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.
Didn’t think I was gonna get a post up in January, didja? HA! That’ll show ya.
Here’s a month’s worth of hope in one short film. Watch it full screen.
It would take a novel to tell the tale of our recent trip south of the equator. I could wax poetic about the natural beauty of Peru and Bolivia, and indeed, Lake Titicaca is everything the Animaniacs crack it up to be, and Machu Picchu is most deserving of its spot among the New Seven Wonders of the World. What keeps emerging as I tell the stories to friends, however, is an aspect of that same modern world that we as Baha’is are working to eradicate: extremes of wealth and poverty.
Coming home to my first Radiohead concert, after waiting more than a decade to see one of my all-time favorite bands live, only threw the contrast between the United States and Peru and Bolivia into starker relief. While the experience was underwhelming (most likely due to the poor sound quality at Ford Ampitheater in Tampa, the lazy crowd and the mellow setlist), it was still worthwhile. There’s no comparing it to Peru, but I couldn’t get Radiohead’s songs out of my head for days. Indeed I still can’t. In Rainbows defies my knack for hyperbole. I think Vince, who joined us at the concert, said it best.
IN RAINBOWS – choose 1:
a) Great Radiohead Album, or
b) Greatest Radiohead Album
Leave it to a band who defines my generation to say what I wanted to say about South America (and indeed all countries not as privileged as the G8) with a powerful music video, released while we were in Peru.
Arthur C. Clarke, one of my most exalted heroes, has passed to the next world. There is no way I could ever pay proper respect to his spirit or legacy, so I’ll let him speak for himself.
Rest in peace, Mr. Clarke, immersed in everlasting joy and assured in your new, infinite knowledge that all your wishes are true, and will come true for us.
You like coincidences? Check out my most recent flickr photo, which I posted before leaving for Mexico and have left up for nearly a week. I have read 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 2010: Odyssey Two, but until today I did not know that the second sequel was entitled 2061: Odyssey Three. Third book’s the chardm, as they say.
P.S. This is my third visit to Mexico.
It’s only appropeaux that the marriage of the largest and smallest would yield such promising fruit, the seeds of which, when scattered far and wide, have the potential to grow into a foundation-shaking shift in the way we interact with the planet. What am I talking about?
Nanosolar. Say it out loud. Let it roll off your tongue. Be among the first, for soon it will be on every tongue.
Leave it to a company in Silicon Valley to free solar energy from the expense and complexity of silicon. I’ve been preaching the gospel of the Sun for years, patiently awaiting the day that technology caught up with the economy. That day is here, my friends, at one third the price of coal. If we no longer have to fight over cheap, clean, abundant energy, imagine the real possibility for peace among humans.
This is cause for celebration.
It’s 11:30. Let’s see if I can crank this out before another midnight rolls around.
I got off the plane in Miami yesterday, and by some miracle sailed through Customs. Straight to South Beach, where I had a panini and an iced cappuccino at the only dedicated Segafredo cafe in the world. Caught the parade on Lincoln Road, then sauntered over to the beach for my first ocean-water ablutions. No visit to SoBe is completed without a cruise down Ocean, and I must say Kashmir was feeling pretty hip with her sunroof open and Air on the stereo. Stopped by the giant sculpture of a hand on the way out of town, only to discover it was a Holocaust memorial. Spent a haunting hour reliving that nightmare in words, photos, music and art. The tour was free and I was undisturbed by any other visitors, thanks to the kind security guard. Took the scenic route out of town through Surfside, Bal Harbour, Haulover, Sunny Isles and Golden Beach, all the way to Hallandale before hopping on 95. An hour and a half later I was in Port St. Lucie, visiting Denise, catching up, eating protein pancakes and discussing the spirituality of extraterrestrials. We talked so late I ended up crashing in the guest room about two a.m. (after posting the nightly obligatory photos to flickr). Up by seven for a quick goodbye, on the road and into work by 9:30. Full day catching up on emails that arrived during my time in Mexico. Had the incredible honor and distinct pleasure of meeting Sunita Williams at the Expedition 14/15 presentation this afternoon. What a singularly amazing person! She is unbelievably kind, upbeat, fun-loving, intelligent, positive and happy. What a joy to meet someone so deserving of astronaut wings.
Finished up a work, drove home to catch up on the scuba class I missed Monday. Managed to digest 90 pages of information in 45 minutes; enough to ace both tests today. Got out of class around 10:30pm, quick bean burrito from the border, and now this. I’m starting to get upset that I simply have no slots in the day in which to fit my gym routine. What a great problem to have, eh?
I relate all this to you in order to contrast the experience of the past five days in Mexico. People, I could write a small book describing what happens to me in that place; suffice it to say I took over one thousand photos. And you wonder why I’m six months behind on flickr. Though I will remind you that I’ve been consistently six months behind over the past year. So at least I’m keeping the pace, if not catching up.
But pay attention, chico! Mexico. Taxco was a dream. There’s no other way to describe it. Imagine waking up one morning and praying for the perfect day, then having your wildest dreams exceeded at every turn. Just wait til you see the photos. It was so idyllic I’m loath to even tell you the name of such a magical place, perched high atop cliffs in lush, pristine mountains. From our meal on the rooftop terrace overlooking the zocalo, to finding a nine-pointed star in the endless silver shops, to wearing one of my fifteen (!) new lucha libre masks through town and creating a scene…well, you just had to be there. Heck, if you want to go, I will take you there. In a heartbeat.
We fit a month into five days. I’m not even beginning to exaggerate. Floating languidly down the canals on a pole boat in Xochimilco. Dancing at one of the hippest clubs I’ve ever seen in Polanco. Racing through the empty, rain-soaked streets of one of the world’s largest cities at the wheel of Lulu’s Liberty at 4am. Quiet dinners and home with my Mexican family. Profound glances. Unspoken truths. Learning more Spanish than most people would in a semester.
Of the hundred epiphanies that were visited upon me during my stay, one stands out: on the last night, as I watched the lights twinkle on the mountains that ring this dream of a city, I realized: I am a different person here. Not once had I thought of my home in Florida, or my job, or my mortgage, or my bills, or my obligations. It dawned on me that my personality had changed; I was literally seeing with new eyes. Mexican eyes. What everyone had been telling me was true. “You’re at least half Mexican.” “No wonder you like Mexico, we’re all like you!” “You are my cousin, mi primo.” “You are my brother.” “Te quiero mucho.” “I love you.”
It’s a good thing I came back “home” through Miami. Otherwise I might not have survived the reverse culture shock.