Cancun Farewell

Posted March 30, 2000 at 5:39 pm | 2 Comments
Today somebody broke into our room, and the circumstances surrounding the whole event can only be described as extremely shady.  We returned to our hotel room to find the door broken and all of our bags opened up, as if someone had rapidly searched through every pouch and pocket.  The strange thing was that nothing was missing; the burglars could have stolen my laptop, MP3 player, digital camera, and Handspring Visor, but instead they left it all behind.  I suppose they were only looking for cash.

Looks like someone took a
crowbar to our doorframe.

Beach crowd at the Corona festival. 

We went down to the front desk of the hotel to complain, where we were surprised to discover that the hotel manager already knew about the broken door.”Ah, I’m glad you came to see me about that,” he said.  “You will need to pay us one hundred dollars to repair the damages.”

“I don’t think you understand,” Matt told him, somewhat taken aback.  “See, we didn’t break our door.  Someone broke into our room.”

“Well,” said the manager with a shrug, “that is not my concern.  Your room contract stated that you would be responsible for any damages to the room.”

This wasn’t exactly the reaction we had expected.  Perhaps the manager had a right to be miffed about the cost of the broken door, but normally one would suspect that a hotel manager would also be somewhat concerned about the security and well-being of his guests.  Not to mention that there was no way that a replacement lock could possibly cost a hundred dollars.

Feeling somewhat ridiculous, we began to barter with the manager until we had talked him into reducing our door repair contribution to a twenty dollars.  When the negotiations had been completed, he grinned, shook hands with Matt, and told us that there were shots of tequila waiting for us at the bar.

“We appreciate the gesture,” I told him, “but frankly, we’re not in the mood for tequila right now.”

My guess is that the whole operation was an inside job.  After all, why had the thieves singled out our room in particular?  Probably because some members of the hotel staff had seen me sliding a couple of twenties into my suitcase pouch the day before, which I had subsequently removed.  It was frustrating to think that our belongings weren’t safe in our hotel room.  What was I supposed to do, bring my Toshiba Tecra to Senor Frog’s?  I was also somewhat upset that the manager felt he could gloss over the entire incident with a few glasses of tequila.  Perhaps he’s more used to dealing with people who spend their entire spring break in a state of heavy intoxication.

What spring break would be complete without a
wet t-shirt contest?  This one was straight out of
something on MTV.

One Corona, Two Corona, Three Corona, Floor.

In the end, I was glad to leave Cancun.  I wouldn’t give up the experience, but I also don’t think I would return.  Next year I’ll forego the mechanical bulls and poolside bars, and instead do something a little more relaxed.  It’s not that I don’t like foam parties or booze cruises, but sometimes all I really want to do is sit at home and play Scrabble.

Here’s something I had never seen before: a spanking contest.
After sixty seconds, the winner was the contestant with the reddest ass.

Leisure Reading

Posted March 29, 2000 at 5:38 pm | No Comments

I think that Madeline’s job at Barnes & Noble suits her quite well.  One day I visited the Highland store while she was working there, hoping that she could suggest some books.

“What did you have in mind?” she inquired, “Mystery novels?  Science fiction?   Travel stories?”

“I decided that I’m not well-read enough,” I told her.  “Whenever I talk to you about literature, I feel really stupid.  And the other day my friend Matt made a reference to The Great Gatsby and I had to admit that I had never read it.”

“So you’re looking for what, then,” she asked, “classics of American literature, I guess?”

“What I basically want, Madeline, is a transplant of your literary brain.  Can you do that?”

“Well,” she replied with some hesitation, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Twenty minutes later a huge stack of books was piled precariously in my arms.  Madeline didn’t seem to notice, however, continuing her businesslike march through the fiction aisles as I tagged along, trying not to drop anything.  “Ah, you can’t do without Dickens,” she exclaimed, adding a 500-page volume to my overflowing pile.  “This one is my favorite,” she explained, “It’s so delightfully Victorian!”

