Two Roads Diverged


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As I am wont to do, I got up and went for a hike on Green Mountain last Friday morning.

I’ve really made a daily hike a priority lately, as a way of keeping discipline while I’m not working, getting some exercise, and having a regular quiet time for prayer or meditation.

That last one is an interesting one. I talk to God a lot on the hiking trail. Sometimes He shares things with me. And sometimes He uses the trail itself, the hiking experience, to teach me things.

There was the time I got on the trail later in the day that I realized, later in the year than I should have, and it got dark while I was still in mid-hike. And on a cloudy night under the tree cover, that’s pretty dark. The trail disappeared into darkness pretty quickly ahead of me, and for a brief moment, I was afraid I was lost. Worst-case scenario, I could have just pointed in the right-ish direction and followed the road noises when I was close enough, but cutting through the underbrush is nasty when you can’t see it. Thankfully, I realized that, while visibility was pretty limited, I could see the next step or two. And, ultimately, that’s all I needed. And, yes, the application for my life was pretty blatant. Stop worrying about the path you can’t see; take the steps you can.

Another time, I hiked in the snow, and lost the trail. I walked on in the direction I thought it was heading, but couldn’t find it again. I tried again, and again. No luck. Finally, I gave up, and turned around to go back. When I did, I saw two trails ahead of me. The one I’d came from, and the way that I was trying to go, which had doubled back at the point the snow obscured it. The message was a little esoteric, but no less fitting for the time — just because you think you’re going forward, it doesn’t mean you are, and sometimes you have to go backward to move on.

The day before the story I’m trying to get around to telling, I’d had another of those hikes. It had started sprinkling. I’d hiked in the rain a few weeks earlier, and had loved it, and so even though I was done and back in my car when it started sprinkling, I got back out and started the trail again. I prayed for some real rain. I decided that I would hike to a certain point, and if it still wasn’t pouring by that point, I would turn around and head back. So I started onto the trail. And it kept sprinkling half-heartedly. And I got about halfway to the point I had decided on, and stopped. I continued to pray for real rain, but all I got was some impressive thunder and unimpressive sprinkles. I was about to turn back. But, as I was about to, I stopped myself. No, I had said, regardless, I was going to keep pushing on to that point. So I did. And it kept sprinkling. But, as I neared that point, after I would have been off the trail if I’d turned back, it started raining in earnest. Beautifully and gloriously. It was an amazing hike. And one I would have missed if I’d given up on rain, given up on my prayer when I was first tempted to.

So, finally, Friday. I was hiking. And I was a little ways into the trail, when I noticed a divergent path. I’d never seen it before. In fact, though I found it again easily and took it a second time Friday, I’ve not seen it since, though I’ve not been really consciously looking at the right time, apparently. It was fresh, laid out with dirt but still rough. There were no official signs yet, but there were orange ribbons tied to trees along the way. So, of course, I followed it. I wanted to know where it went, if it, in fact, went anywhere yet.

And, sure enough, after following it for a bit, the trail ended. There was dirt, and then there was grass and underbrush. But as I turned around to go back, I noticed more orange ribbons tied to trees. So I followed them. At one point, I thought they ended, but, again, spotted them continuing onward at an odd angle, and kept going. Finally, they stopped again. I looked, every way I could think of, but no more ribbons. As I was about to turn around, I looked down — trail. Not fresh trail, worn trail. Looking around again, I realized that I knew exactly where I was.

Right now, with my job situation and other things in my life, I’m off the trail I thought I was following. I’m on a new path, and one that’s not marked particularly well. Friday, I had a choice of whether to follow that trail. In real life, I don’t.

But sometimes, that unmarked trail still takes us where we need to be.

Speaking Event Tonight


If anyone’s interested, I’ll be giving a free talk tonight at the Decatur Public Library  at 504 Cherry St. NE, Decatur, Ala., beginning at 6:30 p.m. The event will be open to the public.

