Astronauts are Boring

Astronauts are boring. There, I said it.cool_astronaut

The real reason that nobody cares about the space program these days isn’t just the lame-sounding studies they are always doing; it’s that we no longer have people to root for.

Back in the 60s you had the Right Stuff team, the boys of legend, the guys we still talk about today with awe. But in this century? The only NASA astronaut anyone has heard of in the last decade was the chick who drove cross-country wearing a diaper to confront her ex-boyfriend.

Not inspiring.

So why is it so lame? The change came after we conquered the moon, and therefore checked off everything in easy distance. After that, the techs set their sites on long-range missions and have spent the last few decades doing necessary but utterly boring research: what plants can grow in space; the effects of long-term weightlessness; sustaining life-support systems with no external input. Sure, we need all these things detailed out or the first deep-space crew has no chance.

Ready for this? There is an actual NASA program called “Bed Rest Study” that pays people to stay in bed for months at a time to study how their muscles will atrophy if they cannot walk around. No bathroom breaks. n some studies, they can’t even sit up to eat. The 2013 study paid $18K for 70 days of lying around.

nasa_bedBut the reason the space-race was so exciting in the 60s is that it was a race. We had a goal, we had a short time period, and, man, did we make fast advancements! With no real target in mind, we are now researching for the sake of research. No wonder it feels like we never really accomplish anything.

And the crews! Back in the early days, they were looking for fighter pilots, men who loved danger and excitement and were willing to risk their lives every day to do great things. Today – no lie – the main attributes they are looking for are: quiet, docile, one who follows instructions perfectly. They want groups of people who can live in confined quarters (like the International Space Station) for long periods of time without conflict.

Gone are the Gus Grissoms, the Yeagers. In come the worker bees. This is the century of the space botanist.

pluto_crewThe real excitement of space exploration now comes from a branch of science that didn’t exist until NASA began to stagnate: the Planetary Geologists and Geophysicists. These are the people who, with the help of increasingly powerful microscopes, are finding out what’s going on Out There. These are the crews behind the space probes like the one that just buzzed past Pluto.

Yes, the coolest people in the space program today are right now sitting in their air-conditioned offices, analyzing data.

Wow. I’m as cool as an astronaut!


Get your head down!

My brother won so many blue ribbons from swimming that my folks had to keep buying new bulletin boards for him to pin them on. I, meanwhile, despite eight years of mandatory swim classes in school, managed exactly one feat: not drowning.

swimming-pool-underwaterIf I ever commit treason and get set to Gitmo, you can tell them not to waste time and money waterboarding me; they could break me by recruiting my old swim teacher to bark, “Get your face down! 30 more seconds!” while I tread water.

It all boiled down to this: I hated putting my face underwater.

I wasn’t the only kid with this hang-up, but I think I’m the only one who equated it to torture. And I felt so silly! I couldn’t explain, even to myself, what my problem was. I remember one boy asking, “You get your face wet when you shower, right?” Of course it had nothing to do with the water itself. And I wasn’t scared of swimming. In fact, as soon as structured classes were over, I loved swimming underwater! But as soon as they made me hold my breath to learn the crawl or the dead man’s float, I’d freak out.

I’m almost 30 years removed from swim classes and I love the water again. An afternoon at the pool is one of my favorite summer activities. Recently, I decided to start swimming laps at the gym to get in shape and … you’ll never believe it … the old horror of putting my face down came back. Of course, as an adult, I can conquer the feeling and do the motions anyway, but I wanted to know why. What is the rationalization?

If I hadn’t spent the last decade around special needs kids, I’d have never put it together, but it is nothing more than a sensory processing issue. Having my face and hands in a different sensory environment than my ears and back of my head creates a sensory overload that is so off-putting my mind revolts against it.

My son has a similar issue about the feel of the ground. He will never stand with one foot on the carpet and another on linoleum, even if it means walking the long way around the house to avoid it.

And I know a number of people who feel this way about foods. Try to hand out Christmas Cookies with both hard and gooey candies in it, and at least one person in every crowd will recoil at the thought of having to eat something that’s crispy, crunchy, and chewy at the same time.

What I’ve learned from all this is that, while I can choose to power through … why? Why not avoid the things in life that give us the heebie-jeebies? Whether your sensory issues are caused by wearing rough fabrics, being around low-pitched noises, or licking a chalkboard, I say: just walk away.  There are plenty of things in life that we have to endure, we should all be allowed to opt out of a few.