It was May, 1992, and I was in a stupor of post thesis-completion cortisol letdown and alcohol-induced lethargy, and Mark Pagel was talking to me as I slouched in a large comfortable chair in the Peabody Museum’s smoking lounge.
“It’s obvious what they need to do,” he was saying, and I could tell from the look on his face, even in my foggy state of mind, that a morsel of wisdom marinated in humor was about to be served up.
“They need Ross Perot.”
“Hrmph???,” I knew Mark (and everyone else I knew) was not a fan of Ross Perot, the independent can-do candidate for President that year.
Mark continued, “He would tell them ‘just send some guys in there and fix it‘”
I realized that Mark was referring to the fact that the space shuttle had just pulled up to Intelsat-6 satellite, a very expensive and apparently very important communications satellite (there were rumors that it was also a spy satellite or linked to the Star Wars program). The satellite had taken to spinning, and it was not supposed to be spinning. The Shuttle astronauts had brought with them a seven million dollar satellite-grabber device (the “Capture Bar”) which was designed to grab this particular satellite and cause it to stop spinning. After several attempts during numerous expensive and dangerous space walks, it was clear that this was not going to work.
“Like when Perot sees some problem, he just sends in a hit squad. NASA needs to tell the astronauts to get get out there and grab the damn thing and make it stop moving.”
Mark is a very smart guy. You may recall that after the unsuccessful attempts at using the capture bar on that satellite, NASA did in fact send the astronauts out there to just grab the damn thing and make it stop moving. And they did and it did. And none of the astronauts went flying off into outer space.
I was reminded of that when I saw the film of the Shuttle team trying to unscrew a bolt holding a camera in place in the Hubble. They were trying and trying and trying, and finally, this guy who in his spare time fixes old cars twisted the damn thing off and they were home free.
Achenblog has an interesting post describing why it took so damn long to get the freakin’ bolt to freakin’ untwist: The astronauts are not allowed to curse.
Certain words act like WD-40. I cannot specify them in a family blog.
But astronauts, being heroes, are merely permitted to use incomprehensible jargon and astronaut-words like “egress.” They are not allowed to utter the very easily understood words that are deemed to be obscenities.
If those astronauts on Thursday had not been miked and live-streamed on NASA TV, I guarantee you the dialogue out there in the payload bay would have been something like this:
Which reminds me of a (very short) story.
When Julia was little, but verbal, something of hers broke and she brought it to me. She was never a kid to cry and get upset when something broke, or when she could not have something she liked. She was always very pragmatic about such things. So she brought me this toy, which was broken, and said:
“Daddy. Can you say ‘damn-damn-damn’ and make it work?”