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Science. The Real Why… For Me

I love science but I am not a scientist.  I’m not one of those cliché guys/gals that just says they like science because nerds and geeks are the “in” thing.  I was well into it before that.  I will say that I do like that movement and hope it lasts.  The reason, for me, runs very deep.  I will explain.

Science is not some mystical subject.  It’s not some unobtainable understanding for the layman.  It isn’t for the elite few with lots of money, luck or both.  Science, unlike Justice, is not blind.  It is, or can be, all seeing and best of all it is one simple word: understanding.  You see you don’t have to have degrees and PhDs to get it.  It’s true that science and it’s inner workings require a lot of discipline to know and understand but fundamentally it does not.  I’ll explain.

The Sun's WorkingsTo know

As I said, it’s about understanding.  Here’s an example:

How does the Sun work?  If you’re not sure that’s ok.  If you’re an astrophysicist then I should hope you’d know.  The thing is, it’s simple to explain how it works.  That is, you can tell the average citizen how it works and you’ll see the light bulb go off in their head. Pun.

I won’t leave you hanging so here’s a rough explanation:

So the Sun works on a basic principle; nuclear fusion.  It’s some 75% hydrogen, 24% helium and 1% other stuff.  The intense (26,000,000F) heat and pressure are perfect conditions for hydrogen atoms to fuse into a heavier helium atom.  To simplify this a little, imagine that hydrogen weighs 1 and you add another 1 to it.  You might expect the helium to come out as weighing 2 but it doesn’t.  It weighs a little less.  So what happened? That mass it lost was converted into energy.  That energy is the heat and light we feel and see everyday.  The fusion process is in harmonious balance with the gravitational forces that would otherwise cause the Sun to collapse in on itself.

See? It’s pretty a pretty simple concept.  Yes, it’s way way more complex on a deeper level but that’s plenty easy for anyone to understand.

Boy is that cat pissed!Lifting The Veil Of Uncertainty

The thing is, people have to be willing to learn this stuff.  Some people are extremely narrow in their views and some view science as irrelevant.  That is a dangerous position to take.  Why?  Our world is more and more dependent on technology.  We cannot let the advancement of science and technology take a back seat to primitive tendencies that humans have an amazing knack for.

Ok, so the real why.  I’m at that point you see.  It’s not about “I know this and you don’t so neener neener!” No, absolutely not.  If anyone boasts on their intellectual superiority then they’re no better than the very people that I loathe.  Science gives you a broad view on the world.  It gives you a broad view on every single thing in the Universe.  You don’t look at a person and think “they are different/inferior to me…” you think “they are different and that’s fascinating…”  With the idea and concept of science, your view becomes unbiased.

You suddenly realize that you’re comprised of particles; that make up atoms; that make up molecules; that make up organic compounds; that form cells; that form our bodies to start living in a town; in a county; in a state; in a country; on a continent; on a planet; in a solar system; in a galaxy; in a galactic cluster; in a super cluster in the Universe.  While we’re each unique, we’re also so very, very tiny.  I mean VERY tiny.  It’s humbling and it opens ones eyes to the reality of the world beyond literal imagination.  It’s so big and vast that one might argue “Why bother anyway?”  The answer is “Why not?”  If we stop now, then the human race is done for.  If we want to progress as a species (yes, that’s right, people from ALL walks of life) then we must progress towards a grander understanding.

The Elusive Utopian Dream

nevergonnagetthereI know, it’s a fools dream.  I tend to believe that most people are good at heart and maybe they do stupid things under pressure of a small number not so good people.  Even the people that aren’t so good would probably benefit from just a basic understanding of why “knowing” is important.  That’s what science is; to know.  It’s the understanding of the natural world of which we are all a part of.  There’s no escaping it.  If you’re reading this, you’re a part of something really big, even if you’re just a tiny piece of the puzzle.

It’s our duty as human beings to try and be kinder to each other and for that matter the Earth upon which we live.  It can be scary to stray from old and comfortable ideas but we’re all in this together whether we like it or not.  Degrading someone because they’re different does not advance our species in any way imaginable.  The same goes for putting yourself on a pedestal above others.

Where Do We Go From Here?

All of this was spurred on by reading comments/tweets on the web regarding young children that were either of a certain ethnicity or had a disorder.  The most vile stuff spewed forth from the fingertips of these people.  Stuff that, if they had to say in person, they’d never be able to do.  The ‘man behind the curtain’ effect gives people an increased audacity.  Don’t even GET me started on cyber bullying.  I’ll stop there for now.  This was just a big late night rant but I firmly stand behind this reasoning.  I don’t ‘believe’ or ‘think’ that an understanding of the natural world would be enlightening to our species; I know it would be.

As always, keep looking up.


The rock that stopped my world (for a few hours at least)

Calm, they say...

Calm, they say…

Friday was like any other day for me at work.  Everyone was glad weekend was approaching and around 4pm I’d started to wind my day and week down.  This usually means finishing up any minor projects that might have gotten overlooked during the week.  It could include polishing up a larger project or just getting a project to a good stopping point.

Everything was going as planned and as 4:30 rolled around I had started thinking about what the evening would hold for me.  I had originally planned to help a friend assemble a bed from Ikea.  That was put on hold though.  I was also invited to go to a concert / help a friend celebrate a birthday.  From here on out I’ll post events in a chronological suspense thriller type fashion.

4:35 – The Burning

I had to pee for lack of a better term and as I attempted to go I noticed a burning sensation with some mild shooting pains.  Nothing terribly alarming I thought.  Maybe I was just dehydrated?  I’m prone to not drinking enough water anyway.  So I get a large cup of water and proceed to down it.  It wasn’t 5 minutes later the urge to urinate had come back.  Again, burning and more shooting pains.  I still wasn’t alarmed but I was very annoyed.

