Thoughts about Time Travel


Without spoiling anything, the most recent episode of my friend Jason Sims’ podcast has a moment that relates to a subject I’ve given a lot of thought, involving time travel:

If I had the ability to travel through time, I would do some amount of the stereotypical time-tourism stuff, like watching the Apollo 11 launch or being at the Sermon on the Mount.

(But not the one with the loaves and fishes, because I am allergic to seafood.)

But that would only be like 5 percent of my time-traveling.

The huge majority of my time traveling would be going back to places that I miss, like eating at favorite restaurants that have closed or walking through places I worked that have been torn down or playing classic video games at the arcade.

In particular, there is a Mexican restaurant in Indianola, Miss., in the mid/late ’90s that would have gotten a lot of my future business.

Because these were favorite places of mine, though, it raises the possibility of past-me encountering future-me, which I feel it would be important to avoid. There are two reasons for this:

One reason is the cliché concern that it would create some sort of temporal paradox/anomaly thing that would destroy the space-time continuum. This is the lesser of the two concerns.

The bigger reason is this: If I assume that I’m going to actively avoid past-me being aware of the presence of future-me, then the fact that I’ve never seen myself do this is entirely consistent with the possibility that I will, in fact, do it.

I’ve been thinking about this for about 20 years now.

And even back then, I wondered how careful that would really require me to be. For example, if 22-year-old me were at a restaurant, and 52-year-old me walked in, would younger me even recognize me as the same person?

Factor in the facts that a) I’m not really going to be expecting time-traveling future older me to come in, so that’s probably not going to be my first thought*, and b) I’m honestly probably not paying a lot of attention to the other patrons anyway.

For example, the guys on the right in these two pictures from 22 years apart certainly favor each other, but if they were in the room together, do they really look “the most logical explanation is that one of them has traveled from the future” alike?

Supporting my theory is this: Several years ago, my friends Caleb and Lauren told me about the time they were at their favorite restaurant, and an older couple came in as they were leaving. (Or vice versa, I forget.)

And this older couple looked JUST LIKE OLDER VERSIONS OF THEM!!

And they now say that this restaurant has since made some changes so they don’t think it’s now as good as it used to be.

There are only two possible explanations: 1) The couple they saw was future-them, who had traveled back to the past to revisit their favorite restaurant when it was in its prime, or 2) It was an older couple that favored them quite a bit.

I, obviously, subscribe to option 1.

Which means that there is a good chance that I may already will have eaten again at Los Arcos in Indianola again in the future before it closed.

*Though I’ve already acknowledged that I’ve been thinking about this for 20 years, so if it happened since then, I actually probably am maybe more likely than average to think it’s time-traveling future me.

MS Awareness Month 2018: Blessings and Monsters


March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.
 
Last year, Rebecca and I really couldn’t help but promote MS awareness when we spent the better part of a week in Cullman so she could receive what may be her final MS treatment. You take off that long, and folks are inevitably going to be aware.
 
MS Awareness has become a different sort of thing for us over the past year since that treatment. Our awareness of Rebecca’s relationship with MS has evolved in that time. Free of some of the worst of it, and gradually and tentatively letting go of some of the fear of what tomorrow could be like, I think we’re both a little more of the realities of day-to-day post-Lemtrada life with MS. There have been days where it’s so obvious that the progress since last March is incredible. There have been days where it’s obvious that an indefinite treatment is not the same thing as a cure. Rebecca has always amazed me at how she perseveres; it’s easy for someone to not know what she deals with. I admire her so much, and have such a deep respect for her strength.
 
Without question, though, MS Awareness for us over the past year has included a deep-seated awareness of how incredibly blessed we are – to live in the time we do, to have the resources we do, to have the doctor we do, to have the community we do. Take any of those things away, and life could be very different.
 
One member of that community is Amy Kibbey, who has shared with Rebecca experiences from her own battle. I’m grateful to her (and so many others) for that, but I also really respect her efforts to share the blessings we experience with others.
 
Rebecca has been a beneficiary of the National MS Society, an organization that Amy supports each year through Walk MS. Here is a link to how you can support her Walk. The fight against MS is a fight which can be won and is being won. The Walk, and the Society, really do make a difference.
 
