Tag Archives: NASA

Hoping for a return of a can-do spirit and drive

Americans are looking back with some sort of fondness at an event that occurred 50 years ago.

Yes, we won that race to the moon. Two American astronauts landed on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong stepped off the lander’s ladder and declared that he was taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

For years I had thought that Armstrong’s transmission got garbled somehow, that he really did say it was one “small step for a man.” Alas, that was mistaken … apparently. Armstrong flubbed the line, or so I learned.

President Kennedy had laid down the marker in 1961. He declared that we should get to the moon by the end of the 1960s. The president rallied the nation to his dream. He ventured to Houston and said that “we don’t do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard.”

And so the race was on.

Hey, we had a geopolitical adversary that had rubbed our noses in it. The Soviet Union launched the first satellite. The USSR put the first man into space.

Meanwhile, as the nation’s prepared to launch humans into space, we couldn’t get a rocket off the pad. They were exploding. Our national psyche suffered.

But we got into space. We put two men into sub-orbital flight. We finally put a man into orbit with John Glenn’s historic three-orbit flight in February 1962.

President Kennedy, of course, didn’t live to see his dream come true. Still, the mission proceeded at full throttle.

The Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of a national task. The world held its breath. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left indelible prints on the dusty lunar surface. Those boot prints remain there to this day. There would be others, too.

Over the span of time our manned missions dissipated and all but disappeared. The Soviet Union vanished from Earth in 1991. Russian rockets are taking Americans into space these days. I wonder what President Kennedy would think of that development.

I suppose you could say that the Apollo 11 mission was the beginning of our exploration of another celestial body. It actually was the beginning of the end of our grand adventure.

However, I do hope we get back into space. Human beings need to explore. We are built and wired to do great things.

A half-century ago we cheered the heroism of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the third astronaut who orbited the moon while waiting for his shipmates to return. These men exemplified a can-do spirit that I am missing today.

I hope we can find it … and soon.

Remembering a thrilling era of adventure

My sappiness came through once again this evening.

I just watched a PBS broadcast, the third part of a series called “Chasing the Moon.” It told the story of the Apollo 11 mission to land on the lunar surface, an event that occurred 50 years ago this month.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin stepped off a space ship onto the moon’s surface and took what Armstrong called “one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

My eyes got wet. I swallowed hard. I found myself smiling at the TV as I relived the images we had seen a half-century ago.

I remembered how I felt at the time in the summer of 1969. I felt proud. I was thrilled that we had kept President Kennedy’s pledge to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth” by the end of the 1960s. The president didn’t live to see it happen, but the program proceeded even after the young president’s shocking death.

I do wish we could regain that spirit of adventure. I fear we have lost it forever. Indeed, as the PBS program noted, interest in the moon missions began to dissipate almost immediately after Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins finished their final parade in the final foreign capital. They were treated as the heroes they were.

Then the money dried up. Sure, we conducted a few more missions, including that harrowing Apollo 13 mission that came too close to tragedy.

Maybe that thrill will come back to us if and when we prepare to launch humans to Mars.

Watching the PBS broadcast tonight, though, reminded me of how I used to swell with pride at our technological know-how and the courage of the individuals we would hurtle into outer space.

I am hoping to feel it again.

Wait a minute! Is it the moon, or Mars, or where, Mr. POTUS?

Here you go. Check out this Twitter message that flew into cyberspace today from the president of the United States of America.

He now says the United States needs to send human beings to Mars. That’s the big goal. The moon? Forget about it, says Donald Trump. We’ve been there already. Done that. Let’s not go back.

But wait a minute!

The president himself issued a directive in 2018 committing a return to the moon within the next five years. Vice President Mike Pence has spoken about the president’s stated desire to return to the moon, the celestial body we departed when Apollo 17 lifted off from the lunar surface in 1972.

So, which is it? Are we going to the moon or not? Or are we going to skip all that Mickey Mouse stuff and head straight for the Red Planet?

Don’t get me wrong. I am totally in favor of manned space travel. I want humans to return to the moon. I want them to fly to Mars, too. I am just flummoxed as to what the president wants to do. He cannot seem to deliver consistent and cogent messages.

Here again is what happens when we turn Donald Trump loose to make declarations via Twitter without a scintilla of thought or consideration.

Beam me up!

No doubt about it: There’s life out there — somewhere

It can be said of many retired people that we have too much time on our hands and too much time to fill our heads with goofy thoughts.

So, when NASA announced the demise of the Mars rover Opportunity the other day, I was filled with just a touch of sadness, but also with gratitude that the 90-day mission lasted 15 years and that NASA was able to collect mountains of data from the Red Planet.

