Down To Earth


Joe AcabaOK, this is one of those areas where I’m uncertain about the line between the two blogs. This post is space-related, so perhaps it should go on All These Worlds, but it feels more like it belongs here.

Right now, the space shuttle Discovery is in orbit with its STS-119 crew, which includes, among others, two former classroom teachers who were selected as astronauts in 2004, Ricky Arnold and Joe Acaba.

Joe is the member of the crew with whom I’ve interacted the most; we’ve had the opportunity to talk two or three times. I first met Joe the year he was selected, before he was even an official astronaut, if I recall correctly. The new class was touring the various NASA centers to learn more about what goes on where, and Marshall hosted a fish fry so that folks here could meet the new astronaut candidates.

The social time was rather amusing, in a way. After each space shuttle or station mission, the crews go around and visit the centers and share about their flights. When they do, they’re celebrities — people line up for autographs, and you have to be lucky or somebody to actually have a conversation with them. At the fish fry, the ASCANs were very much not celebrities yet; they were wandering around, looking for people to talk to. If you and a coworker talked to each other long enough, an astronaut candidate would come try to join the conversation. Very funny, and so not what things will be like for them when they come back here after STS-119.

Anyway, Joe really impressed me that night. I ended up sitting next to him at a table we shared with a couple and their young son. During the conversation, the son got bored, and decided that he needed to show off his new trick — tying his shoes. So, of course, he has to share this skill with the astronaut. He walks over to Joe, and tells him to time him tie his shoes in five seconds.

Joe got out of his chair and watched the boy, and counted out to five as the boy tied. And, as Joe counted ever … so … slowly to five, the child was, in fact, able to tie his shoes in five seconds.

And I knew then that astronaut Joe Acaba was probably going to do OK.

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