Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia January 28, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Space Shuttle
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January 27-28 is a day of remembrance for the 17 astronauts who died in three separate accidents. NASA’s memorial service is scheduled for Friday at 9am (Eastern) and will air on NASA TV. At Lofty Ambitions, we remember those astronauts who sacrificed their lives in the American space program.
Those who perished in a fire during a routine test of Apollo 1 on January 27, 1967:
VIRGIL “GUS” GRISSOM
EDWARD WHITE, II
Grissom and Chaffee are buried next to each other at Arlington National Cemetery. White is buried in New York.
The Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship Fund supports college attendance for a high school graduate in Kent County, Michigan, where Chaffee grew up; the fund has awarded scholarships to 43 students. Gus Grissom has a library in New Jersey and an airport in Indiana named after him. A hospital in Florida is named after Edward White.
Earlier this week, we had dinner with two people who testified during the Presidential Commission that investigated the Challenger accident. (Their guest blogs are here and here.) We were in college in 1986.
Those who lost their lives as a result of the Challenger explosion during launch on January 28 of that year:
FRANCIS “DICK” SCOBEE
MICHAEL J. SMITH
S. CHRISTA MCAULIFFE
Scobee and Smith are interred in Arlington National Cemetery. The commingled remains of the crew are also buried under a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. McNair is buried in South Carolina, Onizuka is buried in Hawaii, and McAuliffe is buried in New Hampshire. The remains of Jarvis and of Resnick were cremated, their ashes scattered at sea
The Christa McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University continues to support science and math teachers, and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center strives to educate all ages in the sciences and humanities. The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program provides grants to prepare students for doctoral study. The Women’s Network offers the Judith Resnik Scholarship to Northeast Ohio high school women graduates to pursue college studies in science and math. The Challenger Center for Space education in Texas was founded by family members of the crew.
Those who perished as a result of the Columbia accident during reentry on February 1, 2003:
MICHAEL P. ANDERSON
DAVID M. BROWN
Anderson, Brown, and Clark are buried next to each other at Arlington National Cemetery. Husband is buried in Texas, McCool is buried in Washington, and Ramon is buried in Israel. Chawla’s remains were cremated.
An Article of Hope, a recent documentary directed by our Guest Blogger Chris Cowen, chronicles the life and legacy of Ilan Ramon. The Ilan Ramon Center ecourages students interested in the sciences. The University of Colorado gives the Kalpana Chawla Award to alums with significant achievements within ten years of graduation. Lamping Elementary School has developed the William McCool Science Center. Earth Camp at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum honors the legacy of Laurel Clark.
President Obama wrote, “Today, on this Day of Remembrance when NASA reflects on the mighty sacrifices made to push those frontiers, America’s space agency is working to achieve even greater goals. NASA’s new 21st Century course will foster new industries that create jobs, pioneer technology innovation, and inspire a new generation of explorers through education – all while continuing its fundamental missions of exploring our home planet and the cosmos.” Read the whole statement here.
For more information on NASA’s Day of Remembrance and the three crews who lost their lives while working as astronauts, visit here.
Happy Birthday, Bessie Coleman January 26, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Wright Brothers, WWI
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Before we moved to California two-and-a-half years ago, we lived in suburban Chicago. O’Hare International Airport was our local way out of town for major travel. When we traveled together, we’d get on I-190 heading into the airport, then veer off onto Bessie Coleman Drive to long-term parking. Now, when we fly in to see family downstate, we head to Bessie Coleman Drive to pick up our rental car.
On this date in 1892, Bessie Coleman was born the tenth of thirteen children to George and Susan of Atlanta, Texas. No one had any expectations that she would become a pilot. After all, the Wright brothers didn’t really get off the ground under power until 1903. A life of laundry was Bessie’s likely lot.
To educate herself, she read books as a young girl, books which she checked out from the traveling library that came though town a few times every year. Though she attended school sporadically, she graduated from high school and attended college for a year. But she needed to earn money.
By 1915, she was living with her brothers in Chicago, attended beauty school, and then worked as a manicurist. When her brother John returned from his military service in Europe during World War I, he teased Bessie that French women were ahead of American women: French women could fly!
Because no pilot training was available to an African-American woman in the United States, Bessie Coleman, with the help of a couple of backers, including the publisher of the Defender, went to France for flight instruction. She earned her pilot’s license on July 15, 1921, the first black woman to do so. She was, at that time, the only licensed black pilot in the world.
She went on to a vibrant career flying the Curtiss J4 Jenny and other aircraft on the airshow circuit. Quickly, her nicknames became “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie.” Less than two years after she’d earned her pilot’s license, her airplane stalled and crashed. Bessie Coleman was rendered unconscious, broke several bones, and took more than a year to get back to flying. But she did get back into the cockpit and take to the skies. When she returned to her childhood home of Waxahatchie to perform, she insisted that whites and blacks share a single entrance gate, though the seating areas remained segregated.
