Tag Archives: Mars

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.Ā 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.”

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.

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.

Happy 92nd birthday, Alan Shepard Jr.

alan shepard

OK, so he’s no longer alive to celebrate it but I couldn’t let pass an item that I stumbled upon this morning.

The late Alan Shepard Jr. was born 92 years ago today.

Shepard enlivened a nation, invigorated our national psyche and gave us a sense of mission at a time when we needed it.

He did it simply by riding atop a rocket for a 15-minute ride into outer space. He splashed down a few hundred miles off the Florida coast into the Atlantic Ocean.

I was a youngster at the time. On May 5, 1961, when Shepard took off aboard that Redstone rocket, I was just 12. But I was fascinated, along with the rest of the country, by the notion of human beings flying into space.

The Soviet Union — which would be known later as the Evil Empire — had beaten us into space. Yuri Gagarin had orbited Earth a month before Shepard took off. The Soviets were beating us at our own game! President Kennedy would have none of it.

Shepard’s flight didn’t measure up to Gagarin’s orbit in the strictest sense, but it didn’t matter to a nation itching to get into the space race. Shepard’s successful flight put us in the thick of the fight.

He got another shot at space travel. A decade laterĀ Shepard commanded Apollo 14’s mission to the moon and hit that famous golf shot from the moon’s surface that flew for “miles and miles.”

I miss those days. I wish we could find it within our national spirit to insist on manned space flight. We’re now sending our astronauts into space aboard ships launched by our former arch-enemy; it’s called “Russia” these days, now that the Soviet Union has disintegrated.

Our space agency is developing a deep-space vehicle that eventually will take future pioneers to places like Mars and perhaps to the asteroid belt.

Is there national excitement as we await that day? Uhh, no.

We’re left to rememberĀ when gutsy test pilots such as Alan Shepard squeezed into tiny space capsules and flew aboard those relatively itty-bitty rockets. He gave us a national thrill that we haven’t duplicated in quite some time.

I hope I’m alive to see the first flight to Mars.

Meanwhile, happy birthday to a man former President Bill Clinton once described as ā€œone of the great heroes of modern America.ā€


Waiting for mission to Mars

My late father looked forward to welcoming the 21st century.

He didn’t make it, falling about 20 years short of his goal.

Accordingly, I have my own life goal. It is to welcome the launch of the first manned mission to Mars — or to wherever the Orion spacecraft is going to take human beings.

NASA launched an unmanned Orion craft from FloridaĀ the other day. It flew two orbits around Earth and then splashed down successfully in the Pacific Ocean. I found myself holding my breath as the Delta rocket lifted off in that agonizingly slow climb off the launch pad — reminiscent of the Saturn V rockets that took Apollo astronauts to the moon.

So, the first launch was a success.

What now? NASA will continue its research and will eventually send humans into Earth orbit aboard the Orion, perhaps within the next three years or so.

They’ll perform various tests on Orion to ensure that its gadgets work correctly. Once they’ve made that determination, they’ll prepare to send astronauts into deep space.

I’m not talking a mere quarter-million miles, the distance to the moon.

Oh no. I’m talking several tens of millions of miles to Mars, or perhaps to Jupiter to explore one of the giant planet’s moons. The missions will last many months.

I so badly want to be around to watch those missions blast off. I want to relive the thrill that the Mercury and Gemini missions would bring to my mother and me as we’d awake in the wee hours and wait through interminable delays and mission “scrubs.” Technical glitches would develop. Then it would be the weather. Then more glitches. But they’d launch eventually and Mom and I would cheer theĀ astronautsĀ as they soared into orbit.

The Orion launch the other morning whetted my appetite.

After all, exploration is what human beings do.


Rocket launch rekindles age-old interest

I watched the launch of a rocket Monday afternoon and found myself smiling as it blasted off the pad and headed into space.

NASA is sending a probe to Mars. It’ll take 10 months to get there. The Maven satellite will settle into Martian orbit and send back data that is supposed to tell scientists back home on Earth about the atmosphere that surrounds the Red Planet.


That, of course, will happen if all goes according to plan.

Why the keen interest? Well, the launch rekindled my childhood fascination with rocketry and with the notion of sending manmade objects — not to mention human beings — into outer space.

NASA has been relegated to the back burner of our national discussion. The United States no longer has an operational manned space program. NASA grounded the shuttle fleet two years ago, sending the three working space shuttles and its one prototype model to museums around the country. It sent thousands of space workers packing.

We’re still training astronauts to fly into space. They are hitching rides aboard Russian rockets — if you can imagine that — to spend time aboard the International Space Station.

I’ve long thought human beings were put on this planet to explore beyond its bounds. We’re still doing so, but now we’re doing it with unmanned vehicles, such as the Maven mission that is now en route to Mars.

The launch excited me Monday. These events usually do, especially when the communicator counts down the final 10 seconds, the engines ignite and the vehicle lifts off. I become slightly breathless as it starts to turn toward orbit and am relieved to hear the launch director declare that the vehicle has attained orbit successfully and then has launched its way toward deep space.

I keep hoping one day — before I check out — that we’ll see human beings take this journey.

Indeed, I still believe that’s one of the reasons God put us here in the first place.