Changing careers

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The job at Aeronautronics was pleasant, and sometimes challenging. The study of high-temperature gases was consistent with his background in plasma physics, he had a great boss, and he and Julie both loved Southern California. But while he felt the work was interesting, he also found it curiously unsatisfying. "I was kind of sitting on the fence, depending upon the type of project.'' One day while he was sitting at breakfast, Julie's attention was drawn to an article in the Los Angeles Times. She read aloud that NASA was looking for scientists who wanted to become astronauts. At first, Gibson thought his wife was playing a joke on him. "I really thought she was making it up, but then it went on and on and I knew she couldn't make it up quite that fast. It sounded too official, and it was. They were looking for scientist-astronauts, the first group. I thought long and hard about it - and at eight o'clock that morning, I applied!

"It was something I really wanted to do, and it offered a great opportunity to fly airplanes - which is also something I'd always wanted to do - and to be at the forefront in science and technology through personal space travel. I needed that type of challenge from a personal standpoint. Thankfully, Julie was with me, all the way.

''I had really been debating about whether I should apply, as the odds against me were quite extreme, and there was also my history of osteomyelitis. I thought they would blow me off pretty quickly, but then I felt I had nothing to lose.''

Gibson completed the paperwork sent to him, and answered subsequent questions. He also had to go through medical examinations, and the question of his osteomyelitis came up. To his surprise, NASA's doctors finally decided that, as the disease had been dormant for twenty years, it would probably remain so, and should not be a factor in determining his suitability. He was then told that anyone who made it to the interview stage at Houston would be given a flight in a two-seat T-38 jet trainer to check his physiological reactions to strenuous aerobatics. If nothing else, he felt it was worth the effort just to get a ride in a T-38.

''So I kept on sending the paperwork back and forth and then I travelled down to the spacecraft centre in Houston for an interview. Actually, it was a physical first. They took us over to Brooks AFB (Air Force Base) in San Antonio, where they shook us and heated us and cooled us and vibrated us, and then sent us to the shrink to see what they could learn. I enjoyed the airplane ride, of course.''

At the age of twenty-eight, Ed Gibson was selected in the first group of scientist-astronauts, and frankly admits he thought the testing process would have been far more demanding. ''I was used to thinking and working in confined spaces, so it was no real problem for me when they put us through these exercises just to see how we would mentally respond. I felt very comfortable in all those things because of my background, and simply because I was highly motivated to do it. Eventually I thought, ''Jeez - is this all they're going to have us do?'' I truly expected a lot more, actually. So I was really surprised when they called me and said that I'd gotten in.6

''You never think of yourself on a national scale. You're always used to working on a local scale. I'd spent almost all my life up to then going through school, so I hadn't really had a chance to get out in the world and grow up or develop in any way. I was really just a kid thrown right into the thick of things in a big way. And then, to be involved in a national program like that - it was very daunting at that time.''

JOSEPH P. KERWIN

On 19 February 1473, Nicolas Copernicus was born in the Polish town of Torun, nowadays called Thorn. Long recognised as the founder of the heliocentric planetary theory, he concluded that the planets, including the Earth, actually revolve around the sun. The ''Copernican Revolution,'' as it came to be known, was a cornerstone in the development of modern science, in particular physics and astronomy.

Copernicus came from a middle-class Catholic family, which belonged to the Third Order of St. Dominic. He lived at a time when physicians made use of astrology, so he studied mathematical science and optics at Krakow University. While practicing medicine in Poland, and later as a canon at Frauenburg Cathedral, Copernicus became involved in studies of the sun, and would make celestial observations from

Joseph P. Kerwin, MD.

a high turret situated on the wall of the cathedral. As his theories evolved, he became an eminent astronomer, whose radical ideas would revolutionise perceptions concerning the order of the universe.

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