How I overcame disability to become a NASA astronaut
An astronaut had to overcome hearing loss to get to fly to space.
When you get into the astronaut corp there are two things that you have to demonstrate to fly on either a shuttle or a space station mission. And they are the ability to go into this 300-pound suit and do something called space walking. And the way that you train for that is you get in this white suit that's pressurized and you go down 25 feet in a 5 million gallon pool to simulate building and creating the space station underneath the pool deck. And there's a submerged space station and a submerged space shuttle, so that's how you demonstrate that. And when I had my chance to train in that environment I had an accident where I lost all of my hearing. And they operated on my ear, they went and looked around they couldn't find anything. They told me I would never fly in space.
So for a while there after my hearing did slowly come back in my right ear, I'm deaf in this ear, they told me that we're going to have to figure out what to do with you. And that was a really tough time for me because I had never thought of myself becoming an astronaut, but once I got into the astronaut program then I was solitarily focused on trying to do this thing. And they sent me to Washington DC to work in education. We were choosing teachers to become astronauts. And one of those astronauts was Ricky Arnold who just came home about two months ago doing education in space, doing space walks, doing all these things.
And while I was kicking this program off and helping him run this program I was driving from DC to my hometown Lynchburg Virginia and I get a phone call from my boss at the time, who is new to NASA, and she says, "Leland, what does it mean when the space shuttle countdown clock is now counting up?" And I said, "How much is it counting up?" She's says, "It's 10 seconds, it's 15 seconds." And this was Space Shuttle Columbia. And that moment I knew that all my friends were dead.
And so I turned around and drove back to DC to headquarters and they sent to me to David Brown's parent's home in a Washington Virginia to console his family who just lost their son in this most tragic horrific way. And I'm going to the house and I get to the door and I hug his mother Dottie and I walk over to his father and his father says to me with tears in his eyes he says, "Leland, my son is gone. There is nothing you can do to bring him back, but the biggest tragedy would be if we don't continue to fly in space to honor their legacy." And I'm trying to figure out how I will honor their legacy if I'm not going to fly in space because I'm medically disqualified. Long story short, as we go to the memorial services the chief of all the flight surgeons watches me clear my ears as we take off and land in the NASA airplane and he signs me a waiver to fly in space. And I go back to Houston and I get assigned to a fly even though I don't have any hearing in my left ear.
And so that was trying to stay focused on the task of helping others get ready for missions, still doing my job at NASA, whether it was in education or robotics or whatever I was doing. And I had friends telling me you should quit NASA, you should sue them, write the tell all book and get paid. And I wasn't raised like that. My parents always taught me to try to do the right thing. No matter what happens to you stay focused and try to do the right things.
That was one of the hardest things that had happened just to stay focused on the mission when I'm internalizing all of my own, you know, am I going to fly? I'm never going to hear in this year. The chords and the overtones don't sound the same on the piano as they used to because I had perfect hearing. And then when I got that piece of paper that says you're now free to fly and getting that first mission, 3-2-1 lift off, thinking of honoring the legacy of my friends that had passed because that's what his father told me to do the night of the accident. And I did that and it was perfect. And we install things and we build the space station and it was just an amazing transformation from being at one of the lowest points in my life in the hospital bed not hearing, I couldn't hear a bomb drop, to now flying in space and building something incredible.
- Leland Melvin was told he'd never be an astronaut after he lost all his hearing.
- He got a chance to fly to space and honor the legacy of his friends after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
- Leland worked on building the space station in an "amazing transformation" from the lowest point in his life.
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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