Hello, Cleveland


So as I think I’ve mentioned, I went on a business trip last week to Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, with my co-worker and friend Heather.

I’ve written a post about food eaten during the trip, and my subsequent trip to New Orleans, and one about the Rachael Sage concert we went to while there. And I need to write at least one more post about the Simon & Garfunkel concert I went to in New Orleans. But, while those topical posts are relatively easy, the omnibus “this was my week” post is a bit tougher. In fact, I’ve been tempted to just post a link to Heather’s blog entry about the trip, since she does a better job than I would and you should read her entry.

But, I had a few personal notes to share, and I need to get some of it out of the way from a plot perspective before writing my S&G concert post, so here’s random Cleveland thoughts:

I’m not posting a picture of it, but I got to see the wall of wood in the Memphis airport, for which I owe a debt of gratitude to my well-traveled friend Kristy.

I have a goal, which doesn’t really go on The List since accomplishing it is beyond my ability to ensure, to visit all eleven-or-so NASA field centers.

Glenn Research Center was my sixth, following, obviously, Marshall Space Flight Center, along with Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Ames Research Center in California, and thus put me above or at the halfway point.

On a more trivial note, last week also completed my second set of NASA-center-cities-and-Mississippi-namesakes. I’ve been to Johnson’s Houston, Texas, and worked in Houston, Miss.; I spent a decent amount of time in Cleveland, Miss., and have now been to Glenn’s Cleveland, Ohio. I imagine I’ve probably completed the entire collection of such pairs, but I don’t know for sure. (And if there are any others, they probably involve tiny Mississippi towns I’ve never even heard of.)

I was rather impressed with Glenn. I knew little about the center before going, and, to be honest, even shortly before the end of our three-day-visit, was asking our amazing guide what, exactly, Glenn does. The answer, as the name implies, is research. You’re not going to see a lot of Glenn-managed programs. They don’t have a space station like Johnson or launch pads like Kennedy or whatever. But chances are, if it’s a major NASA program, Glenn researchers have laid groundwork to make it possible. The center has an incredible array of capabilities, from microgravity research to medical modeling to propulsion testing to aeronautics research to wheel design. And, I should note, I was similarly impressed with their education department. We met several of their officials there and learned about their extensive but very cohesive portfolio of education projects.

I had a rather cool moment at the very end of the trip. We were getting ready to leave, and I happened to notice in the window of the building next to the one where we’d spent most of our time — the window of a building I’d actually been in — this:

“Um, is that an Apollo Command Module?” In fact, even just from the brief glimpse as we were passing, it was pretty clearly flown. They had a flown Apollo Command Module just tucked away. The building used to be the visitors center, but that had been moved to the Great Lakes Science Center downtown, and thus far the capsule hadn’t. So it was just sort of sitting ignored in a corner of a building. Our guide took it in to see it, and I was even more amused to discover that I had been seconds from being right there next to, and yet completely missing out on seeing, Apollo CSM-117, the vehicle used by my Homesteading Space co-author Owen Garriott on the Skylab II mission. Seeing another CSM is rare enough. Seeing one used by a friend? Kinda cool. And I almost didn’t.

We did a limited amount in Cleveland proper. I’ve already written about the concert we went to the first night, and given an overview of the nice selection of food we had over the course of the trip.

The second night, we had dinner with our guide, Chris, and his wife, Janet, and had a great time with them. My favorite part of the conversation was about a telephone poll that Chris had participated in. It started off fairly innocuously, about his impressions of Vancouver after the Olympics, and then got into more and more bizarre questions. How do you feel about robots? If you could clone a celebrity, which of these would it be? If you could put a celebrity’s brain in a robot body, which of these would it be? If one of these companies were going to take over the world, which is more likely — Microsoft, Apple or Google? How likely do you think it is that robots will rise up against humans?

Which, let me point out, is the most awesome telephone survey ever. It made me want to go home and immediately start calling people at random to ask the questions. My only complaint was that it didn’t go far enough. If Google and robots were battling for dominion of Earth, which would you support? And so forth.

Also that night, after dinner, we watched Lost, which was good fun. It’s only the second time I’ve seen Lost on television (versus my iPhone) this season, and, despite the fact that we talk about it all the time, the first time Heather and I were able to watch an episode together and discuss it in real time.

The third and last night, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Before the trip, we’d asked for suggestions of where to go while we were there, and that was THE suggestion. One person pretty much said, do the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and nothing else. Which was a bit unfair, though I will say that tourism in Cleveland on a sports off-week largely wraps up around 5 on weeknights. Though that’s probably true of a lot of places.

I’d been told that we should allow as much as six hours to do the museum, which I took with a grain of salt. I’m a pretty quick going through museums; I’m largely a skimmer. As it was, we spent about three hours there, and could have easily been there much longer. The irony was, even in this iPod era, the thing we spent the most time on was the digital kiosks that played influential songs from rock history or songs by artists inducted into the Hall of Fame. Heather and I took turns picking songs to listen to. Arguably, we could have spent more times on exhibits and just played iTunes songs for each other when we got back, but, hey, it was fun.

The funny thing was, there’s something for everybody. I talked to my friend Jen from the improv troupe, and she had favorite exhibits that I didn’t even notice. Our Glenn guide, Chris, talked about seeing musicians’ report cards, an appropriate favorite given his background as a teacher. For me, the stand-out item was in the Bruce Springsteen exhibit — handwritten lyrics from his notebooks. As a writer, it was cool getting a glimpse into his writing process. It made me jealous; there was no musical notation, just words on a page. He could write that, and see a song. I would love to write a song, but have no clue how about going to make words on a page into music.

That’s the sign for the Glenn Visitor Center at the Great Lakes Science Center. I have nothing to say about it. We didn’t actually get to go in. The gift shop had even closed earlier than the museum, so we didn’t even get to shop for Glenn swag. (I was able to get some at their gift shop at the center, so I didn’t come home empty handed. I got my sixth center magnet.)

And that’s my report about my trip to Cleveland.

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