Friday, April 20, 2012

Rocket Summer

I grew up on Burroughs and Bradbury, Heinlein and Asimov.  My formative years were years when the U.S. was reaching, reaching, reaching - first into the upper atmosphere, then into deep space.  The Mercury flights would have been at the edge of my consciousness, although I don't specifically remember them, but I do remember Gemini and Apollo.  And then came the shuttle program.

Their design was a bit disappointing.  In my world, heavily influenced by books and movies of the 50s and 60s as it was, regular manned space travel would be done in sleek, needle-shaped craft that lifted off and landed on their own power, always setting neatly on their bases.

But still, despite my disappointment in their appearance, the shuttle program was wonderfully exciting, because eventually it made space travel, even though it wasn't into deep space, a regular thing.  Not a regular thing for most of us, but, still, so regular that we often forgot that we had crews in space.  Space travel as almost boring.

The news of the program's ending made me incredibly sad.  It seemed to announce that, for the first time in my life, we had stopped reaching for the stars.  I can't imagine that anymore than people of centuries past could imagine not setting out across the oceans to explore.

I almost didn't go to the ceremony at the Air and Space Annex yesterday. I got up feeling rough, but in the end my disappointment at not seeing the flyover and awareness that it was a historic occasion that wouldn't come again pushed me out the door.  I'm glad I went.

Enterprise was already pulled out. She'll be flown off to another museum today.  She never went into space, but, still, she was the first.

Discovery was waiting just beyond the trees.

Of course, it's not like they could fire up the engines and roll her over on her own power, but it was still an emotional few minutes as Discovery was brought nose to nose to Enterprise.

The difference between the sheltered lady and the work horse is quite obvious.  NASA Administrator Bolden (ret. Major General, Marine Corps) commented:  "You try re-entering the atmosphere at 3,000 miles per hour and see if you don't get a little singed, too."

About half of the former commanders were there, as were some crew members.  My vertical-challangedness made getting pictures difficult.  I would wait and wait and people would finally shift out of my way and just as I hit the button they'd shift again and I'd get this:

But I did grab a couple at the right time.  Tried to grab screen shots, too, but that didn't work very well.

Thankfully, I did manage to grab a shot of the Icon of Space Icons, John Glenn:

The man is 90 years old, yet he seems ageless.  And he made it clear in his comments that he felt the program had been ended prematurely.

It was clear that astronauts are still rock stars.  Folks pressed against the barrier to shake hands, get autographs, take pictures.

I poked around at some of the displays, regretting that my daughter wasn't with me to enjoy the museum with.  I was feeling rather sad, and would have appreciated her company.  And then I came across something that made me happy again.

This is the core of the Orion program.  This is what will take us into deep space and back again, with a mandate to be on Mars by 2030.  Retro-looking because it's the best form for re-entering the atmosphere from deep space, and being built by excited young physicists like the woman I talked to about it, who obviously has passion for what is being done.  Still doesn't look like a proper spaceship, but I'll take it.

First deep space test, I believe, is in 2014.  Knowing that, I can happily dream of a rocket summer again. 
Rocket Summer
One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.

And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town. A flooding sea of hot air; it seemed as if someone had left a bakery door open. The heat pulsed among the cottages and bushes and children. The icicles dropped, shattering, to melt. The doors flew open. The windows flew up. The children worked off their wool clothes. The housewives shed their bear disguises. The snow dissolved and showed last summer's ancient green lawns.

Rocket summer. The words passed among the people in the open, airing houses. Rocket summer. The warm desert air changing the frost patterns on the windows, erasing the art work. The skis and sleds suddenly useless. The snow, falling from the cold sky upon the town, turned to a hot rain before it touched the ground.

Rocket summer. People leaned from their dripping porches and watched the reddening sky.

The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land....

    Ray Bradbury - The Martian Chronicles


  1. Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  2. Thank- you for sharing.
    Sadly Obozo wants NASA as a MooseSlime outreach

  3. Yep, and no shuttle for the Johnson Space Center down in Nassau Bay.
    Houston, we have a problem.
    Very cool stuff PH. Big fan of Heinlein, Asimov...meh.
    I was in fourth grade when we went to the moon the first time. We watched the broadcast on TV at school. The first shuttle launch was captivating. There were so many after that, that it got to where my reaction was, oh another shuttle launch...
    NASA was basically commuting to space for maintenance of satellites. Leveling up in the space game, from the moon to say, Mars, I don't think is doable with the technology we have right now. At least not if we'd like to see our astronauts arrive safely back on terra firma.
    I think NASA should have set a goal to build a space station on the moon, a mining operation rather than a tin can floating in orbit. But, that might have been a bit of a stretch. After all, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

  4. I'm glad you made it out there and got those pictures. Now you don't have to kick yourself for the rest of your life.

    I had every Aurora scale model I could get my hands on. From the Redstone to the Saturn V.

    I watched the lunar landing with my great grandfather. He migrated from Illinois to Oregon at the end of the 1800's and reflected on all the things he had seen in his lifetime. It was some amazing stuff.

    We were an awesome country then. The whole world watched the USA go where no one had gone before.

    Thanks for this post.

  5. Great post and great pics, I truly wish I could have been there... sigh

  6. I remember X-15, I remember Sputnik. I remember Mercury, Gemini, Apollo.
    Too bad the current administration doesn't.

  7. @Rev - It was awesome. Thanks.

    @Rick - I just don't want reverse discrimination to be putting the wrong folks in those projects. This is not an area where lack of excellence or another "work place violence" incident is acceptable.

    @kx59 - The technology will probably be worked on as we go. One issue I didn't have a chance to ask about is how are we going to deal with the issue of the affects of extended weightlessness on the human body?

    @CoolChange - I'm thinking that maybe I'd better make a commitment to be down at Canaveral to watch the first launch we make to put men back on the moon.

    @Old NFO - Thanks. The great weather helped, too.

    @Andy - Thanks!

    @Guffaw - I don't remember them, per se. Although I do remember where I was when Kennedy was shot.