Thursday, July 14, 2005

Do We Know Space Shuttle's Blue Book Value?

This past week I was getting the disconcerting feeling that the Space Shuttle Discovery has a lot in common with our Ford E-150 Econoline full-sized van. Granted, our van is a 1996, so merely nine years old, compared with Discovery, which is a 1984 model. Like cars, everyone knows you can get a great deal on last year's models parked at Cape Canaveral's Used Shuttle Lot. The minute you fly one off the launch pad it starts depreciating like crazy. There are a number of eerie similarities between the shuttle and our van. For one thing they are both gleaming white as a protection against the baking Florida sun. Second, neither of the vehicles gets great gas mileage, although Discovery fares a little better once it gets into orbit and you can hit "cruise." Third, and most disturbingly, they both have pieces that fall off at inopportune moments. And just like at our house, it's NEVER anyone's fault! (And how much do you want to bet they have Mystery Stains on their aeronautical upholstery?) Yup, less than 24 hours before launch a protective cover fell from the top of the shuttle and bounced off a heat shield. A NASA spokesperson arrived at the newsconference, and with a straight face, told the nation, "It just fell off." Well that inspires all kinds of confidence considering that Columbia broke up into balls of flame in the atmosphere due to a hole in the heat shield. One space expert said the shuttle could not sustain damage as big as a human thumbnail without jeapordizing the mission. True, there aren't a lot of human fingernails for the shuttle to encounter during liftoff (hopefully most of them are tucked safely inside, clutching an important control or perhaps twiddling), but what about other miscellaneous hazards? Like birds! Birds are stupid enough to bounce off your living room window repeatedly. There is no reason to think they will see the space shuttle and make a mental note to stay out of its path. As an aside, I think the protective cover that "fell off" the shuttle is actuallyPart # USA-BPS, or in layman's terms, Bird Poop Shield. NASA folks hate using potty language on TV. They come up with part numbers and technical terms to avoid this. Another similarity between The Space Shuttle Discovery and The Ford Van Panara is that none of its occupants want to make a fiery re-entrance into the (CIRCLE ONE) a) Garage b) the Atmosphere c) Restroom. Both the shuttle and our van are equipped with sophisticated devices to ensure sanitary disposal of human waste products. The astronauts of course have their state-of-the-art pee bottles. We, on the other hand, have thoroughly tested hygienic wipes, a compact "potty seat," and a virtually limitless supply of plastic grocery bags. (Note: The 3-year-old is fully potty trained -- it happened by magic one evening when we got distracted by the Runaway Bride's shoplifting woes -- but like astronauts you have to be prepared for emergencies.) Discovery has a technologically advanced guidance system. We have several dog-eared maps with rips in the creases. The shuttle has a sophisticated rescue plan. We have Triple A Plus. One notable difference between our vehicles is that the van is made of something heavy. I'm thinking it's probably steel, or maybe even lead. Discovery, for all its size, is composed of some incredibly lightweight materials. That piece that, ahem, we keep wanting to remind ourselves, "just fell off?" It weighed only two pounds! It is important to use light materials so that Discovery can achieve liftoff in spite of its heavy fuel load. So these days they make the shuttles out of styrofoam, plastic wrap, toothpicks and aluminum foil. (Sort of like our old science projects) In the interest of keeping weight to a minimum, the male portion of the crew allegedly voted to get rid of the brainy chick and replace her with Lindsay Lohan. However the brainy chick is the commander, so she commanded them to shut up. We're really overdue to replace our van. Maybe we'll head over to Cape Canaveral one of these days and start kicking some tires.

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