On a recent trip home to Nashville, my big brother Paul and I took his border collie Xena for a walk. It wasn’t long before Paul bragged that border collies are “the rocket scientists of dogs”. Wow. That’s saying a lot, because I don’t know any human being rocket scientists who, when given the chance, eat their own poop. Just saying….not exactly something a genius would do. Collect urine in jars? Maybe. But poop eating? Even Howard Hughes would say that’s more appropriate for the Loony Bin than the Mensa Club.

I would love to meet some real rocket scientists. I’m a big fan of outer space. Not simply because I follow politics and that’s where most of our elected officials have their heads. But also because I find it incredibly fascinating.

For example, NASA just announced that they discovered an asteroid that may hit Earth in 2036. They can predict its path that far in advance???? Very, very impressive. Imagine being in a car in Philadelphia and someone says, “Uh, oh. He’s gonna swerve into our lane.”
“Some guy in Phoenix.”

Think about the universe and our place in it….We live such uncontrollable, unpredictable lives….yet we live them in the midst of something that is so much bigger, choreographed and planned. It’s like we’re ants on the canvas of a pro wrestling match. Perfect analogy, eh?

Whenever I’m in Washington DC, I visit the Air and Space Museum. If you’ve never been, you should go. Try to avoid it during the school year, however, because it’s generally filled with field trippers asking, “Who are the Wright Brothers? Were they a band? Can we like them on Facebook?”

The museum is filled with interesting facts. Like how Orville and Wilbur Wright invented human flight to escape getting beat up for having the names Orville and Wilbur. Or how Amelia Earhart, while getting credit for flying over the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, actually did it in 1927. It just took her a few months to parallel park after landing. (It should be noted that the museum gets its facts from what I type into Wikipedia.)

Here’s an interesting fact: The Wright Brothers successfully flew a plane for the first time in 1903. That means we went from basic glider technology to landing on the moon in a matter of 66 frigging years!!! 66 YEARS! Or as Delta Airlines calls it…. “the average time it takes us to find your luggage we sent to Cleveland”.

The new toys at the Air and Space Museum are the interactive exhibits. You can experience first hand just how difficult it is to be a pilot. In various flight simulators, visitors can do what only pilots get to do….like chase bogey aircraft or dodge geese near LaGuardia before landing on the Hudson.

Against my better judgment, I bought a ticket to the jet simulator. I was very much unprepared for the whole experience.

See…In the cockpit, there is one controller for speed and a separate one for direction. Well, I kinda sorta got them mixed up, all the while trying to find and shoot enemy targets. That’s a lot to accomplish even if you haven’t had two margaritas at lunch. You ever try to missile lock onto a speeding jet while going what feels like 1000 miles an hour….upside down?

Think about how that looks. If you were a spectator on the ground, you would no doubt think the pilot somehow tied the controllers together with a rubber band and then jumped out, like an unmanned runaway train. That may explain why I was screaming for help from Denzel.

It’s amazing how realistic the simulator was. For example, after just 90 seconds of witnessing my flying skills, the enemy fighter put in the JV team. You know, the guys who don’t get to play unless the game’s completely out of reach. It’s like the Wright Brothers had a little brother named Tito and gave him control for a few minutes.

Anyway, at the end of this 3-minute circus, the cockpit stopped vibrating and righted itself. Then the screen said, “Zero kills. Better luck next time, rookie.”

Rookie? Of course I’m a rookie. You’re in the Smithsonian, you glorified Wii. Guys named Maverick and Goose aren’t lining up to ride you. The place is filled with second graders who have Level 8 peanut allergies. When it comes to facing your opponents here, you have just as much “game” as a tablespoon of Jif. So why not chill with the attitude?

For the record, I also failed at my attempt to recreate Captain Sully’s heroics, after which the geese laughed at me and called me “Honkey”. They were either racist or that’s just how geese sound when they make noise. Either way, it’s very uncalled for.

Even though their inventions make my pride ache, I have immense respect for fighter pilots and astronauts, as well as for the engineers who aid them. Just think…there is a gigantic, endless universe all around us, and there are people who are always willing to explore it, who yearn to test the limits of gravity, and who hopefully, for the love of God, don’t eat like Xena.