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I am writing a poem. It’s going to be about Planet Earth, the way it looks from space. It will be a monumental work of great importance.
Looking at that majestic sphere, I feel suddenly compelled to sing a line from a popular song. I belt it out in my deepest baritone, “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can doooooooo.” I look around to see if anybody knows that tune, but all I get are nasty glares. Then, they’re all back at their computer terminals. I thump the wine bottle on the side panel and say, “Nobody on this mission likes to party,” and then take another hit.
Campbell is staring at me, so I say, “WHAT!” and she looks away.

I am Jack Walsh, the first drunken astronaut in space. I wasn’t born a drunk. Things made me the way I am. All the pressure, the expectations, the hard work. But I did it, I got on board and now here I am writing my poem, alone with the stars.
That’s good, “alone with the stars.” I decide to put that in the poem somewhere. I click the end of my pen, but it won’t come out. The spring mechanism inside is broken, or else someone has sabotaged it. I click and click and the pen won’t work. Yet one more thing that’s against me. I curse and hurl the pen, but it just floats there in front of me mockingly.
Zverkov stands up and says, “That’s enough, I can’t take it anymore!” He starts to float in my direction, his face a mask of rage, but Yamada puts his hand on Zverkov’s chest and shakes his head. Zverkov goes back to his seat but the angry look remains.
I feel like singing some more.
“Ground control to Maaaa-ja Tom, commencing countdown engines ooooon.”

Here’s what it’s like during lift-off. First, you wait for an eternity. You’re strapped into this heavy suit. It feels like there’s an elephant on your back. Once you’re strapped in, there’s no getting back out again. You’re wearing a diaper and you’re soaked in your own urine. Underneath you is enough explosive material for another Hiroshima and Nagasaki both. There are mechanical noises and things whirring around in the cockpit, reminding you that it’s almost time to go. All you can do is think.
Then, the countdown starts. It seems like a year between each number. You can’t believe it’s really going down. Between 6 and 5 the engines start. Your bladder empties everything that’s left into your suit. The engines are roaring and shaking. It’s like a giant shaking you by the shoulders and it never lets up. As you get closer to 0, the numbers get even further apart. The whiskey roaring through your blood is all that keeps you from going completely insane. Then it starts going up.
Whenever I watched a lift-off on TV, I always pictured the rocket exploding just after it got off the ground. It made me so nervous, I almost couldn’t watch. But now, sitting inside the shuttle, I wasn’t afraid at all. I was praying for an explosion. Anything to keep me from shooting off into the vast cold darkness of space.

The bottle is almost dead. I still have two pints of bourbon and the rest of the crew’s champagne to keep me blotto until the mission is over. I don’t intend to sober up until I’m safe and sound on Earth.
I unstrap myself and begin to float. A few worried eyes leave their control panels. Maybe they think I am going for a space walk. No one tries to stop me.
If only you could float around like this on earth. I get across the shuttle to my bunk and find what I need. It’s a relief to see those little bottles there. On the label is a deer surrounded by trees and other earth things, and it reminds me of home.

If you’ve ever driven through Kansas, my home state, you’ll notice that every single town along the way, even the tiniest, is the home of some astronaut. It’s almost like a Kansas tradition. You either farm or you go into space. My childhood was all toy shuttles, moon walks on TV, science fiction comic books and dreams of leaving the Earth. It was all so fantastic then.
But, as I grew up, the thought of going out into space began to terrify me. What was once a childhood fancy now became a reality that was closing in on me. At my first zero gravity training, it hit me that I was actually going. But what could I do? I was the one who would put Higglesby, Kansas, on the map. I could never go back and face them if I decided not to go. So, I became more and more absorbed in my studies and tried not to think about the big day. The bottle helped, too.

They’re so busy with their measurements and calculations that they don’t see what’s right in front of them. I gaze at that giant blue orb, Mother Earth. My poem will have everything in it, the whole world, all those people there watching TV, going to work, fighting, screwing, looking at the stars.
I unscrew the lid of the bottle. Lopez is looking at me. “He’s got another one! Alright Walsh, hand it over.”
“Pry it from my cold dead hands, Lopez.” I take a good snort.
Erikson says to him, “Lopez, calm down. Just ignore him.”
“The problem with you, Lopez,” I say, “is that you can’t understand poetry and the true beauty of things. You’ve got the cold, sterile mind of a technician.”
“That’s it!” Now Lopez is slowly swimming toward me. I put down the bottle and try my best to brace myself against the wall. I roll back my sleeves, positioning myself so that my fists will be swinging by the time he gets here.

“You’re going to be hurting in the morning. But, there is no morning in space!”
That was all that was written in my notebook. The poem never quite got started.

After they decompress you, they debrief you. They took me to a special debriefing, just for me. They weren’t happy. They said, “Let’s keep quiet about all this. The space program doesn’t need the bad PR.” I said, “Deal.”
When the others went to the White House to shake hands with the president, I wasn’t invited.

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