How Being Deaf Made the Difference in Space Research
July 4, 2017 1:33 PM   Subscribe

And in contrast, there was my father, who learned of a disease that temporarily destroys equilibrium. He suggested to NASA that they infect astronauts in training with the disease, to acclimate them to feeling unbalanced. AFAIK, NASA gave his idea the attention it deserved. I'd be very disappointed to learn they actually infected anyone.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:49 PM on July 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm a great fan of the Gallaudet Eleven. For one, because astronaut teacher is my job and making space accessible to all students is for me a cornerstone of fostering wide-spread interest in astronautics and space professions. For another, because I'm friends with Leland Melvin, NFL football player who went on to become NASA astronaut–but not before going deaf. Yet another reason is because I am also friends with warp drive scientist Tiffany Frierson who is completely deaf (here she signs about the upcoming Starship Congress–full disclosure: I'm the conference's strategic director).

Yet even beyond all of the above, what has long drawn me into the story of the Gallaudet Eleven is this photo. As a single image, it reveals such layers to the narrative of the lives of this group of people. To me, together they all seem to be privy to an experience so singular. Deaf. Complex individuals. Isolated by virtue of the specific epoch they happened to have been born, less so than others, more so than others, but sharing in this rarified moment that in its own way was essential to the near-future of humankind.

To me, the Gallaudet Eleven are like a small group of Buffalo Soldiers of their day or Nursing Sisters of Canada. Invisible and essential whose individual stores are very nearly forgotten. Which is why stories such as theirs resonate so and act as reminders of how the human spirit can be something breathtaking and monumental.

Maybe I'm projecting here but somehow I have no doubt the stories of the Gallaudet Eleven are as heartbreaking and as uplifting as any ever told. In the same way I waited the better part of my life to witness Alan Turing be recognized, and for the reasons I cheered to see Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson be honored with their long overdue recognition (owing to Shetterly's priceless Hidden Figures book and movie), I will stand, hoot and holler when the individuals who made up the Gallaudet Eleven have their stories properly unpacked, widely received, and, finally, given just and due honors.

These are men who were deaf. How many scientists, professionals, and NASA employees did they work with who could hear fine but failed to listen for the historic story unfolding right before their eyes?
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:40 PM on July 4, 2017 [20 favorites]

And in contrast, there was my father, who learned of a disease that temporarily destroys equilibrium

What disease is this?
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:04 AM on July 5, 2017

I'm reminded of the Cordwainer Smith story, "Scanners Live in Vain."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:12 AM on July 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

What disease is this?

IDK. IANAD. I was like 14.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:12 AM on July 6, 2017

Just stopping in to say hi, i'm Deaf, i visited Gallaudet for the first time this summer and cried after I saw Deaf history recognized on real, institutional walls. Thank you for sharing this here. Xx
posted by snufflepup at 7:19 AM on July 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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