Meanwhile…

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.

 

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.

Science!

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!

Whoaaaaaa

Whoaaaaaa

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!

LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU

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.

6

5

4

3

2

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

0

Lift off of Atlantis!

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

LIFTOFF!

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

UPDATE:

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.

Atlantis

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.

The first day of the rest of the year

Now that our very large company function is over with, I can get back to a bit of normalcy.  Although, reading about the stuff Charlie Sheen has been saying, I think even Tom Cruise might be considered normal? I digress.  Also, I cut the feed off from my other blog, I think.  So there shouldn’t be any double dipping going on as far as posts go.

I have a few things to add to my site as far as sites/designs go.  I’ll be getting to that today or tomorrow.  It’s been a few months since I last updated that stuff.  It’s all good though because prior to that I had gone a few YEARS between updates.  Complacency takes hold sometimes.  Time to practice some positive jing.

We Are Here: The Pale Blue Dot

This all revolves around a photograph taken by a small spacecraft a little over 20 years ago.  Carl Sagan thought for a while it’d be a good idea to have the spacecraft turn around and snap a photo of the Earth.  Fearing damage to the spacecraft the controllers were reluctant.  It was February 14, 1990 and Voyager I had completed all of its primary mission objectives.  Now was the time to have Voyager turn around and snap a photo.  If they had waited much longer the Earth would be too distant to even register.

So here we are.  We are given this photo.

The Pale Blue Dot

The Pale Blue Dot. As taken by Voyager I some 4 billion miles from Earth. February 14, 1990.

It sure doesn’t look like much.  To us, it is everything.  Now, I could go on about this and that regarding the photo.  The thing is, it’s already been done.  In fact, so well done, that to redo or try and out do it would be folly.  Now to read what is said about the photograph is one thing but hearing the voice of Carl Sagan means a little more.  It was his idea, so his words and voice are fitting.

The original audio was from an audio-book I do believe.  Some crafty people have done things with it in videos.  This one is probably the best I’ve found.  It really is moving. (Yes, yes, I posted this video on Facebook a while back, I know.)  So have a look now.

We are here: The Pale Blue Dot

Here is the text:

Consider again, that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say;  That one is worth everything we’ve ever known.

Wouldn’t more CO2 be green?

We’ve all seen it.  Al Gore has shoved it down our throats as have countless other outlets.  The general consensus is that carbon emissions are bad.  They are bad because they warm the planet.

Here is where  I get confused.  Please explain this to me and I’ll try to understand.  Here goes:

If the Earth is warmer more things (plants) will grow.  If more plants grow the Earth is greener.

Right?

Right?!

If the Earth is cold, it will look like your yard does now in Mid-January.  Brown.  Brown isn’t green.  Brown is dead.  Now I know, I know, it’s just a ‘buzz-word’.  It’s a catchy, cool, trendy, “we’ll charge a lot more more for ‘green’ products and you’ll still buy them” thing but COME ON!

So, please.  For the sake of being technical.  Don’t say you’re “green” now.  Say you’re brown or blue, you know, like the color of ice or dead things.

If you want green then you better start warming the Earth MORE! 🙂

What annoys a web designer: Part XI

When you tell a client:

“Yes, here’s the rough design.  I still need to make a few changes and some tweaks but this is basically what it will look like”

And the client responds with:

“Yeah, well we need to change this and that and this and oh that too and this isn’t finished and these links don’t work.”

Then I restate myself.

Then they say:

“Oh…”

Moral of the story?

If I’m still working on it.  It isn’t done!

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