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Dick Covey

The Dick Covey Incident
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I present this story as an example that not all astronaut encounters go well.  There is a time and a place for everything.  Sometime you find that it is not the right time or the right place.  This is an example  of the wrong time.

It was March 30th, 1990 and the morning after the Challenger Center Gala. Andy and I were stoked.  Mark and his family were going over to the Johnson Space Center for their special tour.  Andy and I weren’t invited on the tour, but if NASA happened to ask us to come along, we would not have turned it down.  Worst case Andy and I could look at the JSC exhibits.  There was always the possibility that we might encounter someone there by accident.

We met up with Mark and his family at JSC.  Astronaut Don McMonagle arrived to give them the Sheltons their tour.  We met Astronaut McMonagle, but he didn’t seem too interested in Andy and me.

That was Okay, we still had other possibilities. Andy and I had lunch in the Building 3 Cafeteria.  We plotted how we could meet another astronaut on this trip.

It would have been exciting to meet another moonwalker and we knew that Alan Bean lived in Houston. We decided that we should contact Mr. Bean by telephone.  Somehow we had come up with Bean’s phone number.  I told Andy that he would have to call this time.  After all I had called Charlie Duke to set up our meeting with him last year.

Andy called and indeed got through to Bean.  They were having a good conversation about Bean and his art.  As soon as Andy suggested the possibility of meeting Bean, he said that Bean’s defense shields went up.  That effectively terminated the conversation.

We noticed that Astronaut Dick Covey had come into the cafeteria with some people.  The people with Covey did not appear to be business related.  It looked more like friends or family.  We were buoyed up from being around Mark and seeing how smoothly he operated.  If Mark were there, he would figure out a way to meet Covey.  I tried to get Andy to do it but he warned me that he would just freeze up like he did when he met Alan Shepard.

I went over to Covey’s table but really did not have a good game plan.  I didn’t have a good ice breaker line.  I stumbled on my words and said something to the effect of “Excuse me, Mr. Covey, I don’t mean to interrupt but…”

Covey’s eyes became daggers.  He could have been gracious and said, “I’m sorry, I really don’t have time.”  Instead what he said twisted the knife in my gut.  Emphatically and in a condescending manner he retorted, “Well you are interrupting!!!”   I could have thrown up.  I apologized and retreated.

I was so embarrassed.  It was really a traumatic situation for a shy person such as me.  Andy was a witness to my demise.  He was right behind me, but luckily for him, he had not incurred Covey’s wrath.  I probably climbed over his back in beating my retreat from Covey.

So this was a bad day.  I accept full responsibility for the outcome of this encounter.  My timing in trying to meet Astronaut Covey was atrocious.  My social skill in trying to initiate a conversation was poor.  Still, it served to show that astronauts are people too.  Covey could have handled the situation differently and both of us could have come away without losing face.

I would go home and lick my wounds.  In time my battered ego would recover.  I would learn how to do better in those situations. Covey was the tenth astronaut for me to meet.  Over the years there would be hundreds more and all of those meetings would go better than number ten.


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UPDATED : February 20, 2007
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