“Nothing Beats An Astronaut”


The commercial above is part of Axe’s Axe Apollo Space Academy contest, in which you can win a trip into “actual space.”

Regardless of what you think of Axe, you gotta admit the commercial is good.

And it plays to idea that one could argue has gotten lost over the years — the raw coolness of astronauts, of spaceflight, of rockets. It’s unapologetic in presenting astronauts as cool.

Because, you know, they kinda are.

Here Be Dragons


Tweet from @ElectronJon:

Good point from @davidhitt on @SpaceX #Dragon: “A private company can now do a thing NASA cannot. The winds of change are blowing.”

When I made the tweet, it was just sort of an off-hand remark about the rendezvous. Having it called a good point made me stop and actually think about it.

And, it’s true. NASA no longer has any capability to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, and a private company does. In fact, a private company has arguably done something that NASA has never been able to do, with Dragon’s unmanned rendezvous with ISS.

But this is not a bad thing.

Lots of private companies can do things NASA cannot, from building cars to saving you money on your insurance. And that’s OK.

Under former administrator Sean O’Keefe, NASA had this as its mission statement: “To understand and protect our home planet. To explore the Universe and search for life. To inspire the next generation of explorers …as only NASA can.”

That last bit of the mission statement served two purposes. One, it was a reminder of the goals and capabilities of the agency — to do the things that no one else can do. NASA’s bailiwick is not the mundane; it’s the extraordinary.

But it was also a reminder of NASA’s responsibility to the nation. NASA needs to focus on doing the things that only NASA can do. It would be irresponsible for NASA to waste taxpayer money duplicating the efforts of others instead of investing those funds in its own unique missions. If a task is not one “only NASA can” do, leave it to the others that can do it.

If NASA needs a car, it’s not going to build a car. It’s going to buy a car. Building cars is not an “as only NASA can” task. It’s a task better left to private industry so that NASA can focus on its unique capabilities and responsibilities.

A year ago, within the United States, delivering cargo to the International Space Station was an “as only NASA can” task.

As of last week, it no longer is.

And that’s rather amazing.

Ad Astra, Per Latrina


Per Space.com:

NASA is considering using the International Space Station to practice for a trip to Mars, officials said …

“Clearly, in order to be able to explore beyond low-Earth orbit, we’re going to have to stay in orbit for longer than six months,” space station program manager Mike Suffredini said during a news conference today.

Suffredini said NASA is exploring the possibility of setting up a mock journey to Mars aboard the space station, where astronauts would stay for longer than the usual six months, and would be subject to other conditions that such a trip would impose. …

“It won’t be in the near future,” he said. “It’s probably not reasonable to expect us to be able to do this sooner than two or three years from now.”

First, let me say, I’m for it.

NASA’s lead up to the Apollo program was a perfect example of space exploration done right — test it at home, then do it for real. In order to successfully put footprints in the lunar regolith, certain capabilities were going to have to be developed and demonstrated, including increased spaceflight duration, rendezvous and docking, and extravehicular activities.

The moon is about four days from Earth. Low Earth orbit, on the other hand, is minutes from the surface. So rather than doing all of these for the first time when we went to the moon, all of them were first tested in Earth orbit, where, if something went wrong, home was just a stone’s throw away.

About four years ago, a toilet on the International Space Station failed. NASA took a lot of ribbing for it in the press, but I said then, and maintain now, that if the only thing that happened on the International Space Station was its toilet failing, it would still be worth doing.

Mars is about six months away. And that’s just one way. A mission there would involve a trip of six months out, six months back, plus whatever time is spent on the surface, which arguably should be long enough to justify the travel time.

Someday, humanity will go there. If I were an astronaut, and the toilet for that mission were going to fail, I would sure rather it be during an Earth-orbit test of the equipment than on the way out to Mars, leaving the crew without a toilet for months. Every single system and procedure needed to go to Mars should be tested in Earth orbit, broken, fixed and tested again, so astronauts heading to the Red Planet will know everything that can go wrong, and what to do when it does.

Right now, we have a spacecraft in Earth orbit that is capable of supporting tests the duration of a Mars mission. (I will note, however, that I don’t believe that should be step one — I think it would be much more responsible to first double the current seven-month record of ISS increments, and then move up from there.)

While the details are uncertain and constantly in flux, for the last eight years, the goal of American human spaceflight has been exploration.

It’s high time we can began fully utilizing the assets we have to support that goal.

Signals From Tranquility Base


In my defense, I have been blogging.

Oh, sure, up until Sunday, I hadn’t written on here in over two months, which is shameful, and I’m trying to do better.

But even thought I hadn’t been blogging here, I was still writing regular blog posts. You should read them. (And, hey, if I disappear again, you’ll know where to go to get that fix I know you’ll be wanting.)

Back before the beginning of the year, the social media manager at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center asked me if I would consider including in my volunteer work writing posts for the official USSRC blog. For the time being, that’s evolved from me being a blogger for the center to being the blogger for the center.

The results are online at Signals From Tranquility Base.

I was tasked with writing about artifacts in the museum’s collection, and I decided to write it using a “This Week In Space History” approach. Each week, I pick an event marking an anniversary, and tie it to an artifact in at the museum.

The fun part, though, is the stories. I try and find a different angle each time for the posts, making it a little bit more than just-the-facts.

