JBB’s Final Thoughts Episode 36: Possible Ancient Astronaut, indeed
Life changes inspired before the arrival of COVID-19, beginning with leaving my teaching job at Fitzgerald Elementary to apply for position that has been my life-long dream and far beyond the confines of CCSD.
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- Past JBB’s Final Thoughts Podcast Episodes
- music: Social Blindness – 22K by Smart Sound Music
- All images and screen grabs by Joe Bustillos ©2020 except where noted
- CBS News Coverage: Apollo 11, screenshot 2019-07-16
- Empty Las Vegas by Josh Metz, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2932568266766674&set=pcb.2932568556766645&type=3&theater, retrieved 2020-04-08
- Gemini-Titan (GT)-6 – Gemini 6 of 7 – Space Photography – Outer Space. Full resolution (URL): images-assets.nasa.gov/image/S65-63194/S65-63194~orig.jpg. NASA ID: S65-63194. Date Created: 1965-12-17
- Astronaut Edward White during first EVA performed during Gemini 4 flight, Full resolution (URL): images-assets.nasa.gov/image/S65-34635/S65-34635~orig.jpg. NASA ID: S65-34635. Date Created: 1965-06-03
- PORTRAIT – GEMINI 12 PRIME CREW. Full resolution (URL): images-assets.nasa.gov/image/s66-46952/s66-46952~orig.jpg. NASA ID: s66-46952. Date Created: 1966-01-01
- JobsUSA, NASA Astronaut Candidate application, screenshot 2020-03-31
- Neil Armstrong, X15 Pilot, NASA Archives
- Franklin Chang Diaz, NASA Astronaut, NASA Archives
- Ronald E. McNair, NASA Astronaut, NASA Archives
- The battle of Gilgamesh and Enkidu with the Heaven Bull by Oleg Kuzmin, https://www.artstation.com/artwork/EgbOe, retrieved 2020-04-08
Joe Bustillos, here.
I can’t believe that the last time I recorded a podcast it was well past 100 outside and I was still all caught up in the post-Apollo 11 moon landing 50th anniversary nostalgia. I mean, it’s only been a 9-month gap, it’s not like I’m pod-fading or anything. It’s an interesting observation that, except for last school year (2018-2019), my capacity to produce podcasts (or even blog!) pretty much evaporates as soon as school is in session, beginning with when I started working for Full Sail Labs in the summer of 2015. Damn. So, the reasons that I’m making the effort to produce this podcast episode is many-fold.
You might have heard, the world has changed over the past month, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have more time on my hands, even though this week is the beginning of the fourth week of Nevada’s work-from-home/remote teaching policy. The first week was disorienting, but you have to remember that I taught fully online for six-years before coming here. So my mind immediately went to how are we going to convert our superficially technological teaching practices to something that can work for most of our students. During week two I set up a Slack channel so that my fellow teachers could post questions and suggests over a common channel instead of trying to manage this via email chains. I also began trying to nail down student email accounts so that communication could be something more efficient than playing phone-tag. I ran into more than a few snags but my partner who teaches music was able to get over eighty students to check in, which is pretty good considering how many families from my school have no technology at home, no Internet and no access to even smartphones. I’ll be spending part of my Spring Break continuing to try to bridge the communication gap. So, that’s something that I never anticipated the last time I posted a podcast.
Another thing I didn’t anticipate when last we spoke was deciding that it was time for me to leave Fitzgerald and find another school better suited for my skills or perhaps another career entirely. It’s complicated, but suffice it to say that most of my teaching positions have average three to four years before I found myself updating my resume. It also turned out that one organization looking for new recruits is an organization that I’ve dreamed about being a part of since I was a little kid. During the month of March NASA was accepting applications for the next group of astronauts. My fandom is pretty self-evident to anyone who has spent time with me, beginning with the posters in my classroom, the theme of several lessons I’ve taught over the years and Kennedy Space Center being a frequent destination when I lived in Florida. The question was what I might have to offer as an astronaut candidate given my academic and career history and some what “older age.”
I looked over the application materials and immediately had serious doubts about my qualifications and the incredibly small possibility that I might catch any positive attention with my application. I had already been engaged in looking at teaching positions primarily in Las Vegas, but kept channels open for other possibilities outside of CCSD. Then we went on lock-down and that made me more cautious about whether it was worth the effort of filing out the NASA application. Change is hard. I should know, I keep doing it every couple years. And here I am, at a time when many of my “vintage” are looking to slow things down, for an “escape clause,” or some excuse to devote more time to napping on the couch.
I got down to the last couple days before the close date and decided that if I didn’t try than I would hate myself for not at least giving it a go. The application process itself was pretty much like all the other applications I’ve been filling out for the past couple of months. The first part of the application wasn’t too much of a challenge. But then there was a section of the application that began,
“Please describe any other skills you possess or activities you participate in that provide additional support to your application to become an astronaut candidate. Examples might include scuba diving, sports, music, languages, computer software/hardware tools, machinery, volunteer work, etc.”
