NASA proves space nuts are out there, after all

Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2007

When my wife got up and headed for the coffee pot one morning last week, I asked her to come into the living room.

“You’re not going to believe this story I just saw on the news,” I told her. “An astronaut drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, wearing a diaper the whole time, so she could ... .”

“That’s terrible!” she exclaimed.

“Uh, that’s not the story,” I continued. “They claim she went there to kidnap a NASA engineer because they were both in love with the same astronaut.”

“Well, that’s terrible, too,” my wife conceded. “But what if she’d had a wreck? She would have been so embarrassed when the EMTs found her dead body wearing that diaper.”

I was upset for a different reason: I had been deprived of a reason to complain.

I love to talk back to television so I can criticize the news readers’ grammar, correct a fact in a documentary, rant about the physical impossibility of what just happened or point out that the star is acting out of character.

I’ve been the most vocal when watching space-travel shows and movies.

Whether about moon shots, Martian monsters, suspended animation or wormholes, these stories usually contained a character never found in NASA missions: the Nut.

There would come a time when a member of the crew suddenly went bonkers.

(The Twilight Zone used this plot a lot.) He or she would succumb to greed, lust, paranoia, envy — whatever sin or sickness happened to be handy.

A crew of highly trained scientists and military officers had studied every aspect of the flight to, let’s say, the Planet Formerly Known as Pluto. Then, without warning or reason, one member would sabotage the fuel supply, or cut his companions’ air hoses, or sell out to an alien life form, or stuff his pockets with mesmerizing 10-pound diamonds found on the former planet’s surface.

Goodwill ambassadors going where no man had gone before were soon floating off into space because a seemingly normal crew member had become as obsessed as Fred C. Dobbs, in the throes of gold fever, searching for the treasure of the Sierra Madre. Every time I watched these shows, I would wail: “Oh, come on! Did they not screen these astronauts back on Earth before sending them on a 10-year flight to another planet? NASA already would have weeded out the wackos.”

Now that a real space shuttle astronaut has been arrested under bizarre circumstances — yes, in a diaper — I can’t gripe anymore. TV had it right all along. If Rod Serling were still alive, he could keep The Twilight Zone on the air for years. After doing a show about a diapered astronaut, he could run an episode “ripped from the headlines” about demented robots.

You see, someone crawled out of the woodwork last week to criticize General Motors Corp. for airing a commercial during the Super Bowl showing an auto-assembly robot, obsessed over vehicle quality, daydreaming about jumping off a bridge.

Folks, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that robot suicide is no laughing matter, but this cute little guy was dreaming about jumping. In the real life of the commercial, he was still a productive member of society, earning a salary to support his metallic family. It was a cute commercial, and let’s face it: George Bailey came closer to actually jumping in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but nobody ever complained about that.

Actually, Mr. Serling could do a two-part episode because, according to The Associated Press, General Motors reported the next day that it was going to edit the commercial to make it less “offensive.” The Twilight Zone is a lot closer than we ever thought.

This column distributed by Morris News Service.

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