Bessie Coleman died when she was just 34 years old. Preparing for an airshow, she was surveying the terrain from the passenger seat when a planned nosedive turned into a dangerous tailspin. She fell to her death from 500 feet. The problem was mechanical; a wrench had become wedged in the gears. Her mechanic, who was piloting the plane, died in the ensuing crash. Her coffin drew more than 15,000 mourners, including equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells, in three separate funeral services. Bessie Coleman is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.
That street near O’Hare in Chicago where we now find our rental car was renamed Bessie Coleman Drive in 1990. In her birthplace of Atlanta, Texas, another Bessie Coleman Drive leads to that town’s small airport. A branch of the Chicago Public Library bears her name, and she is included in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. Coleman’s face was featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp in 1995, the same year she was inducted into the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame. A group of pilots has honored her legacy for decades with an annual flyover of her grave.
Bessie Coleman is said to have remarked, “The air is the only place free from prejudices.”
25th Anniversary of the Challenger Accident January 24, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
This coming Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger shortly after launch. We were college students on January 28, 1986.
To commemorate the Challenger accident, Chapman University is hosting a symposium today (Monday, January 24) at 2-5pm in Sandhu Conference Center. “Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Lessons from Challenger” features Lofty Ambitions guest bloggers Richard C. Cook and Allan J. McDonald. Read their posts here (includes CNN video) and here.
The symposium will also feature artifacts (an o-ring?) and documents from the Roger and Roberta Boisjoly Challenger Disaster Collection. Boisjoly, Cook, and McDonald were all whistleblowers in the wake of the space shuttle accident. Boisjoly donated his papers to Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University. He was also a guest blogger at Lofty Ambitions. Read his post here.
Below is a 45-minute NASA documentary of the launch and investigation. If you watch the entire video, you get a sense of exactly what happened, where the o-ring was, where the plume of flame emerged, how the shuttle broke apart, even the path of the crew cabin as it fell to the ocean, and how the shuttle parts were recovered and reconstructed.
Astronauts Are Human, Too January 19, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Space Shuttle
(Note: We’ve embedded links to NASA bio pages for astronauts discussed in this post. Click on the highlighted names to find out where they were born, where they went to school, and on what missions they served.)
We sometimes associate a Superman-like public persona with NASA astronauts. Our first guest blogger at Lofty Ambitions called the beach house where astronauts relaxed before missions Superman’s Secret Hideout. Despite the Challenger and Columbia accidents, an aura of invincibility surrounds the success of Apollo 13 and the Hubble repair missions as well as the United States space program generally.
Last week, in the wake of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting (she stood up with assistance today), we wrote about one kind of vulnerability of astronauts. Since then, Astronaut Rick Sturckow was named as temporary replacement on the last Space Shuttle mission so that Mark Kelly, the commander of STS-134, can remain with his wife while Endeavour’s crew trains for the April launch. Mark Kelly, with NASA, will decide in the next few weeks whether he will permanently relinquish command to Rick Sturckow for her last mission—the last mission.
Astronauts strike us as an extraordinarily hearty bunch. The vigor of the 80-year-old Apollo astronauts we met at Kennedy Space Center last November was impressive. But illness, injury, and infirmity, aren’t unknown to the astronauts of any era, Mercury through Shuttle. In some circumstances, the fallibility of even the fittest of human bodies has altered the trajectory of astronaut careers, NASA missions, and even history.
Just this past weekend, Astronaut Timothy Kopra, lead spacewalker for the final mission of Discovery set for the end of February, injured himself in a bicycle accident. The exact details of his accident have yet to be released, but ABC News reported yesterday that Tim Kopra broke his hip. This morning, without naming the injury, NASA named Kopra’s replacement: Steve Bowen, a two-time Shuttle veteran like Kopra. Tim Kopra’s spacewalk and mission specialist duties have been reassigned to Bowen, Michael Barrett, and Nicole Stott, based on their established skills.
NASA has replaced a Shuttle astronaut on eight previous occasions. Ken Mattingly, an Apollo astronaut was replaced three days before a mission because he had been exposed to measles and had not had the illness as a child, but the Bowen for Kopra switch is the closest to launch that a Shuttle astronaut has been replaced. As we polish up this post, NASA is having a press conference to discuss the crew change. Peggy Whitson, Chief of the Astronaut Office, said, “He’s disappointed for sure.” According to Whitson, Kopra joked that his “cat is in the penalty box, and so am I.” Of course, we know what Tim Kopra’s bicycle mishap means: his astronaut career is over. The crews for the remaining missions, even STS-135, which is not funded, have already been named.
Donald Kent “Deke” Slayton’s career as an astronaut was shaped by a physical ailment, too. Deke Slayton was chosen as one of the space program’s first seven astronauts and was assigned to fly the second orbital mission. But a heart murmur grounded him, and he was replaced by Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7. Instead of climbing into a capsule himself, Slayton became the Director of Flight Crew Operations and, in that role, selected crews for Gemini and Apollo. Deke Slayton decided which men would go to the Moon.
