NASA has just announced that it will choose a journalist to fly into orbit on a space shuttle flight next fall. The passenger will be selected from thousands of journalists by the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Education.
Minimum requirements are that the candidate be a citizen of the United States, have five years of journalistic experience and be working at the time.
The applicant must pass a physical examination and be able to demonstrate an ability to communicate to mass audiences in the broadcast and print media.
I'm aware of what you're thinking: I would be the perfect person to take the flight! But before you nominate me I have to warn you I have no interest in going into space.
Sure, I know your argument. I am probably in better physical shape than any journalist in the country, and could handle weightlessness more easily than most. And there is probably no question in your mind that I could do a better reporting job. So why won't I fly? The main reason is I have to think of myself before my country.
This is the downside to the shuttle flight. They say I would have to give up four months of my life to prepare for the three- or four-day NASA flight. Since I've already had intensive training flying the Eastern Shuttle to New York I don't see why I need more.
The next thing that bothers me is that the candidate has to promise not to violate the privacy of his fellow astronauts. This makes no sense. If you can't violate someone's privacy, you have no right to call yourself a journalist. Space, for all its grandeur, is still the story of human beings holed up in an aluminum cigar, standing on their heads, hurtling around the globe while TV records them waving to the camera.
I have other reasons for turning down the flight. One is that I will be required to pool all the information I gather with every other reporter on the ground.
Why should I risk my life so everyone else can get my story? Pooling with other reporters is unfair because the only reason for a journalist to go into space is to make his colleagues look stupid when he returns.
The idea of NASA giving a journalist a free trip in a shuttle could present a conflict of interest. Let us say, for argument's sake, the food is lousy, the crew is fooling around and the much-touted walk in space doesn't live up to the advertising. How can you report freely what really goes on behind closed doors on a shuttle when NASA is picking up the tab?
The final thing that bugs me about the offer is that we journalists were NASA's fourth choice -- after Sen. Jake Garn, a Saudi Arabian prince and a schoolteacher named Christa McAuliffe. Sen. Garn has milked everything he saw, as has the prince, and McAuliffe, who goes up next, isn't planning to keep what she sees a secret either. By the time a journalist is launched there won't be one new thing in space left to see.
I have only given a few reasons why I don't want to go up in the shuttle. I'm not surprised that when you first read the story of NASA offering to shoot a professional communicator into the sky my name immediately came to mind. And I hope I haven't disappointed any readers by withdrawing from the competition.
Some of you, in your enthusiasm, may have already submitted my name. If so, please write to the NASA Journalist in Space Project, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C., and tell them to take me out of consideration. I don't want the NASA people to select me and then find out, to their embarrassment, I'm the only member of the media who doesn't want to go.