4:45 – The Pain

Around this time I felt like I had gas pains creeping in.  I felt as if I needed to use the bathroom in more ways than just #1.  I took care of that and hoped that it would ease the cramped feeling I’d started to get.  Alas it did not.

4:50 – Decision Time

I go back to my desk and see it’s 10 till 5:00.  At this point the burning is burning and the pain has really set in on my left side.  It’s getting worse by the second and I made an alarming realization; this had to be a kidney stone.

Anyone who’s had one will testify as to just how mind numbingly excruciating they can be.  Now I had one when I was 19 and it required a visit to the ER.  Since that time I’d actually passed a couple without any pain at all.  Suddenly I’m at work and I’m faced with this stark realization of being at least 25 minutes from a hospital.  I knew time was not on my side.

I grabbed my keys and left without telling anyone so much as “bye”.  I’m now in a slight panic as I headed to my truck.  The pain is now really setting in and I’m frantically trying to figure out my best option.  Do I go to the nearby med center? Can they even administer something strong enough for THIS kind of pain?  Do I attempt to go up the interstate to Henry Medical center? Do I drive to Griffin and go to Spalding Regional Hospital?  I didn’t want to lollygag and hang around to make that decision.

4:55 – In Route

I jumped into my truck and left work and took Hwy 155 to Griffin.  My thinking was that was the least crowded way to go and that route would take me to the side of town where the hospital was located.  I called my wife and explained to her I was in a lot of pain and that “I’m dying” and was headed to the ER.  Mind you, I wasn’t dying.  I felt like I was and felt like I’d rather be dead.

I think she was upset that I was even attempting to drive and in hindsight it was dumb but also I knew that time was of the very essence and that minutes would make the difference.  I had to make this drive to the hospital despite the borderline gut wrenching pain.

Half my trip was spent arguing if the hospital was the way to go or a medical center.  I kept saying that hopefully I’d get moved ahead of people with less serious ailments.  I was an optimist even in one of my darkest moments, so that counts for something right?  Thankfully all the back and forth kept my mind off of the pain just enough to get me to the hospital.

5:15 – Checking In #AtTheHospitalLOL

From here on in, time was blurring together for me so I’ll try to be accurate as possible.  I walked into the ER and noticed on a few people which was a relief.  I asked the lady if this was the ER and she directed me to fill out a form.  I wrote as fast as I could and the reason for the visit was “I think I have a kidney stone!”  I handed the form in and pleaded my case that I was in a lot of pain.  They said I’d be called shortly.  I had to keep it together and it was getting increasingly difficult.

The wait is how long??

The wait is how long??

5:25 – Triage

A nurse called me back for vitals and asked calmly what I was in for.  In my contorted and twisted body position I calmly replied “Pretty sure I have a kidney stone”.  Followed by “so here I am, hurting, just need some help, yep, need to get seen…”  I was yammering on about how bad it hurt when she asked about pain on the 1-10 scale.  This scale is funny because docs use it a lot.  I’ve been asked a few times and the thing is, pain is such an arbitrary thing from person to person.  Most of the time I just pick an arbitrary number.  This is one of the two times in my life that I can say with absolute assuredness that it was a 10 of the highest magnitude.  I was later asked about pain and asked if I could answer “11”.

I was done with triage and sent back to my seat to wait.  At that time my wife and two sons had showed up.  The ER was the last place I wanted my kids to hang out in and honestly I didn’t want my kids seeing me like that.  Here’s dad, this guy we look up to, to be strong and courageous and he’s nearly in the fetal position.  I gave them a hug and said I was hurting but did my best to put on a happy face.  She decided she’d take them to her moms house only a mile or so away.  I said goodbye and now I waited

5:30 – The waiting

It was at this point that I was out of thing to keep my mind preoccupied.  I could only sit and wait.  Sitting was amusingly hard to do.  I was nearly sitting on the side of my head, it felt like.  Strangely enough standing up seemed to alleviate the pain slightly.  My wife had made it back a few minutes later and I was complaining that it seemed like more people were leaving than were going in.  I was angry at everything at that point but the pain kept me from lashing out.  Nearly half an hour would roll by before I asked the receptionist ( is that right? ) about the wait time.  She told me that the person in front of me had waited almost an hour and a half.  Wow, I was going to die (ok I wasn’t but seriously I felt like I was!).

I pleaded my case that I didn’t mind waiting but that I would much rather do it in less pain.  She told me to ask the nurses if they could help.  I was desperate and didn’t care what kind of fool I might have looked like.  I knocked on the door to triage and asked if they could help me in any way.  They said I was about to be called.  At that point I saw the door open and heard my name.  Finally, one step closer to relief and an answer.  I had only assumed kidney stone and was 97% sure but the other 3% lingered on my mind.

6:00 – The Room

I walked into my room and was left there alone much to my dismay but I was happy to at least have my own room.  I attempted to lie down but couldn’t sit still long enough.  Also, my wife had stepped out to make a phone call so she hadn’t come back with me.  I felt quiet lonely and wanted to see her face as seconds felt like minutes and minutes felt like hours.  She finally came back and said she’d called another medical center when she overhead the wait time.  I think perhaps they saw the shape I was in and bumped me up and I’m very grateful for that.  The condition I was in constituted an actual emergency.  While not life threatening, the pain is just about second to none.

6:15 – Shot in the arm

A couple of nurses walked in and started to ask questions.  I kept as calm as I could while answering.  I was injecting questions about an IV and getting the pain reduced, nonstop.  The head nurse said he was on it.  He put the IV in and the doc walked in and ordered the medicine; Zofran for nausea and Dilaudid for pain.  The nurse stepped out to get the medicine, which they understandably keep locked up.  I told him to run, no, fly.  They were doing their best.

