Endeavour landed yesterday on its penultimate mission. I tweeted about it, noting that there are only four space shuttle missions left on the manifest. My friend Patrick just asked me what’s next for NASA after the Shuttle retires. My reply on Facebook turned into an essay, so I thought I’d share it here.
What comes after the Shuttle? All the things about NASA that don’t make the headlines will continue. Some even get more funding. The Shuttle has been the poster child for 30 years, but in the meantime, NASA has been instrumental in furthering our understanding of climate dynamics, earth observation, deep space astronomy and cosmology. Robotic planetary and solar exploration, cutting edge research in biology, materials, aeronautics, energy generation, propulsion, you name it, have all continued. Shuttle launches are sexy. But when they end, perhaps a little more light will be shed on everything else NASA does. Cassini, the robotic probe that has taught us more about Saturn and its moons than we ever knew before, just got a seven year life extension. And human space exploration isn’t dead; the Falcon 9 rocket just went vertical last week, with a test capsule that SpaceX claims can be human rated. Static test firings of the Falcon 9 could come as early as this week. Private subspace (read: Virgin Galactic) should come online this year. The Russians are cranking out Soyuz launches like Henry Ford did Model Ts. Europe, Japan, China, & India all have launch systems. The Shuttle will stop flying, but humans won’t. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll resurrect the HL-20. Or the X-33. And don’t forget: the Air Force has a spaceplane now.
Humans have had a continuous presence in space since the year 2000, thanks to the International Space Station. Think about it. For the last decade, a single second hasn’t passed that someone wasn’t zooming over your head at 17,500 mph. It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but that’s the reason I answered a question about NASA’s future with international and private examples: as we go forward, this will be a cooperative effort. It’s one planet. One home. That is an inescapable fact. We are one species. Why not pool our efforts? There’s no need to reinvent the rocket just because you live in a particular spot on this planet behind some imaginary line. There’s no need for every country to send an individual probe to the moon or Mars just because we hoard information about our solar system as if we own it because we were the first to discover it. A fact is a fact; congratulations on learning it first. Now SHARE.
Newsflash: you can’t see borders from space. In my book, that means they don’t exist. They are mere constructs, accidents of history, that everyone seems to agree upon. They are fiction. Made up. There is true reality, and then there is that of which we are convinced. Exploration is inevitable. So is growth. I hope the void left by Discovery and the other shuttles makes room for the spaceships…and discoveries…of tomorrow.
Ever watch those old videos and wonder why the Apollo astronauts developed a loping gait when walking on the moon? Turns out the spacesuit, being inflated like a balloon, helped support its own 220-pound weight. The internal pressure also made it difficult to bend the joints of the suit. When the knee did bend, however, it would spring back, providing an extra pep in each step. This combined with the low lunar gravity meant that the transition speed (the point where humans break into a run from walking) for a suited Apollo astronaut was much lower on the moon. Hence the moonwalkers skipped, bounced and loped across the lunar surface at speeds where we earth-bound humans would simply stride. With any luck this discovery will be brought to bear on the design of Martian spacesuits.
BONUS: I just realized the music video for the Police’s Walking on the Moon was shot on location here at the Kennedy Space Center, back when the unused Saturn V rocket was on display outside the VAB, rusting away until it was restored and placed in a dedicated museum down the road.
No light from any star on high
Can ever reach your earthbound eye
Unless it travels ‘cross the sky
Through time for you to see it
For time is just a form of space
As poets past have long embraced
So every photon starts a race
The moment its star frees it
The race is won when through the air
It strikes your eye while standing there
Its maker’s beauty brought to bear
The journey done at last
The sky of now you’ll never see
From here unto eternity
For stars in your reality
Are from the distant past
Indeed the closest star to us
Past twenty trillion miles must
Ring out its light in hope and trust
In four years it will shimmer
Watch it sparkle watch it dance
Think of how it took the chance
That in the future you might glance
Above and see it glimmer
So when you take in constellations
Think of ancient men and nations
Of firmament’s eternal patience
In shedding all its light
And know you’re watching history
That stars aren’t where they seem to be
And some have even gone to sleep
In that unending night
Hey kids! Been a while, eh? I hope you’ve been enjoying the photos from our trip to Bolivia and Peru; I’ve been using my nightly internet allowance to edit and post those shots. Lorenia put it best this afternoon when she said, “I consider flickr the same as blogging. You’re simply leaning on images more than words.” I hope that explains my absence of late.
Huge changes are afoot. I get married in a matter of weeks (YAY!); my fitness, diet and sleep goals (yes, I have sleep goals) are getting closer to reality; new opportunities are arising at work; and I just got word that one of the references on my astronaut application has been contacted. You could say things are going well.
There is so much I’ve wanted to blog about. I have several ideas every day, and it pains me not to have the time to write about them all at length. Now that I’m on the Zone diet, I spend a little more time each day planning and preparing meals. Add work, crossfit, and flickr to that, and I do well to get a movie in here and there. Right now I have over a hundred blog entries started, just waiting to be fleshed out. At the very least I know I’ll have plenty to do if I ever lose my job or go to the hospital.
What’s broken my silence tonight, first and foremost, is a little something about NASA I’d like to share with the general public. As you may be aware, most of the infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center was put in place in the early sixties. The VAB has recently been re-clad after a series of hurricanes over the past few years, and many other upgrades are underway in advance of the new vehicle. One of those projects is the removal of the large blast-shield louvers on the front of the Launch Control Center.
