Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brief Encounter

In 1985 my boss, Mr. Grandfromage (not his real name), wanted me to become a technical writer. “You write film scripts, right?” he said. “Well, we need someone to write technical scripts. There’s a demand for technical films.”

“But I’m not really a technical person,” I replied.

“Don’t worry about that. We can get technical people and they can give you the basic information. Trouble is, it’s never in film form. So you take their info and write a suitable film script.”

“Well, if you say so.”

“There’s a Technical Writers Convention in Houston next week. I want you to go there and see what you can pick up.”

So I flew to Houston. I couldn’t make head or tail of many of the highly technical topics and subjects that were to be discussed at the convention so I picked one I thought I’d be able to understand. It was a seminar – six people around a small table – discussing how to staple reports.

That was the topic; the boring discussion went on and on. Should one just use staples on the report or should one create a sort of spine to make it look a little more like a book?

I kept eyeing the door, wondering if I could make a dash for it. Suddenly something remarkable happened.

An astronaut appeared in the doorway. Not just an astronaut, a very attractive young woman astronaut. In full fig, as our British friends say – in full astronaut uniform. And she sat next to me.

It seems that, as part of their duties, astronauts had to visit various meetings and conventions that were held in Houston; evidently it was good PR for NASA. I wondered if the astronauts knew about this requirement when they signed up. :-)

Well, she listened dutifully to the seminar discussion and after a suitable period of time the PR person who was taking her around said the astronaut had to visit some other seminars, so she got up to leave. I was sorry to see her go.

She couldn’t resist making a small wry comment as she stepped out the door. “I hadn’t realized your work was so complex,” she said.

We had been talking about how to staple reports.

Back in New York I was working on a film in an editing suite in January of ’86. We stopped work to see a blastoff on the TV monitor because this was to be a special rocket launch: for the first time there was a civilian, a high school teacher, to ride into space with the regular astronauts.

As they filed out to board the spaceship named Challenger I was startled to see my astronaut was among the group, one of the two women.

The catastrophe that followed, 73 seconds after liftoff, happened before my eyes, before the eyes of the entire world. The sleek space machine Challenger erupted into a fireball and clouds of smoke that were seared into my brain forever.

Judith Resnik was a remarkable person. She had a PhD in electrical engineering, she was a classical pianist and she was beautiful too. Her family handled her death with quiet dignity. There was a lot of publicity after the explosion about the other astronauts who had died; the Resniks sought no publicity.

No question, my encounter with Dr. Resnik had been brief; I never had the opportunity to really get to know her.

But I’ll never forget her.

This week, I thought you might be interested in checking out A Little Blog About Nothing, where an interesting question has been posed: What's the best advice you've received?


Everyday Goddess said...

I remember watching that happen too. "They touched the face of God" really got me. Was that the right quote?

You have had an amazing career!

Berowne said...

>> "They touched the face of God" really got me. Was that the right quote? <<

Yes. The poem originally had to do with WWII, but the President quoted it in his speech about the Challenger disaster.

Anonymous said...

The accident still gives me chills. I really didn't know anything about Resnik, but she sounded like a lovely person.

Berowne said...

My sentiments too.

Madame DeFarge said...

Lovely story about meeting her. I remember that happening and the shock of it was dreadful.

Berowne said...

Thanks for your comment, Mme DeF.

Jeanne Estridge said...

That was a hard thing for us as a nation; it must have impacted you even more, having actually met one of the crew.

Merry Christmas!

Berowne said...

And a very Merry Christmas to you too, Jeanne!

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