Reporter’s Notebook: The true lessons of space exploration

In our Reporter’s Notebook, John Dickerson takes a look to the stars for a change of perspective. He says that in a moment of near-disaster we see how preparedness and partnership help to find the calm in the most demanding situations.   

How was your work week? Did you get an irritating email? Did your soul wither on a conference call? 

Nick Hague had a tough day on the job recently. He was on his way to work when suddenly he found himself zooming towards the planet at twice the speed of sound and seven times the force of gravity. He was at the pointy end of a rocket headed to the International Space Station when it malfunctioned. 

For the weary business traveler, mechanical difficulties mean we have to go see the gate agent. Hague had to check the valves, orientation, and talk to rescue crews on the ground all while spinning like a Vitamix. Hague and his Russian co-pilot, Alexey Ovchinin, knew what to do because they’d been practicing emergencies for two years — the hard, diligent, non-flashy work that prepared them when something went wrong.

They spoke in Russian, as they had in training. Americans now ride to space on Russian rockets. This would seem like science fiction to an American of 50 years ago when the space race was a proxy for which country could blow up the other faster. But this time the Russian technology on the Soyuz rocket had saved an American life. And that American, after he touched down, shook the hand of the human next to him, and the two joked about how short the flight had been.

Training can give you grace under pressure, but I don’t know where Hague got his equanimity. He crashed, called his wife, left her a voicemail, told her he was OK. Then later he told reporters, “Sometimes you don’t get a vote. This time we’ll roll with the punches.”

Space exploration is not simply a discovery of things we don’t know. It can reveal things we know but may have forgotten: the beauty of cool-headedness, the value of preparation, our common humanity, and the inspiration that can be found in defeat.

The right stuff.

While the rocket may have crashed, Hague and Ovchinin still gave us all something to shoot for.

Read other Reporter’s Notebooks: 

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Categories: Technology

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