Monday, April 17, 2017

From an astronaut at a wet t-shirt contest to an idiotic president, PR in the wrong places can make things blow up

Resnik c, 1985
Astronaut Judy Resnik looked about as out of place at the Chili Cookoff slash Wet T-Shirt Contest that day in Webster, Texas, as I had been out of place for the last four years working as a writer slash editor in the Public Affairs Office at LBJ Space Center up the street.  Resnik and I reported for work at NASA Houston within months of each other in 1978, she with media fanfare as one of the first females in the group of new ‘astronaut candidates” hired to fly on the new Space Shuttle.  I drove down from Austin in a seven year old Karmann Ghia and slipped unnoticed into an office in Building Two where I started writing press releases about the work of people like Judy Resnik.
Four years later I was not the PAO responsible for sending astronaut Judy Resnik to the Chili Cookoff slash Wet T-Shirt Contest for a public appearance, by then I had already been fired*** but was still hanging around the space center in Houston. Somehow I heard that the guy who got my job had made this major screw up sending an astronaut to a wet t-shirt contest, so I went that Saturday as a civilian just to ogle. 
The PAO who set it up pulled out some hairs, then they quickly rearranged the tables so that the astronauts and other civic leaders who were about to arrive to taste and judge chili would be facing away from the wet t-shirt contest. The PAO arranged it so Judy Resnik and the other judges would not have to watch as a local deejay sprayed water on the breasts of young girls who then strode to the edge of the stage and danced with everything beneath their wet t-shirts on display for a cheering beer drinking crowd.


STS 51-L crew before launch
Resnik died with the rest of the crew on her second shuttle mission, STS-51L, the flight in January 1986 that carried the Teacher in Space and blew up seventy two seconds after liftoff.
As I was thinking about writing this blog post, I went to YouTube and watched Ronald Reagan deliver the heart felt speech that he gave in January 1985 creating the Teacher in Space program. You can tell from his tone of voice, so passionate, so endearing, that Ronald Reagan really did believe he could make space travel a regular experience for ordinary people by just signing an Executive Order. He has the same lack of knowledge and experience as our current president who is blundering us into wars and economic catastrophe through lack of knowledge and experience.
In June 1985 Reagan spoke to the group of teachers who were finalists for the Teacher in Space shuttle flight. 
Reagan:  Next January one of you will be the emissary to the next generation of American Heroes.  For the lucky one who does go up in the Shuttle, I have only one assignment.  Take notes, there will be a quiz after you- [BURST OF LAUGHTER]
In my room on a mountain top in 2017, I watched Reagan deliver that speech and it gave me the chills.
It's that same PR before reality that we're letting a president do today in 2017, and we know how well that presidential act for PR turned out for the Challenger in 1986.
After that burst of laughter for President Reagan in that 1985 speech, you can see a satisfied grin on his face, because they like him, they really like him. . . and he looks way too much like Donald Trump basking in the adulation from a kneejerk press that came after he bombed Afghanistan.


Resnik in 1978
Late August 1978, the night before I was to report for work at NASA, I sat on the edge of the bed in my hotel room and watched Judy Resnik do what was probably one of her first TV interviews as an astronaut.  As she did so many times in the following months and years, Resnik told the reporter she had been a member of the French club, NHS and Math club, in high school, the only girl among 15 boys. She had a perfect SAT score, went to Carnegie Mellon, earned a PhD and became an electrical engineer at a time when there were very few women in that profession. Then while working at Xerox, she answered an ad and competed against thousands of the smartest scientists and engineers in the USA and was chosen as an astronaut.
The reporter then leaned in and put the mic in front of Judy’s face as I watched in my NASA Road One motel room, and in an intimate voice she said to Resnik: “Here’s something I really gotta know, Judy. When you are out at a night club with your friends and you meet a guy you want to date, what do you tell him when he asks, what do you do for a living?”
For just a micro second Judy didn't have an answer, and I think the interviewer may have even repeated the question with a laugh to cover the awkward moment maybe adding extra insight such as:  “I mean don’t men find it intimidating when they meet you and want to date you then they find out you're an astronaut?”
In that micro second Judy recovered and knew how to respond with the instincts of a test pilot facing an unexpected anomaly. She gave the reporter a conciliatory grin and replied:
“I just tell them I'm an engineer”

That chili cookoff was around 1983.  Judy Resnik had been assigned to a space shuttle flight at least four years earlier and had now been simulating the same task over and over again that she would carry out on that first flight, while the first flight of the shuttle kept getting delayed. 
She trained about five years past the original launch date for her first assigned flight, dutifully entering the simulator and operating the remote controlled orbiter arm, performing for as many news crews as showed up, some of them with me as their guide. I’d stand off to the side and the news crew from wherever would  point cameras at Judy Resnick so the world could ogle a female astronaut at work.

