Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maggie And the Astronauts

As some blog readers will recall, I recently did a talk for NASA. Those of you who didn't know that are probably wondering why it is that NASA wanted me, which is a question everyone asks (sometimes twice or three times, if you're my grandmother). NASA said that they were totally flexible, they just needed me to be profound and write the best damn speech of my life*.

*I apologize (slightly) for the swearing, but this is an exact quote, so I feel I should be specific.

They also wanted me to drive my Camaro.

So down I drove to Langley and Newport News in Loki, my Camaro. See the sign? That says NASA. What you can't see is the guy in the car next to me, who was first staring because I was a chick in a '73 Camaro and then staring because I was a scary-looking-chick taking a picture of a sign pointing toward a government installation with a big-ass camera. I believe his next phone call was to Homeland Security. (their response? "oh yeah, we already know.")

Then I got a great tour of NASA along with some NASA engineer folks from elsewhere in the country.

TOUR GUIDE: I'm gonna go slowly, but I assume you guys are all engineers, right?
ME: Except Me.
TOUR GUIDE: What do you do?
ME: Write about werewolves and sex.
ENGINEERS: What kind of werewolves?

No, seriously, I got to see inflatable space stations and planes with Columbian bullet holes in the bottom and wind tunnels. And also, about twenty NASA engineers trotting around machines clapping their hands and skipping like school children. If you ever find yourself in a pack of feral NASA engineers**, I recommend throwing a gadget at them. Preferably one with really large rivets. It will give you time to escape.

**Luckily, I have determined that most NASA engineers seem to be entirely tame and, yes, even friendly. Our moon is in benevolent hands.

And then it was off to be orientated. Hilariously, we took a van back to the hotel, and on my itinerary, it told us to take the NASA SHUTTLE. It's the little things. Anyway, there I met the other twenty-some presenters at the TEDxNASA conference. And it was completely humbling. They were all Smart People, Famous People, Smart and Famous People, and a Comet. Which meant that I spent the evening in my hotel room drinking root beer and rewriting my speech because it didn't seem profound enough.

After troubled dreams of monkeys and spacecraft, the next day it was off to the Ferguson Center, to speak in front of 1,700 of my peers***.

***Again, these are NASA's words. I feel the need to be specific.

I was next to last on the day's agenda, which meant I had the whole day to think about whether or not my speech was profound enough. I also met more NASA folks in charge of the conference, and they were actually delightful and funny.

ME: Hi.
NASA: My fiance follows you on twitter.
ME: That's awesome.
NASA: NASA reads your blog.
ME: So does the FBI.

I even convinced NASA to pose with me for a blog photo.

And then it was my turn. NASA had exhorted me to be profound, entertaining, and above all, only be profound and entertaining for twelve minutes. The first thing I saw on the stage when I climbed on was a monitor pointed towards me. This is what was on it:

MONITOR: 12:00
MONITOR: 11:59
MONITOR: 11:58
MONITOR: 11:57
MONITOR: 11:56

Freakin' NASA. Everything's gotta be a shuttle launch with these guys.

But there was no time to wonder what would happen when it got to 0. There was only time to talk. And here it is.

Thanks, NASA, for putting up with mild anarchy, some shedding, and a bit of howling at the moon. It was awesome.
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