I will, of course,  be hitting the high points of my “Homesteading Space”-inspired lecture, “Everything I Really Need to Know About Space Exploration I Learned From Skylab,” which is a lot of fun, if I do say so myself.

But, given the recent end of the space shuttle program, and my post-NASA freedom to talk more candidly about the current state of spaceflight and the future, I’ll also be updating the talk some to discuss those issues, and I’ll take questions from the audience as well. I’ll also have some books to sign after the event.

I’m too modest to toot my own horn about my speaking abilities, but I will note that after my first public lecture two years ago, one of the members of my improv troupe came up to me, and, with a shocked expression, noted, “You were actually funny!” Um, thanks, I think?

If you can’t make it tonight, I’ll be giving another talk on Saturday, August 13, at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The Shallow End


So, back in January, I went up to Nashville to see my favorite musician, Lori McKenna, perform at the Bluebird Café’s singer-songwriter showcase, along with some other artists, and wrote a blog post about how great it was.

My good friend Joe Gurner read my post and sent me an e-mail, challenging me to stop talking about songwriting and lyrics and actually try to write some.

Joe, you see, is one of those people with actual musical talent. He can write lyrics and melodies, arrange and perform the instruments, and produce the tracks, all from the comfort of his own home. He’s been in bands, and lately records a bunch of his own stuff and posts it on MacJams.

I, on the other hand, am one of the complete opposite type of person, those with no musical talent whatsoever. I’ve put my singing voice to use to good effect at improv shows — if I try to sing, people will laugh. The idea of trying to read or write music confuses me, and my efforts to learn to play an instrument have been horrible failures. I love music, I love lyrics, I love the idea of songwriting, but musicality utterly evades me.

Joe assured me this doesn’t matter. “Just write some lyrics,” he said.

So I did. I have no idea why, but I decided, with nothing else to go on, that I was going to write a song called “The Shallow End,” and, from that title, wrote some lyrics. I’ve transcribed a lot of lyrics over the last few years, so I tried to write something that looked a little like that, if less good.

(I comforted myself by telling myself that the quality didn’t matter this time, that this was just a proof-of-concept to see if I could write something that could be a song. If you listen to it, tell yourself that, too. I would appreciate it.)

So I sent the lyrics to Joe. “Is this a song,” I asked. “It could be,” Joe said.

Joe took my words, and cut them up, and moved them around, and added music, and sang them, and recorded the finished product.

He moved a lot of the lines around from when I wrote it, and so when I heard it, it sounded a little strange.

But …

He also turned something I wrote into, you know, an actual song. And that’s even more strange.

The Shallow End — Joe Gurner & David Hitt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Magnificent Desolation” — An Interview With Buzz Aldrin


I published this interview with Buzz Aldrin seven years ago for a NASA Web site that no longer exists. Since the agency is no longer using it, I figured the 42nd anniversary of the first manned moon landing would be a good opportunity to post it here.

Buzz Aldrin was the Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, during which he and commander Neil Armstrong became the first humans to land on the Moon.

David Hitt: Dr. Aldrin, thank you for agreeing to talk to us today … We have just a few questions about your involvement in Apollo. As we prepare to mark the 35th anniversary of the first Moon landing, what do you believe is the most important legacy of Apollo 11?

Buzz Aldrin: Well, I think there are many legacies. It clearly fulfilled a dream of many people over the centuries. It was a response, clearly, to a cold war environment of Soviet actions in space following Sputnik. I think as a legacy it has inspired people the world around that remember where they were when that event happened. And that, in a way, gives testimony to the importance of the legacy.

Hitt: The words that you spoke after stepping onto the Moon—“Magnificent Desolation”—have become probably the most famous description of the lunar surface. Tell us a little more about what it was like walking on another world.