My wife joked that Opportunity didn’t spot any “little green men” traipsing around the Martian surface..

Then I began thinking as I’ve done my entire life. I believe with every fiber of my being that there is life “out there, somewhere, deep in the void.”

I know what the Bible says about God creating humankind in his image. And I believe those words. I also believe the Great Creator was capable of placing life well beyond little ol’ Earth, an insignificant speck in the vast expanse of space.

I cannot even begin to grasp the size of the universe. I mean, “forever” is, well, a distance that none of us can fathom. I’ll just leave it at that.

Therefore, my limited understanding of statistical probabilities tells me that somewhere out there — way, way beyond anything we’ve ever laid eyes on — there must be a planet orbiting a star that has atmospheric conditions capable of sustaining life.

What does it look like? Beats me. Would that life necessarily be oxygen/nitrogen breathing life? Not necessarily. Does that life necessarily mean it is more advanced than we are? No. It might be mere vegetation. Or some sort of creature we cannot define.

Has this life visited Earth? I don’t believe for one second that we have been seen up close by any extraterrestrials.

Opportunity bit the Martian dust after fulfilling its mission far beyond what scientists had hoped it would accomplish. It didn’t see anything. Just remember: Even a journey of tens of millions of miles into “deep space” hardly constitutes a journey that covers the expanse of our universe.

Look at this way: How many grains of beach sand would it take to fill the oceans? Yep, it’s likely even bigger than that out there!

Opportunity declared dead; mission more than accomplished

That had to be the longest 90 days in human history.

A machine that landed on Mars 15 years ago was intended to be on duty for three months. Then the rover named “Opportunity” just kept on collecting data.

Yes, for 15 years the rover traipsed across the Martian surface sending data back to NASA scientists who had launched the ship.

Opportunity went silent eight months ago. NASA tried for most of the past year trying to awaken the rover. It was unable to do so.

This week, NASA “called it,” declaring Opportunity officially dead. The space agency won’t try any more to resuscitate the machine.

Mission accomplished, Opportunity

I have to say that as much as I love the notion of human beings traveling into space, I am mighty impressed with the work being done these unmanned probes that NASA launches.

They fly into the sun, they orbit Venus and Mercury, they fly to the farthest reaches of our solar system, probing Jupiter and Saturn, the asteroid belt. They send back amazing data and make incredible discoveries — such as evidence of water on Mars!

Opportunity performed its mission . . . and then some!

All that said, I hope I am still around to watch the first human beings thrown off from Earth and toward Mars.

That, I believe, would be a seriously “giant leap for mankind.”

Still mourning a national tragedy

It was a Saturday morning 16 years ago. The phone rang. A colleague of mine at the Amarillo Globe-News was on the other end of the call. “Did you hear about the shuttle Columbia?” he asked. No. “It broke up on re-entry,” he said.

I blurted out a four-letter word, then rushed to the office to prepare an editorial for the next day’s newspaper.

The demise of the Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003 had special resonance with the readers of our newspaper. Its commander was a son of the Texas Panhandle, U.S. Air Force Col. Rick Husband.

You see, Col. Husband never really “left” Amarillo, the city of his birth and where he came of age. Yes, he would go on to graduate from Texas Tech University, enter the Air Force, earn his wings, fly high-performance jet aircraft and eventually become an astronaut.

He returned home often. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting him one Sunday at the church we attended. He came to deliver a message from the pulpit. His wife, Evelyn, grew up at First Presbyterian Church and Kathy and I became acquainted with her late parents, Jean and Dan Neely.

Columbia broke apart on re-entry after completing a 16-day mission in Earth orbit. It had been a resounding success. However, unbeknownst to the crew, a piece of debris hit the leading edge of the wing on liftoff, puncturing a hole in it. Re-entry into the atmosphere created intense heat and, thus, the ship caught fire and disintegrated.

I want to mention one more example of Rick Husband’s eternal connection to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. You see, he was one of six Americans on the seven-member crew; the seventh was an Israeli officer. Of the American heroes aboard the Columbia, all but one of them were interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

It took recovery crews some time to find the remains of the crew in East Texas. When they found Rick Husband’s remains, they brought them to Amarillo and buried him at Llano Cemetery.

Rick Husband came home . . .  where he belonged.

Lander gives us InSight into Mars

I am such a space junkie, even when human beings aren’t at the center of daring missions into deep space.

The InSight lander has touched down on Mars. It’s beginning to send back startling, stunning and astonishing pictures of the Martian surface. The picture above shows a portion of the lander with the barren Martian landscape in the background.