I had to wait a few more minutes for the nurse to come back and in that time I had started to unravel a bit.  I was moaning in pain at this point and honestly I didn’t have a care in the world about how I appeared to anyone.  Nausea had settled in an I felt like I was on the verge of passing out.  Not a moment later the nurse walks in and goes right to administering the Zofran.  Next the pain medication.

Anyone catch the number of that train?

Anyone catch the number of that train?

6:20 – We have liftoff

As the dilaudid is being injected into my arm I felt this intense rush come over me.  It was a sense of flying right out of my bed and this intense “whoooosh” feeling swept over me.  It was intense and I even said “whoaaaaaa” to which the nurse said yeah, that’ll pass in minute or so.  I was almost instantaneously transported from a world of pain into a world of serenity.  While the medicine did not 100% rid the pain, it went from a 10 to around a manageable 3-4.  I felt human again.

6:30 – The Hulk That Never Was

Shortly after that a radiologist popped in and said a CT scan had been ordered to look for a stone.  Wow, this was fast.  The last time I had a stone I had to drink that stuff that cleared your bowels out (ew!) and get injected with dye.  That was well after the fact also.  This was much easier and faster.  I got wheeled around the annals of the hospital and felt quite good I must say.  I was my old self, joking and bantering on about nonsense.  The scan took 2-3 minutes and I was whisked by to my room to await results.  The next hour or so passed fairly uneventfully save for urinating into a bottle which felt like it took an act of congress to approve.

I was secretly hoping for a gamma radiation accident so I could go all Hulk up in there.  Well, ok, I know that’s not possible but still, the idea was entertaining!

7:45 – The Return

After giving a urine sample, much to my dismay, the pain seemed to creep back up and steadily intensified.  Seriously?  I was doped up and the pain was already coming back?  I hit the call button and they asked if I needed anything.  I said the pain had returned and they said they’d be in shortly.  I was now moaning again and was quite upset.  How could I go from feeling good and loopy back into this pain?  I think what happened was after I urinated, the stone began to move again since my bladder was empty.  That’s my logic and I’m sticking to it.

Oh yeah, I should also mention that the doc had popped in and confirmed the stone at nearly 6mm.  That’s a HUGE stone, well, huge for me.

8:15 – The Calm After The Storm

For whatever reason, around this time, the pain suddenly dropped off.  I didn’t know why but didn’t care.  I went from 9-10 to a sudden 0 on the pain scale.  I wasn’t sure if the medicine had a second wind or if the stone actually made it to the bladder.  I was just glad the pain was gone, for now that is.  The nurse came back in and said she had pain meds to give.  I wasn’t in pain anymore but in my mind it could return at any time.  She gave me another dose of the dilaudid and once again, I was off to the Moon.  Now I was nearly 100% carefree and painfree.

8:45 – Kthxbai!

The doctor came in and said they were releasing me and gave me all the info I needed for a follow up with a urologist.  I said that’s great and all but lets talk about this pain.  I said these exact words to her, “Give me the strongest medicine for pain that you’re legally allowed to give.”  She laughed and said not to worry, it was strong.  Ok, good.  See, I don’t want to end up back in the ER at 10pm or 3AM.

9:00 – Home Sweet Home

I was finally home and was able to see my two boys and they were so glad I wasn’t dead. Ha!  Hey, me too for that matter.  Thus ended my drama but the drama for my wife getting my medicine had only begun.  Over the next three hours she would have gone to three pharmacies only to find that no one in Griffin had Percocet-10.  She had to go to McDonough (20 miles away) and only then did she find out the prescription was NOT signed.  Damn!  Percocet is highly controlled and you must have a hard copy signed by the doctor to get it.  It’s strong stuff for sure.  She had to come BACK to Griffin then go BACK to McDonough but alas was able to finally get it filled.  Thank you my love! The story isn’t quite done though.

12:20 – Who’s Our Special Guest Tonight?



I was waiting up for Jen to get home with the medicine and figured I’d be better off sleeping.  I wasn’t hurting so I better make the most of it.  One last task for the night was to pee again.  I felt a sudden strong urge to do so.  I had been given a strainer to catch a stone but left it in the car.  Oops!  An empty coke bottle would do and believe me it wouldn’t be the first (nor probably last) time I’d peed in a bottle.  So I walk in, assume the position and went to take care of business.  I can only describe the sensation I felt by referring you to the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  You know, where Indy is running for his life from the giant boulder.  Yes, that boulder was rolling down on the inside of me.  That little bastard rolled right out and into the bottle.  *plunk*

Wait, what?  Did I just pass this stone? That fast?  I held up the bottle in disbelief.  Sure as hell, there it was; the rock that stopped everything for a few hours.  This thing had me on my head in pain.  I wanted to murder it and burn it.  All I could do was stare in amazement and this sudden relief swept over me.  That was it.  It was done.  I’d thrown the ring into the fires of Mount Doom.  It was only moments later that Jen walked in, with my medicine.  She asked if I was in pain, to which I didn’t reply but only showed her the stone.  We were both amazed.

The actual culprit.  Penny is for size reference.

The actual culprit. Penny is for size reference.

She said “Well, take one of the pain pills anyway because I went through hell to get them.”  No argument here my dear.  Though I was still more than medicated enough from the hospital.  I would sleep very nicely on this night now that I had that little devil out of me.

Thus ended the weirdest Friday I’ve ever had.  I’m glad I didn’t go to put together a bed and so very glad I chose not to go out that night.  Although I was stricken with it well before any of that would have happened.  I was just glad the evening unfolded the way it did because it could have been worse for sure.

I’m now the proud father of a rock.

Aliens are not here; not proven at least

Ok, this one is kind of fun.  Aliens. Where are they?  I mean they’re here right? Not so fast.  Lets get this science lesson out of the way right here and now.


