Tag Archives: NASA

Absent a NASA-sponsored effort, this is pretty cool

I normally would look with bemusement at a stunt that occurred today. Instead, though, I am utterly amazed at what I saw.

Elon Musk — a South Africa-born U.S. business tycoon — has this notion of building a colony on Mars. He has developed a rocket that he hopes will ferry human beings to the Red Planet eventually.

Today, he launched the largest rocket built since the Saturn V rocket launched astronauts to the moon from 1969 until 1972. The monstrous SpaceX rocket took off, jettisoned its boosters, which then made a soft landing near the launch pad from which NASA used to launch missions to the moon.

But … here’s the amazing part of the story.

The rocket carried a Tesla hot rod atop it and that vehicle — with a spacesuit-clad mannequin in the driver’s seat — is in Earth orbit. It will take off eventually on a lengthy trip around the sun. Musk plans to keep the car in space for a million years. He said maybe some extraterrestrials will find it. Maybe.

My preference, of course, would be for NASA to launch these missions. I want the federal government to get back into manned space exploration. I’m old-fashioned that way, you know?

Absent a NASA-sponsored and financed operation, though, I welcome Elon Musk’s investment in this kind of exploration.

Hey, a guy with $20 billion in his portfolio can afford the expense — and it provides a heck of a show to boot.

The world shared Amarillo’s grief

When tragedy strikes communities, the world often rallies to those communities’ sides.

It happened 15 years ago to Amarillo, Texas. We awoke one Saturday morning to some horrifying news high above us.

The space shuttle Columbia had disintegrated as it entered the atmosphere en route to a landing in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The commander of that seven-member crew happened to be a young Amarillo native, Air Force Col. Rick D. Husband, who died along with his six crew mates.

It had been a flawless mission. Sixteen days in Earth orbit and Husband and his crew were supposed to come home to a heroes’ welcome.

I received a phone call that morning from a colleague. “Did you hear what happened to the shuttle?” he asked. He told me about the Columbia’s destruction on re-entry. I hurried down to the Amarillo Globe-News office, tore up the next morning’s editorial page and wrote a “hot” editorial for the next day’s edition.

The editorial took note of Husband’s favorite passage from Scripture, Proverbs 3: 5-6, which instructs us to put our full “trust in the Lord.”

Amarillo and the rest of the Panhandle sank into a special sort of grief. One of our own had given his life in pursuit of space exploration. In truth, Rick Husband really never left Amarillo. Yes, he went away to college and a career as a test pilot in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in the 1990s and flew aboard an earlier shuttle mission before getting his Columbia command.

Husband always found time to come home. He was a frequent visitor to his hometown. His mother still lived here while he was pursuing his dream of space flight.

I actually got to meet him twice at First Presbyterian Church, where his wife, Evelyn, attended as a girl. During our second meeting, I embarrassed myself by telling Husband I’d give anything to be able to fly with him into space. He gave me a bemused look, as if to say, “Sure thing, buddy.”

But our hearts broke that day as the news gripped us, just as it gripped the rest of the world. Prayers poured in from around the globe to the communities of all the astronauts who lost their lives on that horrible day.

Amarillo no doubt felt the world’s love as we grieved over our terrible loss.

The memory of getting that horrifying news saddens me to this day.

Ice caps are melting, Mr. President! Really, they are!

Donald J. Trump now is expressing an opinion that runs counter to scientific consensus.

The president has declared polar ice caps are at “record levels.” He is trying to buttress his bogus assertion that climate change is a “hoax” cooked up by Chinese conspiracy theorists intent on using the phenomenon as a way to undermine the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

But, but, but …

The evidence suggests something else. The ice caps are diminishing. They are endangering wildlife, such as polar bears that rely on the ice caps for their hunting of prey, such as seals and walruses.

The president isn’t buying it. Has he consulted with anyone? Does he ever consult with anyone on anything? I think we know the answer to that question.

According to The Hill: “I mean, look, it used to not be climate change. It used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place,” Trump said.

Indeed, spoken like a man with deep scientific knowledge.

I am going to rely on the scientific community and, oh yes, the pictures that NASA is taking from outer space showing precisely what is happening to the world’s Arctic and Antarctic ice caps.

They are shrinking, Mr. President. The pictures don’t lie … unlike a prominent politician who is known to prevaricate with abandon.

Another astronaut-hero leaves us

There once was a time when Americans knew the names of all the astronauts who dared to risk it all for the cause of space exploration.

John Young was one of those men. He died this weekend at age 87. I am saddened to hear this news.

Those of us of a certain age remember waiting with bated breath while space ships launched from Florida and flew into the heavens. Those were exciting times. The nation was engaged in a space race with the Soviet Union. We won the race … eventually.

