Thursday, March 16, 2006


Most of you know that I used to work in education at Kennedy Space Center beneath the great eagle's wing of Nick The NASA Poobah, but left after the loss of Columbia because 1) (never mind) and 2) the subcontractor who hired me defined "health insurance" as "coupons for ten percent off one medium-sized Tang in the Visitor Complex gift shop." So I went away.

But not really.

I teach at an aeronautical university where people fret a lot over the space program, and it's nice, but sometimes I miss an educational environment in which the students are, like, sober. So thanks to an assist from Scott The Taller, I began training as a docent at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. What happens is, Nick the NASA Poobah or one of my other former coworkers brings a bunch of people over from Kennedy Space Center as part of a NASA history presentation, and I point at mold-gathering space leftovers for half an hour, and then they ask me where the bathroom is, and then Nick takes them away again precisely as they're starting to piss me off, and then I go home and take a nap. So it's a lot like being an aunt.

Scott and I are the youngest docents by approximately 4000 years. I'm a few months away from 30, and in six weeks of training I have been addressed as "Young lady," "Girlie," and "YOU'RE a college professor?" Most of these gentlemen are war veterans; were the brains, hands, and pilots of the earliest days of the space program, so I am sure to maintain at least seven feet of respect around them at all times, but it appears that the Boat of Modern Social Interaction has sailed right past them and directly into Marge Schott's dock.

"Any of you know why Jews and Italians look a lot alike?" one asked a visiting junior ROTC unit. I stand in ignorance of the answer, as I fled the scene lest I be charged with a hate crime simply for standing in the vicinity.

One day a group of F-15 test pilots from Eglin wandered into the museum, as much as a test pilot can wander, anyway. (These things happen, at the Cape.) One of them even had ovaries! Just like me! They said they were in town for some weapons testing over the weekend, which is always how I like to spend my Sunday afternoons, and invited us to visit the Skid Strip to see.

Since I am the Best. Girlfriend. Ever., I got Josh the Pilot a security badge so he could join me, but because the terrorists don't work weekends or past four on the weekdays, he was forced to make a mad dash to the security office from Orlando before it closed on Friday. He had to double-super-mega promise that he was nice and not at all the type to push over a rocket, and so they let him in. I feel safe. I feel safe! I FEEL SAFE.

You would not want to anger an F-15. "ROOOOOAAAAAR!" says the F-15.
Two test pilots, Dick and Michelle, took us on the flightline and let us walk all around
the plane. I even got to touch it. So it probably got lost on its way back to Eglin. Sorry, F-15.

I didn't have a Museum uniform shirt yet, and that was totally okay, since the uniform shirt is sewn from some sort of indestructible polyester... thing that frightens me very much. A bra fashioned of thistles and tweed would be more comfortable.

But it was a fine thing to be standing there in my T-shirt and accept the Talking Space Stick from Nick for the first time in four years. It was a great moment of transference, we knew.

"The circuit is now complete," I said as his pupils filed off the bus. "When I left, I was but a learner. Now I am a master."

"Only a master of evil," he said tenderly, whereupon I chopped him in half.

We were standing just a few feet from the launchpad of Explorer 1, where the first U.S. satellite was launched. There was a blockhouse and a couple hundred feet of cable and a concrete slab. You add about seventy feet of rocket and a couple of room-sized computers capable of far less than a $2.99 Office Depot calculator and you have 1958. My dad saw that launch from atop the roof of his barracks at MacDill Air Force Base. I saw the aftermath.

A football field away was Complex 5/6, where Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom were first launched. I drove right up to the flame deflector and listened. The ocean was to our left and the shuttle launchpads a couple miles ahead.

You know how silence sounds? I have always heard it at 5/6. When I lived on the Cape, I used to take a beach chair and a bottle of water to the pad and sit with Alan and Gus, studying for the next presentation. I watched Josh the Pilot fiddle with his digital camera, felt the jubilant weight of the entire world staring down the country at this one little bump of Florida on May 5, 1961.

The bus carrying Nick and his students whined off. I stayed for a little while, then got back in the car, shoving a stack of lesson plans off the back seat. I don't work here anymore. But someone in Monday's tech writing class will someday.


Ryan the Rocket Scientist said...

I absolutely love the fact that you, purely by your mastery of the English language, have forced me to use a dictionary and add the word 'docent' to my vocabulary.
You are truly an asset to my existance. Glad to be let into your view of the world.

Anonymous said...

Awwwwww... and Ryan, I absolutely love YOU! Nice to know you stopped by.

Ryan the Rocket Scientist, everybody!

Anonymous said...

That should say "70 feet of rocket." I have it fixed in the edit box, but for whatever reason, Blogger isn't publishing edits right now. Stupid Blogger. I am going to send in my F-15.

Anonymous said...

That was a very powerful post to those who still have a great love for the craft (air and space, not witch), thank you.

Jenib said...

MB, I really liked this commentary. Thanks for sharing it. NASA in Fla. seems so much nicer than the NASA located where I live.

Anonymous said...

My brother became a professor after getting his doctorate. Is the difference between a college teacher and professor a masters versus a doctorate? It's nice that you were able to get your doctorate while you are still young.

Josh The Pilot said...

Hey anon, there's no difference. MB is a college professor, but sometimes it's more simple to say teacher.

Anonymous said...

Hi anon,

While I don't have a doctorate, I do have what is called a terminal degree, an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts.) There isn't any such thing as a doctorate in creative nonfiction writing, basically, so it is considered the equivalent of a doctorate in the eyes of the academic establishment.

Plus, the diploma is real sparkly.

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