A Balanced Perspective

--Sherwood Scroll, December 1978

We hear a lot these days about balance. Preachers, bankers, government officials and real estate developers most of all speak of balance as a good thing to have. Balancing the Trade Deficit and the Federal Budget cannot be a bad goal. On the local level, The Planning Commission demands a balance between multi family and single family housing, between residential zoning and commercial.

Once I had an attack of labyrinthitis. I was only 23 and my doctor said it was a disease that largely affects old people. I was old before my time. And wiser too. I started taking a keen interest in this topic of balance.

Christians feel Buddhists are terribly off balance for not having a relationship with a living God. Buddhists think Christians are off balance for believing everybody but them is going go to Hell. Sometimes people look for a balance between these two viewpoints. More often than not, they go to war.

The astronauts have a lot to say about balance. Especially the astronauts aboard Skylab, a space station that was not built to human scale. Skylab was built of left over rocket parts and had no particular up and down right or left to it, like a work of modern art.

How did the astronauts maintain a sense of balance inside such a craft? "It turns out that you carry with you your own body-oriented world, independent of anything else," astronaut Kerwin reported, "in which up is over your head, down is below your feet, right is this way and left is that way. All one has to do is rotate one's body to a new orientation, and whammo! What one thinks is up is up!"

The whammo experience was not very comfortable. For comfort, the astronauts on Skylab would strap themselves into a centrifuge and let it spin them around at nearly the speed of a 33RPM phonograph record. Even at that speed, the weightless human head can not be shaken from its conviction that it is completely at rest. Swinging your head up and down and side to side made no difference. "Closing one's eyes makes everything go away." Kerwin continued, "And now one's body is like a planet all to itself, and one really doesn't know where the outside world is."

Inert objects behaved the way the humans felt: like their own planet. Water, once it was pitched into the air "... immediately took the form of a planet." These orbs of water would touch and bounce apart or would "swallow each other up" and form larger globules. To the touch, these watery orbs were "slightly clammy to the touch and tended to cling, spreading across the hand like giant amoebas."

The fact that the human body is mostly water did not escape their attention. "One looks at his partners, and their legs are getting little and skinny like crows' legs and one knows that one's physiology is changing." Kerwin reported. One physician reviewing these effects opined that an amputee would do better in space than the athletes who insist on keeping themselves fit and trim throughout the journey.

Meanwhile the object that really is a planet remained hovering just outside the window. "You don't realize how much ocean there is on the earth until you see how much time you're looking at it." one astronaut said. "Rather usually most of the guys come back feeling a little more insignificant." said astronaut Carr, "They see how big the earth is, and they think how short their stay is upon it, and what a small mark man has made upon it. (Cities and population centers cling to sea coasts like...) cancers drawing nourishment from a meager host."

Flight controllers hearing these strange Old Testament like musings through their intercoms began to wonder "..whether there was something in the strange alchemy of space that had changed their characters."

Our whole sense of national purpose was on the line. Fortunately, people celebrated for being Down-To-Earth in their viewpoints came to the fore to prevent any further discombobulation. Senator Proxmire spoke for sensible Americans everywhere when he said it was a good thing the National Aronautics and Space Administration was running out of money if it will "save us from nutty ideas like this one." NASA's budget was cut back and balance was restored.

Copyright 2005 by Clyde List

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