Here’s another pretty useless list I’ve come up with. These are the mission patches for each of the Interntional Space Station Expedition missions that have occurred since I joined America’s greatest space agency:
Interntional Space Station Expedition
November 25, 2002—May 3, 2003
April 28, 2003—October 27, 2003
October 20, 2003—April 29, 2004
April 21, 2004—October 23, 2004
October 15, 2004—April 24, 2005
April 17, 2005—October 10, 2005
October 3, 2005—April 8, 2006
March 30, 2006—July 4, 2006
September 18, 2008—June 22, 2007
April 7, 2007—November 3, 2007
October 10, 2007—June 14, 2008
April 8, 2008—November 30, 2008
May 31, 2008—April 8, 2009
March 28, 2009—May 29, 2009
May 29, 2009—October 11, 2009
October 30, 2009—December 1, 2009
November 30, 2009—March 17, 2010
March 17, 2010—June 2, 2010
June 1, 2010—September 25, 2010
September 25, 2010—Novemeber 26, 2010
26 November 2010—March 16, 2011
March 16, 2011—May 23, 2011
May 23, 2011—September 16, 2011
September 16, 2011—November 21, 2011
November 21, 2011—March 2012
After being in my now old position for a whopping 4½ months, the big boss called me into his office and offered me a job on the other side of the office. Now, I was very excited to get my now old position; however, I feel very strongly that when the big boss offers you an opportunity, it's bad form to turn it down.
So, as of today, I am now a public affairs officer. That's pretty darn cool, but I'm pretty scared that I have them all fooled and they're going to realize that I don't know shit about what I'm doing. Oh, well. At least it will be an adventure.
Today is my last day in this office. After 5 long, grueling years, I am moving on. I planned to come in late, leave early, and wear jeans today.
I am not much of a fan of The Office, but I did want to see Jim and Pam's wedding. Oh, well. It was lights out at 9:30 (so I did see Jim slip during his toast). Of course with the snorer in the apartment below us, I was up about 3 am and didn't really fall back to sleep. So, I was in the shower by 4:30 this morning.
I left the house about 10 after 5 to head out to the Metro. It was absolutely beautiful. It was crisp, yet pleasant (I didn't wear a jacket). It was so still and peaceful. The only sound was a bus that passed me as I stood motionless just outside my apartment and soaked in the beauty of the predawn.
As I looked up, I saw a perfect 1/2 moon as the clouds parted, and all I could think was, "Boy, you have no idea what you're in for later this morning, do you?"
So, after 5 grueling years in my current office at America's finest space agency, I can now officially say that I am moving on!
Last week, HR called me and offered me a position I had applied for and interviewed for in Public Affairs. True, I am only moving down 4 floors from where I am now, but I feel that I will be moving a world away from where I am now!
I recognize that there will be drama and all kinds of bullshit in the new office, but it will all be new drama and bullshit for me to learn, and that will be fun (until it's not anymore). I have been trying to get into this office in Public Affairs pretty much the entire 5 years that I have been in my current office. Sadly, it took a very lovely woman's death to open a slot for me, so that's sort of bittersweet. I'm not typically into the whole "better place" thing, but this woman was in a lot of pain, and she truly is in a better place now.
I'm not 100% sure what I will be doing in this position, but I know that I will be working with guest operations, exhibits, events, and astronauts (pretty much a lot of what I'm doing now, but in a different office, and in Public Affairs).
I officially begin on October 11.
I'm so excited!
I was in New Orleans a few weeks ago on business. I flew in on Sunday (July 20) and left the following Saturday. Sunday night, I walked the 2 blocks from my hotel to the start of Bourbon Street. I walked from Canal Street all the way down Bourbon StreetRue Bourbon until I got into the gay part of town. It was still light out, but even so, you could tell that not too much was going to happen. It was, after all Sunday.
I got a Po’ Boy at some random establishment that actually had jazz. Then, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the next day—I had to be at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to set up our exhibit. After the exhibit was set up, we had the rest of the day to goof off. So, I pulled out my camera, and my buddy and I walked all over New Orleans and, of course, the French Quarter.
