Monday, July 30, 2018

Space, The Unobtainable Experience

We rose late on Monday and had breakfast, then Mrs Stevie suggested we use the day to visit NASA and have lunch with an astronaut.

We've done this twice before and it sounded like fun, so we checked out the website and got the details of what was going on, and set out around 10-ish after Mrs Stevie bought year passes over the internet.

We got to NASA around 11am and were directed to park in the next state. It seemed NASA was more than usually popular that day. We wandered over to the gate and were buzzed through using the e-passes set to Mrs Stevie's phone, then we went over to "guest services" to get the actual passes and book lunch etc.

Which is where the suck started to manifest. There were two staff members on duty, but the line wasn't moving because no-one could persuade the inkjet printer used to actually print the passes to work.

By the time we got to the desk and were ready to be photographed, Mrs Stevie was getting upset and mentioned that we were hoping to get lunch with an astronaut.

"Oh, that's booked out solid for the next two months" the Guest Relationshipper. "You need to reserve that weeks ahead of time."

Both Mrs Stevie and I felt strongly that that little snippet might usefully have appeared on the website; say, right under the bloody announcement of the event.

We will pass over the irony of an organization gleefully trumpeting past triumphs1, singing up the vistas of new horizons provided by the new Orion spacecraft2 and the wonders of science and technology harnessed to send men to the Moon3 not being able to provide a working inkjet printer to their most public face - the yearly pass purchase line.

The nice lady went on to tell us that we wouldn't be able to use the other special premium a yearly pass entitles the holder to: a guided tour. They were also booked out for the next two months.

Eventually the printer was supplied with ink and persuaded to work, our passes were printed and we wandered into the Kennedy Spaceport to see what was new.

There was an astronaut training experience, where ordinary people get to work on the sorts of things astronauts do. Actually there were two; a straight astronaut training course with tumbling chairs and endurance tests and so forth, and a Mars Base training thing involving hydroponic horticulture and various other science stuff under simulated conditions in a putative Mars base. Each comes with a hefty added cost over and above the entrance charge and take all day.

All booked solid for two months and more of course.

So we went to the new 3D IMAX film, which turned out to be stitched up from older IMAX films with connecting material voiced by Jean-Luc Stewart. There was a glitch in the movie that manifested as a thin black horizontal line the width of the screen, and twice one of the projectors briefly blanked out causing a disorienting "black flash" in my right eye.

Then onto lunch, which now involves selecting stuff on a touch screen at a terminal and paying for it, then picking up the food from the counter. Very space-age, but totally confusing for first time users which was, er, just about everyone.

Such was the aggravation served up while attempting to order a cheeseburger and fries that when a beleaguered lady who spoke only a few words of English implored my help I was forced to deny her on account of I was involved in my own life and death struggle to order food in a World Gone Mad. I felt bad, but it passed very quickly when my attempt to order macaroni and cheese for Mrs Stevie turned into something akin to a cross between debugging a compiler and reading income tax instructions.

The food was surprisingly good when it finally was in my hands. Now I have experience with the NASA Cafeteria Refreshment Terminal I will undoubtedly find it easier next time. Unless of course NASA refits it in the interim.

Then we attended the astronaut presentation, a talk by an astronaut covering his or her career, with a question time. This astronaut, who I won't name, could not connect with the younger members of the audience, had no amusing things a ten year old would find interesting, and pretty much put the school party to sleep. He was passionate about the need for an American human-lifting solution, but he couldn't communicate at the kids' level at all. A shame. He had had an interesting life.

And then we did the Atlantis thing, an audio video presentation culminating in being shown the Shuttle posed like a giant Revell kit. I recommend this to anyone visiting NASA.

It began clouding over around 3:30 pm so we decided to leave, vowing to return in six months with reservations. Mrs Stevie stopped at the gate to ask how we should go about that and was told that we had been given "paper tickets" with our passes that were our credentials.

We, of course, had been given no such tickets by the lady with the misbehaving printer.

Mrs Stevie returned to Guest Services to clear this up and I sat on a bench with a coffee and the various bags of stuff we had accumulated (photos of us with an astronaut, mostly), as the rain began. An hour later Mrs Stevie stomped back into view having done battle with the NASA drones who thought that somehow we must have used the tickets and were now trying to defraud them. They were curiously resistant to the logic of year passes bearing today's date and all the ticketed events being booked solid for weeks, but buckled under Mrs Stevie's relentless outrage eventually. I just got wet.

And so we drove home, disillusioned and annoyed, had dinner somewhere so unremarkable I can't remember it at all and went back to the villa.

And so to bed.

  1. in most cases long past triumphs, but we will pass over that too
  2. More than a year over schedule, but who's counting?
  3. 46 years ago, but who's counting?

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