This is the Milky Way:

Here you are and most of everything you can see in the night sky

Here you are and most of everything you can see in the night sky

So there you have it. That’s us tucked away in a tiny corner of that galaxy.  What is a galaxy? Ok, more science so strap in.  Here goes…

We live on Earth, which orbits a star we call the Sun.  Our entire solar system is a few billion miles across.  Pretty damn big but paltry compared to the big stuff.  So our solar system is what is orbiting the center of the milky way.  Now, Earth goes around the Sun once every 365 days.  Our Sun orbits the galactic center once every 250,000,000 years (give or take. I mean really, what’s million years here or there).  So in comparison, our solar system is a spec of dust.  The galaxy we live in is some 100,000 light years across.  That’s the distance light travels in ONE Earth calendar year.  It’s around 10,000,000,000,000km.  So to get the distance across the galaxy, add six more 0s to that number for a whopping 10,000,000,000,000,000,000km across.  Ten quadrillion kilometers (or 6 quadrillion miles).  Yes.  It’s a very very big place.  Even so it’s tiny compared to the Universe.  We’re done with that stuff for now.  We’ll focus on the local area around Earth.

Tinfoil hats at the ready!

Aliens, right?  They’re here, right?  Ok, like I said before – hold the phone.  Think about this.  The nearest star to us is 25 TRILLION miles away.  Traversing interstellar space would be a mind boggling feat.  We can’t even begin to comprehend the technologies that would have to be employed for such a journey.  The space craft would be massive, supporting generations of their species perhaps.  It’d also move very fast I imagine.  So that’s why the stories of bizarre lights and little zippy dots caught on camera really make me roll my eyes.  Think about it.

A vastly superior species shows up and they flit around in the sky at break neck speeds then disappear.  Uh, no.  Hell no.  I’ve traveled trillions of miles at the very least – I’m going to land and get shit done.  It doesn’t make any sense at all.  Ok, people that are abducted right, that’s a good one.  They recollect the entire story and what one thing is missing? The evidence is missing.  The actual physical evidence isn’t there.  NDT (Neil deGrasse Tyson) said it best “take an ash tray!”.  His point was that ANYTHING on a ship capable of interstellar travel would be worth looking at.  Where is this stuff? Oh it doesn’t exist.  Just like the aliens that took them in the first place.  Moving along to my final peeve.  Aliens were here long ago and vanished.

We’re awesome, screw this place and screw YOU!



So, yeah, they were here a long time ago and left.  In the process of leaving they also took every single bit of their technology with them.  Oh but they were nice enough to leave us stone carvings the vaguely depict that technology.  Gee, thanks, asses.  By the way, thanks for scaring the shit out of everyone with your damned outdated calendar.  Looking at you, Mayans.

Get on with it…

So that leaves me with this final note: I believe life exists elsewhere.  Mathematically speaking it just has to be true.  Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon and Oxygen are extremely abundant in the Universe.  We just happen to be made of those elements (minus the helium because that’s just for silly voices, duh).

Nope, nope, nope!


So in a Universe chock full o’ ingredients with hundreds of billions of stars JUST in our galaxy, we’d be fools to assume we’re special enough to be alone.  We are special as I think everything is special in its own way.  We’re amazing because we actually CAN understand the Universe if we open our minds to it.  That’s the real trick though.  Some people refuse to let that knowledge in or deny it.

I’m not saying you can’t have faith and all.  Sure, have it and let it better your life and those around you.  Just don’t suppress information.  Don’t feel you’re better or above someone else because your belief is better.  Just be a nice person, ok? Also, don’t deny that the study of the natural world is a good thing.  Of course it can be a double edged sword as can anything but most scientists have one common goal: to know.

Aliens might one day show up.  I can’t know that and no one can but I have a feeling we’ll HEAR them before we see them.  Even then, they won’t be talking to US but to themselves.  The profound thing is that if we listen in on a civilization that’s even 100 years more advanced than we are, imagine the implications of that.  Us + 100 years of advancement.  It’s exciting and a little scary to think about.  I’m optimistic that we’ll hear or observe something that indicates life elsewhere in the Universe but I think you can feel safe that the men in black won’t show up to zap your brain and make you forget the whole thing.

Space Shuttle: All Systems Go

Atlantis sits on the pad in the early dawn hours

Atlantis sits on the pad in the early dawn hours

I really hoped I wouldn’t be tired when I woke up to get on the road but I wasn’t even a bit tired.  My son handled the 3:30am wake up call rather well.  It was my mother that woke us both us.  I don’t think she slept very well.  Our first destination was a local mall parking lot to get my son’s KSCVC (Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex) ticket.  We made the stop only to find out we had to travel to KSCVC to get the ticket.  We were given a name to ask for and off we went, again.

It was dark and following my GPS didn’t seem as reliable as following the signs since millions had been here before me.  I took the first exit that read KSC.  Upon taking that exit I realized it was the back way into KSC.  With such a high profile launch would it be closed off?  I was nervous and irritated but still followed the signs.  We got to a checkpoint and the guard was as happy as he could be.  He told me to keep the placard in the window and which way to go.  He said not to make any wrong turns and then laughed again.  Do not make any wrong turns: noted.

As we drove down a few winding roads we could see lights just on the horizon.  I knew that was the shuttle as it was always very well lit when being prepped during the night.  A couple of turns later we were pulling into KSCVC and we were routed to a parking spot.

We were here.  Would the weather cooperate?

We made our way to where we had to pick up our extra ticket and completed that transaction with no problems at all.  We then had to stand in line for security checks.  The air was soupy thick with humidity and I wondered how we’d stand waiting for launch.  It was nearing 5AM at this point and we were inside the Visitor’s Center.  After a bathroom break we made our way out towards the Rocket Garden and we would set up camp there.

