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Open Letter to Commander Eileen Collins


Dear Commander Collins:

Congratulations on a superb flight on STS-114. You are my newest hero and I just have to tell you all the reasons why in this letter. I hope you understand.

First of all, you are the new meaning of "cool." You are only in space about 2 minutes and you start getting these off-putting messages. "Discovery, Houston (like who else would it be), we just looked at the video replay of the external tank during launch and something the size of a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast broke off and missed the orbiter's wing by about 12 nanometers." Your response: "Copy". My response would also have been a four letter word but not that one.

Then they hit you with another one. "Discovery, Houston (bad news seems to arrive from the same place.) We just looked at the underside of the orbiter and it looks like my 6-year old nephew after eating a bag of Oreos." "Copy" was all you said.

By now they could have stopped trying to faze you but that just wouldn't be in style. "Discovery, Houston, we noticed that the area underneath your window looks like an unmade bed. We've studied the situation and decided that it will probably be ripped to shreds during reentry and we think that's a good idea." My reply would have been "you wanna think that through one more time" but your reply was "Copy".

The meeting with the Space Station crew must have been exciting but more so for them than for you. I think you look great anyways. What must you have looked like to two guys who have only seen each other for 4 months?

Now I'm sure that those who know you better would not be the least bit surprised that you were cool through this entire flight. What's surprising is how well you handled the political equivalent of tile damage. I'm not referring to the chat you had with the president. That is probably part of his job description and it didn't interrupt anything except his 5 week vacation.

But things took a turn for the cursed when other politicians stepped to the mike. First we saw the woman who started out by saying "I just had a very nice conversation with your husband." I didn't take that out of context by one iota, that's what she said. Then to prove that her "Humorous" bone had been removed she said something about your husband having to buy the back-to-school items for the kids. Well for crying out loud! You mean Wal-Mart won't make house calls anymore?

Then you had to talk to Tom DeLay. Now my mother told me that if you can't say anything nice about someone then don't say anything at all. Of course, my mother also told me to watch out for loose women and I did a whole lot of watching without any finding. I was surprised that he was even in the Johnson Space Center. Doesn't he recall that Johnson was a liberal democrat? I would have thought a spontaneous exorcism would have taken place as soon as he stepped inside. After making his remarks you could have done what I would have done - hung up. But no, you were too cool for that. Instead you thanked him and proceeded to describe the view of the Earth. If it was your intent to educate him then you should have added that the Earth appears to be round.

Since NASA thumbs its nose at unlucky numbers, it decides to have you land on day 13 of the mission. But wait, the weather looks a bit "iffy". So first you hear "Discovery, Houston, we want to have you go around another orbit." Then "Discovery, (they stopped saying "Houston" around this time because they figure you recognized their voice) we want you to stay another day in space." You just said "Copy, meet you on page 3 dash 8". I was hoping for your sake that page 3-8 was the comics page. I kept thinking that if Wally Schirra was in space at this time he would have said "Houston you bunch of wussies! Why don't one of you strap on a pair and let me land this thing."

The next day was more of the same weather. Gee, clouds in Florida in August. Who would have thought? Did someone think the weather was binary: hurricane or sunshine? Finally, you get cleared to land in California. The emotional moment for me was when you said the runway was in sight. That's because we all knew that you would land that 100 ton brick glider as softly as a hang-glider into a lake full of jello.

As you came to a stop you took a moment to say some nice thank yous and then you went right back to work. "We'll meet you on page 5-7" you said which I hope is the sports page because the A's took over first place while you were gone. Houston? Not so good.


Paul Kohlmiller


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