NIGHT I FLUNK MY ASTRONAUT TEST
I think it's gonna be a long, long time
Till touch down brings me round again
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no, no I'm a rocket
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone
- music by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
- Arrived at the top-secret underground launchpad located somewhere near Brickfields.
Along with the other trainees, I was herded into a longish metallic craft. There
was no pre-flight briefing except for some broad hints about the mission being
a 10-hour physical and mental endurance test. Found my pre-assigned sleeping compartment
without much hassle and strapped in for the night.
- The engine fired up and the mighty vehicle took off with a misleading, disappointing
judder. Almost like a car that had its handbrake released in motion. Not the explosive,
roaring and smoky takeoff that I had anticipated. Stared out of the porthole and
try to make out the dizzying spots of light that flashed pass. The severely scratched
and pitted glass didn't allow me to see much or make out our exact position. All
I knew at that moment was that we were leaving human civilization behind. There
was no turning back, however perilous and terrifying the journey was to be.
- The endless vibrations were already unbearable. The craft rocked and pitched
like a hapless raft in the ocean, violently tossing and flinging me about. A cacophony
of high-pitched noises, eerie creaks and random mechanical groans accompanied
me as I bounced on the 2-inch thick mattress. There were also repeated bursts
of hydraulic hisses followed by horrifying wails and piercing screeches. We must
be leaving the earth's atmosphere I figured.
- Some two hours later, we entered a 'dead zone' as the sounds seemed to have
ceased all of a sudden. I tried hard to sleep, but shockingly, the guy in the
neighbouring bunk was already snoring loudly. Damn cheat must have brought along
some sleeping tablets or tranquilisers. This Bolehnaut wannabe is going to fail
the post-flight medical tests, I hoped.
- My ordeal continues. After the short lull, the entire craft shook and rattled
again with almost no warning. Strange noises that sounded like rocks hitting steel
emanated from the top. We must have collided with some stray cosmic particles.
I felt like screaming but in space no one can hear you scream. I learned that
from a movie poster a long time ago.
- I remembered bringing along a multiple dog-eared unabridged photostat copy of
Tolstoy's War & Peace Vol 1. There was an overhead reading light
of sorts but it was not functioning. Reached for the standard issue pocket Maglite
but gave up after reading two paragraphs. My right eyeball was dislocated from
its socket. My other eye noticed a 15amp power socket next to where my waist was.
Why would anyone need a high ampere power point unless it is for plugging in an
oven or water heater, I wondered silently.
- By this time every internal organ in my body was pulverised. My bladder was
still functioning albeit erratically. I measured my own pulse and it had dropped
dangerously low, but I wasn't concerned. At that point, all I wanted to do was
to stick two fingers into that electric socket and end my misery. Fortunately,
my sense of patriotism prevailed. I couldn't let my countrymen down and I was
on a fast track to a datukship. Besides, electrocuting yourself on a white sheet
can result in an unsightly mess.
- I couldn't remember much and was probably hallucinating by then. We must have
attained zero gravity. Through my dazed eyes, I vaguely recalled a bottle of Newater
floating by. One half of somebody's stray and worn-out Japanese slippers hovered
about two feet above my head.
- Touchdown. Upon landing, I was loaded into a rusty luggage trolley and taken
into a strange building in Woodlands. I thought my mission was finally over when
they placed me on a conveyor belt that looped through the X-ray machine tunnel.
To my dismay, all passengers were forced to return to their sleeping berths immediately
after the checks. We cruised for another twenty long minutes before arriving at
the railway station in Tanjung Pagar. Moral
of the story: Never ever buy a berth ticket on the night train to Singapore.