“If you guys don’t give me a chance to repair my instrument, I’m not going back.”
Asian Americans sometimes joke about Asian parents’ high expectations, but the expectations of an Asian father had lasting effects on space travel. In this fascinating article from Ars Technica, payload specialist Taylor Wang‘s potentially dangerous despair about not meeting parental expectations lead to space mission commanders locking space ship hatches. Wang was a distinguished researcher and scientist before the space mission, but when his experimental failed and he wasn’t given a chance to fix it, he said said the above phrase. By one account, he began repeatedly asking how opening the hatch would let all of the air out.
What really resonated with me was Wang’s statement on his experiment years later:
“When I turned on my own instrument, it didn’t work. You can imagine my panic. I had spent five years preparing for this one experiment. Not only that, I was the first person of Chinese descent to fly on the Shuttle, and the Chinese community had taken a great deal of interest. You have to understand the Asian culture. You don’t just represent yourself; you represent your family. The first thing you learn as a kid is to bring no shame to the family. So when I realized that my experiment had failed, I could imagine my father telling me, ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you even do an experiment right?’ I was really in a very desperate situation.”
I could really feel the weight of the expectations that were upon him, and I am sure that many Asian Americans can feel that as well. He also had the Asian rep sweats, with which many of us can also identify. The next day, crew members found that the hatch had been duct taped over by a mission commander disturbed by Wang’s behavior.
In the end, Wang got his experiment working and continued a very distinguished, successful, and influential scientific career. I give him a lot of credit for bouncing back from such a notable low point. Future space missions would include a padlock on the hatch and would take into consideration worse case scenarios of the mental health of crew members.