Aldrin: My sort of spontaneous words, “Magnificent Desolation,” were a contrast really of the magnificence that I felt represented the achievement of so many people, and yet the desolation of what the destination was that we had sought out. Walking on the surface of the Moon was really a lot easier perhaps than we had even been led to believe. The horizon clearly curved away in that rather smooth part of the Moon chosen for our landing site for Apollo 11. The sky was black as could be—crystal clear visibility with no air. The backpack caused us to lean forward a bit. But, clearly, moving was like in slow motion because of the restrictions of the suit. Walking on another world, knowing that you’re more distant than two people have ever been before, and yet, at that time, more people back home were witnessing what we were doing. That was quite an ironic situation, an unusual one. And, it occurred to me that this was, indeed, unique in the history of travel.

Hitt: Alright. Thank you for sharing that. Through your numerous public appearances, your BuzzAldrin.com Web site, your many books, including an upcoming children’s book, you’re an outspoken advocate for space exploration. What is the most important message you want to share with the world today?

Aldrin: I think with the world today, the most important message might be the plaque that we left on the Moon that said, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969.” And, the most important part is, “We came in peace for all mankind.” The world is in turmoil today, and I think the efforts that we put forth are an inspiration to those who seek freedom in the world, that this is an example of what that freedom can bring. Space travel is something that is now reserved for only those very specially selected people, but I think there’s an inspiration involved also that one day in the not-too-distant future, many other people, not specialists in astronaut or cosmonaut activities, but more and more of the ordinary common private citizen, may one day have the opportunity to experience, perhaps not landing on the Moon, perhaps not reaching the Moon for a good while, but attaining not just suborbital flight, but flight into orbit around the Earth.

Hitt: Today, after more than 30 years, there is serious talk about returning to the Moon and exploring the solar system. What do you believe should be the goals of space exploration today?

Aldrin: Well, clearly today, I think the goals must be affordable. They must be sustainable through many different administrations. So, we need a bipartisan approach that inspires the people. And, through the people of our country and of the world, it motivates the leaders and the people allocating the funds, in our case, the congress, to be able to ensure the continuity of funding support for NASA and the private sector. But, we need a sustaining leadership in the executive branch of the government. The goals, clearly, must be attainable, and they must be evolutionary. I think there are several steps involved in reaching the Moon. We need to chart out the potential landing sites by robotic spacecraft. We need to decide what is the best selection of launch vehicles to launch the exploration vehicle and the landers, that they can evolve into maximizing the potential support for journeying beyond the Moon, perhaps visiting the asteroids on the way to the moons of Mars, then supporting landings on Mars itself. All of this should be viewed with an objective of accepting the objective of permanent occupancy on Mars, rather than just several expeditions that could be postponed in a discontinuous way. We need to have a growing evolutionary commitment that doesn’t turn on and off the support for space.

Hitt: Thank you. The students of today will be the explorers that will bring that future about. What advice would you have for children in school today?

Aldrin: I guess the students of today need to have an open mind, explore many avenues of career choices, pay attention to the working tools that might be needed if the student aspires to a career supporting space activities or actually participating in them themselves. They need to be operators, they need to be communicators, have a significant individual background. And for longer and longer duration spaceflights, they need to develop the skills of compatibility with the close quarters that would be required for their fellow travelers. Not an easy task, but an inspiring one.

Hitt: For you, what was the most exciting part of the experience of flying in space?

Aldrin: Maybe that fits into three categories, the experience of flying in space. One is the physical sensations, and the observations. And, I guess the third is that your life is different. You are now looked upon as an individual who has been to unusual places. And, this gives you a status in the eyes of your fellow citizens. So, there’s the visual scenery from space, the fantastic view, there’s the sensation physically of floating in zero-gravity, and, then, there is the lifetime experience of sharing those wonderful opportunities to fellow human beings.

Hitt: Although your last spaceflight was 35 years ago, you’ve been very involved in space exploration ever since. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing today.

