Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thoughts on Space

Hailey, Halloween, 2014
Take a good look at the zipper that runs from Hailey's forehead down around her mouth. Amazing stuff. Some of us have been teasing her make-up artist, her mother, that some of Bill Corso's genius must have rubbed off when they were classmates in the Booker Performing Arts program in Sarasota. Shortly after graduating, Bill went off to Hollywood where's he's become one of the leading horror make-up artists in the U.S.

A few thoughts on going where no-one has gone before . . .

A slightly cockeyed scan of the exploding Antares rocket - from the Orlando Sentinel

The photo above is of an Antares rocket, owned by Orbital Sciences Corp. - and contracted by NASA to the tune of $200,000,000 - blowing up only a few seconds after launch in Virginia on Tuesday, October 28. There was also damage to the launchpad.

Today, Wednesday,I just walked back into the house after watching an Atlas V, owned by SpaceX, manage a perfect launch from Cape Canaveral, with far more people watching than in many a year. It seems it takes an explosion of one rocket to get the launch of the next one onto CNN. 

On board the exploded rocket were 5,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station. The SpaceX Atlas V is carrying GPS equipment intended for military use. Due to a long rainy season and heavy clouds, this is the first launch I've seen from my house in quite a while. Here's how it works . . .

Almost everyone in Florida - at least within a hundred miles of Cape Canaveral - learned long ago where to get the best view of a launch. In my old home in Venice, Florida, it was the middle of my driveway. Unfortunately, here in Orlando, it's the middle of the road! (A quiet dead end, thank goodness.) The way most of us do it, as far as I know, is we watch on television until the rocket actually launches, and then we rush outside, assume the pre-determined position, and wait. When I was in Venice, it took the rocket a surprisingly long while before it rose over the roof of the house across the street. Here in Orlando, which is much closer, the rocket becomes visible much sooner.

That's what I was doing on January 28, 1986, standing in my driveway watching Challenger's vapor trail, when it suddenly split into two trails. Something I had never seen before. I rushed back into the house in time to hear a choked-up announcer say there had been an "anomaly." Such a clinical word for disaster and death. 

And almost two years later, I was standing in the parking lot behind my costume business, along with every other small business owner, plus customers, in that small strip mall, watching the first shuttle launch after the Challenger disaster. We were all chanting, "Go, go!" Followed by cheers when Discovery flew true, her vapor trail long and clear behind.

The rocket that blew up last night did so during the evening news and became "Breaking News" within moments. It was also fully recorded by both professional and amateur videographers. The one thing the newsmen kept repeating was, "This is an unmanned rocket. No one was killed." And not long after, they were able to assure viewers that no one had been killed on the ground either. But on amateur video shown on CNN today you could hear someone repeating, "Oh God, oh God, oh God." It truly was a horrible sight. And I feel sorry for Orbital Sciences, even as I cheer SpaceX for yet another clean launch today. (Their launch record, so far, is superb.) To be fair, this was the first disastrous launch among those made by private contractors since the shuttles were retired. These private companies stuck their necks out to continue our venture into space after the government pulled the plug. Government contracts or not, they are to be applauded for risking so much.

I'm old enough to remember our first attempts to develop a reliable rocket. Back then, it wasn't at all unusual to see a rocket blow up on launch. While I was touring with The Sound of Music, I remember sitting in a hotel room (in Cleveland, I think it was) and cheering one on, only to have it end in a fiery mess very similar to the one in the picture above. And yet we finally did it. We even created a rocket capable of taking men to the moon. And how sorry I am my children were too young to share that incredible first step with Neil Armstrong. But anyone can now enjoy that great moment at the Kennedy Space Center where they do an excellent re-enactment of the first moon-landing.

The evening news on Wednesday added a new wrinkle to the mix. It seems the rocket that blew up in Virginia was Russian, a leftover from the Soviet space program in the 1960s. Hmm - that's when all our rockets were blowing up too. Maybe not the best choice . . .? SpaceX engines, we were assured, are "Made in America." Well, it was ice that did in Challenger, not the rocket engine, so maybe we did finally learn a thing or two about creating and launching rockets. As did the Russians. They launched a supply ship to the ISS today, so there's no danger the astronauts up there are going to left wanting.

So . . . what does it all mean? 

Why explore? To borrow from Captain Kirk, "because it's out there." Because I've never doubted others are out there, and we shouldn't be the insular hicks from the sticks when we finally meet.

On CNN today (Wednesday) Senator Bill Nelson talked about the Orion space capsule that will be tested this December. This is our push to get back into space - farther than we've ever gone before. And, yes, it's something that has to be done. 

I'm so glad to be here in Florida where I can watch our giant birds come back to life in the next generation of space exploration. To know that one of these days I'll once again watch State Road 528* (a 4-lane superhighway) become a parking lot when so many people are rushing to the launch that they clog the roads. And when they realize they aren't going to get there in time, they simply pull over and stop, stand beside their cars, heads up, every eye aimed at the eastern sky. And yes, that actually happened a few years ago as we learned the shuttles' days were numbered, and so many of us were determined to see one more launch, up close and personal, before the curtain fell. (The particular occasion mentioned here was about three or four shuttle launches before the final one.)

*For those not familiar with the Orlando area, Rte. 528 makes a "beeline" (an absolutely straight line) from Orlando to Cocoa Beach, just south of the Kennedy Space Center. There's a small island on one of the causeways that offers an excellent launch view. You can clearly see ignition, launch, and main engine separation before the rocket streaks out over the Atlantic.

So, bring it on, Orion. Central Florida is ready. And hopefully the rest of the country isn't as apathetic as we sometimes think they are!  

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here. 

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