NASA orbiter Discovery parked behind a stall
KUALA-LUMPUR — As any driver can tell you, when you’re moving fast on the highway and lose just a little bit of focus, you could easily miss your exit, and you’ll end up having to do a very long U-turn at the next exit. But when you’re hurtling across the sky at 27,875km/h and you lose your focus, you could end up in places much, much further.
Such was the case with the crew of NASA’s space shuttle Discovery, who found themselves right in the middle of Kampung Baru, KL, when pilot Tony Antonelli’s lapse in concentration caused the spacecraft to steer off course while re-entering Earth’s orbit after successfully completing their mission at the International Space Station (ISS).
Originally scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida today, the 200,000-pound, 122-foot-long reusable spaceship instead touched down along Jalan Raja Abdullah before coming to a full stop behind some nasi lemak stalls at approximately 12.45am yesterday.
“I completely spaced out for a while there — no pun intended,” said Antonelli when met outside the craft. “I was thinking of all the fun we had in the 13-day mission, and kinda lost track of what I was doing. It was an honest mistake, sorry.”
Fortunately for the pilot, his crew was not too upset about his gaffe, as he had landed the craft safely despite the cramped Kampung Baru layout and, much to their pleasant surprise, the food stalls and restaurant offering the famous nasi lemak Kampung Baru were still open.
“Let’s just say he couldn’t have mis-landed us anywhere else better,” said Air Force Col. Lee Archambault, commander of the STS-119 mission. “Under normal circumstances, I would’ve flipped at such a goof-up. But seeing how he managed to land the shuttle without incident in a place like this, I’d say all is forgiven. And the supremely delicious nasi lemak was a great first thing to smell back on Earth. Yum!”
Astronaut John Philips, a NASA veteran with more space flight experience than all the other crew combined, shares this view. “Initially I thought, ‘What a schmuck!’, but when the door opened and I saw what greeted us, I thought, ‘Heaven!’
Philips (centre) looking satisfied with his fellow crewmates Koichi Wakata (left) and Joseph Acaba, after a delicious meal at Kg Baru
“I mean, look at the choices of food you’ve got here!” he exuded, stuffing himself with the nasi lemak, otak-otak and other delicacies still sold in the wee hours of the morning. “My wife’s never going to let me eat these stuff, so I might as well take advantage of the situation. The food here is simply divine!”
Colleague Joe Acaba added, “Thirteen days in space eating space ration… I can safely say that I think it’s crap. No human should go into space if food was that bad.
“Now, this however… is priceless,” he said, gorging into a big piece of ayam percik.
Residents around the Kampung Baru area didn’t seem to mind the emergency space shuttle landing.
“Well, we’ve had many foreign visitors before,” said Zaleha Awang, a trader selling fruit juice. “We’ve always welcomed tourists here, and the fact that these people came here on a spaceship doesn’t really matter.
“As long as they remove their vehicle before morning, I figure there’s no real problem,” she continued. “DBKL comes around at about 10am, and the area where they put the shuttle has a yellow line on the side, so it’s strictly no parking. That’s denda RM30, mind you.”
Discovery still in Kg Baru in the morning
A visit to the site in the morning saw that Discovery had yet to be moved. NASA spokesperson Robert Wickle said that efforts are under way to bring it back to the US as soon as they can.
“It’s rather big,” said Wickle in a phonecall to NASA HQ, Cape Canaveral. “Obviously we can’t simply tow it back, there’d be logistical issues.
“One thing we could do is to blast off from there as how we usually do it, but it depends on how the Malaysian government feels about it. We’re still in discussions.”