Thursday, October 18, 2012

One Giant Leap for Man...

None of my Facebook loved ones, friends, family, acquaintances or enemies (whom someone once said should be kept close to one) are having birthdays that Facebook knows about today.

Has time stopped, then? How is this 24-hour period different from all others?

Can we ascribe this anomaly to an outside mitigating event?

For instance, is this connected to a crazy Austrian named Felix (whom many thought was Australian) climbing into a spacesuit, floating up 24-plus miles, and falling back to earth? Courtesy of an energy drink?

He broke the sound barrier on the way down. Does anyone know if his sounds have caught up to him?  What's Austrian for "AAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!"? What if he said it in Australian?

During the first part of the descent, he went into an uncontrolled spin somewhere around the 650 mph mark. If he hadn't corrected it, he would have spun faster and faster, until his blood started leaving his body through his eyeballs. Our camera technology is good enough now that we--and anyone with an Internet connection--could watch this spinning Austrian all the way down. We actually saw a grainy image of his body spinning,

and then recovering, with a smooth deployment of his parachute. (i.e. no blood-though-the-eyeballs)

Reminded me of the opening sequence of the Six Million Dollar Man.

 Colonel Steve (not Austrian, or Australian, but Austinian) also hitched a ride to the stratosphere and fell back to earth, in this crazy-ass thing:

It's an M2-F2 real test craft, towed upstairs by a B-52 and designed to feel out how a "lifting body," like a rocket ship might also re-enter/fall to earth. Pretty freakin' fast, as they found out.

And one time--in real life--uncontrollably. "She's breaking up, she's breaking up!" really did happen, on  May 10, 1967, the M2-F2's 16th flight.

Test pilots, both fictional and historical, are tough M2-F2s themselves. The gentleman in the above shot, Lt. Bruce Peterson, who went off course after correcting a nasty "Dutch Roll" and hit the desert floor at 250 mph (about a half-second before his gear had a chance to lock) didn't exactly walk away from it:

But after several surgeries, he went back to work for NASA, albeit flying less dangerous missions. He lost his right eye not from the crash itself, but due to a hospital-borne infection.

But let's "face" it, eyepatches, like test pilots, are the stuff of ultimate badassery in both fact and fiction. Just ask anyone who's ever crossed Snake Plissken,  Rooster Cogburn or Moshe Dyan. Indeed, and to his apparent chagrin, Bruce Peterson's story was the inspiration for "The Six Million Dollar Man." Colonel Austin lost his right eye, right arm and both legs, but, as anyone of a certain age, like any 43-year-old Austral-Asian extreme skydiver knows, "...we can rebuild him!"

I've written in these pages before about my fascination with Steve Austin, astronauts and space exploration. I had the Steve doll and the ship that converted into a bionic operating bed, so that I could again and again re-enact saving someone from horrendous injuries.

Fortunately for Felix, no one had to pump Red Bull into his veins in an attempt to bring him back from the abyss. He landed safely -- on his feet even -- after hitting some 800 mph on the way down. Oddly, he had no sensation of falling that fast, nor of any sonic boom when he passed the sound barrier. Turns out he was too busy keeping his blood inside his eyeballs.

That's all for a rambling post today--all in all, just another day in the life.

Thanks for reading, and please remember that just because it's not any of my friends' known birthdays today, it doesn't mean it's not a great time to call your Mom or your Dad or your dog, or to turn to your co-worker, or the guy starching your shirts or sorting your recyclables and tell them, "Hey -- I'm really glad your blood's all still behind your eyeballs!"