Well I reckon somebody’s got to say it. And it might as well be me. Pop and I have been watching the TV coronation the past few days of a couple of billionaires and a half dozen of their preferred passengers as they lay claim to the esteemed title, Astronaut.
That’s a term that most of us know is derived from the Greek language that combines the words “star sailor” and NASA defines it as “. . . all who have been launched as crew members aboard (NASA) spacecraft . . .”
Pop looked at me the other day and said “Rufus, do you reckon folks would laugh at my passengers if they got off one of my flights and said, Hey Captain, where are my pilot wings?” They were passengers. They rode along. They weren’t crew members. They were just like Branson, Bezos and their friends who had the good fortune to slip earth’s surly bonds into zero gravity for a few minutes. And all they did was stroke a check!
Pop said that some folks would argue that the Mercury and Gemini astronauts were just passengers, too, but that ain’t necessarily so. Both of those space capsules had limited maneuvering capability and John Glenn actually had to use his when his heat shield failed to deploy upon re-entry in Friendship 7.
Being an aviator and all, Pop said he thinks it’s kinda flattering that everybody wants to be a pilot. And every pilot wants to be an astronaut. Pop’s highest altitude flights have been a bit over 50,000 feet where they sky starts to turn cobalt blue and, if you use your imagination, you can almost see the start of the earth’s curvature. That, of course, has made him want to go even higher. I’ve heard him say he’d even give up some key body parts for a chance to get launched into space. But he figures that about the closest he’ll ever get is holding one of his MiG Bandit patches that an astronaut buddy, Curt Brown, took into space on mission STS-66 aboard the shuttle Atlantis. It circled the earth 175 times and traveled 4.5 million miles in 1994.
Pop had a few yuks with Alan Shepard, flew Neil Armstrong, shared a beer or two with Joe Engle, and did some MiG flying with Hoot Gibson (whose sweet wife, Rhea, is also an astronaut). He says that’s knowing folks in high places. (Sorry, I’m not much of a pun dawg.) Speakin’ of us dawgs, did y’all know that the first critter (not counting a batch of fruit flies) in space was a Russian dawg named Laika? She was a passenger, too, and gave her life on her mission so how come she didn’t get astronaut wings? I’m tellin’ ya it just ain’t fittin’ that Grandstand, Bozos, and their perfumed passengers are claiming the title now. It just ain’t.
As for me, I think I’ll keep my paws planted firmly on the ground and just enjoy the look on Pop’s face when he gazes into the cosmos with thoughts of someday seeing the beauty of planet earth get smaller . . . and smaller . . . and smaller. Someday.