“Hmm, yes,” I nodded, vaguely bemused.

“And Thomas Pynchon is also a must,” she continued, running her index finger along a row of books with a concentrated countenance.  “Let’s see,” she asked herself, “should I give you The Crying of Lot 49 or V?  I better be gentle,” she decided, selecting the former.

“Gentle is good,” I agreed, noticing that V was almost three times as thick.

“Hmm, we’ll have to give you some Virginia Wolff too,” Madeline frowned.  “I’m not sure if you’ll like that though.”

“Really?  Why not?”

“Well, Pynchon’s novels are sort of like Stravinsky’s music, in that all sorts of wild things are going on and you never know quite what’s going to happen next.  Whereas Wolff’s stories are more like Debussy, in that the surface changes are minute, but underneath the chords are subtly growing and changing.”

“Well, I’ll give Wolff a shot,” I shrugged, secretly jealous of Madeline for her ability to casually make such intelligent-sounding analogies.  “I guess that’s what they teach you at Harvard,” I thought to myself.

When I left for spring break, I brought along a whole slew of books, figuring I’d have plenty of time to catch up on free reading.  What I discovered was that reading in Cancun doesn’t work very well.  There are simply too many distractions.

Day 1

There’s something very strange about trying
to read The Grapes of Wrath by the pool
with a daiquiri yard glass in hand.

Topless sunbather 1, John Steinbeck 0.

Day 2

Matt Taylor was not immune to distraction either…

Day 3

At this point I pretty much just gave up.


Posted March 27, 2000 at 5:37 pm | 2 Comments

Chichen-Itza is the site of some of the last remnants of the ancient civilization of the Mayas.  One such remnant is the unusual temple pictured above, which puzzled archeologists and anthropologists for many years.  British erudite J. Eric S. Thompson, perhaps the foremost scholar in Mayan cultural studies, knew that there was something unusual about this temple from the first.  The Mayans were advanced mathematicians; more than any ancient civilization they appreciated the geometric beauty of perfect symmetry, and this was reflected in their architectural style.  Unlike most Mayan structures, this edifice had no apparent symmetry; it seemed that each level of the temple had dimensions that bore no correspondence to the other levels.  This led Thompson to believe that it was built by barbarians who had conquered the Mayans, perhaps in a crude imitation of Mayan building styles.  It was not until 1967 that the astronomer Anthony Aveni discovered that this building was in fact one of the most remarkable remnants of the Mayan civilization.  The building’s secret is that its shapes and angles were carefully designed to correspond to alignments of the stars. Almost 30 separate cosmological events were hidden within the structure of this amazing building; its spectacular complexity led Carl Sagan to describe the Mayans as the most scientifically advanced of the great Mesoamerican civilizations.

In a tribute to the Mayans, Scott surrenders
his blood at  the ancient sacrificial well.

All of this was explained to us by our tour guide Francisco, who knew a great deal about Mayan language and culture.  “The name Chichen-Itza,” he told me, “is derived from the ancient Mayan ch’it ch’in it-za, meaning ‘shore of the magician’s spring.'”

I asked Francisco if many of the place names on the Yucatan peninsula were derived from ancient Mayan names.

“Yes,” he replied.  “For example, the name Cozumel comes from a Mayan phrase meaning ‘island of the swallows.'”

“Fascinating,” I said.  “What does Cancun mean?”

“Ah, Cancun,” Francisco smiled.  “Cancun is Mayan for ‘lair of snakes.'”

“The Mayans had remarkable foresight,” I told him.

“Yes,” Francisco chuckled.  “Perhaps they read the destiny of Cancun in the stars.”

You may wonder why I had such a negative impression of Cancun, a city renowned for its picturesque beaches and exquisite coral reefs.  I suppose my opinion of the city had been tainted by my experiences the previous night.

Apparently this wall carving depicted
some sort of ancient Mayan fellatio ritual.