It was so bizarre seeing so many people wide awake at such an hour.  I should say that most people were wide awake.  I saw more than a few people completely laid out trying to catch a snooze.  Once again, the question was if the weather would improve enough.

I would like to note that my phone had next to no service, despite having full bars.  The only thing I can pin it down to would be that some half a million other people were trying to get onto the same network.  A text here and there would make it through but it was folly to try and do anything else.  Phone was useless at this point but it would come in handy later.

The waiting game began as soon as we got there.  While we had plenty to do we were all there for the main event.  It seems there were the ones that weren’t very concerned with what was going on, how I do not know, and the ones that were obsessively trying to figure out what was going on.  I fit into the latter.  I had my phone, which was useless as a source of info due to the data network but the biggest info updates came via the P.A. system.  A couple of guys behind us had a scratchy radio that would cut in and out.  We mostly just sat and waited.

As T-0 drew nearer, we began to look at the sky more and more.  It was looking promising and given that the previous 12-14 hours looked terribe, we’d take it.  The clouds seemed to be pushing out over the ocean and a clear patch was directly above us and to the west.  Weather forecasters were still unsure if any rain shows might pop up inside of the 15 mile radius.  We crossed our fingers and to lighten things up we went and ahead and gave our go for launch.  Would they listen to us?  Doubt it!  T-0 was 11:27AM EST and it was fast approaching.

It’s strange how the atmosphere began to get really charged at around 30 minutes to T-0.  Whereas people had been wandering and exploring, they began to flock to their camped out areas and wait contently.  Add us to that bunch but I couldn’t sit still and just wait, so I kept popping over to the nearby PA speakers to listen to the commentators on NASA TV.  The polling of all the groups is one of the most exciting parts for me.  That signifies that it’s really about to go down, assuming  no one says “no go”.  Mike Leinbach was the launch director and he was the one that made the final call.  After having made the rounds he finally got to Houston Flight.  They said to keep going around to poll others and to come back to them.  That made my heart skip a beat but when Mike came back to Houston they said that for the record they were “go”.  I little voice in my head silently shouted “yes!”  I felt like I was on the team that had scored the touchdown to give us the lead yet with time still on the clock, the game wasn’t over!

Now we found our way back to our spot and waited.  The next big event would be coming out of the T-9 hold.  Once the countdown from there began it was a fully automated process and no other holds were built in.  For all intents and purposes, once it started, you’d see a launch in 9 minutes.   I held my breath as it drew near and just like that the clock read 8:59, 8:58, 8:57… It was really happening.  I could hardly contain myself I was probably blabbering like a fool though I don’t recall acting that way.  During this part of the countdown we would encounter several milestones.  A few being retracting of the arm that fuels the external tank, switching to internal power, pressurizing tanks and having the astronauts close and lock their visors.  Everything was going as planned until T-0:31.

The damn thing stopped

At 31 seconds until liftoff the clock suddently stopped*.  My stomach sank and a groan eminated from the crowd.  All this way, all this time and all for nothing?  It was the nightmare scenario of it coming down to the final seconds and it being scrubbed because maybe a bird landed on the tank or something obscure and unforseen had happened.  We could hear controllers rambling on about something but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.  Before I could really catch on a cheer erupted from the crowd.  Ok, that’s good, I’m assuming that’s good, right?  At that point I could hear the controllers saying they’d like to resume the countdown.  At that point I was nearing being in tears from joy.  I didn’t know why the clock had stopped but who cares as long as it goes up!  The slight delay pushed the launch time back by about 2 minutes to 11:29AM.

Tunnel vision

The controller came over the PA and said the countdown would resume on his mark; 3, 2, mark!  The clock was moving again and whereas it had seemed to drag on and on for hours, the final few dozen seconds were flying by.  My mind was racing, my heart was racing.  I had no idead how I would react to what I was about to see.

10 seconds

The igniters start up to burn off excess hydrogen that might have gathered under the vehicle

7 seconds

Go for main engine start.  We all watched the three main engines roar to life on the big screen television near the rocket garden.  My heart was pounding and we had all started to count down with the commentator, George Diller.






Suddenly everyone stopped counting as maybe we all held our breath…


Lift off of Atlantis!

Atlantis lifting off one last time marking the final space shuttle launch ever.


Cheers erupted and I think we all lost our minds momentarily as we watched it jump off the pad with a jolt.  We were 8 miles from the pad so the sound would take some time to reach us but we’d easily be able to see Atlantis clear the building in front of us.  We were all straining our eyes looking…looking and finally, there she was.  Atlantis came out from behind the IMAX building.  My first thought was “WOW that thing is hauling ass!”  though I think I only said “WHOA!”.

There it was.  There we were.  We had finally done it.  We gazed upon the shuttle in flight one last time with millions of other people sharing one common goal; to witness history.  It was short lived though as the low cloud deck would soon swallow her up and allow to to ride into the heavens with a bit of privacy.  The show wasn’t over yet because shortly after going into the clouds, the sound came.  What a sound it was.  It’s hard to describe, really.  It wasn’t loud so much as it was deep.  It was the deepest, lowest sound I’d ever heard and felt.  It shook everything from the buildings to the ground to your ear drums.   My grin stretched from ear to ear and my mom and I hugged each other.  My son wasn’t quite 8 years old yet and he hadn’t fully understood what he was witnessing but he was into it and carrying on with everyone else.

Our view of Atlantis

It wasn’t long before Atlantis vanished into the clouds. Snapped this by just pointing and clicking. Not bad!

