A lot of people have questioned the usefulness of sending retiring Senator
John Glenn of Ohio on a recent flight of the Space Shuttle "Discovery"
. A lot more have suggested several other Senators they'd like to see put on the
Shuttle, but only for a one-way trip. Yet a third group seems to think that if
they were going to honor anyone, it should be somebody like Chuck Yeager, who's
one of America's great test pilots, but who got bumped from the original program
because he didn't have a college degree. Still others contend that they should
have sent Bernice Steadman, Jane Hart, or one of the other "Mercury
13," a group of female aviators who were considered for the space program
in its early days. Everyone seems to have some opinion on the matter.
We decided to get a different take on the subject, so we spoke to
"Bobby," one of the original chimpanzees used in early space
experiments prior to the original human-piloted space flights. Bobby currently
lives at the Happy Valley Primate Retirement Complex in St. Augustine, Florida.
After his experiences with NASA, Bobby took part in a series of experiments in
which primates, particularly chimps and gorillas, were taught human sign
language. Bobby was able to gave us a unique perspective on the recent events:
Q: Good morning, Bobby.
A: Bobby? Where have YOU been?! I haven't gone by that name in years.
Q: You haven't?
A: Of course not. That name was given to me by my oppressors. It's a
symbol of the years of bondage my species has gone through. I changed my name to
more accurately reflect my heritage.
Q: So, how would you like to be known?
A: GruntGrunt (Leaps in air, pounds chest twice, and shrieks)
Q: Um...I'm not sure how to write that down.
A: Well, most people just refer to me as "the Chimpanzee Formerly
Known as Bobby."
Q: Yes. Well. So, you've been following Senator Glenn's mission?
A: I've been watching it every day on TV.
Q: You get TV here?
A: Oh, yes. It's very nice. We have TV, shuffleboard, and on Wednesdays we
play Yahtzee. But you have to watch out for the orangutans. They cheat.
A: But back to the subject. Lovely man, Senator Glenn. Of course, he
wasn't a Senator when I met him. We just called him "Pinky."
A: Well, actually, we call all humans that. We don't mean any harm by it.
Hey, why do you guys do that, anyway?
Q: Do what?
A: Shave off all your body hair. Don't get me wrong, some of my best
friends are humans, but, well, it's a little disgusting.
Q: We don't shave off all our hair. We're born this way.
A: Go on.
Q: No, it's true. This is the way we are. We can't change.
A: That's ridiculous. I'll bet you could change if you really wanted to.
With a lot of prayer, a little therapy...
Q: I think we're getting off the subject here. What do you think of
Senator Glenn's mission?
A: Well, as usual, you humans are missing the point. His mission is to get
you interested again in the space program. And he's doing a great job.
Q: So you believe it's just public relations?
A: "Just" public relations? You people are driven by public
relations. You make all your decisions based on it. You wouldn't even be
thinking about the space program if they hadn't sent the old fellow up. Because
they did, you're in Florida interviewing an aging space monkey about it. I guess
all the other astronauts were taken.
A: Hey, Pinky, I may be a chimpanzee, but I'm not stupid.
Q: What do you say about the idea that they should put one of the women
who were originally considered for the Mercury program on this shuttle flight?
Senator Glenn opposed the idea when he was an astronaut.
Q: Yes. He told a Congressional Committee in 1962 that "Men go off
and fight the wars and fly the airplanes. That women are not in this field is
just a fact of our social order.''
A: Well, maybe he's evolved since then. You humans are supposed to be good at
that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go. Oprah's coming on. I just love the
new format, don't you?
At that point, Bobby wandered off, ending our interview with one of the
many unsung heroes of America's space program.
And yes, all the other astronauts HAD been taken.
© 1998 Jerry D. Rhoades, Jr.