I’m enjoying it. It’s been too long since I’ve written space stories on a regular basis, and I’ve missed it. After nine years at NASA, there are a lot of stories stuck in my head, and it makes me very happy to be able to share them again, to be able to tell them for such a good purpose.

And, you know, they really are some good stories.

The Case for Klingon Christ


Image from A Great Work, via io9

I’m glad that serious thought is being put into the subject of Klingon Jesus.

I read an article on io9 recently about a panel titled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” that addressed issues related to Christianity and alien intelligences.

Basically, the issue is this — if there are intelligence species on other planets in the universe, then, from a Christian perspective, there seem to be two possibilities: God becomes incarnate as messiah on each one, or Christ came once to Earth, and it’s the responsibility of humans to tell the galaxy about Him.

I’ve had this conversation several times over the years, beginning with a conversation with some friends in a Mexican restaurant in Jackson, Miss., during which one of my friends argued that this was why he believed there was no extraterrestrial intelligence — the theological implications were too daunting.

Interestingly, we ended up with the same nickname for the question that this researcher, and apparently some others have, all independently — “Klingon Jesus.” If there were Klingons, would God send them a Klingon Jesus, or would we have to tell the Klingons about Jesus? Why it’s not Vulcan Jesus or Wookiee Jesus I don’t know, but Klingon Jesus seems to be the inevitable name for the quandary.

The researcher tends to disagree with the “one Jesus for all the universe” hypothesis, arguing it would make humanity too special, but I personally don’t know that, in a universe in which interplanetary cultural interactions are common place, it would necessarily be any more of a big deal than it was sharing a Jewish messiah with the rest of the world over the last 2,000 years.

There’s a related issue that this article doesn’t get into — Christ had to become a man in order to die for men; can he become a human to die for Wookiees? Or does a Wookiee have to die for Wookiees for it to be equivalent? I suppose the same argument applies — how much different is it from a Jew dying for an aborigine? Answer: I have no idea.

The other issue that this article barely touches on that has been central to some of the discussions I’ve had is the issue of original sin and Jesus as the second Adam. One could argue that, for a human Jesus to die for the sins of other intelligences, they must have been without sin prior to the Garden of Eden on Earth; that no species anywhere was fallen prior to the Terran Fall. And that just seems unlikely, and thus a seeming argument for multiple planetary messiahs. (Which in turn begs for speculative Christian science fiction — what would have happened if a planet which was in its post-messianic era had made first contact with Earth between the fall and the coming of Christ — could humans have been saved by another species’ incarnation of Christ during that period?)

My favorite implication of this is that, really, until humans know that either there is no extraterrestrial intelligence in the galaxy or that the multiple planetary messiah theory is correct, it is arguably a Christian theological imperative to support space travel, lest aliens who need to hear not receive the word of Jesus.

“Go ye therefore for into all nations (on all planets) …”

So, what do you think? Are their aliens out there? And, if so, is there a Klingon Jesus?

Labor of Love


For those that don’t know, I am currently looking for a new job, and would greatly appreciate any leads or help anyone might be able to offer. Most recently, I spent nine years working as a government contractor supporting NASA, writing articles for the education sections of the NASA.gov homepage. Before that, I was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. That said, while a writing job is likely best suited to my background, I enjoy new challenges, and would be open to other possibilities. If you have any ideas, feel free to e-mail me. Thanks!


David,
On Monday morning you gave me, my wife, and our grandson an amazing tour of the Space Museum. It was a privilege to make that tour with you. I appreciate so much the time you took to do that for us. It was by far the highlight of our trip. Thank you.

I’ve been taking a little bit of the free time that I have these days, and donating it to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

I started volunteering there five years ago, I guess, during the Skylab Restoration Project effort, and continued working with the curator for quite a while after that. Eventually, though, opportunities to be involved became more infrequent, and it probably reached a point where I wasn’t really a volunteer anymore.

So not long after I was out of work, I went by to sign up again, believing — and rightly so, it’s turned out — that it would be a great outlet for my passion for spaceflight while I’m not working. The lecture I gave there back in August was part of my volunteer efforts, and I’ve helped with some social media outreach and other projects.

Lately, though, I’ve been contributing in two ways in particular.

The more fun one — giving tours. I’d taken the tour training and had signed up to give tours one day before, but there weren’t enough people wanting them that day. I went again about a week ago, however, for Scout Day, and got to lead two large tour groups around the center, which was awesome. I went back again on a week day after that, and did a tour for a family that came through.

And I love it! Being at the Space & Rocket Center, it’s interested audiences, and it’s just incredible fun getting to share stories I love to tell with people who want to hear them!

The other one — the Education Office had some surveys from Space Camp participants in years past they needed entered into a new system, and I gave several hours doing data entry for them. Not sexy by any means, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless. I spent hours sitting in a cube working at a PC, and it made me realize how much I miss it. I want a cube of my own again. Please?

Both experiences have driven home what a great feeling it is to be engaged in something bigger than yourself, particularly something you believe in. I’m trying to make the most I can of the time that I have right now, but, honestly, I’ll be glad to be able to make those sorts of contributions again.

If you know of any leads out there, please let me know! Thanks!

“Here Comes Skylab!”


@jeff_foust noted that the news about the impending re-entry of the large UARS satellite is bringing back memories of the return of Skylab, and shared this insightful video on that event by “esteemed science journalist J. Belushi.”

(In retrospect, the mental image of Skylab striking the World Trade Center is rather disturbing.)