| 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
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
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
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
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
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.