Astronauts get boosted without rocket
IF YOU were compiling a list of "jobs you can do while drunk," flying a space shuttle wouldn't be one of the first to come to mind.
Which is why it was kind of surprising when NASA announced it was investigating whether some astronauts actually were intoxicated (or, in astronaut lingo, "Pluto'd") during some shuttle flights.
Now, because of possible terrorist attacks against airports and airplanes, many regular people have adopted the credo, "Given a choice, I will not fly. Given no choice, I will not fly sober." But who would have thought that professional astronauts were thinking the same thing?
I mean, if someone tried to launch me into space on a 400-foot-high glorified stick of dynamite, I'd make sure I was good and Pluto'd first. But I'm a civilian. If I were a professional astronaut, I'd like to think I could forgo the pre-launch cocktails for something a little more scientific, like a handful of Xanax. Or at least some nerve-calming drug that doesn't have the warning "Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery After Use," because, when it comes to "heavy machinery," it doesn't get much heavier than a space shuttle attached to an external fuel tank filled with 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
ALMOST as alarming was the disclosure that it is OK for astronauts to drink booze as long as they stop 12 hours before a flight. That means that you can drink until midnight if your space shuttle doesn't take off till noon the next day.
The same threshold apparently applies to commercial airline pilots. They call it the 12-hour "bottle to throttle" rule. I've had a little experience with the consumption of alcohol (Yes. I know. You're shocked.). I've imbibed until midnight before, and, I want to tell you, I didn't even get out of bed before 1 o'clock the next day. Forget about trying to fly a big mechanical flying thingie -- I could barely operate a refrigerator door.
But we have to remember that there is a culture of risk-taking among astronauts going back to the first days of manned spaceflight. Anyone who read Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" knows that test pilots like Chuck Yeager were quite the party animals. And while Yeager himself declined to join the space program and become "Spam in a can," the early astronauts were hard-drinking jet pilots.
That culture must continue to today's space cowboys (and space cowgirls), which would at least explain why that one space cowgirl drove from Texas to Florida in a diaper to kidnap another space cowgirl who was dating the first space cowgirl's space cowboy. Or something like that.
We also have to remember that unlike a NASCAR race car, a computer controls the space shuttle, leaving the astronauts free to nap. Still, it is somewhat ironic that among the jobs you can do while drunk, driving a race car isn't one of them, but riding in a space shuttle is.
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