Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Fright Stuff


Astronaut Receptionist Training
In July of 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to plant a foot on the moon. By most accounts he was just the dude for the job but it's not like they exhausted the possibilities. John Kennedy had made the call to put a Man on the Moon in 1961 and I was not even in the running. I might have had a shot at being an astronaut's receptionist. Which is not fair. Also, I was eight. Which, the way I see it, meant I was all potential.

By 1961 Neil Armstrong had been a test pilot flying faster than the speed of sound for several years, and I was still asking the kickball pitcher to roll it Slow and Smooth so that I would not be knocked over at home plate. It is worth noting that prudence is a virtue in space travel. I was already beginning to sense my powers. For instance, merely by stepping up to the plate, I was able to make the entire outfield come forward ten feet.

Kennedy worried that, as a nation, we were not most of us astronaut material, and were instead heading toward doughiness. At the time, you could count on finding one roundish kid in every class of thirty, and not the 25 you see today, but for him that was one roundish kid too many, and he vowed to get us off the green bean bake and marshmallow salad and out into the playground. The President's Council on Physical Fitness got us all out there doing sit-ups and chin-ups and shuttle runs and the 600 Yard Dash, later renamed the 600 Yard Walk And Run because of kids like me, who disturbed a minimum of dust for 300 yards and then straggled to the finish line gaping like a landed guppy. Girls didn't do chin-ups. We hung from the bar for as long as we could, in my case approaching five seconds. It is worth noting the the ability to do chin-ups is of no value in space.

Meanwhile, Neil Armstrong got slotted right into the astronaut lineup before anyone even got my phone number, which even NASA didn't want to dial because it had two zeroes. He did well. Armstrong had lightning reflexes and a cool, clear head in moments of crisis. He once coaxed a spaceship out of a death spiral by reaching over his head and flicking all the pertinent switches in a precise order whilst tumbling end over end once a second. I feel woozy if I look up into a tree too long, I still listen for a dial tone on my cell phone, and sometimes I tip over while putting on my sock because it never occurs to me to let go of the sock. It is worth noting that I have never been given the benefit of astronaut training.

On the fateful day or possibly night of the moon landing, Neil Armstrong held off near the surface looking for a good landing spot until he had only fifteen seconds of fuel left. I do not play the odds. If I went skydiving, I would pull that ripcord in the first second out of the plane. I leave so much space between my car and the one I'm following that people keep moving into the gap, until eventually I'm going backwards and discover I haven't left my driveway yet.

Assuming I had been allowed to be an astronaut, which might have occurred as long as they didn't winnow people out by popping a paper bag behind them and seeing who levitates, I could have made a significant contribution. I could have been the first person to test the on-board computers with a variety of bodily fluids. I could have demonstrated the potential of harnessing the propulsive power of panic diarrhea. It is worth noting that more is learned from the mishaps than when everything goes smoothly.

Neil Armstrong was gracious and glib when speaking publicly but ultimately retired to his farm in Ohio, preferring it to the demands of fame. That is exactly what I, astronaut-like, would do if I were famous. But the similarities stop there. I would never have left the "a" out of the "one small step" speech. Never.

26 comments:

  1. I, too, would not be circling around looking for a parking space on the moon with only 15 seconds of fuel left. I get nervous as my gas gauge edges toward 1/4 tank and immediately get it filled. I get nervous sweats when I'm a passenger in my husband's car when he needs to get gas, because he lets it go until almost empty. Ironically enough, my gas gauge has stopped working, so now I have to fill the tank and then set the trip odometer so I can estimate how long I have before I need a fill-up. I'm trying to look at it as a lesson in dealing with uncertainty, which life is certainly full of, instead of angsting about it.

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    1. And it IS a lesson in uncertainty, but that doesn't mean you have to learn it. Those nervous sweats eased up any?

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    2. Nervous sweats seem to be my default setting.

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    3. Son #2 tells me that filling the tank when you have 1/4 of a tank left is the thing to do - it puts less strain on the fuel pump, which otherwise would have a shorter life. If that helps any.

