Mission Impossible

It seems one of my kids has crossed over a great divide: the span that bridges the gap between child and adult.

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Well … sort of.

Maybe she hasn’t made it entirely to the other side. Maybe she’s over the apex and is now rifling through her handbag, foraging for her passport. But she’s close. And it’s a little scary.

Last week I sent her off to her last “summer camp.” I thought it would be fun, a good distraction, and even engaging.

I was wrong.

It was demanding and arduous, requiring a Herculean effort on all participants. This was not a camp; it was a gathering of overgrown grey matter.

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She did not make fast friends, she met her future colleagues. There was no braiding of hair or singing Kumbaya around the campfire. There was no macramé class, no hiking and no canoeing toward the sunset.

Instead, there was, “Houston? We’ve got a problem,” and all the panic that goes with it.

To make things even more adult like, there was very, very, very little sleep.

You don’t often hear kids remark that one of the highlights of their experience was the mind-blowing hallucinations that came as a result of sleep deprivation. And not the kind of sleep deprivation that comes from watching just one more Netflix movie while you’re all crammed into a dorm room trying to sneak past curfew.

There was no curfew.

No one encouraged you to catch forty winks. Blinking in general meant you took your eye off the ball.

And the ball was basically a mission to Mars.

Now let me be clear—and I have to do this because in the past I have been über criticized for calling this chunk of time a SPACE CAMP. It wasn’t.

Space camp is like this:

“Trainees will experience walking on the moon in our 1/6th gravity chair to feel what it’s like to work in a frictionless environment. Trainees will climb the tallest mountain on Mars on our Mars Climbing Wall and experience 4Gs of liftoff force on the Space Shot™ simulator. They’ll get an astronaut’s view of the earth while watching amazing films in our IMAX® Spacedome Theater and Digital 3D Theater.”

Space camp is interchangeable with a fabulous day at Disneyland.

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This sector of summer was more about calculating payloads, computing appropriate radiation levels and evaluating various chemical propellants. Yeah, hard to imagine any of them snapping a quick “selfie” to post on Facebook as they’re standing proudly in front of a white board covered in nothing but mathematical equations. Woot woot!

In fact, when hearing the ‘Welcome to Langley’ opening words from the program director, the first phrase was actually, “I hope you all came prepared to cry.”

I suppose the experience could be likened to Vegas Week from American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, where you are put to the most strenuous physical tests of your mind and body, surpassing your limitations, and finding each participant sliced away from the competition and sent limping home. Except that at the end, if you survive, there is no golden mic, rainfall of confetti or monetary prize to announce your accomplishment. What you do find, however, is a pale-faced, red-eyed, polyester-suited man, slogging under the weight of way too many lanyard-strung ID tags who hands each survivor a coffee-stained card with a quiet remark of, “I think we may have a folding chair and a small cubicle for you in Houston. Let’s keep in touch.”

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In fact, the whole Let’s keep in touch business is pretty laughable, as once these folks realize they’ve found a fresh resource, ripe for stripping and renewable simply by topping up with Red Bull, I’m guessing one ubiquitous camera, belonging to a small satellite in space, will then be assigned to do nothing but track this collective pack of brain cells.

Maybe I’m growing delusional and paranoid, but just yesterday when I was sorting through a basket of clothes to be laundered, my daughter rushed down from her bedroom and frantically searched for a NASA pin that had been secured to her shirt for the entirety of her time at the institute.

“We’re not supposed to take these off. They’re our new good luck charms.”

Okay, she didn’t exactly say that, and that didn’t exactly happen, but I need something to explain last night, when I was preparing dinner, and my daughter was in the kitchen sorting through colorful college brochures, narrowing down her choices, when the phone rang, and after answering it, I hear an unrecognizable voice on the other end say, “Tell her to go with the blue one.”

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Generally speaking, I do believe the experience of participating in a high stress, nerve racking simulated mission, coached by engineers, astronauts and former prison guards was a success for both parties involved. My daughter discovered the joy of being surrounded by teenagers who had close to a mirror image of her brain and was finally free to speak without someone interrupting her every five seconds with a, “Wait … huh?” And NASA, after ransacking the brains of these young minds in an effort to possibly cull together any information that their home teams had yet to think of, now finds themselves with an improved launch date for a manned mission to Mars. Instead of May, 2046, they have proudly announced: May (maybe April) 2046.

All in all it was an eye-opening experience, especially for her, because remember … the difference between success and failure of a mission may all come down to the batting of an eyelid.

“Houston? … Uh, Houston?”

“Zzzzz …”

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

9 thoughts on “Mission Impossible

  1. Oh gosh, I don’t envy you these years, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything either. As with many difficult things, they are bitter-sweet times. Hugs to you.

    • You are so right, Ardy. At any point in time I see mounds of the bitter moments and heaps of the sweetest joy. Alone, those stretches may prove difficult to slog through or worthy of pinching oneself to make sure one’s awake, but mixed together … this is a balanced recipe of living. And I suppose I shouldn’t wish it to be any other way. A savory life.
      xx

  2. Little C,

    E.P. Hubble would have been proud of you and your efforts. I would only assume that directly upon your arrival, you most likely took over command of camp as subtle as the Egyptian (non official) military Coup d’état, (I didn’t officially say that as you probably know the NSA is most likely reading this… I’m so interesting). And, after all of your youthful commrads took a few felonious moments to “blink” for a chance for rest, you not only kept house but did so while performing, perfecting and most likely rewritting Ernst’s Grand Caprice on Schubert’s Der Erlkönig, Op. 26; I yet have to master that on my cello… ah, so much to do.

    Oh, by-the-way, Einstien called and wanted to know if you would consider updating his field equations (EFE). He’s no longer positive about Newton’s gravitational constant and it’s relation (in postion of his equation) to the Ricci curviture tensure. I asked him to speak English… northern Wisconsin dialecte; we lost communication at that point.

    Much love and respect,

    Stoshu 🙂

    P.s. You may have to help your Mum with some of the big words in this response. Be gentle and remember, she too is from my neck of the woods. We ain’t all NASA Ingeniorums. Now, off you go to Schubert’s piece. I expect to hear it perfected by this afternoon.

    • Hmmm … let’s see … live closer to Shelley for an occasional giggle or two, or stay where I am–one of the world’s most coveted pieces of paradise where only the privileged few reside? Yeah, that’s a toughy.
      Still, you’re super sweet to comment.

      I hope you two are settling in beautifully!
      xx

  3. My husband went to NASA as a teen and then to MIT. He said they were home. Finally we was with others like himself. Luckily, he still knows how to talk to a storyteller. 🙂

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