I was surprised to see that every corner didn’t have some dude on a trumpet…that is how I have always envisioned the Crescent City. I was saddened to see (hear, actually) nothing but loud (and I mean fucking loud) rock & roll and dance music spewing into the street as forcefully as the air conditioning. We did pass a few joints where you could hear jazz, but they were few and far between, and they were competing with the melodic chords of Van Halen and some rave remix. What little jazz I did hear was great. I love jazz.
We went to a bunch of restaurants including Red Fish Grill, Cochon Restaurant, Ralph & Kacoo’s, Crescent City Brew house, Mulate’s, and Café Beignet. Of course, we had Hurricanes at the famous Pat O’Brien’s (although we were there early, so there were no dueling pianos. That was kind of sad). Even though I ate well, and paid dearly for it (both figuratively and literally), I have to be honest…I was rather disappointed in the food. I mean it was tasty and all, but I felt that I have had better “Cajun” cuisine up here in the District.
The rest of the time was dedicated to actual work, but in the evenings, we ended up back on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Overall, it was a fun experience. I got to see New Orleans, which I’ve always wanted to do. I had my first taste of moonshine. I had a shot of Catdaddy first, but it tasted like Tequila, so the waiter brought me a shot of Virginia White Lightening. Man, did that taste fantastic. I also rode on a mechanical bull at the Bourbon Cowboy. So, now I have scratched 2 more things off my Things To Do Before I Die list.
As calm as it was (given that I was there during the week and it’s not Mardi Gras), it was clear that debauchery is still a constant, and that people still party all day and all night. New Orleans definitely missed out when it came to taglines. I think that “What happens in Nahlins stays in Nahlins” is much more apropos than Vegas (granted, I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but still).
All in all, I had a good time. I was disappointed that there wasn’t as much jazz as the city is known for. I was also sad that I didn’t get decent, proper Creole and Cajun food. I understand that after Hurricane Katrina the Crescent City ain’t what she used to be, but at the same time, things are happening again down there. I can only hope that the next time I go, even more folks will have returned.
OK, so thanks to the great and wonderful GOP, our country is in the shitter, and money is scarce. As such, the great space program I work for has to find ways to save money. In one of its more brilliant moves, NASA decided to stop funding a particular education program. We were sent a memo titled “Standard Response to Potential Frequently Asked Questions.” In it was the following question. Normally, I would just sigh, shake my head, and hit the delete button. But since this was written and sent out by a particularly odious human being in my office (and I use the term human being extremely loosely), I thought I would publically ridicule her.
Q: If I have some concerns, to whom should I contact about those concerns?
A: The Project Manager is the direct person to whom persons should contact. As appropriate, the project manager will inform and involve additional senior leadership. Persons and order of persons for whom project manager will share concerns are listed.
I would like to add this sorry excuse of a person is (supposedly) a Harvard University alumna, and is currently in law school. There are clear reasons, in my humble opinion, why she was invited to attend such a prestigious school as Harvard, and, no doubt, why they helped her every step of the way, ensuring that she would receive her diploma.
When I was little, I always wanted to go to my father’s work. He was a career civil servant, and he never felt that it was appropriate taking children to his place of employment. Of course, this always made me very sad. I wanted so much to be with him, to spend time with him, and it hurt to think that he didn’t want to share his time at work with me. Likewise, he never wanted us to call him at work unless it was an emergency. This, too, was not a pleasant feeling. Why? How could such a wonderful, loving father as mine not want to be with his son? Not want to talk to his son?
In all fairness to posterity, I must confess that I did get to go see his office on rare occasions, and from the span of 20-odd years, my limited memory recalls that my father’s desk was by a window. He had a flat desk with papers and books piled high. On the right-hand side, across from the window, was a long return that was rounded at the end. The other important feature that I can recall from the mist of memory is that the walls of his office didn’t reach the ceiling. How weird I thought that was. I didn’t know from cubes and open space layouts at that time.
