jump to navigation

On This Date: 5 Things May 25, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Aviation, Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

May 25, 1931: Georgy Grechko was born in Leningrad. He grew up to become a cosmonaut who flew on several Soviet missions to space and spent almost a month aboard the Salyut 4 space station in 1975, almost three months aboard Salyut 6 in 1977, and eight days on Salyut 7.

May 25, 1961: President John F. Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that the United States should send human beings to the Moon by the end of the decade.

May 25, 1977: The film Star Wars: A New Hope was released. We were youngsters then who came of age knowing of a galaxy far, far away where one might use The Force for good or evil. It quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time and held that record until E.T.

May 25, 2008: The Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars, NASA’s first successful landing on the Red Planet in a polar region. It confirmed the existence of water ice and researched the possible history of water there. Notably, the mission cost $386 million, including the launch itself; this relatively reasonable cost for a space mission (the last shuttle missions cost more each) was achieved by incorporating unused hardware from earlier programs.

May 25, 2012: SpaceX’s Dragon (supposedly named after the song from our childhood, “Puff, the Magic Dragon”) docked with the International Space Station, the first time a commercial spacecraft had done such a thing. SpaceX is developing Dragon so that it can fly crew as well as supplies to ISS.

BONUS: On May 26, 1951, astronaut and physicist Sally Ride was born. Ride became part of the first astronaut class to include women and became the first American woman to travel to space, when she flew aboard Challenger in 1983. She later served on the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger accident and, even later, revealed that she’d passed along the crucial information about the booster o-rings. Ride died in 2012, the too-common result of pancreatic cancer. This Thursday, celebrate the life of Sally Ride!

DOUBLE-BONUS: On May 28, 1912the first female radio astronomer was born in Australia. Ruby Payne-Smith, while working at a cancer research center, determined that the Earth’s magnetism doesn’t have much affect on bodily functioning of humans. She discovered Type I and Type II radio bursts, helped with the first radio interferometer observation to determine a solar burst in 1946, and she did top secret work on radar during World War II. She died on this date–May 25, 1981.

5 Chicago Macy’s Planetary Windows January 6, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far
Kids of all ages are fascinated by space!

Kids of all ages are fascinated by space!

We did not post last week. For the first time since this blog started in 2010, we missed a week. After a weekend away, we’d been scheduled to fly back home on Monday. Though weather had cleared up hours before our flight and though our aircraft had arrived (albeit an hour late), American Airlines had canceled a lot of flights that day and knew quickly that our flight would have no crew. No seats were available to us for either our home airport or even LAX until Friday night. So we spent almost a week in Chicago (thank you, Aunt Maggie!). More than five years of weekly (and mores at times) posting, but we hadn’t queued up a post ahead of time for last week.

On New Year’s Eve (Wednesday, when we should have had a post), we walked around The Loop and, to our surprise, found that Macy’s holiday windows had been designed for Lofty Ambitions. For readers celebrating Epiphany today—the holiday for the arrival of the three wise men (astronomers?), who followed a star (conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn? comet? supernova in the Andromeda galaxy?) to see baby Jesus—and for those readers whose holiday spirit has waned, we share the images of Macy’s planetary celebration. (And yes, there are six photos, but we’re catching up here so it’s a bonus, not a miscount.)







5 Photos of Apollo 8 December 23, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968. By Christmas Eve, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were circling the Moon. Having been the first humans to leave Earth’s orbit, they returned to Earth on December 27. We’ve written about Apollo 8 HERE and HERE. This week, we celebrate the anniversary of Apollo 8 with 5 images provided to the world by NASA.


Apollo 8 crew leaving for launchpad, with Lovell waving

Apollo 8 crew leaving for launchpad, with Lovell waving




Jim Lovell and a cramped capsule view

Jim Lovell and a cramped capsule view

Photo of the Moon, with the large crater Goclenius in foreground

Photo of the Moon, with the large crater Goclenius in foreground




5 Socks for Space Nerds (great gifts!) December 9, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
1 comment so far

We found 5 space-themed pairs of socks to share. In fact, we had to limit ourselves to these Top 5 great sock gifts for the holidays.


