Someone’s gotta do it. No one’s gonna do it. So I’ll do it. Your Honor, I rise in defense of drunken astronauts.
You’ve all heard the reports, delivered in scandalized tones on the evening news or as guaranteed punch lines for the late-night comics, that at least two astronauts had alcohol in their systems before flights. A stern and sober NASA has assured an anxious nation that this matter, uncovered by a NASA-commissioned study, will be thoroughly looked into and appropriately dealt with.
To which I say: Come off it. I know NASA has to get grim and do the responsible thing, but as counsel for the defense — the (BEG ITAL)only(END ITAL) counsel for the defense, as far as I can tell — I place before the jury the following considerations:
Have you ever been to the shuttle launch pad? Have you ever seen that beautiful and preposterous thing the astronauts ride? Imagine it’s you sitting on top of a 12-story winged tube bolted to a gigantic canister filled with 2 million liters of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. Then picture your own buddies — the “closeout crew” — who met you at the pad, fastened your emergency chute, strapped you into your launch seat, sealed the hatch and waved smiling to you through the window. Having left you lashed to what is the largest bomb on planet Earth, they then proceed 200 feet down the elevator and drive not one, not two, but three miles away to watch as the button is pressed that lights the candle that ignites the fuel that blows you into space.
Three miles! That’s how far they calculate they must be to be beyond the radius of incineration should anything go awry on the launch pad on which, I remind you, these insanely brave people are sitting. Would you not want to be a bit soused? Would you be all aflutter if you discovered that a couple of astronauts — out of dozens — were mildly so? I dare say that if the standards of today’s fussy flight surgeons had been applied to pilots showing up for morning duty in the Battle of Britain, the signs in Piccadilly would today be in German.
Cut these cowboys some slack.
Personally, I place considerable blame on NASA management,whose decision-making process seems to be in the hands of a bunch of intoxicated bureaucrats. They are the ones who have encouraged and enabled--nay DEMANDED--that the public image of astronauts as some sort of superhuman models of perfection is inviolate.
I have said it before, and I will say it again. Astronauts as a group are, in many ways, exceptional people; but in the end, they are only human after all-- be they cowboys or cowgirls or whatever.
Isn't it time that NASA stopped encouraging and depending on the celebrity of these hard-working professionals? They have a job to do and those who do it well should be rewarded as in any job; while those who slack off, behave inappropriately, or just aren't up to the performance level of their peers need to get the boot. The "all astronauts are equally wonderful and superior human beings" crap just can't cut it anymore--not after Lisa Nowack. The secret that NASA has been so afraid of all these years is finally out and in full public view.
Astronauts are human and are subject to the same human failings as anyone else. And if NASA management continues to ignore this reality, they are going to experience a lot more embarassment and have a lot more explaining to do in the future.
Recognizing that astronauts are real human beings --with all the same inherent psychological flaws and vulnerabilities; fears and imperfections as all other human beings, and yet they choose to do the extraordinary things they do in spite of that--is precisely what makes them real heroes, and not the artificial/plastic, 2-dimensional beings that NASA publicity makes them out to be.
The latest round of debacles would be positive if they would bring NASA management back down to Earth.