In 1972, Astronaut Deke Slayton was cleared to fly space missions. On July 17, 1975, he was the module pilot for the historic in-space docking of Apollo and Soyuz capsules. For the following two years, he directed approach and landing testing for the then-new Space Shuttle and continued to work on the STS program until his retirement in 1982. Had he not suffered a heart condition, he would likely have flown on more early missions. But his roles behind the scenes shaped the space program much more widely for decades.
Another astronaut whose career was altered by physical frailty was Michael Collins. Collins flew on Gemini 10, then was named to Apollo 8, the first manned mission to leave Earth’s orbit. But Collins required back surgery for a herniated disc and was replaced by Jim Lovell on that mission. In Carrying the Fire, he writes of wondering “whether I was an astronaut detained briefly on his way to the moon, or a hopeless cripple who would spend his remaining days boring his VA hospital compatriots with stories of his former prowess.” Once he was fully recovered and medically cleared, Collins took Lovell’s place on Apollo 11, thereby making history as part of the first crew to go all the way to the Moon itself. While Michael Collins didn’t walk on the Moon with his fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, he remains one of just six men to have circled the Moon all alone in a space capsule, an even more rare experience than standing on the Moon’s surface.
Scott Carpenter, Deke Slayton’s replacement on Apollo 8, ended his astronaut career in 1964, with a motorcycle accident that broke his arm. Rumor has it, however, that NASA welcomed a reason to reassign Carpenter after the Aurora 7 mission: a mistake drained fuel, the capsule was off target, and the drogue shoot didn’t open the first time he pushed its button. Having overshot the landing by 250 miles, Scott Carpenter sat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no one near enough to hear communications. When water seeped into the capsule, he got out to wait in the life raft, which he realized was upside down only after he was sitting in it. Roughly three hours after splashing down, Carpenter was standing on the ship Intrepid, heading home, but he did not return to space.
Other astronauts have faced set-backs, too. We’ve recounted Walter Shirra’s cold and its concurrent grumpiness during the Apollo 8 mission, a post whose accuracy Walt Cunningham confirmed via email (click here for that post). Fred Haise suffered from a urinary tract infection during the Apollo 13 mission. In fact, one of the science experiments scheduled for STS-133 involves studying the body’s ability to fight infection. During the days of Apollo, the great fear was that astronauts would return with a super-bug that could ravage the Earth-bound population. But instead, Astronaut Fred Haise returned with a raging infection from a bug that wouldn’t have made his usual earthly self feel sick at all.
In her investigation, scientist Millie Hughes-Fulford, an astronaut herself, found that 15 of the 29 Apollo astronauts developed an infection during or immediately after space flight and that it was not the result of increased stress hormones. She surmises—and wants to study further—that certain genes are activated in low gravity. Anna talked with Dr. Hughes-Fulford after a press conference in November. The long-term goals of her immunology experiment with mice on the International Space Station are to improve T-cell activity and better understand aging. Her experiment will launch on Discovery’s last flight in February.
Guest Blog (2 of 2): Allan J. McDonald January 17, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
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Today, we have two guest bloggers, both of whom were whistleblowers after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch. The 25th anniversary of this disaster is next Friday, January 28. Both our guest bloggers—Allan J. McDonald and Richard C. Cook—will appear at Chapman University on Monday, January 24, at 2-5pm in Sandhu Conference Center to discuss the tragedy itself and what we can learn from it.
Allan J. McDonald is the author of Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. He was the Director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project at the time of the Challenger accident and led the redesign of the solid rocket motors as Vice President of Engineering for Space Operations. He has presented more than eighty technical papers, earned an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering at Montana State University, and is on the Board of Directors at Orbital Technologies Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin. He retired from ATK Thiokol Propulsion in 2001, after forty-two years with the company.
We’ve posted Richard Cook’s guest blog today as well; click here to read that.
TRUTH, LIES, AND THE STATE OF THE U.S. SPACE PROGRAM
I initially wrote most of the material for Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster some twenty years ago as if it were an engineering report augmented with sworn testimony from the hearings of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident and the congressional hearings on the results of the Challenger accident investigation. After the first closed executive hearing of the Presidential Commission, I decided I needed to document everything I knew, everything I heard, and much of what was reported in the press and news media concerning the accident and the investigations. When I first revealed to the Presidential Commission that Morton Thiokol initially recommended not to launch the Challenger because of the cold temperatures, right after NASA had just told the commission that Morton Thiokol only recommended to launch, Chairman William Rogers said to me, “Would you please come down here and repeat what you’ve just said, because if I just heard what I think I heard, then this may be in litigation for years to come.” I took his words to heart, because I knew who would be in the hot seat for any litigation to follow: me.
