And sometimes, writing a book pays off. For a number of reasons, of course. Few authors, however, get the chance to experience “reduced-gravity” at NASA’s field station. Well played, Ms. Roach, well played. What a perk! One has to admire her utter commitment to the cause; she never stops reporting (just like any dedicated author)– even while floating in a fancy NASA engineered contraption, Roach’s notebook is never far behind, though sometimes just slightly out of reach.
In this short but fun chapter, Roach reveals numerous examples of NASA’s extremely protective cautionary (overbearing?) stance: warning signs for just about everything. The “blind corner, approach with caution” sign posted at a 90 degree corridor turn may seem a bit excessive, but it makes sense given the fact that the scientists are dealing with so many unknowns and uncontrollable variables, that they’d want to try to control everything else, even if they’re ordinary, mundane occurrences (such as getting water on the floor or tracking mud down a hall). As Roach says, “perhaps focusing on minor workplace dangers helps space agencies cope with the very major threats they deal with on every mission…Like war, Space is a formidable bogeyman that takes its victims no matter how carefully you what-if the situation.” (Roach, 100)
Do renegade astronauts or anti-authority rebels ever find work at the utterly rigid and controlling space agencies, or are their characters ultimately incompatible? How common is it to find a more anti-authority, less-structured individual at NASA? My coworker, Derek, notes (about the book’s 2nd chapter, where the Japanese examiner says those who never complain work the best): “the never-complainers need a few out-of-the-box thinkers like Richard Feynman, who got to the bottom of the Challenger disaster–the issue was the O rings.” Is out-of-the-box synonymous with anti-authority? Not necessarily. Out-of-the-box seems to connote a way of looking at the problem differently, of seeing the world in a newly creative or unusual way. Anti-authority/anti-establishment consists of challenging a particular system or set of rules; a fight against containment and subservience. Out-of-the-box thinkers can still sometimes work from inside a system or within a set of given rules, which seems to be in direct contradiction to the idea of an anti-authoritative stance. I’d agree with Derek that NASA (or any other community for that matter) needs out-of-the-box thinkers. We all do. Ms. Roach seems to be an out-of-the-box thinker, given her choice of research topics and her genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for the unusual. She also seems to find various points at which she might not be the most well-suited candidate for a job at NASA, which makes reading the book all the more fun.