These constellation socks are stretchy and extra-comfy and even a little dressy. Available from Sock It To Me, which has more space-themed socks.


Fun socks that (mis)represent the Solar System, with brightly colored planets against the dark background.


A dress sock featuring an Apollo astronaut. The image might not be clear to others at first glance, and the seam is a bit awkwardly placed. Still, these knee-highs make a bold statement.


Great everyday socks. They really go with everything. Available from Happy Socks, though this is their only space-themed sock right now.


Yes, it’s Spocks! Available from the Star Trek shop, which also offers Star Fleet Academy socks in all three uniform colors.

5 Science Poetry Books (for Gift-Giving) December 2, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science.
Tags: ,

Interested in science but not in poetry? Think again. Interested in poetry but not science? Think again. Here are five poetry books that make great gifts for science aficionados or poetry appreciators. And all these books happen to be written by women.


Except by Nature by Sandra Alcosser


Science and Other Poems by Allison Hawthorne Deming


scencepoetryThe Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey


Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel


Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

5 Graphic (Nonfiction) Books September 16, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science, Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

What It Is: the formless thing which gives things form (2008)

By Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry’s What It Is is a book like none other we’ve seen. It’s part stories, part memoir about her life, and part creativity workbook for the reader. It’s nonlinear; it poses questions; it’s fun. One of our favorite bits of wisdom:

To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape!

Fallout: J. Robert Oppenehimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb (2001)

By Jim Ottaviani, Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault, Jeff Parker

oppy-pork-pieThe other four books in today’s list circle around nuclear history. A wee bit is fabricated, so Fallout isn’t really nonfiction, but a lot of what happens and what is said in this book really did happen and was said. For instance, early on in the book, Leo Szilard takes a bath and reads H.G. Wells’s The World Is Set Free. Szilard is thought to have enjoyed taking baths and credited that book as one of the two that shaped his thinking.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie—A Tale of Love and Fallout (2010)

By Lauren Redniss

This book is gorgeous. The other three nuclear history books are told in panels of comic strips, but Radioactive plays with images in different ways, with maps, diagrams, drawings, photographs, lots of shapes and colors. The author even created her own typeface and named it after the spiritualist medium the Curies visited. This book is especially interested in Marie Curie’s relationships, with Pierre, of course, but also with others, including her lover Paul Langevin. The personal story, though, is always woven into history and science, as we see in the early passage that introduces Marie Curie:

Three times before her death, Marya Sklodowska would find, then swiftly lose, a cherished lover. The gray-eyed girl was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, the year chemist and orchid cultivator Alfred Nobel patented dynamite. She would become famous as Marie Curie, twice winning the prize Nobel established with his explosive fortune.

Feynman (2011)

By Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, Hilary Sycamore

Bert2This book is fun. Well, it’s Richard Feynman, and he was a character, and it’s in color. Feynman gives readers Los Alamos, his later lectures, and his role in the Challenger accident investigation, and it also tells of Feynman’s eye for the ladies and his illness. It’s a sweeping biography of a charismatic scientist. One of the most captivating aspects of this book is that Feynman narrates in first person, using boxed voiceovers. In the section about Arline and her diagnosis with tuberculosis, for instance, Feynman reveals his unspoken responses and emotions, eventually concluding:

So we knew we could face things together, and after going through that we had no difficulty facing other problems.

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012)

By Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Trinity is in the same vein as Fallout, though it uses more whole-page and double-page spreads that are visually striking and allow for explanation of concepts, such as everything you need to know about uranium. In the end, this book looks beyond the Trinity test to Mutually Assured Destruction and “Duck and Cover,” to the risks with which we’ve lived since 1945. The afterword concludes:

We would see that the secret of atomic power was stolen not from the gods, but simply from the earth.

And we would remember that this atomic force is a force of nature.

As innocent as an earthquake.

As oblivious as the sun.

It will outlast our dreams.

RIP Leonard Nimoy March 4, 2015

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Last Friday, actor Leonard Nimoy died. The New York Times reported, “the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut ‘Star Trek,’ died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.”