Relax and enjoy the show

We watched Atlantis ride into orbit on the big screen.  Most people had started to scatter before then but I traditionally watched all eight and a half minutes of the ascent.  Today was no different.  It was only after that we began to call people and text people.  My cousin had texted me and said he heard it was going up and wished the best.  My wife said she was crossing fingers as well.  I was so glad it went up so I could offload my excitement to them.  I hadn’t relaxed in so long it was like taking a deep breath.  At that point, nothing mattered to me.  Life was good, despite the lingering possibility of having to have my gallbladder removed.  I would let nothing rain on my parade.  It was a great day and I was going to relish it for the rest of my life.

*As for why the countdown stopped. It was a simple computer error. The swing arm (orbiter access) didn’t tell the computer it had moved out of the way. They visually confirmed it was retracted and off she went


I wanted to add this video to the post.  It starts with the NASA TV coverage and while the visual coverage remains, I slowly blend in the sounds we heard. The audio is surprisingly good for a basic smartphone. I was told to not focus on snapping pics and vid of your first launch. I figured I’d turn it on and put it down in the chair and watch the shuttle go up with my own eyes. 🙂


Space Shuttle: The Final Year

That last attempt was in 2007.  A lot happened in that year.  Our youngest son was born in August and I got a new job in November.  For the time being I was grounded as far as launch attempts go.  They are expensive and mostly time consuming.  Time is what I didn’t have a lot of.

Launches would come and go and each time I’d ruminate as to whether I should attempt one.  These wouldn’t be planned out attempts.  They would be midnight runs so to speak.  Driving down, watching and driving right back.  I’d been there before and that just didn’t sound too appealing.  The ever so present threat of coming up empty handed put that thought to rest each time.

I didn’t miss a single launch, be it television or webcast.  I take that back.  I did miss the initial lift-off of a 4am launch.  Seriously, can you blame me?  I woke up right as the throttle up call was made.  Oops!  I watched it go into orbit and then passed out.

The End of an Era

STS-134 Mission Patch

Patch for the penultimate flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Notably carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)

We all knew this year was coming.  It was mandated by President George W. Bush to retire the shuttle. This isn’t something I disagreed with, actually.  The timing was off and politics as usual don’t help.  Change is hard but it’s harder when there is nothing to change to.  Constellation was in trouble from the get go.  So, instead of having a system in the test phase, we’re left with one seemingly meaningless test of the Ares I-X in 2009.  All things said, a rocket is a rocket and I enjoyed every second of that test.  I would like to note that just a couple of days ago NASA released it’s heavy lift plans.  I’ll post about that another time.

Three launches were set for this year.  Each flight would be that vehicle’s last.

Discovery was first up, followed by Endeavour and finally Atlantis.  As each one landed it would never see space flight again, save for the dreams of those who wished to touch the night sky in such a beautiful machine.

The February launch of Discovery was out of the question.  My job has me tied up for the first two months of the year.  It would have been a nightmare.  Discovery would go up without me at the Cape.

The Endeavour launch was especially tempting as it was a late spring launch.  A gut feeling had me reconsider.  I don’t believe in superstitions but I decided I would not attempt this one and watch, once more, via web.  My decision paid off.  The initial launch was delayed. A woman that works at my same company actually attemped that launch.  I know that feeling all too well.  I believe that one was pushed back more than two weeks.  Again, this one went up with me watching from a tiny computer screen.


The gravity of the situation really hit me after Endeavour made it’s final “wheel stop” on the shuttle runway.  There was just one final launch of the shuttle; ever.  It was at that point I knew it was launch or nothing.  I was going to have to pull all the stops.  I can safely safe I knew I wasn’t alone in my mission.

For the better part of June I spent hours researching, planning, debating, and otherwise pulling my hair out trying to assure this attempt would succeed.  The pressure was intense and I wasn’t even one of the astronauts!  The 4.5 million pound gorilla in the room was Atlantis itself.  Even the best planned trip would be nothing if it didn’t go up.  I couldn’t think about what might not happen.  I had to think about what I wanted to happen.

STS-135 Parking Placard

STS-135 Parking Placard - Collectors items? I think so!

This was all we needed:

  • A place to stay
  • Tickets to KSC

It sounds easy enough.  Tickets weren’t a big deal.  I got KSC tickets with little problem though they were expensive.  I didn’t make in the lottery of initial cheaper tickets. There are tour companies that are given tickets also and I ended up paying premium prices for them.  Honestly, it was a one time deal.  It was all or nothing.  So, tickets? Check!

A place to stay was a different story.  Every single hotel, motel, tent, cave, hut, box or habitable structure was rented out for 30 miles all around Titusville.  Keep in mind, Titusville isn’t a tourist Mecca.  It’s a small town that just happens to be across the water from Kennedy Space Center (KSC).  I scoured rental sites.  I scoured craigslist and even put up a wanted ad for a place.  It would be my mother, son and myself. I emailed condo owners and even considered renting a place for the entire MONTH just for an event that would last minutes.  I kept coming up empty and it looked like Orlando would be our only bet.  Not terribly far but far for driving in at 3:00AM.  I made my reservations and settled for Orlando

A couple of days later I got an email from one of the condo owners that she had a guest house she’d be willing to rent.  The best part? It was just a few miles from KSC.  The rocket gods smiled upon for once during this ordeal.  The price was right.  The location was right.  To top it all off, I bought a parking placard so we could park at Kennedy, rather than take a bus in.

We were all set to go.  Or were we?  In the next post I’ll talk about how it all nearly fell apart from something I would have never suspected.

Space Shuttle: The Elusive

As I mentioned in the previous posting, seeing a shuttle in person proved to be daunting.  I just didn’t know how daunting it would be.  With STS-121 (Discovery) now behind me I started to look for the next opportunity.  It would be a little more than a month later in August.

We made all the arrangements with travel, lodging, tickets, and everything.  Luckily we reside in Georgia so we don’t live very far away, relatively speaking.  STS-115 was going to be our target and this time I only thought it was fitting to bring my mom along.  We loaded up and got underway the day BEFORE the launch.  I wasn’t taking chances this time around.  I will note that we had our oldest son with us at the very patient and quiet age of THREE.

