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1993 - Hart High grad Dee Dee Myers (1979) becomes first female White House press secretary [story]


Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Oct 5, 2014

deh_mug2014When I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut. The idea of gazing down at the Earth’s beautiful blue oceans held a special place in my heart. I dreamed about exploring alien planets, having adventure after adventure, and discovering alien life.

I loved fast rides at the theme parks, and I thought nothing could be better than blasting off into space. And you got to dress up in those puffy marshmallow suits every day … it was like every day was Halloween. I thought about floating around the cabin of the spaceship and watching the Earth floating in the distance. I even wrote a play that all the neighborhood kids performed on stage in my back yard. It was quite the production.

If you’re really interested in this field, it is necessary to have an engineering or science background as well as flight training. Having a specialty in something like robotics, spaceship maintenance or spacewalks is good to have. Personality is important, too. If you are going to be cooped up with the same people for months and months, you have to be able to get along with all kinds of people, no matter what. Health, eyesight and fitness are “musts,” as well.

astro100514bCompetition in the astronaut field is rather tough. Last year, 6,000 applications were submitted, and NASA hired eight young people to enter the training program. It’s good to have a backup plan if this is your dream.

My backup plan was television. I was lucky enough to be featured in an “Out and About” episode on where I played an astronaut. We used the traveling Space Station as a set.

Did you know astronauts sleep upright in a cocoon-type drawer, strapped in at the forehead? I think that was the most uncomfortable bed I ever pretended to sleep in. The interior of the space station was fascinating, though. There were so many buttons and dials that I don’t think I could ever keep them straight, no matter how much training I had.

Even though I was not in zero gravity, it wasn’t very comfortable. Imagine floating around and having your head yanked back by that big headband. And as the bag was floating around, those side pulls would keep you attached to the wall. Not to mention that everyone could watch you sleeping (or snoring). There are no feather beds in space.

astro100514eHow can anyone survive on the stuff they try to pass off as food? I’ve been in some places in this world where the food was pretty dicey. Imagine living in space where there were no fruits or vegetables and you had to eat things that had the names of foods that we are familiar with, but have absolutely no resemblance at all to the real thing.

The first foods astronauts took into space were gloppy things that came in tubes like toothpaste. Things have improved a little bit. Now there are overcooked grey-colored peas, freeze-dried in heavy plastic, and an orange drink much like the “Tang” from the ‘50s, and things like cocoa. They even have a type of oven that allows hot meals in space – not that heat will improve the taste of that stuff.

astro100514cSome of the more recent glop they send up is similar to freeze-dried backpacking foods. It’s nutritious, easy to prepare, and sort of passable as a meal.

My favorite astronaut food has to be the freeze-dried ice cream. It looks like neopolitan ice cream, but it’s as hard as a brick, cannot be reconstituted and frozen, and must be eaten at room temperature. It is like eating an old, crusty meringue bar with no flavor at all except sweet.

A place called Nitro-pak has astronaut foods for sale. It’s a fun way to entertain your kids for a while and might even make a great stocking stuffer or two for Christmas. Only the ice creams and candies are available, so they won’t get stuck with grey peas. If you want to check them out, you can find them at http://www.nitro-pak.com/food/brand/astronaut-foods.

I think I might consider going into space in the future as a tourist. I’d love the ride and the zero gravity. I’d love the views of Earth and the adventure. And since a tourist flight is short and sweet, I’d never have to eat any of that astronaut food. Good deal. Wave at me as I zoom overhead.

 


Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

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