Monday, February 15, 2016

Paco: The Cat Who Meowed in Space And Other Stories of My Years with NASA by Homer Hickam

Reviewed by Jeanne

Paco:  The Cat Who Meowed in Space And Other Stories of My Years with NASA by Homer Hickam

Homer Hickam has led a very varied life.  He was born in Coalwood, West Virginia; graduated from Virginia Tech; served in Vietnam; worked as an engineer for both the U.S. Army and for NASA; became an expert scuba diver and teacher; and, of course, wrote books. He’s probably best known for his nonfiction works such as Rocket Boys but he also has written some novels, the latest of which is Carrying Albert Home:  The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator.

He’s also a cat lover, so several of the stories in this slim 65 page volume have to do with his cats, mostly a very special cat named Paco.  When Hickam went to work for NASA, his then girlfriend suggested he buy a house.  Paco didn’t exactly come with the house but he might as well have:  after his family moved away, he’d become a sort of neighborhood cat.  He seemed to take a special shine to Hickam and soon moved in with him.  

There are some interesting glimpses into the behind the scenes work at NASA, the astronauts, and the shuttle program.  For example, levels of space sickness are measured in “Garns,” so named because Senator Jake Garn was so memorably ill on his journey into space.  Hickam avoids technical jargon and explains things clearly and concisely. He is careful to point out that he’s an engineer, not a scientist, so he’s concerned with the nuts and bolts of how things works—literally, in some cases.  His background in scuba diving also comes into play as part of the astronaut training.

This book is probably best described as short collection of loosely linked anecdotes, which suited me just fine.  I prefer this to books that try to draw out the story just to add more pages.  Paco was a much adored cat with an outsized personality.  Given that most of the book takes place some decades ago, it’s obvious that Paco is no longer with us but his passing his handled with brevity and dignity.  This isn’t a tear-jerker book but one that both pet lovers and NASA fans can appreciate.

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