The year was 1987 — long before my career as an internationally obscure writer had achieved liftoff — and the future spaceman was a fellow York (Maine) High School kid named Chris Cassidy.
Now, the chance to interview an astronaut doesn’t come along every day. And looking back, I gotta say, I kinda blew it.
Sure, I was only at York High School that day to cover a home football game against whoever (probably Marshwood) and Chris was there in his capacity as the Wildcats’ senior quarterback.
So afterward, I approached him for the usual sports-type interview with a couple of softball questions about football.
You might say, “Hey, there’s no way I could have known this kid would go on to a decorated military career as a Navy SEAL (heading to Afghanistan two weeks after 9/11, according to his NASA bio) and then literally launch himself into the stratosphere as a genuine astronaut.”
But there were tell-tale signs — the ramrod straight posture, the clear-eyed, straight-arrow demeanor, his singular focus on the mission of the team. Plus, he loved wearing a helmet. And the kid sure loved his Tang, couldn’t get enough of it.
OK, I’m only kidding about the Tang, but the rest is all true.
Also true is that not only has he been living up in the International Space Station since March, he also just helped rescue an Italian colleague when water began leaking into the man’s helmet during a spacewalk. (I hate it when that happens.)
Yes, the two were just an hour into a planned six-hour spacewalk to perform what has been described as “routine maintenance” (get your head around that if you can, “routine maintenance” while floating in a weightless environment 11 trillion miles from Earth).
Amazingly, such work could very possibly be considered routine by a man of Cmdr. Cassidy’s caliber.
I mean, this is a guy with two Bronze Stars, whose job takes him up into the heavens.
A guy who logged more than 200 hours underwater piloting “a two-man submersible SEAL Delivery Vehicle, which is launched and recovered from a host-ship submarine.”
A guy whose first mission into outer space four years ago this month involved delivering 12 tons of hardware and 1,225 pounds of water to the Space Station and working outside the “safety” of his spaceship for a total of 18 hours — a quick, 15-day jaunt that included 248 orbits around the Earth and some 6.5 million frequent-flyer miles.
I stand in awe of this gentleman’s accomplishments.
And if I could slap on a spacesuit and jump in a time machine back to that Southern Maine football field in 1987, I would have handled things a little differently. I wouldn’t want to freak him out by asking about his first Bronze Star (for leading a nine-day operation at the Zhawar Kili cave complex on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border) or his second one (for combat leadership in Afghanistan in 2004). But I think I would ask the self-effacing senior QB what plans he had for the future. Whether his obvious team-first attitude made him consider one day trading his Wildcats uniform for that of the United States of America.
Anyway, they say hindsight is 20/20. So let’s say for the purpose of discussion that foresight is 50/50.
As in, my imagination suggests there is at least a 50/50 chance that the following scenario will occur in which (spoiler alert!) 1988 York High grad Chris Cassidy saves the entire planet from annihilation.
The year is 2017. An asteroid is on collision course with Earth, hurtling toward our helpless planet at whatever the top speed is for runaway asteroids these days.
Our only hope is a brave, handsome astronaut who, like me, probably had advanced math with Mr. Furber and American History with Mr. Clark.
Our dashing protagonist dashes to one of the rockets sitting outside Mission Control in Houston, boots it up and blasts off — punching the coordinates he knows will propel directly into the asteroid’s path.
Seconds before the fiery crash — as the world below holds its breath — he yanks the ejector seat latch and whooshes clear as his rocket smashes the asteroid and saves humanity. Just to be safe, he busts up a few of the remaining big chunks using only his gloved fists before activating a retrorocket thingy that nudges him back toward the Earth’s atmosphere.
He calibrates his re-entry to splash down in the York River, where he is scooped up by a local lobster boat called the Kelpa. The next day, the first ticker-tape parade ever held in York Village is pure madness, witnessed around the world on satellite feed.
And if you say to me, “C’mon, that’s just your imagination running wild,” then I would say to you that York High astronaut Chris Cassidy’s remarkable true story suggests that the human imagination knows very few boundaries.
— John Breneman
(Portsmouth Herald: July 21, 2013)