Author-y Stuff

Various and sundry author updates:

• I recently had the opportunity to buy several copies of my first book, “Homesteading Space” for $15, and would be glad to sell a few at that price. A few people have contacted me already, but if you would be interested in one, let me know. (Out of town folks would have to pay shipping, also; I would be glad to sign/inscribe books per request.)

• I will be giving a couple of “Homesteading”-inspired talks in the next few weeks; one at the public library in Decatur on July 28 at 6:30 p.m., and the other at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on August 13, time TBD. I would love to see some familiar faces in the audience. I’m planning on revamping my standard talk a bit, after giving an updated version at ISDC in May, to tie history in to the current state of American human spaceflight.

• On Monday, I reviewed the new index which will be included in the forthcoming paperback version of “Homesteading,” which will be published this fall.

• We’ve gotten notes back on the manuscript of our early-space-shuttle history book, “Bold They Rise,” and are working with the publisher on how best to address those. God willing, we’ll be able to begin work on those edits before too long and get that book turned around as well.

Florida Trip Photography

I haven’t had a chance to process things enough to do my big post-launch post, but here are some pictures I took (and one that was taken of me) during the trip. I didn’t take much launch photography, which I’ll get to in the bigger post, so most of these are from the Astronaut Walk of Fame.

Regular Richie Feature

Arlo and Janis

Image via Wikipedia

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Song Challenge Week 6 — A Song That Reminds You Of Somewhere

To make the Post A Day 2011 challenge a bit more bearable, I’ve set up a couple of regular features. Keeping the music theme I’ve been using, I’m undertaking the 30 Day Song Challenge as a weekly project.

Week 6 — A Song That Reminds You Of Somewhere

“The Thrill Is Gone,” B.B. King

As those who know me at all know, I worked for years at the newspaper in Indianola, Miss.

As those who know me at all know, Indianola is where B.B. King claims as his hometown.

Every year, B.B. King would come back to Indianola and give a fund-raiser concert. He and his band got nothing for it, the proceeds would benefit local parks.

As a result, it was the most self-indulgent concert you’ve ever seen. Since B.B. was doing it as a favor, he cared less about entertaining the audience than he did about entertaining himself.

He usually played a pretty short show, sometimes only five or so songs. The focus was a dance contest, in which he would pull kids from the audience up on stage. This made B.B. happy, but it was not unusual for audiences to leave en masse during this part.

I will say, though, that I liked it for one rather interesting reason. B.B. always wanted a diverse group of kids on stage, so he’d ask for what he needed to round it out — “I need another black boy.” One year I left during this part and walked home, you could hear him easily a mile away in the middle of the small-town Indianola night calling out what he needed.

I should point out at this point that Indianola, in addition to being the hometown of B.B. King, was also the birthplace of the White Citizens Counsel, sort of a white-collar (so to speak) version of the Ku Klux Klan. So it gave me great delight that the town had come far enough that an elderly black man could yell out clear across town, “Bring me another little white girl,” and people would pay to see it. There’s hope for us all yet.

But, I digress …

Like I said, most of the concert was pretty self-indulgent. It had its entertaining moments, but it was more about the event than the music.

Except …

When B.B. started playing “The Thrill Is Gone,” it got real. Real fast.

What I remember, what this song takes me back to — and not the studio version, only live versions — is not the way the song sounded. It’s how the song felt.

I remember standing in the park, hearing B.B. King pluck Lucille in the way only B.B. King does, and feeling the notes pass over and through me, resonating in my heart and bones, not an aural sensation but a physical one. And a powerful one at that.

I’ve had similar moments at other concerts, but having seen B.B. King at his homecoming concert probably seven times, none of those has the reinforcement of this one.

When I hear The Thrill Is Gone, I think of Fletcher Park, Main Street, Indianola, Mississippi.

I Was There


I reserve the right to have more thoughts later, but this an e-mail I sent a friend tonight that I’m posting here as a starter.

I saw it.

It was, from a spectator standpoint, not the best launch I’ve been to; definitely in the lower half. It really looked like it wasn’t going to happen today because of weather. The weather ended up complying, but being very cloudy, so she disappeared pretty quickly after launch. In fact, she was out of sight behind clouds long before the sound reached us from the pad.

That said …

That didnt matter. At all. I was there. I was there.

I can’t tell you what that means. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. I was there, in person, for the end, for the last launch.

I’ve followed the program my entire life. The shuttle was the first American spacecraft to fly in my life, and I was five when I watched the first launch on TV with my dad.

