At The Beginning…


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Three years ago today, Rebecca and I were at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the first launch of NASA’s Orion Spacecraft. It was, to put it lightly, an incredible experience. I’d returned to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and joined NASA’s Space Launch System two years earlier that week, but I’d been following Orion for far longer than that, so it was overwhelming finally seeing it fly.

Sunday marked five years that I’ve been part of the SLS program, and they’ve been the most incredible of my career. I’m incredibly blessed to be here – I was talking to a friend, recently, about how, when I was in early high school, this is basically where I’d dreamed of being, that I’d abandoned that dream before college, but had somehow halfway-accidentally ended up where I’d wanted to be in the beginning. The irony is, if I’d stuck with my initial dream, there’s a good chance I would have ended up somewhere else.

All that to say, I’ve watched the SLS team pour themselves into this work, and we’re now seeing it pay off in a very real and very big way as the rocket takes shape. It is phenomenal to see the things they’ve already built, and to watch those massive pieces come together. But the real payoff – I was about to say the real payoff will be finally seeing in launch in two years, but, while that will be incredible, it’s not really true. The real payoff will be seeing what is accomplished when this rocket starts flying, and seeing a generation inspired as humanity reaches farther than ever before.

“The University is Respected, But Ole Miss Is Loved”


This was in my Facebook feed this morning:

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I’ve had the opportunity to go some amazing places and see some awesome things supporting NASA’s Space Launch System, but getting to take my rocket back “home” to Ole Miss will always be a favorite.

For the first six years after college, when I was still working in newspapers, it looked like I was on track to eventually accomplish the career dreams I had when I was a print journalism major there.

In my mind, it’s a far, far greater testimony to how well my Ole Miss journalism prepared me to see now how far it’s carried me from anywhere I’d ever dreamed.
It’s been a little while since I’ve been published in a newspaper or magazine, but I’m still proud of my The University of Mississippi – Ole Miss j-school education, and grateful to folks like Samir A. Husni, Joe Atkins, Robin Street and Judy Crump for the foundation they gave me.

Review: “The Master’s Mind” by Lance Hahn


There is a line, toward the end of Lance Hahn’s “The Master’s Mind,” that sums up the heart of the book in both its depth and simplicity: “Repent doesn’t only mean to turn away to be change one’s mind and start agreeing with God.”

For those who perceive Christianity as a religion fueled largely by “Thou Shalt Nots” – whether believer or otherwise – this book will be revelatory. Its focus, indeed, is not even on “Thou Shalts.” Rather, it is concerned much less with the things that a person refrain from doing or the things they must do than it is concerned with how a person should be thinking about the world, or, more accurately, about God.

There is today a modern resurgence of the philosophy of Stoicism, teaching that one’s world is influenced by nothing so much as by how one perceives it, and this book provides a Christian angle on that approach –– there is nothing that shapes one’s world so much as God, and one’s experience of that world is driven by how you understand Him. Life becomes simpler and more rewarding the more that understanding and appreciation is kept in place.

Hahn builds his case incrementally, beginning with establishing an understanding of the world around us – including the challenges therein – before culminating in a guide to finding rest in that chaos.

An accessible and engaging read, “The Master’s Mind” is a beneficial revelation or reminder to anyone seeking peace in an overwhelming world.

(Disclosure: I was provided a review copy of “The Master’s Mind” by Handlebar Marketing.)

Fred Haise and the Waning Record


Fred Haise holds the record for distance from Earth.

He’s famous today because of the movie “Apollo 13” that embedded “Houston, we have a problem” and “Failure is not an option” in the world’s conversation about space. Bill Paxton is probably more often recognized for being Fred Haise than Fred Haise is.

Less known is the fact that, because of that mission and its off-nominal trajectory, Haise, Jim Lovell and the late Jack Swigert went farther into space than any other human being had before or has since.

Fred Haise was at Marshall Space Flight Center today, to speak to the workforce.

It’s an amazing and surreal experience when visitors like this come; I’ve seen Mercury and Apollo astronauts speak in Morris Auditorium; I’ve seen Gene Kranz tell the story of Apollo 13 from the mission control perspective.

Their stories are stories that belong to the world; their history is world history. Anyone, anywhere could listen to them talk and be enthralled and engaged, could listen to them talk and have their stories resonate.

Their history is world history, but they were wearing that blue circle with the red vector and the white word NASA when it happened. Their stories belong to the world, but, at Marshall, their stories are our stories.

It’s awe-inspiring and surreal to hear those stories and be reminded of the unbroken connection between that history and the present and the future. The rocket Fred Haise rode was designed yards from where I work. The story didn’t end, it continues a torch that is passed from generation to generation.

Fred Haise has been farther into space than any human being ever has.

And that will continue to be true, for about five more years.

I have the honor and privilege of working with people who are heir to that history. I have the honor and privilege of working with people who are carrying it forward.

I work with people who, yards from where the Saturn V was designed, are designing a rocket that will build on its legacy, continuing humanity’s outward odyssey.

The first people to ride on that rocket, in just a few short years, will break Fred and Jim and Jack’s record. The first people to ride on that rocket, in just a few short years, will, truly, go where no one has gone before. And that new record, pushing back humanity’s frontier into the void, will not be the goal of this new endeavor. It will be the starting line.

As he left the moon for the final time, the late Gene Cernan said, “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.”

It was a rare pleasure to hear Fred Haise talk about his experiences, but even more exciting as NASA prepares to turn one of the greatest chapters of its history into a prologue for the future.

Peggy Whitson, Chocolate Candies and Mars


Peggy Whitson in the ISS cupola on her 638th day in space.

