Have Space Suit, Will Urinate

SPD-143 space suit from the Apollo mission. Screencap from the NYT gallery, photo by Mark Avino, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Science fiction writer Walter Jon Williams, one of the O.C.’s (Original Cyberpunks) has a post on his blog tipping me off to this great article in the New York Times about the 300-item storage room at the Smithsonian that holds almost the museum’s entire collection of space suits.

The accompanying slide show features 18 images of suits throughout the American space program. These are the very suits that made history. Or, as Williams puts it, “Check out the very suit that Alan Shepherd pissed in!”

Williams’s reference, of course, is to the fact that first-American-in-space Alan B. Shepard, before his Freedom 7 launch, got delayed on the launch pad. He found he had to pee — but had no facilities to do so. The result was dramatized with LOLZ in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, based on a book by Tom Wolfe. He whizzed in his suit, which worked out just fine.

But as to the other awesome Shepard moment during Freedom 7 in The Right Stuff, it didn’t happen. At least, not precisely. Wikipedia, citing NASA flight director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris in Apollo 13, don’chaknow) never really said, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck up.” In his book Failure Is Not an Option, Kranz claims Shepard said, “Don’t fuck up, Shepard…” — which Shepard confirmed. The words are known at NASA as “Shepard’s Prayer,” but I’ve been saying the incorrect version for years.

Anyway, the NYT article says photos and X-rays in the Smithsonian collection will be part of a traveling exhibition next spring — by which I assume they mean 2012. The suits are too fragile to travel.

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