PR in the wrong Places

As I watched Reagan’s speech creating the Teacher in Space program that contributed to the explosion of Challenger in 1986 from my laptop on a mountain top in 2017, I was astonished by how much that President sounded like Donald Trump today, making beautiful speeches based on no real knowledge.  Like Trump, Reagan seems almost child like in his naivete and awe and hope, as if by a President just saying something is so, it will make it so, but with no real knowledge to back up his reveries.
PR played as much a part in the explosion of Challenger in January 1986 as did the O-Rings on the solid rocket boosters.  Today PR is playing as much a part in the wars and other atrocities being waged by Donald Trump as does any real threat to the nation. 
I'm sure, as Donald and Ronald made their presidential pronouncements they had no intention of leading innocent Americans to their deaths,
This is what happens when people in power have no experience.
I watched Reagan deliver that speech announcing the Teacher in Space program and he was so much SO MUCH like Donald Trump enthusing about all the great things he's going to do as President.  There was the same na├»ve hopefulness, the same ambition and determination that does not have knowledge and experience to make it genuine.  I watched Reagan give that speech and realized that just as the fortieth president led NASA into a spacecraft exploding, now the forty fifth president is leading America to a government that is about to explode, dropping bombs while at the same time under FBI investigation for counter terrorism. 
You can watch Reagan's speech here
15 second sound byte where President Reagan sounds so genuine, so sincere, so stupid, so clueless, as he ingenuously leads us all into failure.
Just like Donald Trump.
Recently Dan Rather said, "War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative," read it here:

Just like Judy Resnik judging a Chili Cookoff, just like Resnik flying a PR mission instead of a mission for science and engineering purposes only, PR in the wrong places can make space ships explode, nations explode, and a lady astronaut end up as special guest at a wet t-shirt contest. 

Trump actions remind me of Challenger explosion. PR in the wrong places makes things blow up

It's like Reagan with the Teacher in Space pronouncement, except Trump ignorance could result in the whole United States government exploding

Not only do our rockets blow up, as Tom Wolfe wrote in The Right Stuff, but our whole country can now blow up.  

Morton Thiokol's Allan McDonald in an interview in the documentary WJXT Presents: "Challenger: A Rush to Launch"

“The prior launch had more delays than any launch prior in history, delayed something like seven times. They got chastised by the press because the prior launch was delayed so many times, the Orlando Sentinel article saying NASA claim they're going to launch two of these a month in next couple years, and they couldn't even launch one in a month that was already ready to go, which was true.  So they had to prove that they were capable of doing that.” I think the association with Teacher in Space on this launch played a role from two points. One it created a group of people watching this launch far greater than they’d seen for a long time.
Resnik on Flight STS41-D
“Her lesson plan was to provide a lesson to all these children in the schools on the fourth day of the mission.  Twentieth of January was on Tuesday.  Friday would have been the day that she would be giving this lesson plan to all these children in the schools.  If it got delayed one more day that would have pushed it to Saturday. How many kids are in school on Saturday?”
From same documentary:
 “We were Supposed to be flying them one a week according to original design,” said astronaut Norman Thagard. “But riding on a rocket is not a real smart thing to do, it's fraught with risk, especially with a complicated ship like the shuttle.  On my flight, the SRB jettisoned and I thought oh my chances of survival just went way up.”
The mission commander’s wife quotes him in Challenger The Untold Story, another documentary I watched before doing this post:  
“It [the Space Shuttle] was not an airliner to fly passengers in space and he knew full well that the Public Affairs Office for NASA was involved in putting a smile on all of these space flight opportunities.”
(Hmm a year after they fired me). 
Mrs. Scobee continued: “I saw Dick’s concern
He talked to the teachers who were finalists for the Teachers in Space Program: 33:40 in documentary:
“He came in wearing his workaday flight outfit and he regaled us with wonderful stories about what life was like in micro gravity.
“And  then there was a pause and he said, but remember that when you're strapped into the crew cabin, you're sitting on a ton of fireworks. 
“And the conversation got very silent at that point and he didn't have to go any further, we knew what he was talking about.”

