Scene from a Cemetery Stroll


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Rebecca just shared this with me, and it’s now my favorite pic of me from the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll. (For some reason, the first I’ve seen of me talking where I’m not making a horrible face. If you have any others, I’d love to see them!)

It’s always an honor to portray Turner Mayes at the Cemetery Stroll, and to share his story, and, by extension, the story of all of those from this area who fought – and in some cases died – in the Great War.

This year was particularly poignant, however, because the Tuesday before the Stroll marked 100 years since Private Mayes was killed by a German mortar in the Argonne forest.

Next month, Veterans Day, will mark the centennial anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. I encouraged those who came by Sunday, and encourage those reading this as well, to take a moment that day to remember all who served in that war.

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.
 

Huntsville and Pluto


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Ten years ago today, Pluto was officially reclassified, recognizing that it was less like our solar system’s eight planets than it was like the many, many small bodies populating the region beyond Neptune.

To put that in context, this year’s high-school freshman class has never been taught in school that Pluto was a planet.

If you’ve ever discussed Pluto on an iPhone, it wasn’t a planet when you did.

It’s exciting to think about how much our understanding of our solar system has increased in the last decade. And as a Huntsvillian, I’m proud of my city’s role in the story — “Pluto Killer” Mike Brown is a graduate of Huntsville’s Grissom High School, and Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center managed the program that sent the New Horizons mission to explore Pluto. We had a connection to both correcting a major misconception about Pluto, and to revealing the amazingly spectacular truth.

 

RELATED:

Pluto and Other Things That Aren’t Planets

Lackluster Secrets of the Pluto Time Capsule

Home Away From Home


So of course I would travel 4,000 miles from home, and go look for Twickenham and rockets. I’ve already written about going to “the other” Oxford and about seeing SLS in the London Underground, but one of the cool (and accidentally convenient) pilgrimages of the trip for me was getting our picture made with a Twickenham sign.

Early on and very briefly, Huntsville was named Twickenham — the “father of Huntsville” Leroy Pope’s namedropping nod to his famous poet cousin, Alexander Pope, one of the original Twickenham’s more famous sons. Since this was happening around the time of the War of 1812, pro-British sentiment wasn’t at an all-time high, and pro-Leroy-Pope sentiment wasn’t that great either, and the city was named for founder John Hunt instead.

The name has stuck around, however, and it still used fondly in talking about old/downtown Huntsville. As a fan of Huntsville history, I thought it would be neat to visit our city’s quasi-namesake. For logistic reasons, that visit was a selfie out the window at the train stop, but it was still a neat experience. (In doing some quick research, it looks like Huntsville is the only other place to have used the name.)

We also made a trip to the British science museum, which has a room dedicated to space. It was neat seeing an Apollo command module and some Saturn engines so far from home, but it was more interesting seeing the early-space-history stuff. London had a very different experience with Wernher von Braun and his V2 missiles than Huntsville did (one thing I wanted to do but failed to make happen on either of my London trips was to [knowingly] visit a V2 bombing site), and it was interesting seeing the difference in presentation. Honestly, what surprised me most wasn’t the more realistic depiction of the V2 as a war machine, but the graciousness with which von Braun was treated. They were far kinder about his place in history than one might have expected.

And, really, Iooking at the pictures, I think we’ve held up pretty well in the exchange — we’ve taken Oxford and Twickenham from them, and in return we’ve given them space ships. Not too shabby.

#iHeartHsv: There’s No Place Like Home


OK, so I’m finally allowed to talk about this! The Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a new website for visitors to our awesome city, iHeartHsv.com, and Rebecca and I are regular bloggers for the site! Even if you’re local, it’s well worth checking out — an incredible resource of things to do in the Rocket City (Huge kudos to Jessica Carlton Kumbroch!), and I am SO very honored to get to be a part of it. I was born in Huntsville and have spent almost three quarters of my life here, but over the last three years, my relationship with “my own little postage stamp of native soil” has deepened in very cool ways. I’m extremely proud to have been picked as part of the voice of me hometown, and very proud to call Huntsville home. ‪#‎iHeartHsv‬, indeed!

Related Link: Can’t get enough #iHeartHsv? CVB launches new website for all things Huntsville-Madison County (from al.com)

Currently In Progress


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It’s been a little while since I’ve participated in the Rocket City Bloggers Year-Long Blogging challenge, but I thought the current prompt would be a good little overview in general. (And possibly a good exercise for me personally.)

“This week we want to know a little bit about you. What goals are you currently pursuing?”

