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FQXi BLOGS
August 17, 2019

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Summer in Space [refresh]
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Blogger William Orem wrote on Sep. 7, 2007 @ 20:31 GMT


The summer is at an end. As a capstone to it, I want to go against the mainstream (isn't that what FQX is all about?) of popular science journalism and say that this summer's furor over drunk cosmonauts, drunk astronauts and jilted-lover-stalker astronauts is actually a good thing. Why? For as much bad press as NASA has gotten this past season, something profound has happened as well: people who work in space have become regular folks.

With all the space-race significance that went into the original Apollo missions, the men who orbited the moon, walked on it and eventually drove around on it might as well have been Sgt. York. They were national treasures on their return, their faces plastered onto postage stamps, celebrated with ticker tape parades. Some of these same larger-than-life qualities were likewise invested in test pilots of the day, as the fun if painfully earnest movie "The Right Stuff" shows.

And rightly so. I still want to celebrate anyone who takes such risks, achieves such a level of physical and mental acuity, and helps take us, both as a people and as a species, into the sky. But it's also worth noting that, somewhere around about last summer, astronauts became -- good heavens! -- ordinary, too. Folks with a tough routine, men and women who booze it up a little, maybe even on the clock. (Urban legend, cries NASA; but the point stays the same whether the stories were inflated, or even false). They have personal lives. They have love affairs and suffer from the consequences. They may even "lose it" sometimes -- just like people in any other profession.

So much the better. All that means is that space travel is becoming more commonplace, as train travel and air travel did before it. There's a place for celebrating astronauts as The Right Stuff, heroes and heroines that aspire to the heights and inspire us to follow. If they are not fit for their duties for one reason or another, by all means replace them, as we do with tipsy airline pilots. But fans of the human prospect should notice that manned spaceflight, a pinnacle of modern technological achievement, is looking more everyday . . . every day.

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Valerie Jamieson wrote on Sep. 12, 2007 @ 10:08 GMT
I'm lucky to have met a few astronauts (including the now infamous Lisa Nowak) as part of my job at New Scientist magazine. They are amongst the most friendly and likeable people I've met. I guess you have to be to survive weeks on end in such close confines.

If you'd like to find out more about life on the shuttle, five-time NASA astronaut and Hubble telescope repairer, Jeffrey Hoffman shares his experiences and his photo album in this youtube videofor New Scientist

He describes how the launch feels, how astronauts spend their time, what shuttle food is like and, yes, he does address the drunk astronaut issue.

Hoffman has written a fuller account for the magazine too.

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