Young wasn’t among the first seven men picked to fly into space. The Mercury Seven all are gone now. The last member of that original group to pass from the scene was the great John Glenn, the former Ohio U.S. senator who flew aboard the shuttle Discovery 36 years after he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962.

John Young was among the Gemini astronauts who followed the Mercury heroes into space. Young flew twice aboard Gemini missions.

Then he got to fly to the moon twice; he orbited the moon aboard Apollo 10 and then walked on its surface as the commander of Apollo 16.

Oh, but Young wasn’t done.

NASA developed the space shuttle, a reusable ship. Young got to command the first shuttle, Columbia, on its maiden flight in 1981. He would command a second shuttle flight later before joining NASA’s administrative team before retiring in 2004.

A reporter asked Young after he flew the Columbia to a safe landing after its first flight whether he landed it manually — or whether he let the computer land it. No pilot worth a damn, Young said, would want to let a computer do something that a pilot could do by himself. That was his way of saying he had his hands “on the stick” when he guided the shuttle Columbia home.

John Young quite clearly was made of the right stuff.

U.S. needs to get back into manned space exploration

I grew up waiting for and watching space launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla. They thrilled me to the max and I still miss waiting for those launches.

Accordingly, I was heartened to hear Donald Trump call for a return to manned space flight. The president’s signature this week on a directive for NASA to develop a return of human explorers to the moon and to launch missions to Mars won’t guarantee it will get done, but my hope springs eternal that the space agency will kick start its effort to return to American-made space travel.

The space shuttle program got grounded before Trump took office nearly a year ago. The three remaining flight-ready spacecraft — Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery — were sent to boneyards around the country under an order signed by President George W. Bush. We’re still sending astronauts into space, where they’re doing important scientific research.

NASA praises Trump

But they’re flying aboard Russian rockets. I’m trying to imagine how Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would react to knowing that tidbit.

Donald Trump said his directive aims to return the United States to its leadership role in space travel. I do hope it comes to pass.

NASA already is developing a new launch vehicle it hopes will be ready for deployment on missions to the moon and beyond. There’s launch date set yet. Indeed, test flights are still beyond the foreseeable future.

“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

Of course it does. It should.

President Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States would send humans to the moon “and return (them) safely to the Earth” by the end of the 1960s. “We don’t do these because they are easy,” he said. “We do them because they are hard.”

He energized the nation, which was caught flat-footed when the then-Soviet Union was first to launch a satellite and then was first to send a human into space. JFK was having no part of playing second fiddle to the Soviets.

We aren’t engaged in a Cold War these days, although that’s becoming more debatable in light of the current geopolitical climate.

Still, my hope is that the president’s directive lights a fire under NASA’s engineers and scientists as they continue their work to restore our country to its place as the world’s premier space trailblazer.

Wishing for a return to full-fledged space travel

It was 48 years ago. A giant rocket sat on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla.. Perched atop that beastly Saturn rocket was a space ship carrying three men.

They would make history a few days later on that Apollo 11 mission. But on July 16, 1969, they launched into the sky, took off into orbit, then fired those on-board rockets to propel them to the moon.

The late Neil Armstrong set foot first on the moon. A little while later, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin hopped off the ladder onto the sandy lunar soil. Meanwhile, their crewmate Michael Collins circled above, orbiting moon.

The world — the entire planet — held its breath as Armstrong proclaimed he was taking “one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” We cheered, cried and prayed for their safe return.

Space travel hadn’t yet become “routine,” as if it ever should have been thought of in that light. The Apollo missions would put several more men on the moon. Then we would have Skylab and then the shuttle program.

They’re all gone now. All those missions are history. Yes, Americans are still flying into space, but they’re doing so aboard Russian rockets. Try to imagine how President Kennedy would feel about that!

I am old enough to remember the old days. I also am young enough at heart to wish for the day we can return yet again to full-fledged space travel — even though it’s never routine.

If only Buzz Aldrin would tell us

Oh, how I wish I could read minds.

This video is making the Internet rounds. Donald Trump is talking about space travel. The fellow on the right is none other than Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, one of two men who walked on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

A lot of would-be mind readers are conjecturing about what Aldrin might be thinking. He looks alternately bemused, confused, aghast and flabbergasted at what he’s hearing from the president of the United States.

Oh well. I just wanted to share it here. You be the judge on what is going through Buzz Aldrin’s mind.

Might there be someone who can ask the space hero what he was thinking? Would he tell us the truth? Hey, it’s worth asking.

Happy Trails, Part Four

Now that full-time retirement has arrived, I plan to engage in the one activity I pursue with unbridled vigor.

