The Same Old Story

The basic plot lines of  forbidden love, the overwhelming desire for what you can’t have, undiluted jealousy have been the fodder for umpteen movies, cheap paperbacks, great works of fact and fiction, and certainly scads of episodes of Law and Order.  But you add in the detail that the basic tawdry love triangle included three astronauts and now things get interesting.  Astronauts are NASA’s finest, whose steely intellect was certainly supposed to supersede any distracting and cheap emotions.  We have been led to believe that these rocket scientists do not put their pants on one leg at a time. And yet, here is the story of a women so besotted by another ‘naut that she raced cross country to confront her rival in the airport parking garage. 

One can only imagine if this love triangle had played out in the tight confines of a space capsule.  We have all heard about the cachet of love at 30,000 feet involving a stewardess and an incredibly tiny airplane bathroom, but love in zero gravity would certainly put you in elite and rarified company.  From the lunar mssions in the 1960s I recall a tense thirty minutes or so when the space capsule would slip from sight and communication as it circled around the moon; 30 minutes when the tightly wound astronauts briefly escaped the all seeing supervision of NASA.  And here is where the passions could play out – as the capsule emerges from the blackout, the revenge would be revealed to the stunned scientists at mission central.  A ravaged space capsule with one dead astronaut and the other two in a disheveled and amorous embrace.

This plot line is plenty juicy, but then of course there is the captivating detail of the diaper.  The love crazed astronaut was on such a tight time schedule that she could not spare a minute to go to the bathroom on her cross country drive, so she simply donned a pair of diapers.  It turns out that astronauts are different than you and I; they put their DIAPERS on one leg at a time.

Ah, potty humor, another eternal humor device, a universal guilty pleasure that has been used to provoke snickers, teehees, chuckles and guffaws from Chaucer to Shakespeare to the space age.  The fact of a diaper would have certainly sufficed, but we were given the irresistible detail that this was no ordinary Depends, but a  NASA-issued space aged diaper.   It also brought to the fore the persistent nagging question of how astronauts attend to their bodily functions in space, but I doubt if any thought the solution was as prosaic as a diaper.   Apparently diapers are standard issue for astronauts during take off and reentry.  This is the 3 hour period when the astronauts are totally encumbered by their space suits which are air pressurized and equipped with a parachute in case they have to eject.  Personally, I think that the space suits are just for show as I can’t imagine any hope of survival if you had to eject from a hurtling space craft.  Anyway, while taking off and re-entering, astronauts are basically lying on their backs with their legs above them, resulting in blood pooling in the torso.  The heart interprets this as fluid overload, and sends signals to the kidneys to unload fluid and produce more urine.  While this might be an elegant physiologic explanation of why astronauts need to pee while awaiting lift off, let’s not forget they are also plenty nervous. 

I have experienced first hand that NASA tries to anticipate everything, and thus it was no surprise that they had invented some special diaper.  In the early 1990s I attended a boondoggle conference on medicine in space, which included both NASA representatives and a bunch of cosmonauts flown in from Russia in the spirit of détente.  The focus of the conference was what sort of medical capabilities would have to be built into a 5 year mission to Mars.  For example, what would happen if one of the space travelers developed appendicitis or an abscessed tooth?  There was much discussion of how to equip an OR in space, including some sort of device to clip the surgeon and equipment to the OR table so he or his scalpel wouldn’t float away in zero gravity.  Another session focused on whether or at what point a mission could be aborted if an astronaut developed cancer or some other life threatening illness.  While the marines and other armed services embody the culture of “no solider left behind,” the discussants concluded that space age travel is an exception, and the astronauts would have to understand that there was no turning back once they were at least halfway to Mars.  The final discussion centered on what to do if one of the astronauts actually died on board, i.e. what was the obligation to bring the body back to earth versus turning someone’s loved one into an eternally orbiting piece of space junk?  Storing the body turned out to be somewhat complicated due to decomposition, but in their can-do spirit NASA determined that they could certainly engineer special body bags.  With this point resolved, the next and last issue was how many body bags should be included on the space ship.  The panel concluded three body bags should cover a worst case scenario.

So NASA makes diapers, and the question is how are  these diapers better than their earthbound counterparts?  What is the point of difference, absorbancy, durability, comfort?  Stories abound of government contracts for $10,000 screwdrivers and $100,000 toilet seats, so in her mad cross country dash, the crazed astronaut might have absconded with thousands of our tax dollars.

One of the early marketing tactics of NASA was to point out that many of the innovations required for space would ultimately be translated into everyday products that Americans could enjoy.  While I am sure that there are many behind-the-scenes technical marvels that grew out of the space program, the only tangible benefit I can recall from the space program was the powdered drink Tang.  The manufacturers must have negotiated a lucrative deal with NASA, since this faux orange juice was relentlessly promoted as the official breakfast drink of the astronauts.  At the time Tang was the first powdered juice drink, and coupled with the American fascination in the space program, I think that everyone felt a bit of pride in drinking Tang, even though it was totally wretched.   Americans have long become jaded and cynical, but since NASA is perennially strapped for cash they might as well grab the publicity and sell the rights to someone to be the official diaper of NASA.  Perhaps someone can once again capture the marketing punch of NASA ingenuity. 

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, stop, post) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with either the previous or following lines.  Your job is to solve for the words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers. 

NASA ——- her courage and intelligence as one of a kind,

But recently it became apparent that she had gone out of her mind.

She ——- to catch the eye of a fellow hunky astronaut,

But her unrequited love left her totally distraught.

Her wild cross country race was borne from the depths of her ——-,

As she rushed to Florida to lure her rival into a mace-laced lair.

Now here is the part of the story that I find most enthralling,

She wore space age ——- so she wouldn’t have to stop when nature came calling.







Answers:  praised, aspired, despair, diapers

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