So, I wrote,
“Communication: I have a degree in journalism and enjoy listening to and writing about others’ stories and journeys. I have a passion for photography and videography, always looking for the best way to tell a story. I’ve played guitar and written music my whole life and over the past four years started doing more open mic sessions in Las Vegas. I’ve spent the last five years teaching robotics to kindergarten through middle school students, building, designing, programming and competing.”
I don’t know if I should have gone into more depth or not. These things are hard to judge.
So, having filled out my work and academic history there was a more specific academic/career questionnaire that confused me a bit. It read:
“All applicants must meet at least ONE of the Basic Education requirements in question 1 to be considered for this position. Qualifying international Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is allowed so long as you submit proof of appropriate foreign education equivalency. Applicants may also fulfill this requirement by having completed a nationally or internationally recognized Test Pilot School program or by current enrollment in such a program if completed by June 2021… While a bachelor’s degree (or less) is not qualifying alone, you must submit ALL STEM related transcripts with your application.
“Note: The following degree fields, while related to engineering and the sciences, are NOT considered qualifying:
Degrees in Technology (Engineering Technology, Aviation Technology, Medical Technology, etc.)
Degrees in Psychology (except for Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology, or Experimental Psychology, which are qualifying)
Degrees in Nursing
Degrees in Exercise Physiology or similar fields
Degrees in Social Sciences (Geography, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.)
Degrees in Aviation, Aviation Management, or similar fields
Do you meet at least ONE of the education requirements below?”
Okay, I have a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology and over 36 semester hours towards a Doctorate in Educational Technology. Does that work? Because it seems like except for degrees in Computer Science, a technology degree isn’t applicable. I answered, “C. No, my education is not reflected above.” If anything, that probably knocked me out of the running. Damn.
Earlier in the process I ran into the challenge of writing a cover letter, explaining my qualifications, which I wasn’t entirely too sure about to begin with. So, given my expertise as a writer, I began with a hint of my doubts. Here’s what I wrote:
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing concerning the NASA astronaut position.
Like many kids growing up in the United States in the 1960s and 70s I was a devout follower of all things NASA, building models and waking up my family to watch the launches on TV. While I enjoyed my drafting-engineering and architecture courses in high school, I saw myself more artist and less engineer and earned a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies in 1981 and a second one in Journalism in 1991. I had kept my hand in technology working 15-years as a Communications-Technician for Pacific Bell, but left to begin my career as an elementary school educator after I got my teaching credential in 1994. Growing up with the test-pilot model of NASA astronaut, I thought that my poor eyesight and lack of military experience would probably disqualify me to become part of the NASA team.
This past year, my 25th as an educator, fourth year teaching STEAM to Kindergarten through 5th grade, mostly Black and Latino students in North Las Vegas, I shared with them the biographies of astronauts Franklin Chang Diaz and Ronald E. McNair, with the theme to not let circumstances dictate working to accomplish their life-long dreams. Current world issues aside, being a positive beacon of hope for these kids wasn’t entirely successful, perhaps because I hadn’t or wasn’t following my own advice. All of which leads me to write these words at a time in my life when most of my contemporaries are looking to slow down and find a comfy couch to nap in, I find myself pushing forward beginning with this application and cover letter.
My expertise is understanding the world of troubleshooting and science, the importance of giving adequate focus and time to this process and how it is perfectly human to always look for shortcuts and easy answers to our problems. We begin our learning journey loving what we’re good at or what we get praise for, and tend to lack people in our lives who can constructively push us to realize our potential. I learned technology so that I could be better at communicating, at writing, at photography and videography. I used technology because my students reacted more viscerally looking at 8-foot images of Enkidu and Gilgamesh when we read the Epic of Gilgamesh versus simply listening to my words. I used technology because having students program their LEGO WeDo robots was much more impactful than any video or story I could tell them. My whole teaching career has had some technology embedded in it, but I don’t love technology. I love when technology enables my students to begin to realize their potential, their success.
All of this began for me as a child when I watched men and women do the impossible and ride dangerous rockets of flame into space. It may not be my time to participate on that level, but if I could find a way with my gifts to enable others to contribute their expertise and passion to the missions to put humanity beyond this planet and better serve this planet, than I would say it was worth the effort. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.
And when I pressed the send button I can say that I successfully applied to become a NASA astronaut, whether I ever get the call or not. I can say that I raised my hand when the offer was made. I’m probably too to be considered (though no upper age limit is listed), and it’s more likely that my lack of a hard-science/engineering degree is problematic. Too bad, it would have been cool to have become an ancient astronaut.
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