Our Buddy runs Space
Space is so mysterious and vast and contains so many unknowns and if you’ve ever found yourself thinking what’d it’d be like to get stuck all alone out in that weird floaty world, it makes you want to barf it’s so terrifying. NASA probably understand it more than anyone, but let's be honest, they're kind of the annoying friend space never wanted but who just won’t go away. This guy we know works for NASA and is partially responsible for making sure nothing goes wrong up there so the actual guys in space don’t get their insides sucked dry. We asked him questions.
How old are you? And how did you get a job with NASA?
NASA Guy: I’m 32, and I got started with NASA straight out of college. They recruited at my school.
So, what’s your job?
I do safety and reliability engineering. It’s like trying to predict the likelihood that something will break or go wrong on a given mission or vehicle. Then someone else uses that information to make decisions about how to do business.
OK. More specific.
If rocket A has launched ten times and crashed four of them, while rocket B has launched ten times and only crashed two of them, then you can deduce that rocket A has a higher likelihood of crashing overall. That’s a very simple example and what I do is obviously more detailed. Like, rocket A would be made of 100 parts, and each part has a bunch of data to support how robust it is, and then I look at how all of the parts combine together and determine what the overall robustness of the whole thing would be.
So, let’s say you test the safety of a piece of equipment or whatever, and then you give it the “go ahead,” and then it crashes and everyone dies, how deep in the shit would you be?
I don’t make any decisions about what will happen, I just provide the results of my analysis and then someone else, someone more important who makes way more important decisions, reviews my data along with other data from tons of other sources and determines how to run the space program. I wouldn’t be to blame, per se, but I’m part of the process so I want to make sure that what I do is as accurate as possible.
Is it true you have a business card that says NASA: SCIENTIST?
Yep, totally true.
Amzing. Has it ever gotten you laid?
No. Although I do have a lab coat and I have been told that the offer is on the table provided I show up wearing it. Most people just think I’m being a smartass when I tell them where I work. That or they wanna ask me if the moon landing was fake or some shit about monkeys returning to space.
Are you super smart or just the regular kind?
Just the regular kind, I think. For someone that gets paid to do complex math my arithmetic skills really blow. I have just as hard a time figuring out what to tip on a restaurant bill as anyone else.
What’s a regular day like in the office?
I’m either doing the math on some scenario or I’m writing about my results. My friends like to think that I work in some sort of anti-gravity lab that’s akin to an evil genius lair.
You used to work in Houston at the space center, right?
I did indeed.
What was it like?
It was really cool. It’s like huge a college campus. You almost forget that it’s more than just an office when you see astronauts eating lunch, or have to go into Mission Control. I volunteered to be a test subject in the kitchen. You put your name on this list and they’d email you every time the chefs had some new recipe for you to try out and give them your opinion about. I only got to go once, but I had seafood jambalaya and it was pretty damn good.
Is Mission Control just one enormous room with tons of buttons and levers and blinking, beeping lights?
It’s mostly just filled with computer screens and people, but I suppose there are some buttons and lights.
And you were in charge of some huge duffel bags there, right? What was that all about?
You mean the huge liquid-carrying duffel bags that were sometimes filled with pee? Yes, I was. They were just these big collapsible containers for moving water around, but on occasion they put piss in them. I find that the pee is the most interesting part. People love the idea of poop and pee in space.
Yeah, totally. It’s because you imagine it floating in the air as these tiny balls of liquid and mass that you really want to catch in your mouth but you can’t because it came from your butt. So, were you really, really into space as a kid?
No, not at all. When I was little I wanted to be a heavy metal guitarist that shredded non-stop and had a guitar that shot lasers. That is 100% true. Otherwise, I’ve always been into building stuff and engineering and tech shit. I just fell into the space biz because they gave me a job first.
Did you guys have an office party with cake and snacks when water was discovered on the moon?
Sadly, no. I think they announced that on a day when we were all too busy to party. Occasionally we’ll get together and watch launches and stuff, but there’s never any cake, which is kind of a bummer.
Wouldn’t it be cool to have a huge physical fitness challenge, NASA versus the Russian space station? You guys could finally put all that competitive bullshit to sleep.
I suppose, but the Russians would probably win. They just seem more practical. I’ve heard this story about the US being all stoked when they developed the space pen. You know, the one that was in Seinfeld that could write upside down? They thought they were all hot shit and bragged about what they had made to their Russian counterparts, who just responded, “Oh. We use a pencil." I’m sure it’s probably a fake story, but it's funny nonetheless. Especially if you do that Yakov Smirnoff accent when you tell it.
As a NASA employee, do you like the movies Apollo 13 and The Astronaut’s Wife?
Not particularly, but I guess they’re all right. Apollo 13 is a real story, but isn’t The Astronaut’s Wife about a woman who gets knocked up with space jizz and the baby has like super powers or something? Or maybe I'm thinking of Dune…
Final question. Do you like that dehydrated ice cream stuff?
It's OK. I don’t keep it stocked in my cupboard at home, but if it were around I’d probably chow down.