Mike Mullane and I
Mike Mullane and I

The trip down wasn’t too eventful.  We made some pit stops and really just enjoyed the trip down.  All was well until literally 30 minutes before reaching Titusville.  My sister sent my mom a message informing her that due to a lightning strike at the pad the day before, it was scrubbed until further notice.  I was speechless; petrified; stunned.  “Not again…” I thought to myself.  Having gone well past the point of no return, I sucked it up and decided we’d make the most of it.  I certainly didn’t want NASA to take any chances after a lightning strike.  Better safe than sorry.

We went ahead and toured KSC the next day which was just mind boggling and amazing.  We saw the Saturn V up close and personal.  So much of it literally takes your breath away.  To top things off I got to meet astronaut Mike Mullane and got the book he was selling autographed.  The book was fantastic as it gave me some great insight into the program and to top it off, it was entertaining.  I loved the gift shop as I could easily have blown a couple of lifes savings accounts in there.  So much to take in and so little time to do it in.  It really was a great experience, despite not having seen the launch, I’d do it again.

Scrub #2 was in the books.  Atlantis would launch a couple of weeks later with no issues.  Once again, I watched from home.

Next attempt wouldn’t happen for well over a year for STS-120.  Again, arrangements made, tickets bought and we were set.  The day came to leave and I second guessed the weather.  Probability of launch being scrubbed due to weather was around 60%.  Not good odds.  Also working against me was limited time off from work and limited money to use for lodging.  I made the decision to stay put for one day.  It cost me big time.  Launch was a go.  A hole opened up and Atlantis was cleared for launch.  I was, again, stunned.  My luck in trying to catch a launch was laughing at me.  We watched from home, again.  I’ll note that the cloud deck was low and the shuttle was only visible for maybe 10-15 second after clearing the pad.  I didn’t feel completely jipped – despite having wasted money on tickets.  The only thing that helped me keep sanity was knowing our view would have been blocked by the clouds anyway.  It wasn’t that good of an excuse but I talked myself into believing it.

Attempt #3, which was supposed to be a scrub, was now in the books.  For the third time in a row, I had watched from home.

That last attempt was fall of 2007.  It would be nearly 4 more years before I made one final attempt; an attempt that nearly fell apart at the last minute.

Space Shuttle: A Personal Journey

Space Shuttle Night Launch

The Space Shuttle lifts off at night. The same photo that is on my shirt.

I knew this day was rapidly approaching; the day the shuttle program would come to a close.  This journey began almost exactly 5 years ago.  I’m going to do a number of posts to chronicle the journey because one just isn’t enough.  That or one would be way too long.  So, here’s how it all started.

From the beginning

I was doing some laundry one day and I picked up a shirt my mother had given me as a gift.  It was a black t-shirt with a screen print of a night launch on it.  The words NASA were faded in the background.  I looked at the shirt for a minute and it hit me: I want to see this.  In an instant, my infatuation was born.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a fan of space exploration and science.  This was different, like a light-bulb lit up.

I stopped everything (sorry, laundry!) and went straight to my computer.  I did a search for anything to do with launches and to my utter amazement, Discovery (STS-121) was set to go up in only a few days.  I had no idea what I was in store for!  I told my wife we were going to Florida to see a launch with about 3 days notice.  She never turned down the idea of a spontaneous road trip.  Though she was surprised I suggested it since that’s usually not my style.  On top of that,  I had no idea where I was going, when to get there, where to look or anything.

The day, Saturday, July 2nd, arrives and the launch is slated for mid afternoon, I think a bit before 4pm.  I figured we’d leave at 8am and 8 hours of driving would be plenty fine.  Wrong!  The drive was uneventful until we reached Orlando and then it all hit the fan.  I kept wondering why the hell all of these people were in the road, on the road, on overpasses.  What were they all looking for?  It was the ultimate “duh!” moment.  They were all here for the launch.  Even from this far out people had begun to line up for it.  I had no idea it was that popular!

We listened in on the local radio station and with minutes to spare, the launch was scrubbed due to the weather.  Not a bad thing because we were still stuck in traffic, 25 miles out and with overcast skies.  I doubt we’d have seen anything and certainly wouldn’t have heard it.  The drive down was long but the drive back was longer.  We had left around 8am and after nonstop driving we arrived home shortly after 1AM on Sunday morning.  I had been defeated but I chalked it up to learning and a little road trip never hurt.

The Rocket’s Red Glare

The following Monday, July 4th, I called my mom up and told her they were about to launch Discovery.  We chatted on the phone through a good chunk of the countdown.  The entire time I’m getting more and more nervous.  Why was I getting nervous?  It was the most bizarre thing.  As the countdown passed into 9 minutes and counting I started pacing.  You’d have thought I had personal stock in this thing going up.  It’s understandable though when you think about it.  You’re watching humans go into space.  They’re sitting atop a machine thats filled to the brim with explosive propellants.  Margin for error: close to 0.  Anything goes wrong and it’s likely that you bought the farm.  Ok, so maybe our nerves were justified.  Also this was only the second flight post Columbia.

As the minutes passed I settled down a little and I remember going into the final 60 seconds.  This tunnel vision came over me.  I was just staring at the screen watching intently.  The whole time I’m still jabbering with my mom.  We were making jokes because we both seemed to be jittery.

T-31 and GLS (ground launch sequencer) was go for auto sequence start.  This is the point where the shuttle takes over and everything runs internally.  Seconds seemed to stretch out and yet they flew by in a blur.  Before I knew it the engines roared to life.  Seconds later the solid rockets lit and it was off the pad.  All I could think was “GO!”.  I didn’t speak a word for several seconds until the throttle up call, to which we always held our breath (It was after throttle up that Challenger exploded).  I think our conversation consisted of a few “wow”s and “go”s.  It was a picture perfect launch.  I knew the next big event was solid rocket jettison and once it occurred I started to breathe again.

