Failure to Launch
Your May story on Lisa Nowak and NASA was disappointing to say the least, not only because you linked her lurid story to an otherwise august organization but mostly because of the assumptive errors made by S. C. Gwynne [“Lust in Space”]. Here are a few:
You write, “For more than a decade she was part of that cold-blooded, nerveless band of overachievers …” This statement comes out of, if you excuse the pun, thin air. In my experience, those in the astronaut program are simply people with the right training and mental attitude to do specialized and oftentimes high-profile work. While the disposition of Captain Nowak’s case will be worked out in the justice system, it’s both unfair and incorrect to characterize those in the program as “cold-blooded” and “nerveless” just to establish a dramatic background.
“The shuttle is, in actuality, a horrifically fragile and pathologically balky patchwork of far-flung technologies, many of which are a generation old.” Old systems do not mean bad systems; new systems do not necessarily mean better systems. And of course, newer systems would mean more money, an obvious problem for your writer. So which is it?
“The reason [that NASA was rocked to its foundation by Nowak’s arrest] was rooted in the fact that, for all of its intergalactic operations, NASA is … a giant image factory whose principal goal is to hype metaphors of human frontiers …” In my opinion, NASA does give Americans something of which to be genuinely proud, because its mission is pushing the edges of the human frontier. And at least it reminds us that our frontiers exist beyond Anna Nicole Smith, athlete-criminals, and American Idol.
Granted, I have a bias for NASA and its mission, and I’m not naive enough to say there aren’t flaws in the system. But you fail to discuss the reasons we are in space at all and the myriad advantages we now take for granted that were made possible because of NASA’s pioneering work. I wish a publication with your credentials would have been more constructive in its criticism, less sensational in its tone, and more careful with the facts.
COLONEL AL WORDEN
Command module pilot, Apollo 15
Vero Beach, Florida
I would like to express my disappointment in your decision to print “Astronaut Sex” in big letters on the cover. Although your publication is written for adults, it is received in homes like mine: families with kids. It’s a shame that I can’t leave my Texas Monthly on the coffee table, because my boys might think I’m reading some kind of space porn.
On behalf of naval officers everywhere, thanks for following the odious story of Captain Nowak with the heroic stories of Commanders Carlos Brown, Christian Clark, and David Junker [“Carlos Brown Is a Hero (No Matter What He Says),” May 2007].
COMMANDER JIM LINS
John Spong’s story should be required reading for everyone with an opinion, pro or con, on the war.
Brooklyn, New York
I’ve been a Texas Monthly reader since I was seventeen. Few articles have been as pure in heart. My husband and I are active-duty Air Force physicians. He is currently finishing the last three weeks of his second deployment as a critical care physician to Balad. He has likely cared for and transported many of the patients Dr. Brown and those at Camp Ramadi treated, as the stories he has told sound too similar to those in the article to be coincidental. Spong should be commended for doing something that has rarely been done in major publications since the start of this war: write about what is really going on over there and why it matters.
KARA VAN DE KIEFT
John Spong exposes Texans to the horrors and heroes of the war and to one of the finest pieces of combat journalism I have ever read. His up-close reporting is so vivid that I had flashbacks to my time in Vietnam. The descriptions of the combat situations, as well as the bloody hospital scenes, were precisely painted in the colors of real warfare, not the gallantry of fictionalized battle.
In 1968 I was praying with a soldier whose foot had been blown off by a mine and was still smoking on the stretcher beside him. He asked me to go to the next stretcher because his buddy “was really serious, with shrapnel in his brain.” These heroes fight for one another, not for LBJ or W. or even the USA. They want to win the game, as if it were Friday night football, no matter what it takes. God bless them.
JAMES C. BERBIGLIA
Chaplain, U.S. Army, Ret.
Though I’m sure awards were the furthest thing from Mr. Spong’s mind while writing this article, if his work garners none, the oversight would border on criminal. My thanks to Mr. Spong for his courageous writing, to Texas Monthly for running such a piece, and foremost, to all the men and women who choose to wear the uniform and risk paying the ultimate price to preserve our freedoms.
Abraham Verghese’s flack [“None-A-Day,” May 2007] comes straight from the mouth of Big Pharma, which has launched a massive disinformation campaign against alternative medicine in general and medicinal supplements in particular. Big Pharma’s goal is to gain control (“for the patient’s sake”) over the supplements industry so as to severely limit public access to it and to charge the moon for what few supplements the public is still allowed. What Verghese does not say is that for every person who dies from alternative treatment, hundreds die from conventional pharmaceutical intervention.
RICHARD V. TESCHNER
The Born Identity
In your interview with Governor Rick Perry, you state that he was born in 1980 [Texas Monthly Talks, May 2007]. You also state that he “retired” from the Air Force after serving only five years. Neither is remotely possible.
TONY R. BELL
Editors’ Note: You are correct, on both counts. Perry was in fact born in 1950, and in 1977 he was honorably discharged from the Air Force, after five years of service. We regret the errors.