Thursday, December 29, 2016

Astronauts in a Camper and the Blizzard of 78

Moon germs were the reason astronauts stayed in a camper for weeks. My father explained that
quarantine was a way to keep the germs from spreading, if there were any.  All tests from other
lunar missions were negative for life of any kind so we probably did not have to worry about the
astronauts or us getting a disease. Still, NASA took precautions.

One part of me felt sorry for the space crew because they would be away from their families and
friends for three weeks.  The sadness only deepened when my father told me that one of the times before they had missed Thanksgiving. The larger part of me was excited for them because they had ventured where so few had gone, even at the risk of an unknown contagion.

A few years later I heard about something called the Venus disease and was both frightened and intrigued.  Sickness was never desirable, but if travel to another planet was required then only astronauts could get it which was just one more way they were special. Of course, the quarantine camper would be used when they returned from such a new place. All lunar astronauts had emerged from quarantine back to their world, however with a disease already named I worried that travelers to Venus might not get the same happy ending. If they were sick, would we leave them in quarantine forever?  Could we find a cure for something so rare? What kind of a life would they have trapped in such small space?  Might the sickness be mild rather than severe? Would it be better to let them leave but take the risk that non-astronauts contracted the disease? My young mind was a tumult of concern and confusion.

To begin sorting it out I asked my father what the Venus disease was. He did not know. I described what little I knew and how I had heard of it, but he was still in the dark.  I resolved to show him the source of information, so the next time he was near and it appeared on the television I called him over.  At the end he knew what I was talking about, and even understood more because he said something to the effect that I did not want that sickness. It was a destructive disease that did indeed spread, but was not unique to astronauts.  And, it was called venereal disease or VD.

To this day I do not know if the commercial actually said "Venus" or if I simply twisted venereal into a word I knew.  They might have said Venus, as in the goddess of love, which makes sense of his answer to my next question, but only in retrospect.  I asked how would I get venereal disease and his reply was simple --- by sleeping with a girl. Grateful to my dad for helping me learn, but a little uneasy, we finished the conversation and went our ways.

Even though my brother Jon has passed away I must apologize to him. My ignorance borne of innocence, combined with a certain dread, led me to put him in harm's way. In 1978 a blizzard hit western Ohio. My parents planned for the possibility that we would be without power, so they closed off the living room so that heat from the wood-burning fireplace would be contained and keep us warm.  The problem came that first night.  All six of us were to sleep in a row in front of the fireplace.  I seem to recall that my father would be at one end with my mother and my younger brother between.  This left me, my sister Betsy, and my middle brother Jon. I was not proud of what I did next then, but I laugh at myself today.  I made Jon take the spot next to Betsy because I did not want to get VD by sleeping with a girl.  I figured that one person between while we slumbered would be enough to ward off the Venus germs.  Sure it meant that Jon might get sick, but he always got away with stuff so maybe he was safe.  The next morning no one was sick and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I have never gotten venereal disease, but I still hope that we explore space in a way that something like my original, innocent conception of the Venus disease is a real consideration.

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