The journey took 205 days to complete. The InSight’s mission is to probe into the Martian dirt to give us some clues to the origin of the planet and whether there is any sign of life, past or present, on the planet.

I loved watching the NASA ground technicians cheering, hugging, high-fiving each other when they realized the space ship had made its landing safely.

My excitement over the success, so far, of this unmanned vehicle makes me hope my heart will be able to withstand the excitement if and when we send human beings to the fourth planet from the sun in our solar system.

I also hope I am still around to watch it happen. If so, I plan to do what I did when I was a kid and the Mercury astronauts took off on their Earth-orbiting missions: I would get up early and wait with great anxiousness for the rockets to take off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

In the meantime, I am going to cheer NASA’s success in landing the InSight vehicle on Mars.

Given all the political furor and grief we’re experiencing here on Earth, this flight gives us a good reason to smile.

Trump buries report that disagrees with climate-change screed

Donald John Trump won’t admit this, but he doesn’t know anything about science. For that matter, neither do I. Thus, I am left to heed the analyses given by actual scientists, people trained to study things that go far above my level of understanding.

Climate change, for example.

The federal government itself has issued a report that says the hazards presented by Earth’s changing climate are going to accelerate. The National Climate Assessment is done by living, breathing experts on this stuff.

What’s the president’s response? He doesn’t believe them. He has buried the report because it disagrees with his own “belief” that climate change is a hoax. He’s said so repeatedly. He stands by his view about climate change. It’s made up. Fabricated. A product of “fake news.”

He tweets idiotic messages that take note of a cold spell and asks, “Where’s global warming?” As CNN’s Chris Cillizza has declaredA warming planet doesn’t mean there won’t be cold days. Or even cold weeks! Or months! It means that, in the long seep of history, the planet is getting hotter and hotter. And that those changes in the climate produce more wild and unpredictable weather events, like tornadoes and fires.

Scientific agencies such as, oh, NASA, take note of the evidence they have witnessed over time: ice caps are shrinking, sea levels are rising, Earth’s annual mean temperatures are increasing.

Humankind is burning too many fossil fuels that are spewing carbon gases into the air; we human beings are encroaching on natural habitat, level vast expanses of forest, taking down trees that replace carbon dioxide with oxygen.

The president doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what’s happening. He continues to repeat the lie that climate change is a hoax, that it’s not actually happening.

His own National Climate Assessment says the exact opposite.

Who do you believe, a politician/serial liar or the experts who study these matters intensely? I’m all in with the experts.

Space Force: Its relevance is diminishing

The more I think about the idea creating a Space Force — the less I think about it … if you know what I mean.

Donald Trump wants to create a new military branch devoted exclusively to fighting enemies in outer space.

As I ponder it, I think: Huh? Doesn’t NASA have that responsibility already? And doesn’t the U.S. Air Force have a Space Command that devotes its considerable intellectual power, know-how and technology to defending us from attacks that might come from beyond our atmosphere?

We’ve got the North American Aerospace Defense Command — a joint U.S.-Canadian operation. There’s also the Strategic Air Command. The Navy has its own capabilities as well.

Yet the president wants to commit $8 billion more in defense spending to create a Space Force? Where’s he going to get the money? Don’t anyone even think of suggesting he should take the funds from domestic programs the Trump administration wants to gut anyway.

The notion of a Space Force has given late-night comics plenty of grist for their joke writers. I won’t go there, although I was amused to hear Vice President Mike Pence extend “greetings from the president of the United States” in a tone of voice suggesting he was talking to a roomful of extraterrestrials.

Ex-astronaut: Space Force ‘redundant’ and ‘wasteful’

That settles it. Donald Trump’s idea of establishing a new military branch is a non-starter. If you’ll pardon the pun, it shouldn’t get off the ground.

He wants to create a Space Force, which would operate in outer space. According to one notable former astronaut, the idea is “redundant” and “wasteful.”

So said Mark Kelly, a former shuttle and International Space Station astronaut. I want to add that Kelly also is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford of Arizona, who was gravely wounded  when she suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Kelly and Gifford have become staunch gun-control advocates and have become as well staunch foes of Donald Trump.

That all said, Kelly offers an expert’s view of this Space Force idea.

“There is a threat out there,” Kelly said, “but it’s being handled by the U.S. Air Force today, doesn’t make sense to build a whole other level of bureaucracy in an incredibly bureaucratic [Defense Department],” he added.

The Space Force idea is too expensive, especially at a time when we’re acquiring even more national debt and while the annual budget deficit is exploding. Moreover, it makes no sense to duplicate the efforts to patrol outer space by existing military branches, which — by the way — are the finest in the world.

Let’s ground the Space Force before it takes off.