Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 35

The Time Mookie Applied To Be An Astronaut

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I grew up during the end of the "Apollo" era, and was WAY engrossed in the Space Shuttle program when they fired that thing up.  As a kid, you have NO idea about what it actually takes to be an astronaut - you just know it would be way cool to be one.  The risks of the job aren't even on a kid's radar when it comes to wanting that job either.  All you really (and innocently) know about it is that you blast off in a rocket and when you get to space are weightless - This is clearly a bad ass way to make a living.

Sadly, that innocence was lost for many on January 28, 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in a bright orange fireball 73 seconds after take off.  The disaster was witnessed by millions of people on live TV, including school children all over the country who were watching because school-teacher Christa McAullife was on board the Shuttle.  The disaster brought NASA to a screeching halt for 3 years, and truly showed people the real risks involved with manned space flight.

As I grew up and became aware of what one would need to do to be an astronaut (advanced education, possible military, and of course being reeeeally smart), I began to sort of let that dream fade away. I became resigned to the fact I was not a math/science whiz, nor did I want to spend YEARS doing tedious research to be a math/science whiz.  I eventually came to accept my limitations, and chose a different path in life.

Then one day, several years later..
I was reading a magazine article about how if you applied to NASA to be an astronaut, and if (when) you were rejected, they sent you a cool "rejection" letter that was worthy of framing.  I thought that seriously sounded cool.  Who do you know that has a framed letter from NASA on their wall?  Nobody right??

While I understood the odds of me being accepted to the astronaut ranks were completely zero, I hit the internet and downloaded the application packet off the NASA website.  It took me awhile to complete the application packet as it was understandably quite long, but I continued on with purpose.  I wanted my reject letter.  I'm not going to lie to you though, there was something way deep down inside me that told me "Wouldn't it be cool if they said yes?"  Because of that, I took the application seriously.  I created a special resume, and made sure all of my information was totally accurate. When it came to the spot where it said what actual astronaut "position" I was applying for, I had no idea.  There was a supplemental informational form in the packet that explained the positions.  There was no way I was going to qualify as a pilot or commander of any kind.  Then there was the "catch all" position - Mission Specialist.  Hell yes, I could do that.  What would I specialize in?  Whatever they needed me to, that's what.  I could run the big arm out of the payload bay if they let me.

Further on in the packet checklist, it suggested I provide "letters of recommendation" from any professors, notable scientists or influential people that could speak to my credentials.  Who do I know that is notable and influential in society?  Nobody.  No one.  Then I saw something on TV that was urging people to contact their congressman about some issue they were talking about.  That's when it hit me, and I decided to "go big" for this one.  What did I do?  I sent an email to Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's office - asking if he would write me a "letter of recommendation" for the astronaut program.  Trust me, I was giggling when I did it due to the absurdity of it all.  But then again, we are talking about the U.S. Government here - anything is possible.

To Chuck's credit, he actually sent me a letter about a week later saying he would LOVE to write me a letter of recommendation and support someone from his great state of Iowa.  Then he dropped the hammer on me.  He wanted me to send him my credentials, and proof that I actually was qualified to be in-line for this gig before he'd speak on my behalf..  C'MON CHUCK!  Help a brother out here!  Needless to say I didn't send anything to Chuck, as it would have been a waste of his and my time.  However I bet be would have laughed had I sent him my meager resume.  That of course was not going to stop me from sending it to NASA though.

Once I decided I had everything I needed, I crossed the T's and dotted the I's, and mailed off my fully completed astronaut application to NASA.  Me. Mookie.  Application to NASA.  That's just funny.

A few weeks went by, and then one day I got a postcard in the mail from NASA that more-or-less read:

"Dear Applicant,
Thank you for your recent application to NASA and the Astronaut Program.  We are reviewing your application and are in the process of making selections for the program at this time.  We will be contacting  you soon regarding our review."

BOO. YAH.  I was excited.  I couldn't believe they were actually LOOKING at my application!  It was a joke, but OK, whatever.  I was very curious as to when I would hear from them, but luckily I didn't have wait long.

A week later I went to the mailbox and found a fat yellow envelope addressed to me, and had NASA insignias all over it.  HOLY SHIT WHAT DID THEY JUST SEND ME??????  I excitedly opened the packet and pulled out a pile of papers that looked somewhat familiar.  On top of this pile was the following letter:







In case you can't read this photocopy (the nice looking original with color embossed letterhead stationary is tucked away for safe keeping), it says:
"Thank you for your application for the Astronaut Candidate Program.
We can't consider you for the program at this time.  Our review of your application indicates you don't have a degree in a qualifying field.  The program requires a degree in engineering, physical or biological science, or mathematics.  In addition, the degree must be followed by 3 years of related professional experience.
We are returning your application, but hope you will reapply once you have obtained the requirements.
Sincerely,
Teresa Gomez"
 

That's right, I failed SO badly that they returned the entire packet I sent them BACK TO ME.  It was so bad, it wasn't even good enough to land in the trash bin at NASA.  "Get that thing out of here"they must have said.  I laughed hardest at the line that says "we hope you reapply once you have obtained the requirements."  As if to say, "We aren't holding our breath, but you can re-apply when you are qualified."

Even though my sole goal out of this entire process was to get the cool reject letter from NASA, I have to admit there was a small part of me that was disappointed.  That dream I've had since I was a child about flying to the stars would remain to be only that - just a dream.

And while I have failed or been rejected from many things in my life, I will always be proud to say that I was officially (and soundly) rejected from NASA.

Not everyone can say that.

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