Sunday, August 7, 2011

Landing Safely in a Barrel on Fire

I work at NASA. Odd opportunities and events seem to unfold around me unwittingly.
This is one of those stories.

I received an email requesting the use of my children in a welcome home ceremony for a returning Expedition Crew.  My girls would give the crew members flowers, there would be a ceremony with the astronauts and we would go about our day.  Now, I had the SHUTTLE crew ceremony in my head, where children in shorts and t-shirts run up and give the astronauts a flower in a flurry of excitement and run back to their parents.
This is not how it went down.

As it turns out, the ceremony was indoors in a large ballroom onsite at NASA.  We were ushered in and given a chair at the front of the ballroom.  My alarm bells were going off and anxiety was ramping up while Ana was QUITE LITERALLY running in circles around her father.  Hmm.  This... may not be what I thought.
It started sinking in that this was a rather formal ceremony when the organizer (who does not have children and was staring in horror at my bouncing child) explained that each child is assigned an astronaut to deliver a bouquet of flowers.
Let me say this again.
EACH CHILD IS ASSIGNED TO A CREW MEMBER AND WILL GIVE THEM A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE (without bouncing around or running off with the flowers was implied).

This would never happen.
I'm hosed.
I'm also told that the crew members are receiving their spaceflight medals during the same 1 1/2 hour ceremony.
Now this will turn into a story.  A big, embarassing story in which the JSC Center Director, Flight Director and returning astronauts will point and laugh at the lack of control that I have over my 4 year old twins.

Before I can even grasp the horror, the Expedition 25 Commander (we'll call him "Doug" because that is his name) calls out, "MAURA! Upstairs!"  The other 4 children and their respective parents are already in a briefing room with the crew.  Of course.
I run upstairs with Ana and we cross the room to Brad and Keira, who are already waiting.

Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly is also a twin and immediately stops what he is doing to notice my two little girls.  Clearly twins.  Clearly too young to be part of this.
His jokes fall flat on Ana, who is now a statue in front of the looming Commander.
"Hey... are you two related?"
"I know how that is..."
Nothing from Ana.
"I'm Scott", he says as he holds out his hand.
"High Five?"
Blink, blink.
"... fist pump?", he tries.

We're saved from this awkward exchange by a rundown of the ceremony that will occur (gulp) shortly.
The entire crew (who I've thankfully worked with before without incident), Center Director, Flight Director and 5 other calm children listen to instructions while I hold the hand of a very bouncy Ana. Ana breaks free of me and runs under a table as I watch, amused.  I'm thankful that she *might* get this energy out of her system.
The other folks in the room take turns coming up to me and making me feel at ease with their children's crazy stories.  I nod and secretly curse the person who gave us this honor.

As we walk down to the ceremony, Ana runs ahead and trips on her own shoe.  Her faceplant is audible and horrific.  As I watch the Center Director and everyone else brace for the screaming, Ana gets up with an "I'mokay!" and starts skipping.

The ceremony was long and painful.  Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for the ceremony.  Clearly.  Because this day couldn't be any weirder.  The crew received their medals. A video was played.  The crew members spoke about their experiences in space.  Commander Kelly likened landing in a Soyuz to going over Niagra falls... in a barrel... that's on fire.
And then?
Each child was called.  One-by-one.  To present a heavy bouquet of roses to each crew member.

And they did beautifully.

Ana with Aleksandr Kaleri

Keira with Oleg Skripochka

1 comment:

Courtney said...

Awesome! Sounds like y'all were the perfect choice.

Btw, a friend observed me with my kids recently and commented later that it had been a rough day for me. Uh no, just about average. Wild is to be expected, right?