I was strolling along the beach early in the evening when I thought I’d take a rest on a patio behind a nearby hotel.  I climbed some steps and sat on a deck overlooking the ocean, admiring the view.  I had been sitting there for several minutes when I was approached by a uniformed police officer who was scowling at me and pointing his finger menacingly.  “Qué usted está haciendo aquí?” he demanded.  “Ésta es pista privada! Usted está violando!

“I’m sorry,” I stammered in return, “but I don’t speak Spanish.”

“You are trespassing, señor,” the officer told me, and began calling into his walkie-talkie.  It sounded like he was requesting backup.

“Excuse me,” I said, and stood up.  “I’ll go home.”

“Sit down,” he barked, gesturing toward the ground.  “You are from Estados Unidos?”

“Yes,” I said, “I was just walking along the beach.  I didn’t know that this was private property.”

The officer frowned and continued speaking into his radio.  Finally he stopped and signaled for me to stand up.  “Follow me,” he ordered.

I walked with him across the grass until we came to a secluded area behind the Dos Playas hotel.  “Stand there,” he said sharply, pointing toward a nearby wall.

Up until this point I wasn’t particularly worried; I figured I would get off with a warning.  But when the police officer pulled a billy club from his hoster and began striking it threateningly against his palm, I started to wonder if the law treated trespassing differently in Mexico than it did in the United States.

“You trespassing,” the policeman repeated.  “This mucho problemo.”  He lifted his walkie-talkie to his mouth and asked me if I wanted “mucho problemo with policia.”

“No, I really don’t,” I told him emphatically.

“I tell you what amigo,” he said conspiratorially, his palm held outward.  “You give small tip, and no problemo.”

“Ah, so he wants a bribe,” I thought to myself.  Somehow I wasn’t too surprised.  Unfortunately I had just spent my last hundred pesos on dinner.  I opened my wallet and showed him that it was empty.  “No money,” I said apologetically, hoping that he wouldn’t ask for my camera or my watch.

I suppose he noticed the ATM card in my wallet, because he pointed at it and asked “Banamex?”

“Yes, Banamex” I said, assuming he was asking if my card worked in the Banamex ATMs.  What he didn’t know was that the card in my wallet was from my bank account in high school, which I hadn’t used in three years.  The last time I had received a statement for that account, my balance was fifteen dollars.

“There is Banamex adyacente al Fat Tuesday’s,” the officer told me pointing down the street in the direction of the dance club.  “You go Banamex, get money.   In cinco minutos, come here, bring 300 pesos.”

“OK,” I said.  “Five minutes, 300 pesos.  I got it.”

The police officer watched me from under the trees as I walked nervously toward the bright lights of the dance club.  I reached the small booth containing the ATM, opened the door, and stepped inside.  My mind was racing as I inserted my card into the machine, knowing full well that there was no way I could produce 300 pesos.  In the reflections of the glass walls of the booth I could still see the policeman, watching me from the distant shadows.  After a minute I pressed the cancel button and pretended to retrieve some money from the dispenser slot.  Nonchalantly, I opened the door and stepped outside.  Then I turned and ran as fast as I could.

I’m not sure if the policeman chased me, because I never looked back.  I ran like a scared rabbit, past drunk partygoers and taxi drivers who gave me strange looks, around palm trees, through bushes, and over flowerbeds.  I ran and ran, and when I came to a fence I vaulted it and continued running.  I wasn’t until I was deep beneath the shadows of the trees on a golf course that I stopped to catch my breath.

“Oh great,” I thought to myself, “now I’m probably trespassing again.”

I climbed another fence and found myself back on the main road.  I walked back to our hotel at a brisk pace, and my heart skipped a beat when a police car zoomed by with its brights flashing.  Finally I arrived at the hotel, my hair disheveled, my clothes covered in dirt, and with several bleeding cuts that I had acquired while going over the fence.  I slumped down in a chair and took a deep breath.  Just then, Scott ran into my room.