I’ve spent the last nine years of my life writing about it, and I wrote the story on the last launch before I left NASA. I’ve written a book about the shuttle. This was my ninth time driving down to see a launches, and the fifth I’ve seen. I’ve been invested.

And I got to be there, got to see it with my own eyes when she flew for the last time. And I’m glad.

I can’t believe it’s over. I really have no sense of that yet. I can’t wrap my mind around it.

Even just these mundane parts are slow to really dawn — Forget understanding what it means for the program to be over, I’m still working on the fact that my coming down here to watch launches is over. I don’t know when I’ll see the VAB again. I don’t know when I’ll drive down this road again. I’ve been down here at least a dozen times over the last few years. And I have no idea when I’ll be back. It’s weird.

OK, long answer to a short question. Sorry.

All Good Things

One more time.

One last time.

At 11:26 EDT today, the space shuttle is scheduled to launch.

For the last time.

Please watch. Whatever you’re doing, stop. Turn on a TV, watch online, whatever. Just watch.

Because you’ll never see it again.

(For updates on the status of the launch, I recommend Spaceflight Now.)

Truth be told, I’m cheating a bit. I’m writing this post on Sunday before the launch, just to make sure it gets written and posted in time to remind people to watch. I’m a little emotional writing it. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel that day.

The other day, the last thing I wrote for NASA was published online, STS-135: Wheels Stop. I wanted that to be my last act there, my closure — to finish out the space shuttle program after writing about it for almost a third of the program. I believe that while NASA is going to go through a difficult transition, it does have a bright future ahead of it. But those will be someone else’s stories; someone else’s spacecraft. Mine, the one I first watched fly when I was five years old, has run the good race, and will soon finish the course.

I have had the good fortune of seeing all but two of the shuttle launches since the beginning of last year in person. The last one, STS-134, I drove down to see, but had to come back when it was delayed a couple of weeks. I ended up watching it on television. Launches always move me. It’s not unusual for me to have to stifle tears. But I was utterly unprepared for how hard that one hit me. I remember someone asking me a question while we were watching, and having to take a moment to compose myself before I could find my voice to answer.

There were a lot of reasons why. It was the first launch after I left the agency, and that had an impact. It was disappointing to watch it on TV after investing so much in trying to see it, and there was that, too.

But more than ever before, it hit me — this is the end.

It was the last launch of Endeavour. And the end of the program was now only one launch away.

I’ve known it was coming forever. I wrote about the impending end for years. But two things were different. When I started writing about it, there was a plan. We were going to retire the shuttle, and Constellation was going to take us to the moon. An end was coming, but something better was underway. Heck, a couple of years ago, I stood on the causeway and watched in person the first flight of that new era. But that Vision faded. And now, the future is a little more clouded.

The other thing that was different is that the end was no longer an eventuality, it was immediate. It is upon us. I was watching it unfold. The idea was one thing, the reality something else.

There is still a future. And it may be brighter than I dreamed that day two years ago. The Vision is no longer proprietary to the U.S. government, it now rests in the hands of visionaries. And that’s not a bad place for it. With any luck, I hope to continue to contribute to that future, working with those who want to bring it about now.

But today …

Today is still an ending. Take the time out of your schedule to participate in it, to share with the nation and the world a historic moment, to honor one of our country’s greatest achievements, one last time.

She’s Always A Woman To Me

(Supposedly, three-quarters of a million people are going to drive down to Florida this week to try to watch the Atlantis make the final launch of the space shuttle program. This post is dedicated to them.)

Quite a while back, a child asked me why I referred to the space shuttle as “her.”

I explained that it was a long-standing naval and aviation tradition since time immemorial. I posited that early naval and air crews were predominantly male, and that because they loved their vessels, they referred to them as if they were women.

A couple of months ago, though, I watched on television as Endeavour launched on her final mission, not terribly long after I had gone down to Florida for a few days to wait for her to fly. And I had some further thoughts on the space shuttle.

She’s complicated and complex and temperamental, and she doesn’t do anything until she’s good and ready. But when she does, she does it like no one else.

She doesn’t care how much time you have to spend waiting for her. But when you do, she’s always worth it.

She’s fragile and delicate and requires incredible amounts of care. And she’s stronger and more powerful than anything you’ve seen.

She’s the very definition of high maintenance. And she’s beautiful and graceful enough to bring a tear to your eye.

She burns hot enough to melt lead, and goes from that to ice cold in minutes. But she always protects those in her care.

There’s nothing like her in the world. And she’s always a woman to me.