Step Right On Up

It's better to receive than to give

Hey, what are families for?

The Heights of Hurling

For more than 30 years, NASA's version of a Boeing 707 has been lovingly dubbed the Vomit Comet for its ability to induce sickness as it takes passengers up on a wild ride that temporarily makes them weightless. Now the plane -- officially a KC-135; it's one of two that have been used through the years -- is being retired, to be replaced by a smaller, more efficient DC-9.

John Yaniec is the test director for the project and has flown thousands of missions in the back of the plane, overseeing safety. A "mission" includes flying up to 60 arcing parabolas that each provide up to 25 seconds of weightlessness. Astronauts and researchers generally do okay, but since 1996 college students have been going up with experiments, and the walls can get splattered.

Q.How did the Vomit Comet get its nickname?

A. That, we have to thank the media. The media gave it that nickname.

Q. Is that just a myth?

A.Yeah, well…yeah, it is. Everybody thinks that everybody that flies on this aircraft gets sick, and that's not true.

Q. Is it a pretty rare event?

A. I wouldn't say rare, but of rookies… one will get mildly sick, one will get a little more sick, and then the [other] person doesn't get sick at all.

Q. Do you guys ever, like, take bets or something?

A. No [laughs]. Let's put it this way: We're the ones that have to take care of you when you're up there, so it's to our benefit to do everything we can to ensure that everybody who flies does not get sick. We've had, I think, in the history of the [college student] program, ten or 11 "no-kill" flights.

Q. What's a no-kill flight?

A.Nobody gets sick…And for the students, it was a rarity. And it still is.

Q. Have you ever thrown up?

A.No. I've never been sick -- and I've done it 30,564 times.

Flying Undercover

An important deadline has passed in the quixotic search to tell the world how George W. Bush protected Texas and (allegedly) Alabama from the Viet Cong.

Glenn W. Smith, an Austin-based political consultant, author and former Houston Post reporter who now heads the group Texans for Truth, has had a prize of $50,000 ready for the first person who can come forward proving Bush reported for duty as required at the Alabama air base to which he transferred from Houston.

The deadline for winning the prize was September 30. Smith thought he might lure someone by offering five times what Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury offered, but piercing the tight-lipped stoicism of the Air National Guard makes breaking the thin blue line of police brotherhood look easy.

"Nobody has come forward," Smith says.

No one? For 50 grand, you'd think somebody would take a stab at it. Forging documents might be one way to go, now that we're a nation of experts on early-'70s typewriter technology.

It's not like Smith got no response, though. "In the first several days," he says, the Web site did get some mail through the online form. "My tech fellow described them as full of obscenities," Smith says.

But were they obscenities with proof? Sadly, no. "Nobody has new information," Smith says, mournfully.

Raise it to $100K or $150K, dammit. The truth must be told.

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