Well, professionally, I’m trying to support a rocket getting built. For those that don’t know, I work in the strategic communications office for NASA’s Space Launch System, supporting program executives who are working to get us ready for launch in 2017 (and to enable missions beyond). It’s possibly the most fun I’ve had at a job, and as goals to pursue go, extending humanity’s presence through the solar system ain’t a half-bad thing to be paid to do.

As director of Comic Science Improv, I’m pursuing the goal of entertaining more people. We started the process of forming the troupe almost a year ago, and we’ve come a long way since then. We’ve had some great shows with awesome audiences, developed several new games,  and added some amazing new players. Now we’re just trying to get the word out on what we’re doing so we can share it with more folks. If you haven’t been to a show (or haven’t been lately), come see us on July 5 at Acting Up! Academy on Whitesburg Drive in Huntsville. If you have, tell people about us! And still come anyway!

As a Huntsville storyteller, I’m pursuing the goal of becoming more active in that role. My work as a tour guide at the Huntsville Historic Depot sort of got me started down that path, and I was incredibly privileged to get to take part in the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll last year, portraying Alabama’s second governor Thomas Bibb. Last week, I led the Historic Huntsville Trolley Tour for the first time, and I’ll be doing it again on a few Saturdays through the rest of the summer, starting next week. I’m also working hard to get ready to start leading Huntsville Ghost Walk tours. For an avocation that basically evolved accidentally, it’s an incredibly good fit, and I’m loving it. I’ve always been proud of my hometown, and I’m greatly enjoying learning more of its history and getting to share it.

As an author, I’m mostly passively pursuing the goal of publishing my next book next year. At the moment, “Bold They Rise,” a history of the early shuttle program, is with the editors, so from here out it’s mostly a waiting game that will be interrupted occasionally by sporadic brief periods of frantic activity. I’m not looking forward to those, but I’m looking forward to getting those done. Beyond that, I have an idea for my next next book I want to write eventually, but I’ll most likely wait until this one is one the shelves before picking that one back up.

As a writer, I guess I’m pursuing the goal of blogging regularly, but obviously I’m not taking it terribly seriously. I’m also somewhat working on developing my online brand a little more, but that’s just so not my strong suit. A lot of my writerly focus is on my work for Mud & Magnolias magazine, which lets me relive my Mississippi journalist glory days in a way that’s way more fun and way less stressful than actually newspapering was.

As a Pampered Chef salesperson, realistically, I think I’m pursuing the goal of winding down my business, so if you have anything you want to order or are interested in hosting a party, let me know soon!

As just some guy, ya know, I’m pursuing the goal of trying to get some things in order in my life, including, in particular, my house. And I’m trying pathetically to lose weight again.

Beyond that, I’m mainly just pursuing the goal of trying to simplify my life, not overcommit, and get back some free time. To be honest, it’s not necessarily going that well.

Comic Science Improv Is Building Momentum!


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It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything about Comic Science Improv, despite the fact that I’ve been meaning to.

Originally, I was going to maybe post about how we were on TV, and embed that video, but since then, we’ve launched our website, and you can see all of our media coverage there, along with some great videos and bios of our players and more.

Much more exciting is our last show, during which we packed the house at Acting Up! Academy where we perform on the first Friday of each month. In my seven years of doing improv with Face2Face and Comic Science, I’ve never seen a show with the attendance that we had earlier this month.

It’s very rewarding seeing people who had never been to an improv show a few months ago coming back to see us and bringing and referring their friends. It was so much fun watching them watch us, seeing how eager people were to give suggestions and how much they were enjoying the scenes.

But far more rewarding was watching the players. We’ve been through some transitions since we started a little over half a year ago, with some old Face2Face faces moving on and some new folks joining us, and it’s amazing seeing how this group has evolved into an amazing team. Everyone is doing incredible work, and is working together incredibly. I am so very proud of their performances, and love watching how much fun they’re having with each other.

We’ve got three shows coming up in March:

On Friday, March 1, we’ll be back at Acting Up! for our regular monthly show. It’ll be the last show there at our introductory price of $5 before a small increase next month. Kids 8 and under are free. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, March 16, we’ll be at Angel’s Island Coffee for a show starting at 7 p.m. Because of the smaller size of the venue, tickets will only be available online, so buy yours before it sells out.

On Wednesday, March 27, we’re going to be doing something a little different, participating in a multi-act comedy show at Crossroads in downtown Huntsville. A couple of clean stand-up comedians will open the show, and we’ll close it out. The show will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket information and venue directions are on our website.

Come join us, and we hope to see you soon!