On 15 July 2009, my son, Timothy Lennart Kopra, and six crew mates blasted into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the International Space Station. I sobbed as I watched the rocket blast off and disappear.
Awe, pride, and joy mixed with sadness, sadness because Tim's father, Lennart, and brother, Daniel, were not with us to share this moment. Lennart died in 1998; Daniel in 2005.
It was disappointing when the June 13 and 17 launches were canceled. Many people changed hotel and airline reservations and work and vacation schedules in order to return for the rescheduled July 11 launch.
Then, disbelief and disappointment when, at the last minute, the weather forced the next two launches to be scrubbed. Finally, technology and weather merged to assure the safe shuttle launch of the Endeavour STS-127. It was an overwhelming emotional moment.
Friends and families came from all over the United States and Canada to view the launch and support the astronauts. During formal receptions and informal gatherings, we visited with our families, renewed friendships, and formed friendships with friends and families of the other astronauts.
Amidst the fun while waiting, we were anxious and concerned for the astronauts.
Two days after launch, we were excited to see Tim smile when he entered the International Space Station and embrace his teammates and friends with whom he had trained for his stay on Station.
On day four of the STS-127 mission, Tim's wife Dawn, my son Andy, and my husband Tom and I were privileged and thrilled to be at NASA Mission Control Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston to watch Tim's space walk.
Tim's heritage reflects the international background of the six residents with whom he is staying on Station.
His grandparents, Antti Kopra and Ester Elisabet Saksinen, emigrated from Finland in 1915, Antti from Karelia, Ester from Helsinki. Tim's father, Lennart Lauri Kopra, was born in Virginia, Minnesota, but when Lennart was two years old, his family moved to New Finland, a Finnish community in Saskatchewan, Canada.
My father's family emigrated from Germany in the latter 1880s; my mother's forebears left Germany for the new world in the early 1700s.
I remember with joy the year 1994-95 when Lennart and I lived in Finland, the graciousness of Lennart's Finnish family when my husband Tom and I went to Finland in 2003, and the outpouring of love extended to Timothy and his family when they visited Finland in 2007.
Martha Witthoft Kopra
Questions for an Astronaut
My brother, Tim Kopra, is one of the seven astronauts who flew on the space shuttle Endeavour to dock with the International Space Station on July 17.
He will stay there for several months as a member of the station's crew, returning with the next shuttle mission. Of course, everyone is surprised when I describe what Tim is doing. Inevitably, they will ask me questions about Tim's background and his work while living on the space station.
But when people are talking to my mother, the first question will usually be, "How do you feel?"
This is in some ways a very foolish question. How do they think she would be feeling? Her son is in outer space! A short answer will be banal ("proud," "excited," "anxious"); a long answer will still test the limits of expressing profound emotions in mere words.
When we ask questions, we may have answers we are hoping to hear. How did Tim become an astronaut? A journalist will look for clues in Tim's background. They will ask my mother about the family and what Tim was like as a little boy.
But other journalists will ask other questions: Was Tim able to become an astronaut because he graduated from the West Point military academy? Did his test pilot training and his Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech play crucial roles?
Or is it because his wife Dawn is from Kentucky? How did his earlier work at NASA on the Space Station's Vehicle Integration Testing Team help his candidacy as an astronaut? Was the loving support and guidance of his older brother a crucial factor? (This is the explanation that I personally find most compelling.) And so on, and so on.
The questions, and the ideas behind the questions, are endless. But for anyone in Finland who reads the name "Kopra" in the newspaper, there will be a feeling that Tim's Finnish background must be an important part of his success.
When a language needs thirteen letters for a sunset, but only four letters for "sisu", you can be sure that courage and determination are important values in Finnish culture. I have to believe that these are values that Tim inherited from our father, Lennart Kopra.
He was a pilot in World War II, flying dangerous missions over the Himalayas as a young man in his early twenties. Our grandfather, Antti Kopra, emigrated from Finland to the northern United States and Canada in 1915 as a Lutheran missionary.
They both traveled far from home for ideas they believed in and at great personal risk.
Now Tim continues the Kopra tradition of brave service to an ideal. His Finnish roots strengthen him, the memory of our father inspires him, and our mother supports him in ways that are beyond the power of language to describe.
But there are some questions that can still be asked, and now I imagine that my mother and Tim are both thinking the same thing: "So another impossible task is being completed. What will be next?"