Astronomical Flatulence


The space shuttle was a remarkably complicated machine.
Unsplash photo by Terence Burke.

The space shuttle was 4.48 million pounds of unfiltered awesome. This 122-foot hybrid space plane could boost more than 60,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. Sporting an aggregate thrust of 7.1 million pounds at liftoff, this mechanical marvel was, at the time of its introduction, the most complex contrivance ever built by man. I would assert that it was perhaps 3% as complicated as the human female, but it was nonetheless quite the rarefied piece of work.

My buddy Bob and I shared a fairly arboreal upbringing. Like me, Bob was a product of the Mississippi Delta. I endured mechanical engineering school with him back in the 1980’s. That guy was brilliant and had remarkably refined wit.

I headed off for the Army after graduation. Bob stuck around to get a master’s degree in materials science. After successfully defending his thesis, Bob took a job with Lockheed Martin and moved to Cape Canaveral to work on the space shuttle. Lots of folks talk about being a rocket scientist. Bob actually did something about it.

his gentleman came from Mississippi. Without him we’d all likely still
be slow dancing to Glen Miller tunes. You’re welcome for that.

Yes, We’re a Bit Sensitive…

A point of personal privilege concerning Mississippi — after living all over the world, I invested quite a lot of effort in getting back here.

To the tolerant, enlightened population of both esteemed coasts, Mississippi is the nation’s dimwitted inbred third cousin. Geopolitically, we are the family member who is forever getting locked away in the basement when company comes over. Much of the nation views us as a bit of an embarrassment. To the elites we are politically, culturally, and intellectually irrelevant. Nothing good could come out of such an unenlightened backwater dump.

Well, the world does have us to thank for Blue Suede Shoes, The Sound and the Fury, FedEx, Darth Vader’s dulcet baritone, and Kermit the Frog. Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, and Jim Henson were well-known favorite sons. Britney Spears, Oprah Winfrey, and Faith Hill ably represent the fairer sex. Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, and at least a couple of Mannings were pretty decent football players. Ever heard of anybody having a heart or lung transplant? Dr. James Hardy performed the first ones in the early 1960’s at the medical school I attended in Jackson.

To my friends in such rarefied locales as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, I would like to offer a humble entreaty. Don’t presume that folks are dumber than are you simply because they didn’t grow up in some big ghastly city.

My alma mater of Ole Miss has produced 32 Rhodes Scholars. By comparison, Cornell has had 31, Georgetown 25, Johns Hopkins 21, and Rice 12. Georgia Tech and NYU made six apiece. Get over yourselves. Now, back to the space shuttle.

You Can Take the Boys Out of Second
Grade, But You’ll Never Take the Second
Grade Out of the Boys…

One fine day Bob and two compatriots were called upon to troubleshoot something onboard the space shuttle Atlantis. I have myself never darkened the door of a space shuttle. However, I’m told there are crawlspaces aplenty. Bob was in the lead traversing some tight space with his buddies close behind when disaster struck. With little preamble he proceeded to pass gas with exceptional vigor.

We act like farting is this horrible unforgivable thing. Everybody farts, even cheerleaders, movie stars, pastors, politicians, and supermodels. Trust me, I’m a doctor. We’re all honestly pretty nasty on the inside.

The other two engineers responded predictably. Taking a face full of flatulence under any circumstance is decidedly unpleasant. The same exercise while crammed into a tiny crawlspace all the more so. They coughed and moaned in a manner that bordered upon unseemly. They vehemently castigated Bob for his synergistic deficits in couth, self-control, and breeding. For his part, Bob later related that he found the whole sordid affair surprisingly affirming.

In his own words, “There I was, an unwashed redneck from Mississippi, and I just farted in the space shuttle. I’ve known a lot of smart people, and I’ve yet to meet anybody else who could reliably claim that they had ever farted in the space shuttle.”

Bob’s logic was indeed unassailable. If ever there was need for a metric to determine one’s degree of academic and intellectual success, I should think that designing and servicing spacecraft would be right up there at the top. Stupid people simply need not apply. As an only marginally-reconstructed unwashed redneck myself, I proudly claim kinship with my buddy Bob. The fact that his accomplishment also involved copious intestinal gas just seems to somehow lend an odor of irony to the assessment.

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