Rocket In The Rocket City

Photos courtesy of NASA

I don’t generally get to work at 6:30 in the morning, but today I made an exception. A test article of the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter for NASA’s Space Launch System was being raised by crane and placed in the test stand. The LVSA is a giant metal “waffle cone” that will connect the two stages of the rocket. It will soon be joined by test versions of the rocket’s second stage and the adapter for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft.

To be honest, it wasn’t the most dynamic scene in the world. A large metal cone was carefully prepared and slowly moved to the stand. But it’s a start.

This piece will be followed by others, and the test will begin of a 56-foot-tall stack of rocket hardware; NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center‘s first major test of a large campaign to ensure America’s next great rocket is ready to fly. Next year will see testing of the rocket’s core stage liquid oxygen tank and the 130+-foot-tall hydrogen tank.

This morning was a very real step in a big rocket coming to the Rocket City in a big way. Not a bad way to start your day.

Ghost Walk/Cemetery Stroll Schedule


For the next few weeks, Rebecca Hitt and I will be wearing funny things and talking about stuff pretty much every weekend. If you’d like to see us, here’s where we’ll be:

Friday, Oct. 7, I’ll be doing the Huntsville Ghost Walk starting at 6 p.m.*

Saturday, Oct. 8, Rebecca will be doing Saturday Scientist at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center at 10 a.m.. She’ll be doing the Decatur Ghost Walk and I’ll be doing the Huntsville Ghost Walk, both at 6 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 14, I’ll be doing the Huntsville Ghost Walk starting at 6 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 15, Rebecca will be doing the Decatur Ghost Walk and I’ll be doing the Huntsville Ghost Walk, both at 6 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 16, we’ll both be doing the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll from 2-4:30.

Saturday, Oct. 22, Rebecca will be doing the Decatur Ghost Walk at 6 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 29, Rebecca will be doing the Decatur Ghost Walk at 6 p.m.

(When I’m doing a 6 p.m. Ghost Walk, I may or may not also do an 8:30 p.m. walk depending on crowds.)

For more information on Ghost Walks, visit here:

For more information on the Cemetery Stroll, visit here:

Review: “Good Christian Sex” by Bromleigh McCleneghan

good-christian-sex-coverRebecca and I have participated in several TLC Book Tours, and when I was offered a free review copy of Bromleigh McCleneghan’s Good Christian Sex, I debated whether to accept it. It’s not exactly my usual topic, but arguably it’s one with as much merit as other books I’ve reviewed, and, honestly, I was a bit intrigued by the title.

The title, perhaps the most-clever part of the book, could go multiple ways. Is it sex for “good Christians”? Is it good sex for Christians? And is that a virtuous or meritorious “good,” as in “I aspire to be a good person” or “I aspire to be a good guitar player”? The answer, as it turns out, is that it’s morally good sex, so those expecting how-to will be disappointed. It’s also probably more morally good sex for Christians, moreso than morally good Christian sex.

McCleneghan tells a story in the introduction that provides context for the whole book. She’s in college, and a friend calls to ask her if she (the friend) should have sex with her (the friend’s) boyfriend. The friend, it turns out, was asking McCleneghan because she (McCleneghan) was a pastor’s kid. Raised in a church environment that taught nothing wrong about premarital sex, McCleneghan responded, do you want to?

This book, then, is McCleneghan’s longer response to that and similar questions — reasoned and sourced and organized and written authoritatively — now that she is herself a pastor. It’s a question that deserves such an answer; McCleneghan’s will likely only cause people to take away from the book the things they bring to it. For those wanting spiritual peace of mind about a less rigid view of Christian sex, McCleneghan offers a discourse, signed by a pastor, granting it. Those with a more conservative view on such topics, however, are unlikely to change their mind because of anything McCleneghan writes here.

Personally, I think there is a case to be made that some churches today do skew overly conservative in their interpretation of sex-related scripture, and I believe that there is plenty of room for a open-minded discussion of what the Bible says about sex. This book, however, is not that.