But it's the quote from Roger Boisjoly that gave me the chills, talking about the night before the Challenger fatal launch:
“The first thing my wife said when I got home is what's wrong,” boisjoly says in the film. “Oh nothing honey, I had a great day. It ended up in a meeting, now we're going to launch tomorrow and kill the astronauts, but outside of that it was a great day.”  
Roger B Around 01;03;40 into the film.
Today in 2017 as I watch a federal investigations try to catch up with the Trump / Russia collusion before this president can do permanent damage, it is very-very similar,
way too similar
way too much like the Morton Thiokol engineers trying to stop the launch of Challenger the night before 
Our current senators and congressman are shouting about the actions taken by Trump that are leading USA into oblivion and not being heard, not being taken seriously fast enough, not getting across to the people who can make a decision in time to stop the catastrophe.
Because there really is no person to make a decision
They're all civil servants and contractors doing their job as if the person in charge knows what they're doing, when he doesn't, but there's no way to stop the Trump presidency right now just like there was no way to stop the Challenger in January 1986 once it was set for launch

But there is hope, as a teacher did fly in space finally 30 years later


At the Chili Cookoff Slash Wet T-Shirt Contest that day in Webster, Texas, Judy sat at the judges table next to Greg Flabbergast- an executive at NASA whose name I can't remember and it's a good thing, because I would publish it here and make people angry.
Judy had by then trained down to about a size two.  Her beaming brown eyes surrounded by a mass of black curling hair had become an iconic image for NASA in media all over the world back then in the early 1980s.
Resnik in office at JSC
She kept her back to the wet-t-shirt contest and with a plastic spoon resolutely ate bite after bite of the slews of greasy red stew in plastic bowls placed in front of her. Greg Flabbergast would lean over and Judy would laugh.  There were as many people there to watch Judy Resnik be one of the judges as there were guys watching the girls dance half naked on the stage behind her.  
Judy had this quality- the can do spirit of the quintessential NASA astronaut, approaching her task of tasting and judging chili with the same intensity we’d all seen in the photos release by PAO of Judy at work, Judy in her office, Judy in the simulator, Judy in the T-38 jet getting her pilot license.
She took hold of the next bowl of chili and studied its contents and Greg Flabbergast leaned over her as if he were holding her down, keeping her from finding a way to fly away.


You see pictures of that crew in the months before flight, all in blue jumpsuits with the NASA worm logo from that era, wearing the beaming smiles of people who’ve been trained in Positive Thinking.
When I got to NASA in 1978 for the job I wrangled for myself straight out of college, I took my oath and then THEN sat at a desk and started to learn about the space shuttle program.  Back then the goal Was to Eventually send ordinary people into space. 
But when I saw the view from the cockpit of that massive spacecraft on top of burning solid rocket boosters with 6.5 million pounds of thrust at takeoff of flaming fuel, first thing I thought was, this is not a space program that is ready for ordinary people to ride back and forth and conduct civilian business. Not yet.
I stopped hoping they’d select me to be the first journalist in space and began having a whole new respect for the people who fly space craft for NASA. 
It was as inappropriate for astronaut Judi Resnick to be judging a chili cookoff with a wet t-shirt contest behind her as it was for a school teacher project to force the shuttle to launch under unsafe conditions.
Both were the result of PR in the wrong places, a problem nationwide that continued long past the Reagan administration and got us where we are today in 2017, with a reality TV show host as Commander in Chief, starting wars over dinner, while under investigation by both Congress and the Senate for counter intelligence against the United States. 

I think Judy Resnik may have been wondering what the heck have I gotten myself into herself, by the  time she was judging chili from tasting bowls in that Webster, Texas, parking lot with a wet t-shirt contest going on behind her.  
Wonder if she ever felt as out of place at NASA as I did.

Judy Resnik’s last words could be heard upon ignition of the engines of STS-51-L on January 28, 1986.
"Aaaaaaaaaall Riiight!!!!


*** Post Script:
As I've said before on this blog, I had a lot of strange sexual compulsions in my life that resulted from being molested by a Catholic priest when I was five years old, and even though I didn't know it at the time, a lot of what drove me to get a job at NASA was that compulsion.  In order to get a bachelor’s in journalism I had mandatory science classes at University of Texas, and when a professor in an Astronomy for Non Science Majors class mentioned that NASA often hires people from UT, I went, Boooooiiiinnng and from that moment on, I Had To get a job at NASA, because I Had To Be Around men in uniform who had an extra connection to the sky.  I didn't even know why.  I ended up getting hired then fired a few years later by NASA because of my screwed up sexual behavior.
As I packed to go to Houston in 1978, friends and family were questioning the move saying, Kay, you were on the Timothy Leary for Governor campaign staff, you were once roommates with a Black Panther, you were one of five people on paid staff of the Peace and Freedom Party in California, and those photo shoots in 1969, do you really think you're going to like working at NASA around all uptight military guys? they'd ask.  

