This week I went to Houston for an article I'm writing about a NASA program that allows teams of college students conduct experiments under zero-gravity conditions, aboard the KC-135 "vomit comet" plane. While there, two moments stood out.
First, during a tour of the Johnson Space Center, we were given a talk about astronaut uniforms by a woman from NASA who designs them. She was explaining all this ultra high-tech material that goes into the suit, so as to protect humans from extremes in temperature, air pressure, radiation and so on. Someone asked her how astronauts go to the bathroom while in the suit, and she pulled out what appeared to be simply an adult sized pair of disposable diapers. Apparently NASA has another name for the apparatus, and they're sensitive about people calling them diapers. But it cracked me up to think of these heroes that millions of people idolize (not without reason, of course) floating in outer space, acting as the Magellans of our time, and having to poop their pants in a big 'ol pair of Huggies.
Second, while at a pre-flight meeting just before the students went aboard the KC-135 for their in-air, zero-gravity experience, they were warned by a NASA videographer that swearing on the trip was strictly forbidden. If any naughty words were uttered, the perpetrator would be erased from the video of their experience. Afterward I asked the videographer if these kids were really able to keep from swearing, considering the incredible and thrilling moment they were experiencing. (The trip supposedly makes the biggest roller coasters seem tame, because the plane achieves weightlessness without entering outer space by flying almost straight up and straight down in a bunch of parabolas.) The videographer told me that while most students were able to keep from swearing, the ones he had the most problems with were usually "females from prestigious universities". I love the reverse stereotype at work here, and would happily shake the hand of any such perpetrator.