I’m not asking people to give. I really believe these battles are fought best by passionate people. Everybody has a battle. MS may not have touched your life. For you, the monster facing you or your family may be diabetes or cancer or any number of others. It so, I’m not asking you to fight MS, and don’t judge you for not. Fight your monster. Fight hard.
 
But I did want you to have Awareness.
 

Puppies and Magic


 

Joel went outside the other morning with Rebecca, and encountered a creature he’d not met before right there in his backyard.

It was much smaller than Joel and walking around, and he decided he needed to go meet it.

He took a few steps toward it, and it took a few steps away. He took a few steps faster, and it ran faster away.

Joel started started running toward it, and IT LEFT THE GROUND! This creature was suddenly IN MIDAIR, with nothing underneath it! JUST IN THE AIR! With no ground under it! It just took off as if that were a perfectly normal thing to do! Not on the ground! In the air!

Joel turned back to Rebecca with this “Did you see that!?!?” look on his face, and then stared, dumbfounded, at the thing until it was gone.

He’s never going to understand, the way we do, concepts like gravity and lift and drag and airfoils and aerodynamics and the low-density of hollow bones.

But he’ll get older and kind of figure out that the world works in consistent ways, and everything he witnesses generally meshes with those consistent rules and there’s not really any magic.

But right now, there is.

And, really, it’s not a bad perspective to have.

More Rocket in the Rocket City


In the past week, without most locals being aware of it, more rocket arrived in the Rocket City.
 
The core of NASA’s Space Launch System will be the largest rocket stage in history. One of its fuel tanks alone, the liquid hydrogen tank, holds as much as maybe 20 average backyard swimming pools. The liquid oxygen tank is “smaller,” but that’s a very relative term. When they’re full, they get kind of heavy. In between them is an empty cylinder that’s sole job is to keep them from bashing into each other during launch, because that would be what the technical folks call “a bad day.” There’s over seven million pounds of pressure pushing up on several swimming pools worth of a substance that really likes to burn, and millions of pounds of pressure pushing down on more swimming pools of another substance that really really likes to make things burn. And there’s one empty cylinder, the intertank, taking the combined force to make sure that doesn’t happen.
 
It’s kind of important that cylinder work. That’s why, the other day, a test version of that cylinder arrived in Huntsville to undergo unimaginable stress (seriously, stop and try to imagine it in a way that provides any real understanding) to ensure that, when the day comes, the real thing will do its job.
 
The intertank test article joins both more test hardware and actual flight hardware of the world’s largest rocket here in Huntsville. Over the course of the year, it will be joined by even more test articles, including those giant fuel tanks, while being accompanied by less flight hardware – while it’s cool to have giant rocket parts in Huntsville, it’s even cooler to have them in Florida, and way cooler still when they leave there.
 

Godspeed, John Young


I was born about a week after the end of the Apollo era. John Young and Bob Crippen were the first US astronauts to fly in my lifetime, and by then I was old enough to be excited about it. To me, they were like real-life Captain Kirks. It was not until decades later that I realized he had walked also on the moon, but even then it impressed me less than flying that first space shuttle into the heavens.

I still have what may well be the first space writing I ever did, a science fiction story from over 35 years ago about John Young in the Year 1999. I’ve written more than a few words about him since, but he inspired me from the beginning.
 
He had a reputation for being … strong-willed. To the best of my recollection, I only saw him in person once, and my two memories of that occasion are him talking, as he did frequently, about how we needed to explore space because single-planet species don’t survive, and him cussing at my then-wife.
 
When I first began working on Bold They Rise: The Space Shuttle Early Years, 1972-1986, a fellow astronaut contacted Young about talking to me for the book. He politely declined; he was working on his own book, Forever Young, at the time, and understandably wanted to save his stories for that.
 
Nonetheless, through the words of others, he looms large over the book; you couldn’t write a history of the early shuttle without the presence of John Young being strongly felt. One of my favorite stories in the book is from my Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story co-author Owen Garriott; recounting Young landing the shuttle on their STS-9 mission, discovering that the auxiliary power unit was on fire, and calmly noting “I’ve never seen it do that before.”
 
It was amazing to me that he was still an active duty astronaut when I first began working as a contractor at Marshall Space Flight Center, a very real connection between “my NASA” and the earliest days of the agency.
 
Young was one of a kind. He’s left this world six times before, but leaves it a little less colorful this time.
 
Godspeed, commander.
 
 
 

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.