|The Ninth Astronaut|
Issue #31 (March 1984)
Every little kid wants to be an astronaut, but no one wants to be one forever. Most plan on going into politics or teaching at an Ivy League school or opening up a chain of fast food restaurants.
The crew of the Orion I was no different from previous flight crews - eight men and a woman with Ph.D.'s in physics in their pockets and distant stars in their eyes. Of the nine, two were black, one was Hispanic, one was Japanese, and five were various combinations of northwest and southeast Europeans.
Big Mac was the hamburger freak. He agreed to take part in this flight only after Mission Control concocted some patties for him to bring along. His mother was a D.A.R. and his father was one of the first astronauts to be sent into space. He was the team leader.
The Cat and Hell Runner were the two representative blacks. All eyes were on them to see if they really could do it. They had the right degrees, of course. The Cat had a second Ph.D. in thermochemistry and Hell Runner was a calculus whiz. Ninety percent of the people surveyed figured they were aboard as tokens and would be assigned KP duty.
San Don Juan was straight from Puerto Rico. He had a pleasing accent, and his eyes had a way of flashing dominance and subservience at the same time. He was the mission's lover boy.
Here's Johnny, The Beatle, The Great Communicator, The Crooner, and Dagwood got their nicknames from the people they emulated. All of Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Greece looked to one or more of them as their heroes. If they had been dogs, they would have been called mongrels.
Japan granted the flight its female crew member. She had planned on being a geisha girl, but she was grossly overweight, so she was sent to the university. No one expected her to study physics. Her parents assumed she was majoring in home economics in preparation for marriage. Instead, she wed a spaceship. She was called Geisha Gal.
The trip was scheduled to last a month. They were all a little nervous, but Hell Runner was positively shaking in his sneakers.
"Did any of you guys ever have a real bad dream, the kind where you wake up and find you've got fang marks in your skin or the ceiling is splattered with blood?"
Geisha Gal said that when she was young, she had dreamed a dragon was trying to eat her. Dagwood confessed to having nightmares about gigantic sandwiches smothering him.
"What exactly did you dream and when?" The Great Communicator asked.
"A week ago, I dreamed I came up here with you all, but I never got back. That's crazy, isn't it? Up here forever?"
Dagwood burped slightly and interjected that he probably ate something that hadn't agreed with him the evening before his dream. Was he big on stewed pork hocks?
The mission went off without a hitch. All the satellites were launched successfully. The weather experiments were proceeding on schedule. They got some excellent photographs of the moon and did aerial surveys of the Arctic for geologists investigating the Ice Ages.
The whole gang decided to go on the space walk. They gasped at how unbelievably inviting the air felt under their feet, at how vast everything seemed. Geisha Gal performed a traditional Japanese dance. They were all feeling as high as they were.
After an hour, they returned to the spacecraft. The Cat jokingly asked if they were all there. "Where's that other black face? In the john?"
Big Mac called off names: "...Hell Runner?"
"Hell Runner's not in the john. I just got out of it," Here's Johnny announced.
"Check the kitchen," The Crooner crooned.
On Earth, scientists looking through telescopes thought they saw a tiny figure running through space But that was crazy, wasn't it?
Susan Packie teaches anthropology at Malcolm-King College, which is located in America's premier anthroplogical site, New York City. She has had her work published in more than 80 magazines.