Some NASA officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and several members of Morton Thiokol senior management were in collusion and were clearly trying to cover up this bad decision to launch, and I had just pulled the cork out of the bottle. When I was demoted by my company for telling the truth to the Presidential Commission, I decided at that time that I needed to document everything to protect myself from any litigation or any further retribution against me from NASA or the company.
I was assigned to lead the nearly impossible task of effectively redesigning the solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Only later did I learn that several members of Congress threatened to ban Morton Thiokol from receiving any NASA contracts if the company didn’t reinstate me to a position equivalent to the one that I had before my testimony before the Presidential Commission. Otherwise, my company would never have given me this critical assignment.
Truth, Lies and O-rings is the only book that has ever been published by an individual directly involved in the Challenger launch decision and who, then and now, is resolved to tell the truth about this great national tragedy, about the effort to return the Space Shuttle to safe flight once again, and about the warnings that went unheeded in the return-to-flight of the Space Shuttle in 1988 that led to the loss of the Columbia and her crew in February 2003, almost fifteen years later.
The Challenger accident was the major news story of the year in 1986 and captured the nation’s—and the world’s—attention. This was the first time that astronauts were killed in their journey to space in a long history of successful space flights starting with the launch of Yuri Gagarin by the Soviet Union in April 1961, some twenty-five years earlier. The Soviets had lost a cosmonaut in April 1967 when the parachute attached to the space capsule failed to properly deploy prior to touchdown in Russia. Three other cosmonauts were lost in June 1971 when their shirtsleeve oxygen system depressurized on their return to Earth; with no emergency oxygen system available, they suffocated. The U.S. space program had suffered the loss of three Apollo astronauts—Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White—in an electrical fire in their oxygen-filled Apollo capsule during a routine checkout of the capsule on the launch pad in January 1967, but the United States had never lost any astronauts on their way to or home from space.
The U.S. space program had been successful in landing a dozen astronauts on the Moon and returning them home safely since Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon in July 1969. The miraculous rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts on their way to the Moon was such an extraordinary feat that it appeared that NASA could never fail or certainly could do no wrong. The Challenger exploding on January 28, 1986, in front of a grandstand filled with the astronauts’ families was so shocking that it took several years for this nation to recover from it, and NASA never did recover from its badly tarnished image.
Guest Blog (1 of 2): Richard C. Cook January 17, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
With the 25th anniversary of the explosion of Challenger on January 28, we welcome two guest bloggers today: Richard C. Cook, author of Challenger Revealed, and Allan J. McDonald, author of Truth, Lies, and O-rings.
The Challenger disaster looms vividly in the memories of our generation. Doug had just attended a mechanical engineering lecture at the University of Illinois when a fellow student coming out of the cafeteria asked if he’d heard about Challenger. Anna was working on Knox College‘s literary journal in the publications office. From the adjacent Carl Sandburg Lounge, she heard students gathering in front of the television. We watched the video tape and listened to the broadcast for hours that day.
Given the place of this event in the history of our own lives, we’re interested to hear from the whistleblowers like Richard Cook, a retired government analyst who now resides in Roanoke, Virginia. He worked as a policy analyst from 1977 to 2007, spending time with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, NASA, and the U.S. Treasury Department. He is a lifelong student of meditation, operated an organic farm, and has a new book, We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform.
LESSONS OF TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH FROM CHALLENGER
January 28, 2011, marks the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. A little more than a minute after Challenger was launched at the Kennedy Space Center on that cold winter morning, the Shuttle broke to pieces when an O-ring joint in one of the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) failed due to a burn-through. The seven Challenger astronauts died, with some possibly surviving until the crew cabin struck the ocean surface after plummeting 60,000 feet.
It was arguably the greatest tragedy of the space age. NASA and the booster contractor, Morton Thiokol, knew the O-ring joint was flawed. A redesign had been decided on, though flights were to continue while the repair was being implemented.
The night before the launch, engineers from Morton Thiokol argued vociferously that liftoff should be postponed, because they feared unusually cold temperatures would subject the O-rings to hardening and possible failure. Personnel from Rockwell, the orbiter contractor, had their own fears with respect to formation of ice on the launch tower that could crash down on the orbiter when the main engines ignited.
The Thiokol engineers who predicted a rocket failure were overruled by their own management, acting under pressure from NASA. Even though NASA knew the day of the mishap what had caused it, a cover-up began.
But whistleblowers spoke up. In my own case, I had been working in the NASA Comptroller’s office as the lead resource analyst for the SRBs. When a Presidential Commission was formed to investigate the disaster, I testified, after leaking some of the O-ring papers to the New York Times, on NASA’s past knowledge of O-ring problems.
With support from some Commission members, the Thiokol witnesses—most notably Al McDonald (see guest post today above) and Roger Boisjoly (see earlier guest post here)—also made known their opposition to the launch. In June 1986, the Commission duly reported on the technical cause of the launch failure.
