I even considered volunteering for the space shuttle. They were asking for applications from journalists, and I figured I might give it a shot, just to lose the weight. But I was too late. They've already closed the application list. Which is just as well, I suppose. I don't trust the space shuttle. If it can really fly, why do they need a landing strip seven miles long? I think that what they've done with it is simply to perfect crash landings.
It seems to me that this latest trend of allowing civilians - teachers, politicians, journalists - to ride the shuttle is a NASA public relations gimmick to revive interest in a space program that has become dull; dull, at least, from an entertainment point of view (And what other point of view is there?).
Yet a good many journalists have gone along with the gag, and applied to be the first newshawk in space, Walter Cronkite among them. Frankly, there's a good deal to be said for choosing Walter, who virtually invented space for the average American. What could be more appropriate than sending the nation's uncle up there, to tell us the way it was?
On the other hand, he's getting a little, well, old. He's 69. He says: ''There ought to be a great advantage to prove that any old fart can do it." But what if any old fart can't? If Cronkite were to die of natural causes while in orbit, the space program might never recover.
If I were hustling the space program, and had to choose a journalist to go on the shuttle, I'd want someone who could seize the imagination of the public by giving them stories they'd never gotten from space before, someone with a unique perspective. I'd want someone from the National Enquirer. Can you imagine the headlines?
The World Is Flat! An Eyewitness Account.
First Interview With Born-Again Martian.
Joan Collins Nude Sunbathing Photos From Outer Space.
It would be a lot more interesting than anything Cronkite could come up with. But if the supermarket tabloid types are a little gamey for NASA, it might choose any of a number of qualified celebrity-journalists to let us see space through their eyes. Here are a few suggestions, and the observations they might make.
David Hartman, of ABC's "Good Morning America:" "By golly, that's a swell view. Of course, that's just a personal opinion; please don't hold the network responsible. And now, here's another in our series of interviews with members of Madonna's bowling team."
Howard Cosell, "Monday Night Football's" gift to retirement: "Let's tell it like it is, folks. The view up here is vastly overrated. Much of the earth is obscured by clouds and smog, and most of what's visible is water. If it weren't for yours truly, this space shot would have been rendered superfluous."
Andy Rooney, TV and newspaper commentator: "Did you ever notice how the clouds over the Indian Ocean are always dirty?"
Mike Wallace, of CBS's "60 Minutes:" "Captain, we checked you out and found you have two outstanding overtime parking tickets. If you can't be trusted to take care of your parking obligations, why should we on this shuttle have any faith in your ability to run this mission?"
Barbara Walters, TV television interviewer: "Captain, if you could be a planet, which one would you be?"
Columnists Novak and Evans: "Even from this height, the stain of communism can be seen, spreading over the freedom-loving peoples of the earth, while liberals stand idly by, whining about Ronald Reagan."
Willard Scott, weatherman: "We're almost over Inkblot, Wyoming, where Arvey Pritchard is celebrating his 105th birthday. Wave, Arvey, I want to take a picture."
Heloise, advice columnist: "When traveling in space, be sure to take along an 8-by-10-inch piece of nylon net, in case the breakfast cereal escapes the box."
See? There are all kinds of journalists, and they'd all have interesting things to say from orbit. NASA should reopen the application list.
I wonder whether space suits come in extra large?