Authors: Phil Stamper
His gaze meets mine, and an ache pulls at my chest, reminding me of Jeremy, of Deb. Of crushes, and of falling.
Season 2; Episode 6
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Our producers meet Calvin Lewis Sr., the final astronaut picked for the Orpheus missions. He takes a break from unpacking and starting a new life in Clear Lake, Texas, and joins astronaut Grace Tucker to chat with us about the space program, Calvin’s chances of making it to Mars, and the announcement that took us all by surprise. (New episode airs 6/10/2020)
“Welcome to a new, and exciting—albeit rushed—
interview. I’m your host, Josh Farrow, and I am enthused to be bringing an exclusive interview to you with the final astronaut chosen for the Orpheus missions. And here he is: Calvin Lewis, along with a soon-to-be close colleague, Grace Tucker. Welcome to Clear Lake, Calvin.”
“Well, um, thank you! Hope you don’t mind the boxes; we kind of just got here a couple hours ago.”
“I assure you our viewers are not bothered by that. They’re interested in Calvin Lewis—Calvin Lewis
, I should say. Many of our viewers, of course, know all about Cal Junior. I must say, we were taken aback by his surprise announcement today.”
“I think we were all a little caught off guard by that. Look, we’re really sorry about—”
“We’re so happy to have Calvin on board at NASA. I know how hard it was for my family to adjust—pulling Kat and Leon
out of school, Tony’s job transition. We want to make sure they have a smooth,
transition, don’t you agree, Josh?”
“Right, of course. Now, I’ll be honest with you, I usually go into these interviews much more prepared, but I’ve barely had time to review the press packet. So why don’t you talk to us about your experience. I see you most recently worked as a commercial pilot with Delta, is that right?”
“Yes, I flew for Delta for about a decade, but I started in the air force—that’s where I met my lovely wife, Becca. She was working in cybersecurity, so our jobs never overlapped. But we happened to cross paths, and, you know, sparks flew.”
“Fascinating. You know what I love most about interviews? It’s digging in and finding all the fascinating pieces of a person the world doesn’t get to see. And hopefully we’ll see that side later, but I am curious … what do you think your specialization is here? What do
bring here that no one else does?”
“Oh, wow. That’s a big question. I feel like I’m in the job interview again, only there’s literally a spotlight on me now. Hah.”
“Josh? If you don’t mind, I wanted to cut in.”
“Of course, Grace. Go ahead.”
“We were just discussing our experience, and I have to tell you—he’s genuinely knowledgeable and passionate about NASA, and I can’t wait to have him in flight simulations with us. During his time at Delta, he trained more pilots there than anyone else in the entire company. You know when you meet someone and automatically know they’ll go above and beyond to reach any goal? I haven’t seen that kind of determination
around here since I met Mark Bannon! But there’s a personal connection too. Calvin, why don’t you tell them about when you first discovered you wanted to be an astronaut?”
“Oh, sure. It’s a simple story, really. When I was ten or so, I watched this documentary on Apollo 11. Everyone knows Neil Armstrong, and we all know the glory those astronauts received, but I remember thinking of how innovative we must have been. They said the RAM, the memory, for the guidance computer matched that of a digital watch—and that was back in the early nineties, way before smart watches. I looked down at my own watch, which could barely do anything but blink and beep at me. And it hit me that … somewhere at the intersection of sheer human intelligence and determination—and a little bullheaded bravery—we made it to the moon. I can’t think of anything more inspiring. Nothing gives me more faith in humanity than seeing something like this come together. So, yes, I bring a lifetime of experience and enthusiasm, but I also bring a deep appreciation of the history and tenacity that made NASA what it is today.”
Dad mutes the television.
“So as you see, you missed a great interview.”
It’s sarcasm. And I deserve it. We watch the show in its entirety, which starts out with a surprisingly in-depth look at all the new astronauts who have been brought on. The final astronaut, my dad, was barely covered.
“They didn’t talk about you much, but that’s probably because they knew you had that interview with Grace,” Mom offers.