Given the decades that these iconic shields have been in place and the millions of visitors to the Kennedy Space Center every year, there are probably billions of photos of these louvers in existence. Now, with the fancy new windows going in, they are being dismantled and removed. Out of curiosity, I called up the project manager today to see if they were being donated to a museum. He was very excited to tell me about the project, emphasizing the care with which the crane operator removed them and gently placed them on a flatbed truck to be sent to KSC excess. His mood changed, however, when he recollected that once at the salvage site, the workers stabbed the louvers with a forklift and tossed them into the woods.
My plea to you is this: if you know anyone who would like to include a large part of U.S. space history in a museum, memorial or large-scale art installation, please contact me, and I’ll get you in touch with the right people. There are three more firing rooms whose louvers have not yet been removed. Now is your chance to do something to support the space program.
Ok, next topic! I was on the crossfit website today looking up WODs when I ran across this little gem of an article. The TSA is one of my favorite whipping boys, and I consider this piece to be the final word on the futility of their existence. I hope the next Administration has the good sense to abolish the organization and apply their seven-billion-dollar budget somewhere it might actually do some good. I mean, seven billion dollars? Where did that even come from? That’s more than half NASA’s budget! Do you realize what we could do with those funds? At the very least, if you’re worried about terrorists, apply them to intelligence where they might actually do some good. I’ve always found the hassle of the TSA’s security theater galling. I’m convinced it’s a) a jobs program and b) a crutch for the airline industry who otherwise wouldn’t make as much money on non-refundable tickets.
I’ll leave you with a few words about an epiphany I had today. After a near-death crossfit workout at the gym, I walked out into the brisk evening breeze and witnessed the glory of the fading sunset. The cold blanket of air hovering over the continent had pushed all the clouds out of the Florida sky, so we were gifted with a rare, clear-sky dusk. I marvelled at the strip of orange resting on the horizon, and how the gradient passed through green before fading into the midnight blue overhead. Two bright planets pierced the veil of the heavens before the stars spilled out, and in thinking about the tilt of Earth’s axis and its role in the seasons it dawned on me: someday soon we’ll model all the molecules in the atmosphere, and the secrets of how the giant globs of warm, wet, cold and dry air dance around the globe will be revealed. With a clarity that only intense exertion can create, I further realized that all of mathematics is but a simplification. It is true, it is correct, the science that rests upon it can be empirically verified, but it is an approximation. If our beloved equations fully described reality, we world create worlds when we wrote them down. Instead, they allow us glimpses into creation; they are useful tools for understanding our place in this universe and how to manipulate this wonderful reality to our ends.
Not bad for a weightlifting session. Exercise is for nerds.
a gift from within the stone fortress
sent on feathered wings
graced with golden dust
in the form
of an embrace
with a gossamer key
to the shackles of my own design
a prayer for peace
sent back with the dove
to the point round which all angels
three quarters of an hour away
but further than the edge of space
farewell to someone else’s future
to a time they never saw
I don’t see your horizon
your line in the sand
a tickmark on a never-ending reel
an arbitrary screed on a player piano
rolled up by some long-dead pope
behold the empire of my resolve
stronger than a seven-nation army
I see seven hills
I see seven days
each one a new year
oh oh seven
I can’t believe you’re ten years old. My how you’ve changed things!
In other news, the future of the electric car is starting to look very promising!
What, you want more good news? Okay!
How about I up the ante with some great writing?
Something for your adrenal glands.
Something to get your mouth watering for the winter. (Watch the videos)
What about real, breathtaking HD video of orbiting our Moon? (Thanks Kevin!)
Speaking of breathtaking.
For the curious, an expert explication of the forces behind the headlines.
There. That should tide you over while I’m at SED.
twenty miles away
the glowing orb
squashed into an overripe orange
and dipped behind a string of clouds
a mile away
a solitary bird took flight
and winged its way between the rays
that flew so straight and true
from the blazing inferno of its Source
to the overflowing cup of my eye
then crossed the path again
with I the only one to see it
in a flash
I saw the sun of the Egyptians
and the Greeks
I saw with the eyes of every warrior
and philosopher that has been or will be
and the dawn of realization
left me with a seed of contentment
this is it
and this is worth it
in the balance of all the good and evil humanity has wrought
I am content
for it has brought us to this moment
were civilization to find its end
in this dark night
it would be enough
now as the light fades
and night crawls up with its dark blanket
even as the image is burned into my mind
I breathe deeply
and give thanks
If there’s one thing I’m learning about writing it’s that when inspiration strikes, you must strike back, while the iron is hot. Some of you are probably wondering after the whereabouts of that potentially controversial essay I planned to write on Thursday, the day Lazi got into a car accident that left her and her friend upside down, hanging from their seatbelts. Don’t worry, she’s ok. But you see how easy it is to get distracted? Now it’s three a.m. after a life-changing weekend and my head is full of five pages that I can’t afford to sacrifice sleep to commit to words. God forgive me, but I feel I must resort to the dreaded bullet list. Behold: as many highlights from the weekend as I can remember. Rest assured there are hundreds more my poor brain is already forgetting as the cup overfloweth.