normalcy. That sensation was accompanied by my sight returning and seeing nothing of the Marauder or fellow crew mates. Wherever I am, it’s not Earth or anything like it but it feels more normal and right than anyplace I’ve even been.
After the Marauder completed its flight, the plane returned to Area 51. Most sensors, especially those monitoring the crew went offline shortly after entering the path of totality. Other instruments monitoring scientific data only sporadically reported to mission control. The Marauder itself was undamaged on the outside and inside with one major exception.
After escorting the crew to be debriefed, Neil sat at his desk examining the bits of data reported during the flight. Looking out the window he pondered, “There were representatives in every scientific discipline from botany to physics to stellar cartography and they took the journalist. I hope he reports what he’s seen to us someday.”