NASA’s Response to a Child Prodigy, by Ian Abramson

Dear Sammy,

Let me be the first to say how impressed we here at NASA were to receive such an ambitious spaceship design from a six-year-old. The details in your blueprints would have been impressive for a 12-year-old prodigy, let alone a six-year-old prodigy.

While we were deeply impressed with your innovative use of solar panels, we did have a few notes that we thought would strengthen your overall design. Please understand we aren’t just writing to criticize. In fact, take this as a sure sign that we want to put your rocket in space as quickly as we can. We expect to get it in orbit before your bar mitzvah.

Here are some notes from our top engineers:

1. After a long discussion, most of us agreed that there are way too many laser guns. Most of our rockets have absolutely no lasers; you have more than 15 in various areas on the rocket. Also you’ll find it to be much more aerodynamic if you remove the three bayonets on the top of your rocket.

2. Who exactly is “Steve”? More specifically, is he qualified to go into space? Through context clues our best guess is that he’s your stepdad (e.g., in one figure you label him “Not My Real Dad”). Your notes on Steve make him out to be below the level of intelligence one would need to be an astronaut with NASA. You also drew him with a rather large torso, and glasses, which leads us to believe he wouldn’t meet the physical health requirements, or have the 20/20 vision we require for our astronauts. If you’re able to answer these concerns, maybe we can work something out.

3. I think we’ve found a small error in the room labelled “Steve’s Chambers.” It seems you forgot to include any doors. The only way into the room is through a small vent in the ceiling, and once you’re in, there’s no way out! Steve would be unable to reach any controls, and while the remote piloting system you’ve designed is way beyond our current technology, I assume we’d only take control of the rocket from Earth as a fail-safe for if something were ever to happen to Steve.

4. We love the flared funnels in the exhaust, but are unsure that the T. rex painted on the side of the rocket is necessary. As you have it, it would probably burn off as you were leaving the atmosphere. Unless you have some sort of plan for that? An acrylic alloy perhaps? If so, then you’d certainly be the first to, as you put it, “Get a dinosaur in space!”

5. Just to clarify, as the crayon was difficult to read in places (thin-point washable markers are sometimes preferred by prodigies your age), would the intended purpose of the rocket be a one-manned ship to orbit the sun? As they are, your plans seem to read as if the rocket would attempt to land on the gaseous surface of our solar system’s core. As I’m sure you’re aware though, even orbiting the sun would be getting much closer than anything we’ve attempted.

6. Your cooling systems seem to have a fundamental flaw in them. You’ve done a great job at creating a powerful and efficient system to keep your rockets machinery and technology at the right temperature, but have neglected all the spaces a person would inhabit. As it is, your rocket would be able to withstand much higher temperatures than anything else we have at the moment, however, anyone in areas like the control room, hallways, and “Steve’s Chambers” would slowly suffer from the incredible building heat levels as they approached the sun.

7. We think the live stream between “Steve’s Chambers” and your own personal bedroom at home is very sweet, but unfortunately, an unnecessary expense. The cost of constant communication would only allow for private links in our facilities. Plus, if you didn’t fix those cooling systems, you’d just be watching your stepdad die the most horrific death any of our top engineers could imagine.

We’d love to see another draft of your design, and maybe arrange to start getting Steve through the grueling physical, psychological, and intellectual tests our astronauts go through. We believe you’re doing top notch work, and are very moved by the selflessness of your young passion for rockets. I’ve emailed a copy of your notes to our research and development team so that they can get a head start on your designs.

Thank you very much,

Ben Calhoun

Eight-Year-Old C.E.O.


Ian Abramson is a writer and comedian living in Chicago, Il. He produces 7 Minutes in Purgatory, where comedians perform to a camera, and the audience watches in a separate room. Please follow him on Twitter: @iantherage

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NASA’s Response to a Child Prodigy, by Ian Abramson