Monday, February 05, 2007

Peyton Space... er, Place (UPDATED)

This is just sad on so many fronts. From my childhood, astronauts were my "safe" heroes. These were men (and, later, women) who had proven themselves to have nerves of steel under extremely stressful situations. They faced the prospect of death regularly, even succumbing to it in pursuit of a dream. Yet here we have an astronaut - flight tested - who gets caught up in one of the oldest stories of deceit and debauchery the world has ever known.

A married flight veteran, herself a Navy Captain, finds herself fighting (at least in her own heart) with an Air Force Captain over the same man; he a Shuttle pilot.

[Next on Law & Order: The following story is based partly on recent events. The fictional characters, however, bear no resemblance to any living individuals.]

Who should investigate? NCIS? CSI? NASA's Auditor General? Sheesh.

This is likely to become one of those stories where we have far more questions than answers. What happened to this astronaut that would push her over such an emotional edge? Not that extra-marital nonsense is ever absent from the space program; there have been plenty of exposés that refute the idea of a morally pure corps of astronauts. But this whole incident smacks of a lovelorn female stalking her intended lover. Someone who would even go to the extremes of threatening any perceived competition.

In the meantime, of course, there's her family to be considered. What must they be going through right now? Or has this been brewing long enough that all the effected parties were already well aware that something was going on?

As I say, it's just sad. From a perspective of timing, this couldn't have come at a more inopportune time. Congress has just been handed what can only be classified as a ludicrous budget proposal from the White House, and they've already been rattling sabers over the admittedly ambitious plan to return the United States to the moon in the next decade. You can be sure that there will be hearings and debate over the non-issue of whether our current crop of astronauts are emotionally stable enough to even pursue this project, let alone justifying its cost.

I'm not ready to give up on our space program by any means. I'm just saying that for all the vetting our astronauts go through in order to prove themselves worthy to be blown out of the atmosphere, perhaps we need to do a bit more vetting in between flights, too.


UPDATE: I changed reference to Capt. Nowak as being a Navy captain, not Air Force. The charges now include attempted murder, which means that the bond on which she was to be released is revoked. Here in the Los Angeles area, as predicted, the Radio Talking Heads were already hard at work yesterday hoping against hope to bring us the non-issue of astronaut corps mental stability:
Talking Head Anchor Person: So are there unusual pressures as an astronaut that would make this kind of breakdown likely?

Former Astronaut Dr. Norm Thagaard: No.
A few moments later, one of the THAPs said, "She lost control, and that's really all there is to say about that."

Same THAP, not two minutes later: "We will, of course, stay on top of this story."

Ad nauseum, no doubt.

I should add that Dr. Thagaard, a veteran of five shuttle flights, agreed with me on the prospect of reviewing flight readiness in between flight assignments. He stated, however, that scrutiny of flight crews in the training sessions leading up to any flight is pretty intense, and any suspected instabilities should surface well before a crew launches.

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