God is a supporting cast member who comes and goes throughout Good Christian Sex depending on how much he’s needed at the moment. Scriptures that deal with sex make rare and brief cameos. Other scripture appears more often, cited as inspiration when it supports a point McCleneghan wants to make, and eyed suspiciously when it doesn’t align adequately with her modern cultural norms. (‘The Book of Genesis is not great for a lot of things,” opines Pastor McCleneghan.) Better inspiration for today’s Christians can be found here in The LEGO Movie and Ani DiFranco.

In debating whether to receive the review copy, I’d rationalized to myself that if it was going to require a discussion of sex too cringeworthy for my blog, I’d cop out and talk instead about what Christian sex tells us about God. This book provides little fodder for that conversation as well.

It’s not impossible to imagine that the friend who called McCleneghan with the question that informed this book so many years ago wasn’t really looking so much for theological discourse as license. This book allows those today with the same or similar desires to come to McCleneghan, and receive the same dispensation.

Good Christian Sex coverAbout Good Christian Sex

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (July 5, 2016)

    Many Christians in this country hear a singular ethic from their faith communities – absolute abstinence outside of marriage, and no exceptions – regarding abortion, birth control, and being gay. As a result of this inflexible approach, many simply disengage, disconnecting their sex lives from their lives of faith.

    In Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option – And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, Pastor Bromleigh McCleneghan grapples with the enduring conflict of Christianity and sex. She combines personal anecdotes with theological research, and uses a measured, non-judgmental, and sometimes humorous†tone to make her case. She lays out theological and ethical questions that arise in the average, everyday†experience of adult sexuality, and informs readers through these discussions in a clear and engaging way. In this much needed book, she:

    • Addresses the theological sense of pleasure.
    • Encourages people to think about virginity and sexual initiation as complex things.
    • Discusses modesty, nudity, and what it means to be vulnerable with other people.
    • Reflects on whether or not single Christians have to be celibate.
    • Considers how to recognize whether itís time to end a relationship, or make a go of it.

    Pastor McCleneghan concludes that it is possible to bridge the gap between sin and human nature, providing†hope where confusion, conflict or frustration had been, and lifting the veil of shame felt by many religious†people. Good Christian Sex†provides a much needed perspective that will liberate Christians to finally†express their sexuality in realistic ways that are aligned with their faith.

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    Bromleigh McCleneghan APAbout Bromleigh McCleneghan

    Bromleigh McCleneghan is Associate Pastor at Union Church of Hinsdale in suburban Chicago. She is the co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, and her essays and articles have been published in The Christian Century, Ministry Matters, Fideliaís Sisters, Circuit Rider, Criterion, and the website of The United Methodist Church. More at Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Sort-Of Review: “Finn’s Story” by Jesse J. Holland

    photo-on-9-14-16-at-8-04-amSo yesterday after work I left the office and immediately headed for Barnes & Noble to pick up the newest Star Wars book, just released that day.

    To be sure, I like Star Wars and all, but generally speaking I haven’t been a “read the books” fan for many many years.
    This book, Finn’s Story, though, is written by my friend and former editor Jesse J. Holland, so I made an exception.

    Jesse’s the second person I know to have released an official Star Wars book in the last year, and it’s kind of surreal that he’s getting to contribute to the Star Wars canon. Jesse’s already an accomplished author and well deserved this opportunity, but for some reason the success of his first two books, The Invisibles: African American Slavery Inside the White House and Black Men Built the Capitol, falls into a mental category of “stuff of course Jesse could do” (alongside having an office in the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court building at various points), while telling an official Star Wars story is a different beast altogether. (Not because it’s better or more impressive, but because it seems more … untouchable, somehow.)

    The book is a young-reader companion piece to last year’s Force Awakens movie, told, obviously, from the perspective of Finn, and the highest praise I can give the book is that, while reading it, I would forget why I was reading it; my mind alternating between this “Oh, OK, so that’s what was going on there” I’m-just-reading-a-Star-Wars-book-here mentality to occasional flashes of “Hey, wait, JESSE wrote this!”

