NASA Helps Hartman Find Stories

If you wanted to randomly select people from the planet, the fairest way would be to hold a worldwide lottery with everybody entered. Unfortunately, they don't make any spinning, plastic tumblers that hold 6,791,500,000 ping pong balls. So we did the next best thing.

Last November, the space shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center with a very special stowaway. At the request of CBS News, NASA tucked a small, inflatable globe into the shuttle cargo bay. Later, after Atlantis rendezvoused with the International Space Station, astronaut Jeff Williams spun the globe and randomly pointed to three places.

About the International Space Station

In full disclosure, he actually pointed to more than three. We wanted a few back-up choices just in case he randomly pointed to three spots in the U.S. – which, of course, would have defeated the purpose. I also promised my dad I wouldn't go any place too dangerous.

Fortunately, in the end, it wasn't an issue.

Space Photo Essay
Everyone in the World Has a Story

Once we had our three locations, we traveled to those places and set out to pick one random citizen. Again, ping pong balls were out. So, just as I did for my "Everybody Has a Story" series, I turned to the phone book. I randomly pointed to names until I got a willing subject. This process wasn't easy. In America I always had a hard time convincing people that, no, I really wasn't a prankster or a telemarketer selling aluminum siding. While overseas I encountered those same problems and new ones too. Most people had never heard of Steve Hartman, nor had they ever heard of CBS News, nor did they speak much English beyond, "Me no interest in what you sell today."

I had interpreters try to translate, but it still wasn't easy. One guy agreed to talk and seemed excited, but after we got to his house he decided he wanted money for his story. CBS News never pays for interviews. So I went back to the phone book and pointed again.

As with most setbacks if life, in the end, it all seemed to happen for a reason. We wound-up with some wonderful people with extraordinary stories. My goal now, and throughout this series, will be to convey the magic I felt in getting to know all of them.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.