My Astronaut Application

NASA receiptGround Control To Major Tom.

Not too many people have one of these, I suppose. Or at least, not too many people will admit to having one.

This image is a front-and-back look at the receipt I got from NASA for my application to join the shuttle astronaut program back in 1980. I was trying to get accepted to the Mission Specialist position, and I proposed to do studies on bone metabolism in space. I was a recently-minted PhD researcher in biochemistry, doing post-doctoral studies in New York City. I was supported by my Washington State Senator, Scoop Jackson. And I nearly made the grade, only being surpassed in the final rounds by Judy Resnik, who got the job I had dreamed of.

The riddle of how and why astronauts lose calcium and their bones become brittle in space has never been fully unraveled. Who knows, maybe if I had gotten my chance, I could have figured it out by now.

Judy ResnikOr perhaps not. I will never forget the day of the Challenger launch disaster, in which seven brave astronauts lost their lives. I arrived at work and they had a TV going in the lobby, showing rerun after rerun of the explosion, with newscasters saying the fate of the crew members was still unknown.

People gathered in a somber group were surprised when I murmured, looking in horror at the screen, “That could have been me!” I was trembling in agitation and grief. I knew well that aboard that shuttle, falling from the brink of space into the Atlantic Ocean, was Judy Resnik, the astronaut who had gotten my job.

All these things happened a long time ago. I found the NASA receipt while digging through a drawer of dusty old documents the other day. Strange, how life turns a page. I might well be dead now, had I gotten the opportunity I so craved when I was thirty years old. But now I am older, wiser, and more philosophical than ever about humanity’s future on and off this planet.

And my dream of finding a cure for bone loss in space? It’s not gone and forgotten. On the contrary, I published a possible solution several years ago in one of my science fiction novels. In Blood On The Moon, I described a “gravity pill” that astronauts could take to counterbalance weightlessness or low-gravity environments like the Moon or Mars. And based on my many years of scientific training and research there might actually be something to the pill I have imagined. I even gave a recipe for the types of molecules that ought to be incorporated into such a tablet. Who knows, maybe someday the formula I dreamed up will actually help astronauts overcome a critical health problem by simply popping a pill.

The discovery of that old slip of paper from NASA triggered some lost memories and showed me how life can come full circle. If my insights about gravity pills ever have an impact on space exploration, then I may have accomplished what I set out to do when I was thirty—just in a different way. And none of it would have happened if I had aced out Judy Resnik for the Mission Specialist position instead of the other way around.

Rest in peace, Judy.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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