My favorite Martian

Julie In the late 1980s, I was, for a year, installed at Massey College.  For exercise, I would play catch on a field near the college with a Massey student called Mathew.

One day Mathew’s girl friend came out to watch us play.  After awhile, the dreaded question:

"Can I try?" she asked.

Mathew and I didn’t mind showing off while a woman watched us with rapt admiration.  But having to share the game with someone who probably thought throwing a football badly was somehow "cute," this was annoying.

Gallantly, we obliged her.  After about 12
throws, Julie had mastered throwing a football with her right hand so well that her mechanics were perfect.  And I mean flawless.  She started at zero.  The first throws were abysmally bad.  She was, in the language of the traditional childhood taunt, throwing "like a girl."  By throw "6," her form was dramatically better.  By throw "12," it was, as I say, perfect.  She was now throwing like she had never not thrown a football.

This was a little daunting for Mathew and me.  We had spend our childhoods learning to throw.  And it took months (years, actually) to be good enough to escape the taunt that we threw "like a girl."  Manfully, we played on, but it was now clear we’d be very lucky to throw like this girl.

Well, it got worse.  Julie wondered if she could throw with her left hand, and sure enough, in a dozen throws, she was once more perfect.  By this time, Mathew and I were  bordering on humiliation.  Julie had managed to reproduce the key accomplishment of our childhood in about 15 minutes.

Julie was a student at Massey too.  Occasionally, she would sit down at the College grand piano and favor us with a little well formed Mozart.  This was when she wasn’t taking classes in electrical engineering, I think it was.  Julie was just good at everything.

I wasn’t surprised a few years later that she had been chosen to be part of the Canadian space program.  She flew on Space Shuttle Discovery from May 27 to June 6, 1999 as a crew member of STS-96.  The crew performed the first manual docking of the Shuttle to the International Space Station.

Are Canadians proud of her?  You might say.  Ms. Payette has honorary degrees from Queen’s University (1999); University of Ottawa (1999); Simon Fraser University (2000); Université Laval (2000); University of Regina (2001); Royal Roads University (2001); University of Toronto (2001); University of Victoria (2002); Nipissing University (2002); McGill University (2003); Mount Saint Vincent University (2004); McMaster University (2004); University of Lethbridge (2005); Mount Allison University (2005).

But there’s another side to the story.  There is, who knew, a Canadian government agency dedicated to protecting nation’s self esteem.  It took a long look at Julie and decided that the nation had a choice.  It could suffer the presence of someone who was going to make everyone look bad all the time, or it could get her off planet as soon as possible.  I believe, there was a small minority who felt that Ms. Payette was perhaps not human at all, and the wisest course was to "send her back where she came from."

As it turned out, Ms. Payette was only off planet for 9 days, 19 hours and 13 minutes, but everyone, especially Mathew and me, breathed a sigh of relief.

4 thoughts on “My favorite Martian

  1. Adam Richardson


    Grant, you may be able to shed some light on this related topic. I remember a story on This American Life a while back that talked about the Space Shuttle, or more specifically the Canadian-built robotic arm. The story stated that the way the shuttle was talked about in Canada and on news reports, that you’d think it was all about the fantastically capable and superbly accomplished robot arm (made in Canada), that, by the way, was attached to a space shuttle thingie that really just served as a way to transport the robot arm (made in Canada) up into space so it could do it’s thing.

    Have you perceived such a “bias”?

  2. Tom Guarriello

    The way you describe Julie’s football-acquisition process is the way I feel when I read the things you write, Grant. It can’t possibly be as “effortless” as all that, can it? Nice one.

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