What none of us knew was I was living Faster than theSpeed of Life, it was long term PTSD that took me to NASA. I didn't stop to ask myself why I was compelled to go there, I just pursued the job with compulsion.  I lobbied and lobbied and created strategies and got people to write letters for me and became Science Editor on the college paper and hyped myself until the Newsroom at NASA almost had no choice but to hire me. 
Decades later when writing a blog about the pedophilepriests, I tried and tried to make this line funny:

I was molested by a Catholic priest at age five and as a result later in life I went after astronauts and pilots with an out of control sexual compulsion.

I'm still working on the line. 

Post Script 2:

Resnik on Flight 41-D
There in the NASA News Room at LBJ Space Center at the end of a workday, we’d often gather to gab, sip coffee, and gossip about stuff we couldn't put in press releases.  Often the topic there in Redmond or McLeaish’s office was the strange relationship between Greg Flabbergast and Judy Resnik.  Here was this jowly government bureaucrat thirty years older than her- his body was one of those droopy ones you’d see at NASA back then, the former pilot turned desk cadet, gravity taken over, everything turned to soup and let to drop, hidden behind an oversized suit coat, gelatinous. His face included a nose swollen with broken blood vessels from years of highballs after long days of government static. 
Everywhere Judy went in those last years she was at JSC, Greg Flabbergast was by her side.  He was a top top level executive at NASA, the kind of guy we in PAO would send the A-list reporters to interview, ones from national networks and major magazines. 
Within months after the As-Cans arrived in 1978, Greg Flabbergast took his place next to Judy in what may have been a father-daughter relationship, maybe his role was to hold her down, keep her from getting away.
Now in 1982 or 83, Greg Flabbergast sat next to Judy as they tasted chili with the wet t-shirt contest going on in the background.  She saw me off to the side ogling, as I always did, ogling off to the side and she stared at me a moment, querulous.
Judy sampled her chili with determination to do the best job she could and always represent NASA to the best of her abilities.

Post Script 3:
Wikipedia actually has an entry in you need a definition of a wet t-shirt contest with encyclopedic explanations of its place in American culture:
Contestants generally wear white or light-colored T-shirts without bras, bikini tops, or other garments beneath. Water (often ice water) is then sprayed or poured onto the participants' chests, causing their T-shirts to turn translucent and cling to their breasts. Contestants may take turns dancing or posing before the audience, with the outcome decided either by crowd reaction or by the opinions of judges”
The idea of the wet T-shirt contest originated in Spain  in the 1940s, around the same time as the introduction of the Spanish festival La Tomatina.[1] La Tomatina is a large public tomato fight where participants become soaked with juice from tomatoes.
In the United States, skiing filmmaker Dick Barrymore claims in his memoir Breaking Even to have held the first wet T-shirt contest at Sun Valley, Idaho's Boiler Room Bar in January 1971, as part of a promotion for K2 skis.[2] He held another promotional contest for K2 on 10 March 1971 at Aspen, Colorado’s The Red Onion restaurant and bar, and the contests were featured in a pictorial in the March 1972 issue of Playboy.[4]Later, wet T-shirt contests made an appearance in Palm Beach, Florida and Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the mid-1970s. Contests were becoming frequently hosted in local bars and restaurants.[5] Many sources claim that the popularity of wet T-shirt contests can be traced back to Jacqueline Bisset’s appearance in the 1977 film The Deep, where she swam underwater in several scenes wearing only a white T-shirt.[1]
That is so funny.  I was going to find a funny encyclopedia way to define a wet t-shirt contest and it exists at Wikipedia.  Wow.

Post Script 4
The more people at JSC found out about Judy Resnik, the more beloved and popular she was. The more people at JSC found out about me, more time I spent at the lunch table alone.