“Come quickly!” he shouted.  “Dave is hurt!”

I followed Scott down the steps and out the front door of the hotel.  “He’s at the Ameri-Med,” Scott explained as we ran toward the hospital a few buildings down from our hotel.

The parking lot outside the Ameri-Med hospital looked like a crime scene.  There were puddles of blood everywhere, a large one where Dave had emerged from a taxicab and streaked bloody footprints leading up to the door of the hotel.

“Dave was walking barefoot through the grass,” Scott explained, “and he must have stepped on a broken bottle.  Blood was gushing from his foot at an unbelievable rate.  I swear it was like a sprinkler.”

“Did you tie it off?”  I asked.

The entrance to the Ameri-Med hospital.

“Yeah,” Scott said, “we tied a shirt around his ankle as tightly as I could.  Finally I got a taxi to stop and pick us up.  The cabbie streaked down the street at 90 miles an hour — he must have run every red light.  But by the time the cab got here, the bottom of the cab had an inch and a half of blood in it.   What you see in this parking lot happened ten minutes after he was first cut.”

“Holy shit, he must have hit an artery.  The guy probably lost two pints of blood by now.  Is he still conscious?”

“Yeah!  That’s the remarkable part.  He seemed to be holding up just fine.”

We entered the hospital and waited tensely until they told us we could see Dave.   He was lying in bed with his foot elevated and tightly bound to stop the bleeding. “Hi guys,” he said, and smiled weakly.  “I feel a little dizzy.   I guess my foot is going to need some suturing.  And I may need a blood transfusion.  But I’m going to be OK.  The nurse asked me if I wanted some shots of tequila to kill the pain, but I think she was joking.”

Somewhat reassured, we stepped out to the hospital waiting room and began chatting with the people there to pass the time.  One poor college student had been walking along the street when some men had driven by and shot him in the arm with a metal dart.  He showed us the mark on his arm where the dart had been removed.  Then he showed us the dart; it was a skinny cylinder of metal about five inches long, a little thicker than a mechanical pencil lead.  “One of the guys at the hospital told me that this has been happening a lot lately,” he said.   “They’ve had four patients with dart wounds in the last few weeks.  Some of the darts are even longer than mine.  I’m lucky it hit me in the arm, and not the chest or the head.  But the doctors say they still have to run some lab tests, in case the dart was infected with AIDS.”

Cancun was rapidly losing its sense of glamour.  We were told that Dave would be spending the night at the hospital, so after bringing him some drinks and snacks we began walking back to the hotel.  On the way, we stopped to watch as a drunk college student staggered out a bar and was approached by several taxi drivers proffering rides.  He waved them off, calling them by a nasty racial slur.  Almost instantly, the taxi drivers swarmed around him and began punching him in the face and stomach.  Several police officers stood by, watching with idle curiosity.  They made no effort to quell the violence.

I wasn’t surprised at the sudden ferocity of the taxi drivers, because for the past several days I had noticed that the majority of the locals treated American tourists with a thinly veiled contempt.  They were polite when they had to be, often even cloyingly obsequious; after all, Cancun’s economy is built on tourism and the American dollar.  But underneath the mock servility I could sense a brooding resentment that was welling up and waiting to burst to the surface.  Not that I blamed the locals for their resentment — I was astounded at the rudeness of most the tourists, who were obnoxious, ignorant, and boorish, and seemed to lack any sense of respect for Mexican customs, language, or culture.

Ooh, “McPatatas”.  How exotic.

