Research, A Love Story

Confession: I love doing research. I love the zigzag course it takes me on. I love that I start with one question (What does a B-25 cockpit look like?) and in answering that question (cramped!), I’ll come up with another question (Did they have interior lights?), which leads to more (What’s Terrain Following Radar? And how does it work?). Before I know it, it’s midnight and I’m watching a grainy and unintentionally comical 1950s instructional video for military flight trainees.  


Without a doubt, one of the greatest parts about research is stumbling upon a fact that is surprising or shocking or hilarious. I had so many of these discoveries while researching To Fly Among the Stars. There was the time when I found the bizarre fact that some female air racers insisted that their copilots wash and dry all their clothes, including their underwear, during their multi-day events. Or the moment when I learned that Scott Carpenter’s favorite type of exercise was bouncing around on his backyard trampoline. I was baffled to uncover the long history of the space diaper (honestly, it seems pretty practical!), and laughed my head off learning about the one time an astronaut snuck a corned beef sandwich onto a space flight. It turned out to be a pretty crummy stunt (ha!). 


One of my favorite discoveries happened while I was researching Test Pilot School. I begged the fine archivists at the Navy and Air Force to send me their TPS yearbook photos for the years that corresponded with Mercury 7 attendance, and found something a little unusual in Scott Carpenter’s class photo. See if you can spot it. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the third row.


Okay fine, here’s another hint: woof.


In case you’re interested, Carpenter is fifth from the left in the back row. 

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Rebecca Rissman