He laughs. “I enjoy your optimism, but it’s pretty clear that Josh guy hates me. He said, maybe, three words to me?”
“He said way more than that, Calvin.” She pauses to massage her temples. “Cal, he came in pretty quickly after you left with the Tucker kids. He was clearly pissed, but he thawed as soon as your dad told that story. Your dad’s got a little bit of that charm left in him.”
Mom flicks Dad’s ear playfully.
“Ew, guys. And I’ve told you, I’m sorry. I was just tired and grumpy. I didn’t think about what would happen. And really? Screw Josh Farrow. He just tried to make you look like a fool on camera, and you knocked that question out of the park.”
“Thankfully Grace was there to lob me that softball of a question,” Dad says. “She was actually very nice to us, don’t you think?”
Mom sighs, kind of wistfully. “I don’t know how she does it. As soon as you left, she snapped into media-training mode. She taught us so much in so little time. Thank god they didn’t want to see me, though. I was a mess.”
“They will someday.” My voice is soft, but it still sucks the joy out of the room. “They’re going to be everywhere we go for the foreseeable future. Every public event. Every party. Was Josh Farrow really that angry?”
“He was,” Dad says. “About time someone wiped that smug look off his face.”
It breaks the tension in the room, momentarily, even though we know we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s day one, and we’ve already angered the wrong people. But for once, our family is gelling, and maybe that’s because we’re in this together. We don’t have any distractions—my only real friend is thousands of miles away, and I still haven’t unpacked my things, so I can’t even escape into my cassette collection.
As I go to my empty room, I feel oddly free. The coils of tension in my back have snapped, my breaths are stronger, deeper. I slide under the sheets and squeeze my blanket. The
heaviness of the day finally starts to set in as I plug in my phone.
But just before I set my phone down, I see a new email in my “professional” inbox—the one I keep public so my fans and haters don’t clog up my personal email. One look at the subject line, and all the anxiety sucks back up into me, pulling my muscles taut and pushing an ache through my nervous system.
StarWatch Media LLC: Letter of Cease & Desist for Calvin Lewis Jr.
“Fuck,” I announce to the empty room.
“I’m getting sued,” I tell Deb approximately two milliseconds after she answers the phone. “I’m getting sued!”
“It’s seven thirty. In the morning.” She’s panting. “What is wrong with you? I closed last night.”
“Oh, you closed a Paper Source in Park Slope? When? At, like, eight thirty?”
“Nine, but I’m still tired. Damn.”
There’s a pause on the line, and it hits me that just because I’ve been up half the night panicking and rereading the email I got doesn’t mean seven a.m. phone calls are appropriate. But
I’m getting sued!
“Elaborate. Please.” Deb still sounds mildly irritated, but she’s decided to put up with me, and I love her for it.
“I got an email from StarWatch’s lawyers last night. I’ll spare you the legalese, but it basically means if I make another
video, they’re going to pursue legal action. Their lawyer has an official letterhead and everything!”
She sighs. “So, you’re not getting sued.”
“Well, not yet, but—”
“You aren’t being sued. You’re being threatened. Just lie low for a bit and have your parents look it over. Maybe they won’t even sue—I mean, that wouldn’t look good, would it? A big media company picking on a teen FlashFamer like that?”
I consider her appeal. It makes sense, but how can I risk that? And the cease-and-desist letter was so broad as to include
video with me in it, regardless of location. In one minute, my career just vanished before my eyes.
“I can’t risk streaming anything now. I knew they were pissed, but I didn’t think they’d do something like this. I’ve got all this nervous energy now, and I can’t sleep, and I don’t know what to do.”
“Take a run?”
We both laugh.
“No, seriously,” I say, still chuckling at the prospect of physical activity, especially in this heat wave.
“I don’t know. But I wouldn’t panic. You just got on their radar, and they want to scare you away. And Calvin?”
“Never call me this early. Ever again.”
I sigh. “Understood.”