Now, as a civil servant myself working in a cube in an open space layout, I understand that it wasn’t that my father didn’t love me or that he didn’t want to talk to me, but rather, he didn’t think it was appropriate for children to be in a space that would disturb others. He didn’t like to talk on the phone about personal things because there was no privacy. I feel like I owe him an apology.
Today, thanks to the cube environment, it all became clear to me that this was the truth of the matter. The woman in the cube on one side of me has her daughter here. This daughter has not yet learned inside and outside voice and talks entirely too loudly. I think it’s wonderful that she has such a creative mind, but a grown-up office is not the place for her to express her creativity or bang on the desk or run up and down the hall or run into and out of other people’s cubes.
I should mention that this disrespect for others working so closely together is not limited to children who don’t know any better (indeed, the child’s mother should have known better than to bring the child in the first place). The odious woman on the other side of me is on a teleconference and is using her speakerphone. When I politely asked her to take it off of speakerphone because it was disturbing me, she said that she was on a conference call. I said I understood that, but it was still a distraction to others in the office. She said, “I’m going to go ahead and leave it on speaker.”
In the immortal words of Jar Jar Binks: “How wude!”
Here’s a pretty useless list I’ve come up with. These are the mission patches for each of the Space Shuttle missions that have occurred since I joined America’s greatest space agency:
Space Shuttle Missions
January 16, 2003—February 1, 2003 when Columbia and her crew were lost during entry
July 26, 2005—August 9, 2005
July 4, 2006—July 17, 2006
September 9, 2006—September 21, 2006
December 9, 2006—December 22, 2006
June 8, 2007—June 22, 2007
August 8, 2007—August 21, 2007
October 23, 2007—November 7, 2007
February 7, 2008—February 20, 2008
March 11, 2008—March 26, 2008
May 31, 2008—June 14, 2008
November 14, 2008—November 30, 2008
March 15, 2009—March 28, 2009
May 11, 2009—May 24, 2009
July 15, 2009—July 31, 2009
August 28, 2009—September 11, 2009
November 16, 2009—November 27, 2009
February 8, 2010—February 21, 2010
April 5, 2010—April 20, 2010
May 14, 2010—May 26, 2010
February 24, 2011—March 9, 2011
May 10, 2011—June 1, 2011
July 8, 2011—July 21, 2011
Wow. It occurs to me that a lot of shit has happened to me, and I have been remiss to post it here. I was going to go back and post it in the proper place, but LtL told me that that would be stupid, and I should just post it here as a new post and be done with it.
Ok, so here goes:
It all started back in August *screen ripples*
From August 23 – September 4, I was in the city of Denver, the Mile High City, in the state of Colorado, The Centennial State. From August 22 – 24, NASA had an exhibit, the Vision for Space Exploration Experience at the Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival in Chatfield State Park. I was invited to staff the exhibit, and as my boss was in a particularly good mood when I asked if I could go (oh, and as another office paid for my travel), I got to go out to Denver. What I wasn’t told, however, was that I had to be at the exhibit ass-early everyday. I had to be there at 6:30 in the morning. This wouldn’t be too bad, but some brainiac decided that it would be best if we stayed on the other side of town.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which was a great hotel. They had just finished renovating it, and everything was fancy and clean and working. Each morning, they provide guests with complimentary issues of USA Today and breakfast. At least that is what I was told…I left the hotel each morning long before I had a chance to partake in such frivolous luxuries. I was, fortunately, able to participate in the Manager’s Happy Hour in the evening where the liquor flowed free (as did the mixer to water it down). Ne’ertheless, I still had to get up at the ridiculous time of 4:30, and what with being so far above sea level, it was bone-chillingly cold at the crack of dawn. This would have been OK had I thought to ask about the temps—instead, I only packed summer attire. Likewise, I failed to recognize that a mile above the ocean the mosquitoes would be even fiercer. They have vampire skeeters there, and I was bitten up like a mofo!
The Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival was pretty cool. The closest I’d ever been to a hot air balloon before that was the “hot air balloon” my mom made for me to “ride” in when I played the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz in first grade. That was a laundry basket that she had cut the bottom out of and attached suspenders (à la the cartoons where the dude is naked and wearing a barrel). She also attached balloons on strings to simulate the sandbags, and somehow (my memory is foggy this many years removed) she hitched an oversized umbrella to make the balloon. (My mother is much more creative and resourceful than she has ever given herself credit for.) So, imagine my surprise when I learned a) they don’t use sandbags, b) balloons are really fucking big, and c) the baskets don’t have holes in the bottom!
Of course I wanted to go in one. I had just come off the rush of hang gliding (read all about it here: What I did on Saturday), and I wanted to tick off another thing on my Things to Do Before I Die list. I had no idea how to do this. Did one just walk up and ask? Did I have to pay? Was there any chance at all? I mean, what’s the insurance liability on that, and besides I was there to work. Well, the Hombre (our truck driver) has a special way with people, and he had befriended the organizer’s husband. Said husband had offered Hombre a ride, and his response was, “No Fucking Way!” He suggested that I go in his place, and the husband said that shouldn’t be a problem. I was a little concerned to ask my supervisor (and I use that term VERY loosely) if I could go, but it turned out that she had also scammed her way into a ride. Suddenly, the trip was worth the 4:30 wake-up calls and the killer skeeters…I was going to go for a ride in a balloon.
So, I get to the pilots’ tent around 6:00 the next morning, just like the dude told me to, and he looked around and randomly selected a pilot for me to go with. I have to be honest, I was a little apprehensive, not that he didn’t look like he was competent, but he didn’t look all that interested. Just as I finished shaking hands with the Captain who I would be trusting with my life, the morning announcements began, and as I didn’t want to lose site of the Captain, I stayed by his side. As the announcements were being made, they said something I didn’t understand. I must have made a face, for the Captain leaned in and explained. He seemed to have an air about him now that he was excited about having a ballooning virgin to take under his wing. After the announcements, we headed out to where his balloon was, and I ventured a few more questions. I had been mistaken. What I took for nonchalance now seemed more like lack of coffee or that he still needed to wake up a bit, for as we walked across the field, he became more animated and excited to fill me in on the goings-on of the ballooning world.
We finally arrived at his trailer, and I learned the name of the balloon that would be taking my virginity from me (it’s always nice to know her name as you never forget your first). I also met the rest of his crew. It never occurred to me that there would be so many people involved. Our balloon (yes, I said “Our”—I already was beginning to feel a sense of kinship) was a relatively small one, and the basket only held 3 people. But, there were still 6 crew. It took several people just to get the basket out of the trailer. Then you needed someone to drive the chase van, for you never really knew where you were going to land. In an ideal world, I learned, you land as close as possible to where you took off, but the winds don’t always cooperate, so you need to be prepared. Also, the envelope (balloon-speak for the balloon itself) weighs a freaking ton, so it, too, takes several people to haul it out of the truck or to stow it back in its place. The crew was busy pulling out the balloon and laying it out, situating the fan (another thing I learned…they “cold inflate” the “envelope” first with a large, high-powered fan before using hot air), and generally getting everything ready to go. We all had to sign a waver, of course, and I dutifully complied. I also took a ton of pictures of the balloon being inflated and getting ready to go.
Once the balloon was cold inflated, the person who assigns lift-offs walked around and did whatever needed to be done. Once we were ready, we could take off at our leisure. The Captain had just tipped the basket upright, and in so doing got the envelope to stand up, when the crew told me to jump in. Seconds before taking off, someone stuck a baseball cap on my head…it was a good thing. It gets freaking hot when the burner blows.