But presidential commissions are also created to deflect political repercussions. What they did not report was the likely pressure coming from the White House to get the shuttle into orbit so that the Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, would be aloft when President Ronald Reagan gave his state of the union speech that night.
When I wrote my book Challenger Revealed, I proved to my own satisfaction by using information from an interview I conducted of a key eyewitness, that President Reagan himself was likely involved in the faulty launch decision. But I am not a conspiracy theorist, and even though the White House knew that NASA was concerned about the possible effects of the cold weather, there was no evidence they knew the Thiokol engineers opposed the launch for SRB problems that had never been mentioned outside NASA or the Department of Defense.
But there was more to it than that. The Shuttle design had been compromised by decisions to make the vehicle an orbital platform for military missions. Challenger Revealed shows how much of the schedule pressure driving launch decisions in 1985-1986 came from use of the Shuttle for space weapons research under the Reagan administration’s Star Wars program. All this activity was—at least to my mind—illegal in terms of NASA’s 1958 charter for the peaceful exploration of space.
The Challenger disaster was a preventable accident. But the time to point the finger and find fault is long past. Today in 2011 the Shuttle program itself is becoming history. By the time I finished my book in 2006, after working on it on and off for twenty years, I was personally ready to forgive, allow the healing process to take over, and move on. I remain in that frame of mind today. I hope others, too, recognize that everyone did the best we could with the information we had available and the pressures that were brought to bear.
Through such forgiveness and healing we honor the seven Challenger crew members: Commander Dick Scobee; Pilot Michael Smith; Mission Specialists Judy Resnick, Scott McNair, and Ellison Onizuka; and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. The lives of these seven highly accomplished and courageous human beings were lost due to some extremely short-sighted and mundane human failings. Though they risked their lives and lost them, I have no doubt they live on in many ways.
Their achievements and what they risked for their values have been a major part of my own adult life and education. Thus for me, recollections of the Challenger disaster have not been something to shrink from. There is much to learn from both triumph and tragedy and many transformative ways to view their meaning. I wish for all such an open-minded attitude of learning and exploration.
Mark and Scott Kelly, Astronauts January 12, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
On Monday, we wrote about Gabrielle Giffords, the U.S. Representative who was among twenty people shot during her Congress on Your Corner event in Tuscon on Saturday. Her husband is Mark Kelly, the astronaut scheduled to command the final space shuttle mission in April, and her brother-in-law is Scott Kelly, the astronaut currently orbiting around the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour. This evening marks a memorial service in Arizona, attended by President Obama and thousands of others, to honor those slain over the weekend. Monday’s blog post and the comments that followed that post are a testament to unexpected connections among and wide-ranging interests of people all around us.
Since then, we’ve been thinking about what it means to be an astronaut. There exist numerous references to the risks astronauts take. It’s a dangerous job. Mark Kelly discussed this fact in his STS-121 preflight interview: “My family deals with those risks. The best I can do is talk to them about some of those risks. I’m not incredibly specific with them, especially with my kids. I want them not to be afraid that there’s going to be another accident. They were very close to one of the Columbia crewmembers and knew, probably, four out of the seven of them fairly well. So I want the experience of me going up into space to be a positive one for them.”
That was in 2005, when he and Gabrielle Giffords were courting. A Washington Post article quotes Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz as saying the following about Giffords’ attitude in 2008, when her husband last launched into space: “There was definitely angst, there was obvious worry […]. There have been two shuttles that have not come back.”
But we rarely consider the reverse scenario, that something awful might happen to an astronaut’s family while he or she is unable to respond in person. Scott Kelly, Mark’s twin brother, is in the midst of a six-month stint on the International Space Station. In response to the shooting and to his sister-in-law’s condition, Scott Kelly tweeted the following from space: “I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers, words of condolences and encouragement for the victims and their families of this horrific event.” He’s looking down on the Earth, noticing how lovely it appears: “As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.”
The last astronaut to experience this sort of unexpected family crisis was Dan Tani, when he was a flight engineer on the ISS in 2007. From space, he offered the following public statement after his mother was killed in a car-train collision: “I would like to thank everyone who has expressed their condolences during this time of grieving for me and my family. Living on the space station means that I experience all aspects of life—be they joyous or tragic—while circling the Earth without a convenient way to return. Of course, I was aware of this situation before my mission and I fully accept that I will proudly complete my mission on the International Space Station and join my family when I return. […] My mother was a complete joy. Those who knew her will know that words cannot describe her vitality, generosity and warmth. She was my hero. We will all miss her dearly. […] I understand the interest in our lives based upon my job. Please respect our desire for privacy during this difficult time.”
Given this possibility of being in space during a family crisis—and of the heightened public gaze this situation draws—why does a person become an astronaut? Work on the ISS requires long stretches far from home with no way to change your mind halfway through your experience.
