Sunday, January 30, 2011

Watch this space

The president made a reference to a "Sputnik moment" the other night, and many people, including comedian Sarah Palin, did not know what he was talking about at first.

I had only been in the first grade for a month when October 4, 1957, rolled around, and it was on that day that Russia - the dreaded Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - launched the first artificial (man-made) satellite to orbit the Earth.  OMG!  cried the Democrats and the GOP, and PDQ, the rest of the USA said we have to have our our own satellites flying around ASAP! This was discussed at the PTA, the FFA, and on TWA! LOL (which, in those days, meant "Look out, Lucy!" which was a running gag on a long-running CBS gagfest.) But at first, things went SNAFU and it looked as if Americans just didn't have the technical know-how to get that thing up in the sky.  Our rockets, the initial attempts at least, tended not to go very far into the sky. 

It was in all the papers.
So, when the fingers of our national leaders weren't busy following the trajectories of heavenly-bound satellites, they got pointed at the school system, and all of a sudden, it was "We need more scientists!  Mathematicians!  Johnny can't read!  Or add!"  

Johnny could multiply, as even a casual glance at population figures will tell you.

But it got really serious there, all this Algebra and Trigonometry and Calculus and I don't know what-all else.  Once it became apparent that I would remain a stranger to the astronaut selection committee, I was allowed to finish first grade quietly and resume my lackluster academic career.  We did find some guys and women who were handy with a slide rule and they did a lot of figgerin' and sent unmanned spaceships into orbit, and then sent manned spaceships, and finally, in July, 1969, just after I was graduated from the exclusive Towson High School, we had several Americans joined in a moonwalk while one other American joined Marilu Henner in an unsanctified congress in a shower.   

To this day, whenever someone talks about Sputnik, I think of how columnist Herb Caen took that word to describe the way-out poets and libertines of San Francisco as "beatniks." And when someone mentions the Apollo moon mission, I feel like watching a "Taxi" rerun.  

And that's why I was left off the NASA employment rolls.

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