Perhaps now you see why I felt that the Mayan name for Cancun was so apt.  I would describe Cancun as an idyllic tropical paradise hopelessly besmirched by American greed, lust, and consumerism.  The once beautiful beaches are littered with shattered bottles of Dos Equis and the coral reefs are strewn with sweat socks and discarded candy wrappers.  In startling contrast to the poverty of downtown Cancun, the streets along the lagoon are lined with glitzy clubs and high-priced shopping malls, where American teenagers visit a transplanted American city with looser liquor laws, eating dinners at McDonalds and shopping at the Gap.  Spring break in Cancun is vaguely surreal, a trip to another world that’s a mixture of excitement and depression and entertainment and nudity and friends and filth and pounding techno music, all flavored with tequila and smelling faintly of stale vomit.  In the next few days I’ll continue to document my spring break — and don’t worry, I’ll try to avoid another jeremiad.

Zero G Flight

Posted March 7, 2000 at 5:36 pm | 1 Comment

The morning briefing.  That cardboard box
on the table is full of airsickness bags.

After a week of preparation, today we finally made our flight on the KC-135.  After signing a release form, we were issued a flight suit and given a capsule of “Scop-Dex”, an anti-nausea drug made of scopolamine and Dexedrine.
Although we had planned out what tasks we would be performing at the apex of each of the 35 parabolas, we hadn’t anticipated how difficult it was to perform the simplest of tasks in zero gravity.  Twenty-five seconds is shorter than you might think, particularly when you’re completely disoriented.  Four parabolas had gone by before we had even succeeded in opening our mission toolkit.

After the confusion of the first dozen
parabolas, I was able to let loose
a little and flip around.

If you’d like to get an idea of what it’s like to float around in zero gravity, you can check out some of our in-flight videos.  There’s one of Kate attempting to describe our project, and another one of me.  Both of us sound fairly muddled; it was awfully difficult to concentrate with all the plastic bags and earplugs floating around the cabin.And while you’re downloading large video clips, you might be interested in this one, which shows an exterior view of the plane’s trajectory.
Before the flight, we decided to adopt a “puke-and-rally” strategy, should it prove necessary.  In this photo, I’m pretending to be “Puke” and Kate is pretending to be “Rally”.

The cockpit of the KC-135 was crazy-cool. 

As it turned out, however, we didn’t need to put our strategy into action.  We were among the seven people on the flight that didn’t get sick.  The other nine didn’t fare as well.  Our flight team was so well-behaved that at the end they let me sit up front with the pilots.

I’m glad that there were NASA reporters along to document our flight, because photography is another thing that suddenly becomes very difficult in zero G.  Most of my pictures turned out like the one at right.

At least this photo gives you an idea
of the floating and flailing going on.

We actually snuck in the back door of the museum, so we had to
temporarily hide in this alien display until the security guard passed by.

After a successful flight, we hit Pe-Te’s Cajun Barbecue House for some red beans and rice.  Then we closed out our visit to Houston with a celebratory trip to the space museum to stock up on space ice cream and freeze-dried french-fries.  We even bought an inflatable astronaut for the lab, and wrote “Monzy” on his  nametag.

Honestly, though, don’t think I’m cut out for a career as an astronaut.  Although I loved working on our project and had a fantastic time visiting the Johnson Space Center, I think I’ll leave the space flights to Kate.  Maybe instead I can be one of those guys in the control room who figures out what to do when she says “Houston, we have a problem.”