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    4. When I get to the moon, I'll remember that. No guarantees otherwise.

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  2. I leave space between me and the car in front just like you do. During the Kennedy fitness years I did get to do a fifty mile hike. I think I was about 12 at the time. All I got was a blister on my heel unlike modern times when you get a cheesy T shirt.

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    1. It still ticks me off that when we did our one (and only) marathon, the T-shirt was icky. What a rip.

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  3. There is no doubt in my mind that our entire history since the moon landing would have been different if you had been an astronaut, Murr. I'm trying to imagine it. Words are failing me!

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    1. Think about it. One the one hand, I'd have been weightless, which would have been cool. But the outfit is SO not slimming. Kind of a waste.

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  4. There is that 'Mars-One' thing out there, you should look into it. Might be a place on that for someone of your qualifications. By the time you got there one would be so butt-sore you wouldn't want to return anyway.
    I was right there in Portland when Armstrong landed, watching in my hotel room. As I remember it was early afternoon, pacific time, it wasn't dark anyway.

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    1. At this point I don't even want people to go to Mars, or anywhere like that. The robots are so cool, and work for minimum wage. Unless we can send off seven billion of us at once, I don't see the benefit.

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  5. Haven't left your driveway--FUNNY!!

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    1. I was so scared driving in LA that I had to pull over for a beer just to be able to keep going.

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  6. I can see you as an astronaut. You would moon the moon!!! Ha ha!

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  7. You'd pull the rip cord one second after leaving the plane? Isn't that a tad too soon? Shouldn't you wait at least two seconds?
    I wouldn't be leaving the plane at all! Maybe forty years ago, but not now.
    I used to wonder what it would be like to go up into space, back in the days when Star Trek was my favourite TV show.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I'm not saying the ripcord thing is a good idea. I'm just saying that's what I'd do.

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  8. I thought being a space pilot might be fun...and then I remember that I used to feel sick on that carousel thing. Not the horsey one; the circular platform gizmo where you just sat on a wooden bench and held on to a metal bar and the bigger kids spun it around.So I'd have failed the centrifuge training...But I do have a lovely card about Armstrong's missing A.

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    1. You do? That seems sort of random.

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    2. Beautifully crafted by a blogging lady in MA.I always thought I was the only winced at that.Now, there are 3, at least.

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    3. No, actually, it's a thing. There's lively debate about whether he said the "a" or not, or meant to, or came up with it on the spot, or crafted it earlier. I'm betting he crafted it earlier, and then messed up the delivery, which happens when you've memorized something and want to go for the grand roll-out.

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  9. All the lifeguards at the NCO pool on Clinton-Sherman AFB took JFK's 50-mile swim challenge, a quarter-mile at a time.That first quarter-mile almost did me in, having NO experience at distance swimming. By the end of the summer, we could whip them out, no problem. Every member of the crew made their 50-mile goal and speaking for myself, it really did improve my personal fitness.

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    1. You remind me of the joke that was circulating at the time, about how JFK was trying to get people to do the 600-yard dash, but Castro was getting his people to do the 90-mile swim.

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  10. Wish you would have been in my gym class - then YOU would have been the one to always be picked last! I would get picked last at kick ball - even when I brought the ball! At some point I was actually able to do forward rolls and jump a "horse" - but that's because I got caught stepping backward every time the rest of the row stepped forward! Even could do a "bird's next" on the rings. Drew the line at rope climbing, though.
    Never did understand why they put us through that Hell. Couldn't see how it would ever be relevant to my life.
    And you know what? I was NEVER asked to hang upside down or climb a rope or do a forward roll on any job interview. (Maybe I was not interviewing in places where those types of antics are considered part of the job description)!
    Since I now get vertigo, I think I understand why gym was never my favorite subject!

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    1. Oh, I was always the last to be picked. It didn't really bother me, because I didn't have my self-esteem tied up in sports, and I wouldn't have picked me either. I sucked. I still do. But I can hike up mountains!

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