    Not bad, sir. Not bad at all.

    The Starship and the Rocket: Star Trek, NASA & Me


    “Space… The Final Frontier…”

    I am not where I am because of Star Trek.

    You’ll see interviews sometimes with NASA folks, including astronauts, who say Star Trek inspired their love of space.

    For me, if anything, it was the opposite.

    I grew up in a golden era for space. The first Star Trek movie came out when I was four. “Empire Strikes Back’ was the next year. The first space shuttle launched the year after that.

    The idea of space, the excitement of exploration, the siren call of the stars and the adventure that lay between them was a thread woven liberally and integrally into the fabric of my childhood. It fed my love of Star Trek and Star Wars, of the Black Hole and Battlestar Galactica, and it fed my love of NASA and the real world of space exploration.

    For years, I’m not sure if I leaned more toward the lightsaber or the phaser, but by middle school, Star Trek had won out. I was Spock for Halloween. I built model starships. I read new Star Trek novels voraciously as they came out each month. I eagerly awaited the launch of The Next Generation, and then followed this new crew’s adventures each week, even if they were clearly inferior to the classic.

    At one point, I began writing my own Star Trek novel. It’s long since lost now, but my memory is that I got decently far into it for a middle schooler. The plot involved a hole in space that turned out to be a temporal anomaly, such that the probe the Enterprise fired into it went back in time and landed on the Klingon homeworld, causing the Klingons in the Enterprise’s time to suddenly be technology advanced. What are the odds, you know?

    I was writing in a time when the Star Trek canon consisted of 79 episodes and four movies. Today, there’s probably some continuity bible that officially proscribes the name of the first wife of Sulu’s second cousin, but back then, the universe was largely unexplored, and there was room for writers to fill it out. Some of my additions in retrospect were cringeworthy, but back then, they weren’t wrong. There was no official reason to preclude the possibility that Klingons often drank a beverage called “kol’tuns,” other than good sense.

    I never finished my Star Trek novel.

    I have written two books about actual space.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Star Trek novel, but I still watch every Star Trek movie that comes out, and I’m very interested in the new TV series. But today, my favorite space vehicle has neither S-foils nor warp-nacelles, but two five-segment solid rocket boosters.

    It was an incredibly experience writing books not about the fictional future of space, but about actual accomplishments of real spacefarers. But even more amazing is now getting to do in real life what I sought to do with that book — to be part of adding to the story, of filling out the next chapters. Of exploring a little bit more of that universe.

    Because, on this 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the work we’re doing in the real world echoes back to the work of Kirk and his crews.

    I get to sit in on meetings regularly about such topics as the first human landings on Mars, or sending probes to icy Europa, and the plans scientists have for studying the past or current habitability of those places.

    Or, to put it less prosaically, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life.

    But there’s more to it than that. A big part of the appeal of Star Trek was always the idea of a brighter future, and of the call of the unknown. It’s the part that resonated with me; it’s the part that has inspired others. It’s the part that I aspire to in my own work.

    NASA, like Star Trek, offers the idea that we can be more than what we are, as a society and as individuals. It encourages and challenges us to reach further than we have. To know all that is knowable. To learn, to build, to explore.

    To boldly go where no one has gone before.

    Huntsville and Pluto


    Ten years ago today, Pluto was officially reclassified, recognizing that it was less like our solar system’s eight planets than it was like the many, many small bodies populating the region beyond Neptune.

    To put that in context, this year’s high-school freshman class has never been taught in school that Pluto was a planet.

    If you’ve ever discussed Pluto on an iPhone, it wasn’t a planet when you did.

    It’s exciting to think about how much our understanding of our solar system has increased in the last decade. And as a Huntsvillian, I’m proud of my city’s role in the story — “Pluto Killer” Mike Brown is a graduate of Huntsville’s Grissom High School, and Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center managed the program that sent the New Horizons mission to explore Pluto. We had a connection to both correcting a major misconception about Pluto, and to revealing the amazingly spectacular truth.