Hypobaric Chamber

Posted March 5, 2000 at 5:35 pm | 1 Comment
nbloutside.jpg (15154 bytes) Today we visited the Sonny Carter Training Facility to continue the preparation for our zero gravity flight.  This facility houses the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), designed to prepare astronauts for extravehicular activity in a weightless environment. Neutral buoyancy has been used for many years to simulate reduced gravity for the extended duration of time needed to practice on-orbit procedures and test new hardware devices.
The centerpiece of the NBL is a 62-million-gallon, 102- by 202- by 40-foot pool.   While waiting for our training session to begin, we began speculating how long it would take to drink the NBL pool were it to be filled with beer.  We calculated that if there were a beer party at the NBL, every man, woman, and child in Houston would have to drink twelve beers in order to finish off the entire pool. monzychamber.jpg (22817 bytes)
chamberready.jpg (26264 bytes) Our training wasn’t in the pool, however; we were going to be placed in a hypobaric chamber.  A hypobaric chamber is really nothing more than an airtight, cylindrical metal room fitted with a vaccum pump.  You go in, and the air is gradually sucked out, simulating the low-pressure conditions of high altitude.  Chamber runs are used to teach astronauts and Air Force pilots what to expect when there is a loss of cabin pressure.
After being fitted with oxygen masks, we were escorted to the chamber, where we were going to “climb” to the pressure equivalent of 15,000 feet.  Once we reached this altitude, we were asked to remove our masks.  The low partial pressure of oxygen in the chamber prevents sufficient oxygen from getting to your brain, resulting in a condition known as hypoxia.  The symptoms of hypoxia vary between individuals: some experience a euphoria akin to drunkenness, while others simply feel dizzy, but nearly everyone’s mental capacities are severely reduced. chamber.jpg (25264 bytes)
connect.gif (9609 bytes) We were given a worksheet of simple problems to complete while experiencing hypoxia.   As the minutes passed and we became more and more oxygen-deprived, the problems grew more and more difficult.  I was unable to complete this connect-the-dots game, arriving only at dot number 17 after four minutes.  I remember strugging to think in a concentrated fashion about which dot to connect next.
crazydude.jpg (25189 bytes)

hypoxia.gif (3988 bytes)

We were also asked to note the hypoxia symptoms that we experienced.  The guy sitting next to Kate, a student from Florida State University, was so loudly euphoric that one of the symptoms Kate listed on her worksheet after four minutes was “The guy next to me won’t shut up!”

Perhaps the funniest part of the chamber run occurs on the way up.  As the air pressure decreases, gases in the body expand (that’s Boyle’s Law, for anyone who’s taken introductory chemistry), and the result is a symphony of burping and flatulence throughout the chamber.  It’s a good thing we were wearing oxygen masks that covered our noses.As we drove home, Peter remarked that placing him in the hypobaric chamber was somewhat redundant.  “So we go into this chamber,” he said, “and we fart a lot, and we do poorly on a test.  That’s pretty much what I tend to do at sea level.” strangle.jpg (17971 bytes)

Mardi Gras

Posted March 3, 2000 at 5:35 pm | No Comments
On Friday morning we watched a crew of NASA flight examiners run a Test Readiness Review on the visiting team from UC San Diego. After giving their experiment a quick glance, one of the examiners abruptly stated “You’re not going to fly.” This immediate rejection was later rescinded after some modifications were made to the experiment, but nevertheless we were wary as the time of our TRR approached.

The UCSD guys, hard at work in Houston.
We hung out with them sometimes.

I demonstrate our training system to the flight examiners.

We were a little surprised when the somewhat stodgy group of flight examiners approached us to begin the TRR and said “Hey, aren’t you the guys with virtual reality? That looks so cool! Can I try it?”The review went off without a hitch.

Since we didn’t have anything else to do until the following week, we decided that a little road trip was in order. New Orleans is only six hours from Houston, and it just so happened that the city was right in the midst of Mardi Gras. We loaded up the car with Pringles and Gatorade and piled in for the drive to Louisiana.

The bustle of a crowded bar on Bourbon Street.

When I show people the pictures that I took at Mardi Gras, they often complain that the camera wasn’t well-focused. This may be true, but in a strange way I feel as if my hazy photographs captured the spirit of the event better than a sharper image could. Strolling around Mardi Gras was like being thrust into the middle of a blurry, spinning photograph; the collection of sights, sounds, and smells is overwhelming to the senses, particularly after drinking a few Frozen Hurricanes.
When we reached Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, the streets were so densely packed with screaming partygoers that it took us two hours to walk only three blocks, wading through an ankle-deep sea of dirty paper plates and discarded beer cans. Every so often the crowd would push and shove to get a better view of the latest spectacle on a nearby balcony.

Another fine French Quarter establishment.