So, the question that is on everyone’s mind who has yet to go in a hot air balloon is, “how was it?” I’m not really sure how to answer it. Anticlimactic is the best I can do. Sure it was fun and I had a great time, but honestly, there was something missing. I think it didn’t have that adrenaline rush feel that you would think would come with being suspended in the air by nothing but a few ropes attached to a large balloon. By the time you get into the basket, the balloon is already filled with hot air and ready to go. As such, all that was needed once we were cleared for take-off was another blast. I was so busy looking around, I didn’t notice that the ground was receding. That, I think, was the problem: you don’t feel anything. It’s so incredibly gentle. Because balloons glide with the wind, you don’t feel the air. In fact, they say that you can light a match, and it won’t go out because there is no wind in the basket. The Captain’s wife (who was the third person in the basket with us) said that she loves to go flying because it is so calm, gentle, and serene. She is absolutely right. We were just sort of floating there in the air 1,000 feet above the ground, and at 7:30 in the morning, the world was calm, peaceful, and beautiful. Then, in an effort to keep that moment, the Captain switched the burners on.
Now, you need to understand that the Captain is firing the burners regularly. I didn’t realize that you have more control over the balloon than one might think. You use the wind and shifts in the wind to help you go up and stay aloft, but you also use the burners to get you up and down to find the wind currents. But you also use that to keep the air hot. Don’t forget that at 1,000 feet above the ground (and don’t forget the ground was already over 2,000 feet above sea level), the air gets cold, so it takes a lot of heat to keep the air inside the envelope hot enough to keep you in the air. So, as I said, the burner is going regularly. The upside is that you get to stay in the air. The downside is that it’s really f’ing loud, and you can’t really anything when they’re firing. Also, it’s crazy hot…and when you have a really bad sunburn on your face and arms…yea, not so pleasant.
We flew about a ½ hour to 45 minutes, and we climbed to about 1,200 feet but averaged about 1,000 feet.
We settled gently down in a field about 3ish miles from where we took off. We hung out in the basket waiting for the chase crew to come pick us up. Once they arrived, we laid the basket on its side, dropped the balloon, and started to pack it up. At this point, they put me to work to earn my ride. I was eager to help, and after they snapped a few pics of me “working,” they pushed me out of the way and got to work in earnest. We folded the balloon and put it back in its bag. In an effort to pack it in, we all grabbed a piece of the bag and lifted the outer edges, then we did it again, then we started to do it a 3rd time, and as we began to lift, everyone let go…everyone but the uninitiated, and that would be me. S’all good, though.
After getting back to the show site, I was informed by the crew that I needed to head back for initiation and breakfast (yes, don’t forget that the clock hadn’t even struck 9 am at this point). I was a little concerned because I still hadn’t reported for work, but neither had my friend (excuse me, my Supervisor). She reported to her balloon, and was told that it didn’t look like she was going to make it, but at the last minute, she was able to climb aboard and got to go as well.
I hung out at the exhibit for a few minutes, and then the Captain came to get me. We headed back over to where the balloonists’ trailers were now situated for tailgating, and I hung out while everyone got things ready for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of omelettes made in Ziploc® bags. They were pretty awesome. But before we could eat the omelettes, there was the matter of initiation. As I mentioned, I was a ballooning virgin, and as with most specialized communities, there are initiations for the neophyte.
I think that tradition and ritual are extremely important, and if you are going to do them, you really ought to do them right. As I said, the actual flight in the balloon was great, but was less thrilling than I had expected. I am so incredibly grateful that I had the captain and crew that I did because while I can talk about the actual flight as an independent experience, I really feel that the whole time I spent with the group is all part and parcel. As such, because they welcomed me to fly with them, because they took me in and invited me to their tailgating, and because they took the traditions so seriously, the overall experience was an incredible one, and I won’t soon forget it. After comparing notes with the Supervisor, I definitely had a better overall experience.
So, as most initiations are supposed to be a surprise to the initiate, I will not go into details. All I will say is that it included the history of ballooning, an explanation of why champagne is important to the hobby, and, of course, a champagne toast. If you want to know more, go in a hot air balloon, and you will get initiated. The initiation, like this post, ended with the Balloonists prayer:
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.