I contently watched the entire ascent.  It was beautiful.  To see man and machine working together so harmoniously was poetry in motion.  I’ll also note that seeing a launch on the 4th of July made it that much better.  How could any other fireworks compare to the greatest show on Earth?

The next thing I thought was “I really gotta see this!”

In the next post I’ll talk about just how hard it is to see a launch in person.

Billions and billions…of miles away (and still going)

Voyager 1 is one amazing spacecraft.  It was launched at a time when the planets were aligned in such a way that would be ideal to take a “grand tour” of the outer solar system.  A second craft Voyager II was also launched two weeks earlier.  What makes Voyager 1 so special?  Well it was put on a faster track for one.  That means it went farther and faster than its sister spacecraft.   Currently it’s the farthest spacecraft from Earth than man has built.  Even New Horizons, which is speeding towards Pluto, won’t overtake it.  So far, nothing we’ve launched will ever overtake it.

Voyager 1 is our messenger to the stars beyond our own.  In a few years it will officially reach interstellar space.  At that point, our Sun will be nothing more than a point of light in the sky.  The Sun will likely have no influence on the spacecraft at that point.  She’ll keep forging ahead until she collides with another celestial body.  Given the expanse of space, that could take eons.  Imagine how far it will have traveled by then.  Here is a writeup from JPL that I’m going to copy/paste because, seriously, why re-invent the wheel eh?

NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline

PASADENA, Calif. – The 33-year odyssey of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind.

Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.

The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1’s passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun’s sphere of influence, and the spacecraft’s upcoming departure from our solar system.

“The solar wind has turned the corner,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “Voyager 1 is getting close to interstellar space.”

Our sun gives off a stream of charged particles that form a bubble known as the heliosphere around our solar system. The solar wind travels at supersonic speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock. At this point, the solar wind dramatically slows down and heats up in the heliosheath.

Launched on Sept. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock in December 2004 into the heliosheath. Scientists have used data from Voyager 1’s Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument to deduce the solar wind’s velocity. When the speed of the charged particles hitting the outward face of Voyager 1 matched the spacecraft’s speed, researchers knew that the net outward speed of the solar wind was zero. This occurred in June, when Voyager 1 was about 17 billion kilometers (10.6 billion miles) from the sun.

Because the velocities can fluctuate, scientists watched four more monthly readings before they were convinced the solar wind’s outward speed actually had slowed to zero. Analysis of the data shows the velocity of the solar wind has steadily slowed at a rate of about 20 kilometers per second each year (45,000 mph each year) since August 2007, when the solar wind was speeding outward at about 60 kilometers per second (130,000 mph). The outward speed has remained at zero since June.

The results were presented today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“When I realized that we were getting solid zeroes, I was amazed,” said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator and senior staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “Here was Voyager, a spacecraft that has been a workhorse for 33 years, showing us something completely new again.”

Scientists believe Voyager 1 has not crossed the heliosheath into interstellar space. Crossing into interstellar space would mean a sudden drop in the density of hot particles and an increase in the density of cold particles. Scientists are putting the data into their models of the heliosphere’s structure and should be able to better estimate when Voyager 1 will reach interstellar space. Researchers currently estimate Voyager 1 will cross that frontier in about four years.

“In science, there is nothing like a reality check to shake things up, and Voyager 1 provided that with hard facts,” said Tom Krimigis, principal investigator on the Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, who is based at the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Academy of Athens, Greece. “Once again, we face the predicament of redoing our models.”

A sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, was launched in Aug. 20, 1977 and has reached a position 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) from the sun. Both spacecraft have been traveling along different trajectories and at different speeds. Voyager 1 is traveling faster, at a speed of about 17 kilometers per second (38,000 mph), compared to Voyager 2’s velocity of 15 kilometers per second (35,000 mph). In the next few years, scientists expect Voyager 2 to encounter the same kind of phenomenon as Voyager 1.

The Voyagers were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both spacecraft. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: . JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Here is the link to the original article.

It was Carl Sagan who suggested Voyager 1 take one last photo of Earth before it diminished into the void of space.  Voyager 1 gave us the Pale Blue Dot;  A tiny portrait of everything that every Earth-bound creature has ever known and will know, for some time.

Profound?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Keep carrying the torch for space exploration, Voyager 1.  Thanks to all the men and women involved in such a great mission.

In the name of Science

A couple of weeks ago I posted something about being overweight, feeling run down, etc.  Well shortly afterwords I purchased my first ‘smart’ phone.   I can now track my caloric intake + exercise on the phone and it syncs up to a website so I can view the detailed information.

I’ve done this for the past two weeks and it’s been eye opening.  I was much more mindful of what I ate.  The intake was lower than it would have been but it wasn’t balanced.  My fat/carb/protein ratio is wonky.  I am way high on carbs, high-ish on fat and abysmal on protein.  This week my aim was to bring that more into balance.

Thus, the great experiment starts.  If I can thoroughly track my intake and expenditure then, theoretically, I can track my results with low margin of error.  Weight loss isn’t magic.  Waving a wand doesn’t work, unless it’s a 20lb wand that I wave vigorously for 20 minutes.  Don’t get me started on how insane the shake-weight looks!

A Wave of Reason

John Boswell, the guy that does the Symphony of Science videos, has another one.  This one is pretty good.  I still like the Glorious Dawn one the best but that’s because Carl Sagan is da man.   I look forward to these song/videos and hope there are more to come.  I’m glad they’ve gotten the recognition they deserve. 🙂

They’re all worth listening to and done quite well.  This one is no different:

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