The drive back was a quiet one. I think that we were all mulling over the the insanity of Mardi Gras. I decided that I felt drained but distinctly satisfied. I like to look at life as a collection of new experiences, and even though Mardi Gras wasn’t my type of scene, I’m glad that I had a chance to experience it once.

Physiological Training

Posted March 2, 2000 at 5:33 pm | No Comments

This morning we awoke bright and early to begin our physiological training, arriving at Space Center Houston just in time for the morning roll call.  After answering the call for Carnegie Mellon University with a rousing “WHAZZZZUUUUUP!” we boarded the transport to Johnson Space Center, where we would be taking a series of classes on high altitude flight.  To document the events of the day, I decided that I would take a series of vignettes of the various items passing through my and Peter’s hands.  For example, here are pictures of the books that Peter and I read in the car on the way to Space Center Houston:

My morning reading.

Peter’s morning reading.

Mike Fox, NASA instructor, discusses the vestibular system.

In the next few hours, we were given a series of lectures by various NASA personnel, on topics ranging from decompression sickness to the balance mechanisms in the inner ear.  We were given a thick packet of course materials, the pages of which we were expected to mark with notes.

A page from my notes.

The corresponding page from Peter’s notes.

Peter and Kate take a little nap.

I was passing the Penguins up and down our row, but it wasn’t long before interest started to wane and sleepiness took hold.  Luckily we were able to break for lunch at noon to eat some sandwiches and recaffeinate before our flight readiness exam.

Here’s a look at our exams:

My completed exam.
Peter’s exam.

Finally, after the course had ended and we were awarded training certificates, we were asked to fill out course evaluation forms.

My course evaluation form.
Peter’s course evaluation form.

Hoochies in Space

Posted March 1, 2000 at 5:32 pm | No Comments

Houston, we have a problem: only five of our six
boxes were waiting at our table when we arrived.

We rolled into the Ellington Field Hangar this morning to set up our equipment.  Much to our dismay, we found that only five of the six boxes we had shipped had arrived at the hangar.  This was particularly unfortunate given that our flight readiness review was in approximately 30 hours, and the missing box contained our Mission Toolkit.

We called the United Parcel Service phone hotline, and gave the phone representative our tracking numbers.  He informed us that the location of the package was “presently unavailable”.

“Unavailable,” Randy said to the representative.  “I see.”

“Yes,” said the representative.  “It’s probably in a warehouse somewhere,” he continued helpfully.

“Not to blow things out of proportion,” returned Randy, “but the equipment in that box is scheduled to be on a NASA flight.”

We left Randy on the phone to work his way up the UPS chain of command while we scampered off to Home Depot to buy parts, having resigned ourselves to rebuilding the Mission Toolkit from scratch.

After a successful shopping trip, we returned and frantically set upon the task at hand.  Two hours and several rolls of duct tape later, we had constructed a brand new mission toolkit.”You know,” Emmer remarked, “I think this might be better than our original one.”

“It has more Velcro, anyhow,” I said.  “NASA people seem to love Velcro almost as much as they love acronyms.”

The hangar at Ellington Field is full of sophisticated
airplanes undergoing maintenance work.

This Rube Goldberg apparatus from Texas A&M University has
something to do with tactical attitude recovery through haptics.

We rewarded ourselves for a job well done by strolling around the hangar to examine the projects from other universities.  Compared to some of the elaborate and intricate contraptions at the tables of the other schools, our Mission Toolkit was rather  embarrassingly simple.
It seemed that nearly every university had opted for some sort of clever acronym to describe their project.  We couldn’t stop laughing over the acronym that Wellesley had selected.”Suddenly, I’m not nearly as proud that our proposal was accepted,” Kate said after seeing this sign.

“Heh… Girls just wanna have fluids,” Peter chuckled.

The Brown University table was covered with equipment, but the Brown flight team was nowhere in sight.  Before we left the hangar, we decided that a little modification to their sign was in order.

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