venus and mars (the rocket science version)

“She was an attractive French Canadian in her forties named Julie Payette, who had flown one shuttle mission and would fly another in July 2009. She was dressed in blue NASA coveralls, her dark hair tied back in a ponytail. On the screens above us, in the briefing center, the space shuttle Discovery crouched, steaming, as the countdown progressed. Payette was too kind to laugh in my face when I asked her bout the silence of space, but she looked as if she wanted to.

“There is always noise in space,” she said. “When you don’t hear noise, it’s a problem, especially in a space suit. It means the interior ventilators are not working, not circulating air; the carbon dioxide [that humans breathe out] has a different density in zero gravity, it makes pockets around us.” She had intense brown eyes and a mouth that tried hard not to twist upward at my cluelessness. In order to sleep weightless, she continued, she had to find corners to wedge herself in, but “it’s hard to find comfortable places.” Her favorite nook was in the space-suit bay, jammed between two parked suits. “The helmets purr, ” she said, then repeated it happily, in French: “ils ronronnent.”

~from Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence, by George Michelsen Foy (Simon & Schuster, 2010)


Here’s the thing: were the author speaking with Neil Armstrong, would he have noted Armstrong’s hair colour and how he wore it; would the intensity of his eyes, or lack thereof have warranted even one line of ink? (Not to mention the shape and/or tendencies of Armstrong’s mouth to turn up at the corners.)

Granted, he may have asked about sleeping arrangements on the shuttle, but I’m not convinced he’d have asked Neil to repeat anything in French…

Furthermore, I wonder: if a woman had interviewed Payette [or Armsrong for that matter] would attractiveness, hair, mouth and eyes have figured in a story about the quality of sound and silence in space?

4 thoughts on “venus and mars (the rocket science version)

  1. “Payette was too kind to laugh in my face when I asked her about the silence of space, but she looked as if she wanted to.”

    Do you think his gender-slanted reportage was compensating (consciously or not) for a humility he may have felt at being so clueless about life in space?

    There is a quote that says: “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.” This comes from Gavin de Becker, a security specialist.

    Not that Michelsen saw Payette as a “romantic prospect”, but still might have felt uncomfortable in his ignorance and slanted his article toward her femininity to somehow even the score.

  2. Steve, this is interesting. Your take, as a chap, I mean. The perspectives are so different, and therefore valuable. It NEVER would have occurred to me that he was feeling inferior or ‘uncomfortable in his ignorance.’ Fascinating.

    The question remains though: why?

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