In his preflight interview in 2008, Mark Kelly explained why he became an astronaut (also see first video below for more background): “I watched the Apollo astronauts in the late 60s, early 70s. I kind of remember Apollo 11 a little bit and then remember the last Apollo missions, remember seeing footage about what astronauts did in their careers before they were astronauts and then became interested at that point. It’s not something I planned on doing my entire life growing up, but later on in my career I had the opportunity and that’s the path I decided to go on.” The Apollo missions shaped the goals of many of today’s astronauts. It’s a cultural event that our generation remembers from our childhoods. It’s a reference we heard again and again at Kennedy Space Center, when we talked with space shuttle astronauts about why they’d followed this path.
Three years earlier, in another preflight interview, Mark Kelly gave a similar response: “I think I was very interested in the space program as a kid, watching the first Apollo missions to the moon, and it’s something I thought that would be a lot of, of fun and exciting and a very worthwhile job—something where you’re helping a lot of people and discovering new things.” In that interview, he talks of his educational background—a couple of bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering—and his experience in the Merchant Marines and in the Navy. He points to his memory of seeing footage of Alan Shepard landing on an aircraft carrier before he became an astronaut; Mark Kelly recognized that one could be a pilot in the Navy and then fly into space.
Mark Kelly’s alternate dream job was quarterback for the New England Patriots. His brother Scott had similarly unrealistic aspirations as a child (also see first video below for more background): “I was interested in being an astronaut like a lot of kids are, because it seems like an exciting job; I was also interested in playing baseball for the Mets and, race car driving, and other more realistic things, I think, as I got older. Eventually I decided I wanted to be a pilot in the Navy.” In his preflight interview this past August, Scott Kelly talks, as do many astronauts, not just about preparation, but also about timing and luck as necessary in the process.
When we think about what these astronauts are saying about influence and timing, we wonder about the future of space exploration. Last fall, Astronaut Mike Massimo participated in the screening of An Article of Hope at Chapman University. In the Q&A session that followed the film, a Chapman student full of excitement asked him how she could become an astronaut. It was something she wanted more than anything else in life, and she was almost as breathless looking at Mike Massimino via Skype as girls had been at Beatles concerts decades earlier. Astro_Mike talked about the basic educational requirement: a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (the STEM disciplines), preferably an advanced degree as well. He also encouraged the young woman to do what she loved. We were surprised that he didn’t advise the woman to learn Russian.
Scott Kelly traveled to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft launched from Kazakhstan (see second video below for more on his ISS career track and more from both brothers). Though Space X and Orbital are working to develop commercial spacecraft here in the United States, the last funded space shuttle mission is STS-134, which Mark Kelly is scheduled to command. That mission will end U.S. space exploration as we have known it in our lofty lifetimes.
Until Discovery’s foam cracks delayed STS-133 from November to February and, in turn, bumped STS-134 to April, Mark and Scott had planned to be in space together just a few weeks from now. (See third video below for the brothers’ discussion of the possibility of meeting in space.) In his preflight interview last fall, Scott Kelly pondered what that meant: Their parents “don’t like the idea of having one son off the planet at any time, so this can kind of stress them out a little bit and I’m sure it will stress them out even more.” We now see that stress must work both ways.
Scott Kelly also explained, “It’s actually the first time that two blood relatives have ever been in space together. It’s exciting. I’ve obviously known my brother a really long time, and we’re great friends and, it’s a real privilege to, to share the experience with someone you’re so close to, the experience of being an astronaut, being able to talk about things that we experience and have a common framework to discuss it.” Indeed, it must be exhilarating to be able to talk with your brother about space exploration and know that he understands. Of course, given these words—their confidence, the present tense—it must also be difficult now for Scott to not be able to put an arm around Mark and talk about what’s happened here on Earth.
Astronaut Mark Kelly, our thoughts are with you January 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Space Exploration.
Tags: Music, Space Shuttle
Today, our thoughts are with the families of the twenty people killed and injured in Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. We extend our condolences to those who lost a family member or friend, and we are pulling for those whose family member or friend is facing difficult recovery.
Astronaut Mark Kelly is the husband of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains in critical condition as we write this post. They were married in November 2007, and met four years before that, when they were both in China. (Click here to read the New York Times article about their nuptials.) Mark Kelly is scheduled to command the last space shuttle mission, STS-134 in April on Endeavour.
Mark Kelly’s twin brother, Scott, is an astronaut in the midst of a six-month stint on the International Space Station. Today, he participated in a national observance for the victims, saying, “As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.” (Click here to read the Washington Post story.)
In 2008, Gabrielle Giffords chose the wake-up song for the crew on her husband’s flight on Discovery. To listen to a story about Giffords, Kelly, and the band Calexico, click here.
Mark Kelly has expressed gratitude for support and suggested that those who would like to help can make a donation to the Community Food Bank in Tuscon or to the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross. Read his full statement here.
