Ups And Downs Of Blogging

Heather with a retired Weightless Wonder at Ellington Field

Heather with a retired Weightless Wonder at Ellington Field

I’ve already noted this over on my other blog, but my co-worker Heather is in Houston for a week in order to take part in a Zero-G reduced-gravity flight, and is keeping an official NASA blog about her experiences.

Forgive me rambling, but this is going to end up being at least three different blog posts in one:

Blog Post One

Heather’s trip is really an incredible opportunity for our team.

Sadly, while having the chance to fly one of our team members on a Zero-G flight is very cool, I’m actually more excited about the fact that she’s blogging about it.

Before being published, our work goes through a lengthy review process, completely unlike what it takes to get an official blog post online in a timely manner. So we’re having to do things a bit differently, and it’s a lot of fun. I get to be a very small part of the process, helping coordinate things here, and I’m enjoying getting to make even those limited contributions to doing something new for us. I’m really hoping that this experience opens up other new opportunities in the future.

Blog Post Two

As Heather mentions in her first blog post, the flight opportunity was offered to me first, and I deferred to her. I mention this not because it shows how incredibly awesome I am or because it’s one of the more selfless things I’ve done. (Particularly since it obviously would have established a pattern of post-break-up weightless flights for me, which would make for a nice consolation.)

Heather wrote: “His rationale: it is better for two writers to each have flown once than one writer to have flown two times.”

The way she put it caused me to make a connection, to a feature I’d written three years ago about an interview with Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander, upon her retirement from NASA.

Asked about why she was retiring, Collins explained:

I think we as a country are better off if we have more people who have been in space, even if they’ve only flown one mission. In fact, that first mission is a big one, because you have a very steep learning curve. I don’t think our country needs people who have flown five times — if I stuck around and flew another flight, it would be five times. I don’t know if that would really add that much.

It reminded me of a conversation I had quite a while back, with a friend on mine who runs the premiere space collecting Web site about the fact that our job is to put ourselves out of jobs.

In two different ways, both of us are in the space advocacy business, working to inspire greater interest in spaceflight, and thus the success and proliferation of space exploration and ultimately greater involvement in spaceflight.

I personally believe that NASA is doing work that will open the frontier of space for others; that the agency is not only reaching for new worlds, but, as a result of that, is collaterally paving the way for private citizens to have increasing access to spaceflight.

The very rich are already able to visit the International Space Station, and soon commercial flights into suborbital space will be available. I told my friend that the day is coming that when we’ll tell people, “Let me tell you about space exploration,” only to be told, “No, thanks. My neighbor showed me his pictures after he got back from space last week.”

And there’s an element of that in this situation. When I went on my Zero-G flight, they kept talking about how we were part of this “elite group” that got to experience microgravity. And even then, I just didn’t feel that “elite.” Granted, I live in a rarified environment, but I know several people who have gone on the flights.

And now, by passing on the flight, I’ll know yet another. And even more people will know someone who has done it. And it becomes a little more common. I make myself a little less elite.

But, you know, I’m totally OK with that.

Blog Post Three

This trip also feels like a bit of a passing on of a torch for me, in a way.

I’m not going anywhere, but I’ve always been the member of the team that’s done the really “space-y” trips. I travel less than the other team members, since they, being educators, go make presentations for educators, and I, not, don’t. But that’s meant that I get the trips that provide opportunities to learn more about the things we write about. I’ve had the opportunity, for example, to visit four NASA centers other than the one at which I work.

I’ve traveled with people, including Heather, on those trips before, but this may be the first time someone’s gone on a trip like this without me being involved. I explained the reasons above for her to go instead, and I would have been extraneous. So I’ll be at my desk while she’s doing cool NASA stuff, including some I’ve never done before.

I’ve always been the space geek of the team, and Heather came to us almost completely foreign to the space world, save a handful of stories she did during her newspaper days. She’s come a very long way since then, and, while I probably have the edge in knowledge of NASA’s history, she’s about caught up, and may even have the edge, with current projects. And it’s just very cool for me to be an observer reading the blog of a very capable NASA writer.

Godspeed, Heather!