Joe tapped his mechanical pencil. The desk blotter was covered with a sea of tiny dots, like a Rorschach test only he could make sense of. “You can’t stay. They’re going to send you back to the Navy, and they’re going to shove you in a desk job somewhere, and congratulations. You just won a nice quiet life with your family.”
“I’m not going.” This was the answer I’d rehearsed on the flight in – military, not civilian, and who knows what fresh hell it would have been to be recognized as the person who the media had now ridiculously and inaccurately dubbed the Drag Queen Astronaut. “It was just for laughs.”
Like the time Alan Shepherd presented a gallon-sized vat filled with ammonia and yellow dye as his urine sample for the Gemini program doctors. Wally Schirra did the same thing to a nurse, except he used apple juice. One Apollo mission radioed in a UFO to Mission Control. John Young once smuggled up a contraband corned beef sandwich, which pissed off the techs who feared tiny bits of meat jamming million-dollar equipment.
Joe’s pencil made another series of dots on the blotter. “No one’s laughing, Jim.”
So that’s how I lost Artemis 6, the mission I was scheduled to command. Lost my astronaut appointment. Gary put up a fight for me, as did some good friends I can’t begin to thank, but astronauts have been fired for less: ask old-timers about Apollo 7, when the ill crew refused to follow piddly orders from Capcom and lost their careers over it.
The first person I saw after getting my termination letter was Scott Stevenson, who’d been ducking me since our return to earth. I knew through other people that he blamed me for forever sullying our mission. We’d always be the Flight of the Transvestite – in books, on the internet, in our obituaries.
“I guess they had no choice,” was all he said.
NASA shoved me right out the door and forgot all about me.
Until the day they desperately needed me. But that came later.