The couple appeared together at Space Vision 2009, organized by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. This gathering is the largest, student-run space conference. Giffords introduced her husband’s talk, which we repost below.
Tempest in the B-Plot January 5, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Movies & TV
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Actor Anne Francis passed away this past Sunday, January 2, 2011. Her death occurred barely a month after the death of her Forbidden Planet costar Leslie Nielsen, who died on November 28 of last year. The temporal proximity of their deaths occasioned our viewing of their shared screen appearance this week.
This viewing was a first for Anna, and one of many over the years for Doug. With a Guest Blog by a visual artist on Monday, the look, feel, and sound of this movie jumped out at us. We began thinking about Forbidden Planet as an intersection between art and science, and perhaps the precursor for the science fiction we’ve watched all our lives.
The plot of Forbidden Planet, while loosely based on The Tempest, is a fairly straightforward science fiction trope: crew lands on unfamiliar planet, encounters human survivors, encounters unanticipated aliens/monsters with which survivors have learned to co-exist, is slowly decimated by monsters, and escapes. The planet—and all its technological advancement—must be destroyed. This is a plot that pervades the science fiction cannon, one that can be seen in films such as Ridley Scott’s Alien as well as various episodes of Star Trek. In the words of William Shakespeare in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.”
In fact, in numerous ways, Forbidden Planet smacks of Star Trek, about which we’ve written before. As we learned in the DVD’s special features, Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, talked about this earlier film in terms that position it as a sort of series pilot for him. We immediately saw the connection between Forbidden Planet and Star Trek (especially the original series and The Next Generation) in the crew uniforms, communicators, and phaser-like weapons; in the interior of the space ship; in the apparatus that creates three-dimensional holodeck-type likenesses; and in the contraption that looks like the transporter room but is used, in Forbidden Planet, for holding crew members during deceleration. When a threat to the ship emerges, the crew, like Doug and his childhood friend, creates a force field, something with which Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy were quite familiar too. While these notions are fiction, many of them are based in science—or at least science-sounding terminology, like a “quantum mechanic” who might tinker with gadgets.
Nuclear energy was a new possibility in the world of 1956, the year Forbidden Planet was released. The 7800-level underground system, which the alien Krell built, is powered by 9200 thermonuclear reactors. On October 17, just a few months after the film hit theaters, Great Britain turned on the first commercial nuclear power plant.
The notion of the id—that subconscious part of us that embodies our basic human drives—was introduced by Sigmund Freud a few decades before Forbidden Planet demonstrated an id come to life. Dr. Morbius and his 19-year-old daughter Altaira have inhabited the planet without trouble for years, ever since a monster killed the rest of his crew. The invisible monster returns to begin killing off the new human visitors. This monster is an extension of Morbius’s interior self—his id—which he tries to renounce.
The film also seems to have influenced Star Wars, for if Forbidden Planet’s Robby the Robot were separated into two entities, they would be the equivalent of C-3PO and R2-D2. Robby the Robot is part human helpmate, part data cruncher, and a sort of unselfconscious companion. Just two months ago, we saw Robonaut 2 at Kennedy Space Center. Robonat 2 is the version of Robby the Robot, complete with head, arms, and deft hands, that will launch on the next space shuttle mission.
Of course, Forbidden Planet also suggests some of science’s biggest questions now. Is there other life out there in the universe? If so, what kind of intelligence might these other creatures have? What exactly is intelligence, and how might it be measured? How does the brain create emotion? What, if we get right down to it, is the mind?
Also, for that matter, what is music? The soundtrack for Forbidden Planet is the first all-electronically produced soundtrack. In fact, because Louis and Bebe Barron were not musicians and used no traditional musical instruments for the score, they could not be nominated for an Academy Award. In an amazing composition, the Barrons used electric circuits to produce a soundtrack that is both sound effects and narrative score. For a film that demonstrates the subconscious interior, it’s no wonder the score becomes crucial to the story, to creating suspense, and to conveying the monster itself. A 2009 article in Scientific American Mind points out that music is emotional communication, rather than based on meaning, and that individuals experience the same piece of music in surprisingly similar ways.
As we expected, Forbidden Planet is campy, too. The indoor sets are surprisingly well done, and the exteriors must have been impressive fifty years ago. The flora and fauna remind us of Star Trek sets, in which boulders seem made of polystyrene and depth of field is not completely convincing. Instead of alien life forms, a tiger and a deer populate the backyard of Dr. Morbius’s house. And there’s some campy humor too. The cook gets stinking drunk on the sixty gallons of hooch Robby the Robot concocts. Robby the Robot is late to respond to Altaira’s call because he was giving himself an oil job. When a visitor convinces Altaira to try kissing, she wonders whether that’s all there is.
