Happy Birthday!

Posted on October 1st, 2008 by george.
Categories: fun, future, life, photography, prayer, serendipity, space, technology.

First, to my father. Without him, there are countless reasons I wouldn’t be here.

Fish tacos!

Second, to NASA. It’s incredible to me that they share the same birthday. When I called Dad to wish him well today, he said it was meant to be that he have a son who would one day work for such a storied organization.

Me and Aki

So here’s to both of you! We celebrated in fine style this week, with the crew of STS-124 returning to KSC to visit the employees on Monday. I had the distinct privilege of meeting and speaking with Aki Hoshide, Mike Fossum, Ron Garan and Ken Ham. During the question and answer session I asked about their views on the future of space exploration, since Space X successfully launched the Falcon rocket into orbit on their fourth attempt just this Sunday, making it history’s first private orbital spacecraft.

With Ken and Ron

Ron gave a brilliant answer, one which I didn’t forsee and which settles the false dichotomy between public and private space. Many people aren’t aware how much NASA supports private space exploration, even putting their money where their mouth is and seed-funding several startups, not to mention making arrangements for future private-party resupply missions to the International Space Station. Ron said it’s time for NASA to leave LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to the startups, and venture outward into the solar system. The ISS is an incredible outpost, and we should operate it as intended, as an international microgravity science laboratory, but it should be resupplied with cargo and crew by private companies. NASA should throw its weight behind efforts where it has historically excelled, namely exploration. It makes sense to field more robotic missions to planets and NEOs (Near Earth Objects) and to embark on human exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars. It’s a beautiful symbiosis. Ron emphasized that NASA and other government space programs are the only ones capable of pursuing the goals that are “seventy years out,” meaning the missions for which there is no immediately discernible financial return, but which intangibly benefit us all. LEO is ripe for commercial expansion. But Elon Musk doesn’t have the $40 billion it’s going to take to put a human on Mars.  Yet.

With Mike Fossum

Today, on the golden anniversary of NASA beginning operations, the employees of the Kennedy Space Center celebrated by walking, running and rollerblading 1-mile, 5K and 10K courses on the three-mile-long Shuttle Landing Facility. I take special pride in being the person who started the rollerblading tradition (much to the chagrin of the competitive runners) four years ago. Each year we have a greater number of dorks in helmets out on the slab. It’s fantastic fun. This year marks the first time I’ve been beaten to the finish line!

Twin STAs

The highlight for me, though, is after the race. It’s not the free catered food and sports drinks, the camaraderie and the swag, all of which are good. It’s the chance to see what goes on nearly every day at the SLF, up close and personal. Astronaut pilots and commanders are training all the time in the STAs (Shuttle Training Aircraft), modified Gulfstreams with sophisticated flight controls and avionics to make them fall out of the sky just like space shuttles.

Exuding with the STAs

Today there were two STAs on the tarmac, and anyone who was brave enough to ask got a guided tour. There’s nothing in the world like sitting in the pilot seat of a split-down-the-middle frankenstein machine, half shuttle, half executive jet, looking through the futuristic transparent HUD (Head Up Display) as the astronauts arrive in their T-38 supersonic jets to train in the very seat in which you sit. We got the royal treatment, too, staying onboard while the engines spooled up and meeting the former astronauts and maintenance officers for the SR-71 and U-2 who teach the younger flyboys and flygirls how to handle the magnificent birds. I learned more in one evening about the STA than I have in all my years as an aerospace engineer. These planes have the longest service history of any Gulfstream (a company also celebrating its 50th) aircraft ever produced.  The engines are different, as are the thrust reversers, the 30-degree-positive flaps, and countless other systems that give these planes their jekyll-and-hyde personality.

Boarding the STA

As I skated back to the car, the sky turned various brilliant shades of pink and orange as more astronauts arrived in their jets.  I bid the crew farewell and said a silent prayer of thanks for the privilege I enjoy, working every day at the greatest spaceport on Earth, for an organization responsible for some of the crowning achievements of our era and that has contributed so much to humankind.

In the student seat of the STA

6 comments.

Wenia

Comment on October 1st, 2008.

I think TMBWILNSM (That Must Be Why I Like NASA So Much)… all those AEFW (acronyms every freakin’ where).

:-P

Sholeh

Comment on October 2nd, 2008.

awesome.

and hahahaha at Lorenia’s comment. :-D

atoosa

Comment on October 5th, 2008.

As if you didn’t know: You are one lucky son of a gun (that gun being in this case, one George Hatcher, Sr). Happy Birthday, Big George! And G, while you’re being all sexy.dangerous in your roller blades, it’s fun as always to live vicariously through you in all things related to the Final Frontier, my friend.

Andrew

Comment on October 8th, 2008.

YAY! This post makes me beam. :D

Maysooni

Comment on October 13th, 2008.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA LOVE THIS! Happy BIRTHDAYYY BROTHA!

Mom

Comment on October 21st, 2008.

Such a wonderful well written blog entry!

Leave a comment

Comments can contain some xhtml. Names and emails are required (emails aren't displayed), url's are optional.