Peggy Whitson returned to Earth Sunday.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Peggy. My first day at Marshall Space Flight Center, 15 years ago last month, Peggy Whitson was in space; the only American astronaut aboard the International Space Station when I began working at NASA.

That was on Expedition 5, the fifth crew of the space station. (This weekend marked the beginning of Expedition 53.) The space station was a whole lot younger then; long-duration spaceflight, at least for NASA, a whole lot newer.

After that mission, Peggy came to Marshall on a tour of the NASA centers to share her experiences with the workforce, along with the STS-113 space shuttle crew that had brought her home. The significance of long-duration missions was really driven home for me during that visit, in the most seemingly trivial of ways.

Among the shuttle crew was astronaut Paul Lockhart, who had the unusual distinction of having been part of both the crew that delivered Peggy to the space station and the crew that brought her home five months later. Normally, an astronaut wouldn’t fly two shuttle flights so close together, but the STS-113 crew ended up needing to call in a backup member, and Paul was tapped to fly.

He and Peggy were both rookies on STS-111, and he talked about how gawky they were in microgravity compared to the veteran astronauts. Peggy was allegedly close to utterly graceless as she floated in orbit for the first time.

When he went back to the station on his second flight, he was more experienced, and moving more easily through the spacecraft. When they got to the space station, Peggy was in another class altogether; not only more graceful than when they dropped her off, but more efficient than any of the astronauts, no matter how many times they’d flown.

This was driven home during the crew’s video of their mission, in a relatively minor way. The astronauts, as astronauts are wont to do, were eating some candy-coated chocolates of a totally non-brand-specific origin. I’d seen footage before of this, and it usually involved astronauts floating through a cloud of the candies, Pac-Manning them into their mouth as they floated, catching what they could. Peggy, however, did not. Peggy reached out into the cloud, and, with a fingertip, began pinging them into her mouth with impressive speed and complete accuracy. Orbital Pac-Man had gone the way of the dinosaurs.

I had the opportunity to experience weightlessness myself five years later, and was provided with some candy-coated chocolates of my own. I decided I was going to Peggy Whitson them. I was wrong. I tried. I failed. Now, granted, I was bad at microgravity in general, but my first effort, from a foot or two away, missed completely. I tried moving it closer. From mere inches, I finally made it to my mouth, the candy bouncing off my teeth before floating away. It was hard. It was hard, and in less than five months in space, Peggy could do it perfectly.

Peggy returned to Earth this weekend with more total time in space than any American astronaut. 665 days, almost 22 months. The better part of two years in space.

Pinging candy-coated chocolates into your mouth in microgravity is hard. But there are tasks that will be required of the first astronauts to sail between the planets, to visit other worlds, that will be far harder. It’s exciting that we are now in a time when astronauts like Peggy Whitson are gaining the experience, and the knowledge, we will need to make those things happen.

Welcome back, Peggy, and thank you.

A “Farewell” To Improv


It was almost exactly eleven years ago that I started going to rehearsal for Face2Face Improv, and Friday, one troupe and over a decade later, I performed in Comic Science Improv‘s “Farewell Tour” show in Madison. (The tour has one more date Friday in Oxford, Miss.) I’m not entirely sure what that means; I have no future plans to do local improv, but it’s also kind of hard to imagine never doing it again. So we’ll see.
 
It was so much fun performing with everyone Friday night, including some who’d not played for quite a while. These folks have become like family, and for me it’s been as much about having fun with them as about the performance. That said, the performance ain’t half bad; I’ve enjoyed hosting shows because it means I get a front row seat to watch some incredibly talented folks be funny.
 
And improv is more than just the troupe, it’s very much a conversation with the audience. We’ve been lucky to have such great fans over the years, and we were so grateful for the big crowd that showed up Friday night to see us off.
 
Thanks so everyone who came, and we’ll see you around…
 
(And, of course, you can still see me doing Downtown Trolley Tours, Huntsville Ghost Walk, the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll, and things like that. Don’t be a stranger.)

Ten Years of iPhone


The first iPhone was released 10 years ago Thursday.

I didn’t buy one that day. I waited two days.

I did, out of curiosity, go to the AT&T store on release day – this was before there was an Apple store locally – but the line was so long I wouldn’t have been able to get into the store before I had to be at an improv show that night. In my head, I was just going because I wanted to see one; I’m not sure if I would have bought one that night or not.

This was, after all, back before carrier subsidies and installment plans and the like, if you wanted an iPhone, you paid the full, rather-substantial price of the iPhone.

Honestly, I really didn’t know why I wanted one. As a long-time Mac fan, back before Apple had the brand power it does today, there was a general trust that it would be worthwhile. But there was also a sense that there were intangibles here that I couldn’t fully appreciate. So I bought one.

And I was right. The moment it clicked, I was shopping for groceries. The store’s radio started playing Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night.” There was a line in the song I couldn’t understand, and I went through this frequent cycle of wanting to know what the lyric was but being in a place where I was not able to look it up, to being in a place where I was able to look it up but not remembering that I wanted to, to hearing it again and being frustrated that I never remembered to find out what it was. And on that day, not long after I got my iPhone, I was buying groceries, and I heard the song, and I wondered what the lyric was. And I pulled out my phone, and I looked it up. And in that moment, I began to realize what this device was that I had purchased. Knowledge, unchained.

I was slower to get an iPad, suspecting that it would prove to be exactly what I thought it would be. The Apple Watch was more like the iPhone experience – I didn’t know what it was going to be for me, but I suspected it would be for me something I didn’t know, which has proven to be the case, particularly in the health area, which I didn’t think I would care about at all, but has turned out to play a big role in losing weight.

Ten years later, I’ve been through a series of iPhones. That first one still works. And it remains the bar for new technology – Good technology does exactly what you wanted it to do. Great technology does the things you never knew you needed.