Altaira eventually falls in love, of course. Commander Adams announces to Morbius, “She’s joined herself to me, body and soul!” What more dangerous thing can a boy say to a girl’s father! The movie ends with Anne Francis safely in Leslie Nielsen’s arms. We grew up with Police Squad! and Airplane! But as we watched this last scene in Forbidden Planet, we tried to let ourselves believe in this younger, heroic Leslie Nielsen: “a million years from now the human race will have crawled up to where the Krell stood in their great moment of triumph and tragedy.”
Guest Blog: Lylie Fisher January 3, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Physics
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Lylie Fisher is the artist whose work appears on the cover of Anna’s book Constituents of Matter. We came across her series “In Search of Meaning” when it was exhibited at Fermilab, where Doug worked with physicists to develop computer simulations of particle accelerators.
Lylie Fisher was born in Australia and spent fifteen years there as an artist and arts advocate. She came to the States when San Francisco State University invited her to participate in the International Visiting Artists program. Her experience as Artist in Residence at Weir Farm in Connecticut in 2003 encouraged her to launch Art Harvest, an arts curator and outreach service for the nonprofit community. In 2007, Fisher launched the art and science “In Search of Meaning” series that is currently touring.
Lylie Fisher recently completed three series that have resonance with the political and environmental challenges facing America. The Life Cycle of Frogs series is a testimony to the fragility of amphibians, The Eye of the Storm is a meditation of extremes, and The Lincoln Series is a peaceful reflection on the leader who continues to inspire. You can find more information and view her artwork here.
ART AND SCIENCE, IN PRACTICE
My basic thoughts on the relationship among sciece, art, and culture can be summed up as follows:
Through science, the intelligent search formulates answers to questions of creation.
Through art, spiritual questions are explored and meaning is pondered.
Through culture, humanity organically combines the search and the meaning, creating beliefs.
My art often explores the relationship between human experiences and metaphor. For many years, I have experimented with ideas of cocoons, armor, and symbolic wrappings. For me, these represent a theoretical space of limitation and transformation. My inspiration is to communicate physical and emotional realms, and for more than a decade, I have been grinding liquid gels and pigments into the photographic surface as means of expressing my philosophical landscape. Recently, I worked with found medical slides of cancer cells and incorporated these images into an installation that was then photographed for exhibition. Drawn to anthropological models, I continue to be fascinated with the universal tension between attraction and fear—and how humanity attributes meaning through created and realized certainty.
The “In Search of Meaning” project was developed as part of an Artist in Residency in 2006 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). On first viewing archival bubble chamber images (circa 1960s), I was struck by their simple power. I was drawn to the recurring curve, arch, and spiral lines. These lines are central to the work of particle physics and have clear scientific meaning. As an artist, I saw beauty and elegance. With the “In Search of Meaning” project, my quest has been to draw out the intrinsic beauty of the data, and liberate the images from the pure academic realm.
My artistic theory is that the bubble tracks allow scientists to explore theories of the universe. The space between the tracks is where humanity exists. The color palette represents a unique “tribe” and/or “reality.” Science, for me, is one way that humanity creates a structure of meaning within uncertainty. This depth of color represents the intellectual and emotion space we inhabit.
Everything in the Universe is made from a small number of basic building blocks, or elementary particles, governed by a few fundamental forces. Some of these particles are stable and form normal matter, while others live for fractions of a second before decaying into stable ones. All coexisted for a few moments after the Big Bang.
When discussing this project with physicists, I am struck by the affection scientists have for the bubble chambers. Bubble chamber photographs allowed the scientist to view, like a snap shot, images of their experiments. Now, in the age of sophisticated computer technologies, scientists view experiment results via data modeling. Although powerful tools for interpretation, they lack the intimacy of viewing photographic bubble chamber images. Particle physics is much more than a field of science. It is art. Like art, particle physics deals with the invisible. One portrays emotional and spiritual experiences; the other studies unseen matter and energy. Science is the voice of the rational mind, and art is the reverberation of questioning. Particle physicists, like theologians, wish to understand our beginnings. They want to know how we came about from the great unknown.
For me, there exists a double reality where scientists explore the source of life, the building blocks of the universe, that is parallel to philosophical pondering on the meaning of life. These are root questions that people return to, whether through art or science. Honoring the integrity of the bubble chamber experiments and the information that is communicated within the raw archival images, I ensured the actual bubble tracks, the white lines, have remained unadorned and unaltered.
Launched mid 2007, the eleven original artworks to date have toured the following places: SLAC; Fermilab; the University of California, Davis; George Washington University; and The National Museum of Abruzzo and Galileium in Italy, hosted by Italian National Physics Laboratory in Gran Sasso and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Images from this series have been selected for many science-based book covers, and have been reproduced for a number of academic and literary publications. Cambridge University Press features an image on the front cover of the forthcoming physics textbook Elementary Particle Physics.
Visit Lylie Fisher’s website at http://www.lyliefisher.com.
For some basic information about bubble chambers and the images they create, look at CERN’s teaching materials here.