Aldrin: I’m involved in a number of things moving toward, let’s say, technical contributions. I’ve formed a rocket company for reusable rockets, demonstrating what NASA and the Air Force could use in small reusable rockets, progressing to boosters of larger and larger size. This is just a booster that gets the launch vehicle to Mach 3, 3 and a half, and then the booster glides back, or Mach 6, part of the way up into space, and the booster then flies back. We also have an expertise in crew modules, safe crew modules that can be matched with appropriate launch vehicles, to carry out flights beyond low Earth orbit, to be able to join up with landers and support missions to the Moon and beyond. That’s part of the technical contributions. The other contributions, perhaps, are in the more non-profit, the inspirational, and they come under the category of my Share Space Foundation. The objective is to share space with as many people as possible, so that there’s an increasing commercial return from spaceflight and an inspirational aspect for those who are afforded the opportunity to share in space. I’m organizing global space travelers, those individuals who are non-professional astronauts and cosmonauts, who have had the opportunity to reach orbital flight, either in the Space Shuttle or with the Russians. Then, there’s suborbital space travelers that would also be a part of this group. These role models, global space travelers, can inspire adventure travel, space camps, and perhaps eventually space scout type organizations, not just nationally, but internationally. Space camps are a part of this, but I think perhaps more important is to try and look at how the exploration missions can also be augmented by similar applications of those launch vehicles and crew modules so that adventure travel can take place with minor modifications of the launch vehicles and crew modules that are needed for exploration. Otherwise, adventure travel would be far, far too expensive. But, we need a partnership between the government civil space exploration needs and the commercial private sector human space travel objectives.

Hitt: Dr. Aldrin, it has been an honor and a pleasure talking to you today, and we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

Aldrin: Thank you. I hope this helps. It’s an interesting prelude to the 35th anniversary of that wonderful opportunity that three of us had on Apollo 11 to carry out the first lunar landing.

Biographical Data

Hometown: Montclair, New Jersey
Born: January 20, 1930
Education: Bachelor of Science degree from United States Military Academy at West Point, Doctorate of Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Spaceflight Experience:
Pilot, Gemini 12—Aldrin established a new space walk duration record on this 1966 flight.
Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 11—Aldrin and Armstrong became the first men to walk on the Moon during this 1969 mission.

For more information about Buzz Aldrin, visit his NASA biography at http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/bios/htmlbios/aldrin-b.html or his official Web site at http://www.buzzaldrin.com

Happy Birthday, John Glenn


In honor of John Glenn’s 90th birthday, a comic strip Lain, Jesse and I did many years ago before his return to space. For more comics, go here.


And in other space-related news:

— Here’s pretty awesome gallery of recent launches that a friend shared with me.

— I may write more about this later, but a flag flown on the first shuttle mission was left on the International Space Station by the last shuttle mission, and will be awarded to the first U.S. company to fly astronauts to the station. That’s pretty cool.

— Joy of Tech did a final undocking comic that’s not bad.

— Did you know astronauts can’t whistle on spacewalks? Learn something knew every day.

The 100-Word Word


Being a former newspaperman, I love following the Overheard In The Newsroom blog.

I was amused by this recent entry:

Reporter: “My story is already over 700 words and I still have a second soldier to interview.”

Editor: “You act like I can’t edit. I could edit the Bible down to 100 words.”

But then it made me start thinking. What if I did have to present the entire story of the Bible in 100 words? What would I say?

And the thing that fascinated me was, I wonder how intensely personal an exercise it would be. How much would me 100-word Bible be just that — mine? How different would somebody else’s look?

So I thought I would take a stab at it. But what I would really love is for other people to do the same. How much to they differ? What do we each take away from what we read? I suspect it would demonstrate just what an incredibly personal love letter to each of us His Word is.

And the truth is, if I were to do this as an ongoing project — if I were to, say, do this again a year from now, and two, and so on, how much would my own version change. How much is this version different from what I would have written five years ago?

Here’s my very poor attempt at it:

In the beginning was a Father, who created children He loved very much. His children were headstrong, and ignored what He tried to tell them, hurting themselves in the process. He watched patiently as they ignored Him and made mistakes — always trying to help, always weeping to see them turn their backs on Him and to see them hurt. Eventually the children made such a mess of things that a price had to be paid, a price higher than the Father wanted His children to suffer. So He came to Earth, suffered and died, to save His beloved children.