Post Script 5
By the time she was tasting her ten or twelfth bite as a judge at the Chili Cookoff Slash Wet T-Shirt Contest that day in Webster, Texas, that day, Judy Resnik was demonstrating the level of endurance she’d developed in ger training as an astronaut.
That Saturday she had probably come from a week of practicing the maneuver of the orbiter arm for the gazillionth time, as she trained for her first Space Shuttle mission that kept being postponed.  She ended up training for years past the original launch date on her flight, this elegant lady, this classical pianist, this woman of elegance and taste, repeating the maneuver in flight simulators.
Eventually the executives at NASA accomplished their goal and got me to leave in a way that made it impossible for me to ever come back.  I wasn’t in PAO when Reagan announced the Teacher in Space program and I'm kind of glad I didn't have anything to do with promoting it as a good idea.
The last images we have of Judy Resnik with the other beaming crew members as they walk out to that fateful flight and the last decades where I've reviewed the wreckage of my life make me wonder
what could have been.
for both of us.
I cried and drank and self destructed for a good ten years after leaving NASA wondering what went wrong, what was wrong with me, then after finally being clean and sober for two years and having a child turn age five, the age I was at the time of molestation by Father Horny, I realized the source of the sexual dysfunction and it stopped.  I almost turned into a different person once I realized it was that early age felony child sexual assault I lived through that affected my strange behavior, and the strange behavior stopped. 
Unfortunately the damage had already been done to everybody I met along the way.

Post Script 6
When I first got to NASA I jumped right onto the idea of the Shuttle flying ordinary people.  But after I’d been at NASA a few weeks and realized how frigking dangerous that space ship was, how duct taped together it was with the lowest bidder making design and manufacturing choices, how if it were to be for humans going back and forth in space it would have been much smaller, but instead in the middle of the design and development process, we added tons of payload capacity, so the humans were now on top of huge commercial satellite payloads along with a gazillion pounds of combustible fuel.
But by 1980 or 1981 there was almost nothing to the space program but public appearances.  When we all signed on for the beginning of the space shuttle in 1978, it was supposed to happen a few months later.  Now it got to be two, three years later, and it hadn’t had its first launch yet.  I had perfected the art of finding new ways to write a headline saying the launch of first Space Shuttle flight was delayed again. 

Out of control conflagration of public relations and space exploration, amplified by there being almost nothing but PR in the space program for two to three years.

Only the bravest of the brave, such as test pilots and astronauts, should have been flying on the shuttle, and it's likely they would have put off the launch, because as the commission found in its investigation of the tragedy, it was the cold temperatures on the O-Rings that caused Challenger to explode

Post Script 7
I’d get such a rush when I’d drive my Kharmann Ghia onto the LBJ Space Center grounds every morning.  And almost every morning I’d see Judy Resnik jogging on the long road that comes in from Clear Lake City. Every week she was getting thinner, so I soon found running shoes and started jogging too, never looking as good as Judy though. 
After I’d been at NASA about two years, you still saw Judy out there jogging almost every morning but a kind of pall was over the space center in Houston. Back in 1978, when the shuttle astronauts and I and a whole lot of new hires arrived, the Shuttle was supposed to be launched the following year.  Then one after there was another design problem and the tiles, and reasons to delay launch that put it off for months, years, one after another.  So everyone who came onboard in 1978 was still doing exactly the same thing they were doing in 1978, now it was 1981, 1982, and I had been finding new ways to write headlines and articles about the upcoming first launch that was coming at such and such a date “barring delays.”
I had perfected the art of finding new ways to write that headline and using the expression “Barring Delays” and had written it so many times it became a joke in the News Room.  Some problem would come up, then they’d see me and in unison say, “barring delays.” I’d write, Shuttle set for August launch, barring delays, then February launch Barring delays, then June Launch Barring delays
“The shuttle is a difficult aircraft to fly, said Lt. Col. Eileen M. Collins, astronaut a decade later in a documentary. “It has a very high wing loading, I guess you could say it's a low lift to drag ratio, it sinks like a brick."
You want a U.S. Space Ship to be beautiful and graceful but the Space Shuttle is ugly and clumsy and looks like it's duct taped together, with black paint applied at the last minute where more advanced technology would be too expensive
“Members of aeronautical community called it the ‘Flying Brickyard,’ ” said Alex Roland Prof history of Technology in that same documentary. “It was designed to go back and forth to a space station before we had a space station.” 

Many documentaries are out there about the Challenger disaster, I like this one best:

WJXT Presents: "Challenger: A Rush to Launch"

  Graham Media Group Jan 19, 2016
The one hour WJXT documentary marks the 30th anniversary of the historical shuttle disaster.

Interesting forum I found while researching this blog post:
where I read this quote about Resnik:

“It was she who turned on her own PEAP, then crept forward in the falling cabin and turned on those of Mike Smith and Frank Scobee.” 08/24/2013 02:13 AM

Resnik was heroic sharp and on point right up to the last moment of her life.

Posted by

Rushing to get it all down before I leave the planet for good I hope this time

I just realized April 5 would have been Judy Resnik's birthday and that's about the time I got the urge to write this post. She would have been my age. Hmm.

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