I love to write. I take great pleasure in sharing thoughts — the wisdom and quality of which I’ll let others decide — with others. I do so through this forum.

After I left full-time print journalism in August 2012, I continued to write on this blog and then started writing for a couple of other media outlets: KFDA-TV NewsChannel 10 and Panhandle PBS.

My wife joked with me constantly about how cool it was to get paid for “having fun.” It truly was a labor of joy; I refer to it as such because calling it a “labor of love” would imply I did it for free. That, obviously, wasn’t the case. But that work did allow to continue pursuing something I have loved doing since I decided in late 1970 — as I prepared to re-enroll in college after my two-year U.S. Army stint — to pursue a career in journalism.

That love hasn’t abated one bit in the 47 years that have come and gone.

My focus now — besides travel and preparing to relocate somewhere much nearer to our precious granddaughter, Emma — will be this blog.

It’s going to focus primarily on politics and public policy. I’ll make no apologies for the criticism I intend to launch toward the current president of the United States. I do hope to be able to praise him when the opportunity presents itself; indeed, I did so recently when he signed that big NASA appropriations bill that lays out a lot of money for Mars exploration.

The blog also will continue to include what I like to call “life experience” commentary. You know about Toby the Puppy and the joy he has brought to my wife and me. There’ll be more of those musings as time marches on.

And, of course, I intend to share the expected enjoyment of retired life and the travel across North America that it will bring to us.

With that …

We’re off like a dirty shirt to see what lies ahead.

NASA gets big boost to its manned program

Human beings were put on this Earth to explore.

We’ve sought new worlds on our own planet. We’ve committed to seeking new worlds “out there,” beyond our worldly confines.

To that end, Donald J. Trump has signed into law a bill that commits $19.5 billion to NASA with the aim of launching human beings into deep space, possibly for exploration of Mars.

Oh, how I want to live long enough to see that day.

The president signed the bill into law in a ceremony at the White House surrounded by astronauts and politicians. It was a jovial affair that — I’m sorry to say — got overshadowed this week by the rancorous and raucous debate over overhauling the nation’s health care insurance system.

The NASA appropriation is worth the money, the effort, the emotional capital and the anxiousness that goes along with what many of hope will transpire: a mission to Mars.

“For almost six decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on Earth,” Trump said during the signing ceremony. “I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science and technology.”

As the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union reported, “The measure amends current law to add human exploration of the red planet as a goal for the agency. It supports use of the International Space Station through at least 2024, along with private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments, among other steps.”

I was among the Americans disappointed when NASA grounded its shuttle fleet. We now are sending Americans into space aboard Russian rockets. I’m trying to imagine how Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would feel about that idea, given their own commitment to the space program and the defeating the then-Soviet Union in the race to the moon … which we won!

Space exploration isn’t a “frill.” It ought to be part of our political DNA. It’s already ingrained in human beings’ desire to reach beyond our grasp.

I spent many mornings with my late mother waiting for Mercury and Gemini space flights to launch. Then came the Apollo program. Our nerves were shot as we waited for astronauts to return home walking on the moon.

I grieved with the rest of the country when that launch pad fire killed those three astronauts on Apollo 1, when the shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff and when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it flew over Texas on its way to landing in Florida.

I’ll be a real old man — I hope — when they send humans to Mars.

This new NASA appropriation could take us a bit farther along on that journey.

Hollywood creates fascinating juxtaposition

Hollywood gets panned and pounded for the occasional liberties it takes with historical events.

But consider this for a moment.

Today is the 55th anniversary of a space flight in which the late John Glenn, a young Marine Corps test pilot, orbited the Earth three times. It would be the first of his two flights into space; the second one occurred in 1998, when Sen. Glenn was 77 years of age.

But get this: February also is Black History Month and Hollywood has managed to merge an important aspect of Glenn’s first flight with another. Glenn owed his flight’s success to the genius of a group of African-American women who relatively few Americans knew about until the release of the acclaimed film “Hidden Figures.”

Think of it. Glenn’s historic flight now can be celebrated as a key event to salute African-Americans. What’s more, that it occurred on Feb. 20, 1962 puts it in the middle of the month we set aside to commemorate the contributions of black Americans to the development of this great nation.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of three young African-American women — two mathameticians and an engineer — who, with their team of fellow geniuses, worked with NASA to calculate the math associated with space flight.

The contributions of these women were kept under wraps at the time. It was the early 1960s and America was in the throes of the civil-rights movement. The country was unable — or unwilling — to accept the contributions these women gave to this great adventure known as the “space race.”

The film has put an entirely different spin on the “race” aspect of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

I am one who is thrilled to meld these two events — Black History Month and the flight of our first space orbital mission — into one.

Well done, Hollywood.