My Own Last Client

So I never officially stopped blogging.

You can tell, because anyone who officially stops blogging is required by law to write a post about the fact that they’re totally done blogging, and I never did that.

I did, however, mean to write a post saying that I would probably be pretty low-key for a while, but I never did that, either. And “a while” lasted much longer than I intended. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure that it’s over.

A while back, I was talking with a graphic designer about doing some work, and she asked that we not judge her by her own website. “I’m my own last client,” she explained. If she’s going to be doing web design work, she’s going to be doing it first and best for her customers, not herself.

I like it, and I’m stealing it. Certainly, when it comes to this blog, I’ve been my own last client. I’ve done a good bit of writing; I just haven’t been doing it here. Most of it’s not been blogging, but if you happen to miss my blogging, I do still blog regularly for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Basically, I realized a while back that I was about to be too busy to make this a priority. That busy period has lasted longer than I expected and is still very much going on, but if I’m not officially back, I’m at least taking a break from my break because there are things I want to write about — primarily, all the reasons I’ve been too busy to write. (And to assure that it actually happens, I’m not going to publish this post until I have some of the others ready to go.)

Oh, and that picture — that’s not entirely about my return to blogging; but we’ll get to that eventually, too.

Stars And Stripes Forever

So two of the things I love about working at the Huntsville Depot Museum — learning new things, and playing dress up.

The whole experience has been an adventure in the former. I knew nothing about anything when I started. I’d worked as a tour guide before, as a volunteer at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, but that was very much in my comfort zone. Space and rockets are two things I know. The Depot plays to multiple areas that are very much not my strong suits, from trains to the Civil War. But I’ve greatly enjoyed learning about those things, and getting to the point that I can give an informative and engaging tour that also has my personal touch to it.

As to the latter — in addition to giving tours, a big part of my job at the Depot involves children’s programs, of which we have several, and are continuing to add more. For the train programs, we just wear our usual black-and-white Depot duds, but for others, we dress up a bit. So far, I’ve worn both the blue and the gray for Civil War programs.

Yesterday, we had a new program honoring veterans and giving an overview of different aspects of American wars throughout history. I was told last week that I needed to be ready to lead a session on medicine during the Korean conflict, and to get a costume together. And I loved both parts. I enjoyed the challenge of going from zero to ready on the session material, and it was surprisingly enjoyable to walk around the Depot grounds this morning in costume. I actually do feel different sometimes when I don the different garbs.

Everyone did an awesome job with the program, and it was really neat seeing the diversity of the costumes. As much as I enjoyed my part of the program, I loved being the official photographer and getting shots of all the presentations.

The Other Side Of The Window

If, a couple of weeks ago, you had asked me to list activities I enjoy, I’m not sure that I would have thought to put “breathing” on the list.

But, you know, I do enjoy breathing. Like, a lot.

A couple of weeks ago, I went scuba diving. This was another of my Living Social adventures; I got a half-price deal on an introductory scuba class, complete with a brief dive. The class was uneventful. The dive was … interesting.

The class and dive were through Better Diver in Madison, Ala., and I cannot speak highly enough of how professionally everything was handled.

The dive was at the tank at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, where it’s used for Space Camp. NASA uses large water tanks for astronaut training — the underwater buoyancy simulates the weightless conditions of space. I’ve seen the tank many a time, peeking in through the side window at divers inside. It was a neat experience actually going into one of the few Space Camp facilities I’d seen many times but never used first-hand.

So, like I said, the big take-away of the experience for me — I like breathing.

It was amazing how complex the process of breathing was for me. Remembering how to breathe in, how to breathe out, how to exhale into the mask to clear out water. For quite a while, I didn’t think I would be able to do it. We had a brief orientation on a platform at the top of the tank before the dive proper, and I kept having to surface. For quite a while, I thought I would be unable to actually get to the point where I would have the confidence to go all the way under. (In my defense, I have mild issues with breathing. Like many things I do, I do it fine, just a bit off-nominally.) Even after I finally got it relatively mastered, I was still aware of breathing the whole time I was under. For the last part of the time, my attention was largely focused on how much I was looking forward to surfacing and breathing real fresh air that wasn’t out of a can.

Beyond that — I still stink at non-Earth-standard gravitational regimes. The high-bouyancy environment was interesting. I slam-dunked a bowling ball, which I can’t usually do. I tend to demonstrate fairly two-dimensional thinking. My head usually stayed pretty much vertically above my feet.

It was cool that it was in the Space Camp tank, since it meant that there was a space connection and flavor to the dive. I got to try out the spacecraft equipment simulator, which was fun.

I don’t know that it’s something that I’m in any great hurry to do again, but it’s definitely something that I’m glad that I did, definitely an experience that I’m glad that I have.

And, if nothing else, it was worth every time to look through that window, finally, from the other side.

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.

Spacecraft Past, Spacecraft Future

So about two weeks ago, I went and gave a talk in Decatur. And it was fun.

The Friends of the Library group for the Decatur Public Library invited me to come talk about my book, Homesteading Space. Which, in large part, I did. However, I gave the short version of the Homesteading lecture that I put together when I spoke at the International Space Developers Conference earlier this year, and which turned out not to be all that short.

It was short enough, however, that I was able to use the audience as guinea pigs to update my talk a bit, jumping forward 40 years from Skylab to talk about the current and future state of human space exploration. As a member of the policy committee of the National Space Society, and just as someone who is passionate about spaceflight, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the topic of “now what,” and I now have a bit more freedom to discuss that openly than I have before.

What surprised me was how much fun it was. In retrospect, I just don’t have as many opportunities to have in-depth discussions about space as I used to, and I think I’m in a bit of withdrawal. I hadn’t been having a terribly good day, to be honest, before the talk, but I was in a great mood by the time I finished it. I’d gotten my fix.

Point of all of this being, I’ll be doing it again on Saturday at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Davidson Center at 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and I’ll have a few copies of the book to sign. And this time, I’ve actually practiced the new part of the talk, so it should be even better.

Join me, won’t you?

Fireworks And Rockets

Pictures from the fireworks show at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on July 4, 2011 (with the Bridge Street show in the background).

Wednesday Roundup

OK, I used to the Weekend Updates, way back when, but haven’t in a while. I figured this was a good opportunity to catch up on some things that haven’t made it into full blog posts yet.

Gearlog blogged about the Angry Birds fanfic I wrote a while back. This makes me happy.

• I’m taking a class at church with Heather to get Christian counseling certification. This also makes me happy.

• My List that I made a while back has largely sat ignored for a very long time, but on Friday, I bought a ticket to go skydiving. This also also makes me happy. Heather wrote a blog post about it.

The diet initially met with decent success — 10 pounds in two weeks — which made me happy. But I’ve plateaued already. In fact, I regained a bit over the weekend. I probably deserved that, but also really deserved to lose yesterday. Staying motivated, I’ve realized, is going to be a big challenge. It’s great having Heather participating also and supporting me.

• The U.S. Space and Rocket Center has laid off its curator and archivist, Irene Wilhite, which makes me unhappy.  I’ll admit my bias at the outset; I’ve volunteered at the USSRC for Irene; she’s helped me out several times, and is a good friend. Bias aside, a curator seems like a thing a museum should have. Irene and her staff (her son) have done a lot of work preparing and maintaining exhibits at the museum. USSRC has long had to balance the financial concerns of the museum and Space Camp, and lately has been working, with varying degrees of success, to bring in money-making non-space special exhibits. I hope that this decision is not a sign that the space museum part of USSRC is not being neglected