After I hang up, I pull up the map on my phone. There’s not much around me, and I don’t feel like exploring the city with
our junker of a car today. I’m stuck with only one option—the Starbucks half a mile away.
So I put on a deep-cut tank, mesh shorts, running shoes, and sunglasses. It’s a quick ath
look, and it’ll have to do. I step outside, and the refreshing air of an early summer morning hits me. The humidity seems to have disappeared, dew’s still on the grass, and things feel better already.
While I’m walking, I feel myself picking up the pace to match my “city walking” style, but here … there’s nowhere to be, I have all the time in the world, and best of all, there are no tourists who need to be shoved out of the way. Win/win/win.
So I slow my pace and read through the email in my mind. The letterhead was fancy, but was it there just to look scary? And the verbiage they used to explain what rule I broke, it didn’t even apply to me. The only thing I signed was a release form saying that StarWatch could post any videos or photos taken of me—that was required of everyone.
“Hiya, friend!” someone shouts from the other side of the street. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
It’s Stephanie Jonasson, another of the candidates for the Orpheus V mission. I can’t remember what she does, but I know it has nothing to do with the actual navigation, so she’s not in the same field as Dad and Grace are.
“Hi, Stephanie, right?”
“Yep. And this is Tag,” she says, pointing down to her miniature Pomeranian, who is currently pawing my leg. “Say hi to Cal, Tag.”
I bend down to pet the tiny dog. “Oh, right. I’ve seen Tag before—they did that Animal Planet documentary on him, right?”
“Oh boy, you’ve got a fan!” she says to Tag.
It’s weird when people talk to their dogs as if they’re humans, but I don’t say anything. The documentary comes back to me—it was a miniseries on famous pets, and an abnormally large amount of time was spent on Tag the Pomeranian.
“Can I ask you … did StarWatch have any problems with the documentary? I know Animal Planet filmed on your property.”
She laughs. “They have a problem with everything. But yes, I was forbidden from appearing in the documentary, my voice or face. They have a strict policy with the astronauts.”
“With just the astronauts? I thought the families couldn’t join either.”
“Well, they still threw a fit, but my wife Heather’s a lawyer. She pushed back until they eventually gave up, which is why she got to be in the documentary with our little boy here.” She pauses, and I see understanding dawn on her face. “Oh, let me guess, they’re not too happy about your announcement? I watched
last night and almost died when that jerk tried to show your dad up. But I was in tears by the end of it—I really can’t wait to meet your dad. He seems like a genuine guy.”
“He is.” I smile, and the smile lingers for a bit as I bend down to give Tag a few more scratches.
“StarWatch is, let’s say … a necessary evil. They make us
look good, and they bring a lot of interest into the program. It’s easier to get projects funded by the government when a subset of the country passionately cares.” She laughs. “I mean, sure, I wish America cared for better reasons, but I won’t complain. Don’t worry too much about StarWatch. Their bark is worse than their bite.”
We part ways, and I’m still a little terrified, but there’s this energy pulsing through my veins. It’s the same one I felt earlier as I leaned against the dresser. Rebellion. If it worked with Heather Jonasson, it’d work for me. It
work for me.
At least, I hope it will.
With a surge of inner strength, I pull out my phone and open the FlashFame app. Sure, no one else is going to be up now, but I have to document this so people can watch it later. As I look into the front-facing camera, a confident grin hits my face.
“Good morning! If you aren’t already subscribed to the Cal Letter, you’re going to want to fix that now, because tonight I’m going to send you the full text of my cease-and-desist letter from StarWatch. Yeah, that’s right. StarWatch is threatening to sue me, of all people, but unfortunately for them, I didn’t sign any nondisclosure agreement.” I shake my head. “This mission’s screwed up my life enough as it is, and I’m not going to let a jerk with fancy letterhead keep me from sharing the truth with you. Keep an eye out for more updates soon, and if you’re in the mood for passive-aggressive statements about me, I’d keep your television set to the StarWatch network—they don’t take ‘no’ very well.”