    Pluto and Other Things That Aren’t Planets

    Lackluster Secrets of the Pluto Time Capsule

    Worse Than Not Being Able to Fly

    I was sharing this story with someone the other day, and realized that as many times as I’ve told it, I’ve never actually written it.  Now I have.

    launch of sts-133

    The first time I ever drove down to Florida to watch a shuttle launch was STS-121 in July 2006. It was three and a half years since we’d lost Columbia. STS-114 had flown a year earlier, but the fleet was re-grounded after foam shedding issues were seen again on that flight. Now, the shuttle was ready to launch again, for the first time in a year and the second since January 2003.

    The launch was scheduled for Saturday, July 1. I was on a pier on the river in Titusville, and it was packed. There were maybe that many people there for STS-135, the last shuttle flight, but only maybe. The shuttle was flying again, and people were excited.

    The shuttle didn’t fly that day. The weather looked perfect, to which my sunburn would attest. But despite looking perfect, when the launch window opened, it wasn’t. The crowd went home.

    We went back the next day. The weather looked the exact opposite of perfect, but as long as there was a chance, we were going to stick around. We were rare in that decision; only  a tiny fraction of the crowd from Saturday returned on Sunday. The crew boarded the vehicle, and began preparing for launch. They got to the point where they were ready to close the hatch. They called back to Mission Control. Before we close the hatch, is there really any chance we’re flying today?


    No, came the answer finally. The astronauts exited the shuttle.

    There was no launch opportunity Monday. I had to drive home. I watched the launch on my television in my living room on the Fourth of July.

    Fast forward four years and change. I’ve been back several times. I’ve seen launches now. I’ve seen more scrubs, too. The shuttle program is winding down, and I head down to Florida to watch STS-133, the pre-penultimate flight. The chances of successfully seeing a launch increase the longer one was willing to spend in Florida, and this time I had a week reserved to wait.

    It wasn’t enough. After multiple delays for multiple reasons, it reached a point where not only was Discovery not launching that week, she wasn’t launching that year. Home again.

    Fast forward another three months. Discovery is on the pad again. I’d been to multiple scrubs and multiple launches, but I’d never made the trip back down to try again to see a launch I’d seen scrubbed. This, for me, was a first.

    On the day of launch, I was supporting some education activities at the KARS Park campground. We watched from a pier on the river there as well. Lacking the launch-feed speakers we’d had on some of my previous launches, news came from social media and rumors.

    Launch drew close. And then it wasn’t drawing close anymore. There was a hold, at minutes before launch. We knew they were holding, and we new it had something to do with range safety. A monitor wasn’t working. The launch opportunity was nearing an end, rapidly. It looked bad.

    On the orbiter, the crew continued to prepare for launch. From what they were hearing, months after their last week of scrubs, it was unlikely they were going to space that day. To make it worse, the issue was with range safety — the team responsible for, among other things, being ready to destroy the orbiter during launch if it looked like it could endanger the public. You’re not going to space, and the reason you’re not going to is because we couldn’t kill you if we wanted to.

    Were I the crew, I’d be happy to suggest a compromise where range safety just decides to forego being able to blow us up, and let us go. But instead, they’re on the orbiter, going through the motions of preparing for a launch they’re hearing is next to impossible.

    I didn’t know it at the time, but I heard it came down to seconds. If it had taken seconds longer to resolve the issue, they would have stayed on the ground. Again.  But it didn’t. They left Earth on a column of fire and steam on their way to the International Space Station.

    Two months later, they were at Marshall Space Flight Center for their post-mission visit. They did their briefing in Morris Auditorium, and when they opened it up for questions, I had to ask — what was it like sitting in the crew cabin of the orbiter, going through the steps of preparing for a launch that almost certainly wasn’t coming? Was it discouraging or frustrating?

    In a word, the answer was no. They hadn’t been scrubbed, and as long as there was a chance to fly, they were going to do their part to make it happen.

    As Alvin Drew put it, the worst thing wouldn’t be to be ready and not be able to go. The worst thing would be to able to go, and not be ready.

    Not bad advice, for more than just space shuttles.