What would yours say?

More Post-Launch Thoughts


• That’s the best picture I took of the STS-135 launch. I took my camera, just in case, and had my iPhone, but really before I ever went down that I was going to do like I did the first time I saw one launch, STS-125, and just watch. I’ve taken pictures of three shuttle launches since then, and gotten some good pictures, but I wanted to watch the last one take place with my own eyes, and not through a viewfinder. I was particularly glad since, as again with STS-125, a low-cloud ceiling meant that the shuttle was visible for only a short time before it disappeared, and I’m glad I didn’t waste that time trying to get the perfect shot. I knew there would be plenty of great pictures of this launch; it would be OK if none of them were mine.

• This was my tenth trip down specifically to watch a launch. On four of those trips, I watched, or attempted to watch, from the NASA Causeway at Kennedy Space Center. I watched one each from KARS Park and from the Saturn V Center. On two trips, the launch was scrubbed early enough each day that I never even made it to a viewing area.

On my first trip, I had no idea what I was doing. I went down with some friends, and we headed down to Highway 1 on the riverside in Titusville the night before the launch to scout the area out, and found this cool pier jutting out from a public park. We came back the next day, and set up on the farthest leg of the pier. The launch was scrubbed near the last minute, and I got possibly the worst sunburn of my life. We came back the next day, and sat for a while in the rain, only to have the launch scrubbed two or three hours before T0. We drove home the next day, and watched the launch on television in my living room.

I’d been back to that pier several times, generally on the day before launch to look at the pad at night. But it ended up that I had never gone back there to try to watch a launch again. Until last week. Friday morning, we got up early, and headed back to my pier in Titusville, with the weather looking no more promising than it ever had.

And yet, it flew. And I got to end my shuttle-launching streak where I started it, successfully watching a launch from where I’d first tried unsuccessfully five years earlier.

• I lost my radio scanner on this trip. I had it clipped to my belt, using it to listen to an amateur-radio rebroadcast of the NASA TV launch feed, and at about T -2 minutes, I leaned over to pick something up, and it came off my belt, bounced once on the pier, and dived into the water.

I was sad for about two seconds before realizing there was really no reason. I’d had the thing for 15 years. My parents gave it to me when I started my first post-college newspaper job; I used it to listen to the emergency band channels at home so I could go take pictures of house fires or car wrecks or the like. And when I left the newspaper business, it sat neglected on a shelf until five years ago, when I went to a launch for the first time, and used it to keep up with what was going on. It’s served me well in the years since for that purpose. So after all that time, I was a little sad to lose it. But I realized that it had served its purpose. Twice. It had been with me through my newspaper days until they were done, and it had been with me through the shuttle launches until they were done. It was sort of fitting to lose it right as it finished it purpose. Dulce et decorum est.

• The trip itself had an ambient feeling of it being the last time. We drove into Titusville on Thursday night and I saw the VAB for the first time on this trip, a familiar vista over the many trips I’ve made down there over the past few years. And now, I don’t know when I’ll see it again. And that’s weird. And there was a lot of that — places I didn’t know when I’d see again, places that I went while I still had a chance, places that I’ve never been and may now never get to. A lot of memories from a lot of trips over a significant period of time. I still haven’t fully wrapped me mind around the fact that the space shuttle program itself was almost over, and so those feelings of an ending were probably the closest I came to experiencing that finality.

• And the launch itself? I still can’t describe my emotions. There were too many, all at once. There was the standard awe, the standard elation, a tinge of sadness, a visceral sense of history. But the significance? Still beyond me.

Yeah, it was an ending. And, yes, the standard way of doing business is over. But I’m a dreamer. It’s hard not to have hope. The old way is done. I have no idea what exactly the future looks like. But there are other dreamers bringing it about right now. I have a real feeling that things will not only be as good as they are 15 years from now, they’ll be better than we expect. I couldn’t help but think o Isaiah 43:19:

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”