As Anna drove around town that morning, KUSC played the Star Trek theme in Nimoy’s honor, for he was a long-time supporter of that classical music station and a musician himself. Long before Peter Jackson brought J. R. R. Tolkein’s hobbits to the screen, Nimoy performed “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” though that didn’t do justice to his talent. He was also a photographer, and The Independent has just pulled together and shared some of his striking work.

Four years ago this month, Lofty Ambitions wrote a happy-birthday post for Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. Read that tribute HERE.

Reportedly, Nimoy’s last tweet was “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

One of our favorite and nerdiest NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano spoke of Nimoy’s influence, as the character Spock, on space exploration, science, and their generation. And astronauts in space exchanged the Vulcan salute last week.

Rolling Stone gathered numerous tributes. President Obama wrote, “Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek‘s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.”

Zachary Quinto, the new Spock, wrote, “My heart is broken. I love you profoundly my dear friend.”


Star Trek cast and crew with Enterprise Space Shuttle

George Takei remembered Nimoy at MSNBC. Takei called Nimoy “extraordinary” and explains why Nimoy deserves that adjective.

William Shatner kept his commitment to a Red Cross fundraiser in Florida instead of attending the funeral, according to CNN, but had good things to say about Nimoy.

In TIME, Martin Landau remembered Nimoy, writing, “Leonard Nimoy was a mensch! Mensch is a word which in Yiddish means ‘a particularly good person’ with the qualities one would hope for in a dear friend or trusted colleague.”

Canadians are Spocking their $5 bills. The Bank of Canada is not pleased. Fans will be fans, always.

As academics ourselves, we appreciate a good commencement speech. In his at Boston University in 2012, at the age of 81, Nimoy said, “I have three words for you. Persistence, persistence…persistence.” We write about that here at Lofty Ambitions, and Anna’s chapter in a forthcoming pedagogy book talks about the importance of perseverance. In that speech, Nimoy quotes President Kennedy, “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda. It is truth.” That’s sometimes difficult to remember these days, but it’s one of the principles that drives our own writing here and elsewhere. So we end with Nimoy’s wisdom and a video clip that may be familiar and newly meaningful:

You are the curators of your own lives.

You create your own life and work.

Writing Residencies: Five Weeks on the Side of a Mountain October 30, 2014

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Writing.
Tags: ,
add a comment


Sunset at Dorland

Sunset at Dorland

Warning—this post uses a bit of profanity. It’s so commonplace in the adult world that most of us take in for granted. That said, Lofty Ambitions has some younger readers. In fact, Anna and I have received email from some parents indicating that they read our blog with their children. We love that part of our audience, and it’s garnered some of our favorite anecdotes over the years.

Just before I went to Dorland Mountain Arts Colony at the end of the summer, I saw the following quote in my Twitter stream:

Novelist’s prime rule: Shitty first drafts. The need for perfection has killed more novels than N.Y. editors.

I’ve left the name of the Twitter user off of the tweet because that person didn’t acknowledge the origin of the quote. It comes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Besides the beautiful serendipity of being reminded of Bird by Bird in a tweet (rimshot!), Lamott’s book often comes up when writers discussed their favorite books on writing. In fact, I’ve heard more than one writer express that it’s their absolute favorite book on craft. Here’s the full quote, which I find to be very instructive.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Storm Approaching

Storm Approaching

Although I had never been completely paralyzed by an abject pursuit of perfection, I have on occasion hindered my own progress through attempts to get everything just right before being able to move on. This quote and the intention behind it had arrived at just the right moment. I adopted it as a mantra for my recent stay at Dorland. I vowed that I would move continuously forward on my novel project and that I would worry about making things better—less shitty—in revision.

Some of this was a practical necessity. My sabbatical (or, in the parlance of the library where I work, a professional development leave) was extensive but not endless. The deadline imposed by the end of my leave was looming six weeks in the future, and if I was going to get a complete draft of my novel, something was going to have to fall by the wayside. The pursuit of perfection—a doomed folly in the first place—seemed a perfectly logical thing to give up.

Anna and I are starting to feel a significant connection to Dorland. Like most of us, I grow attached to places. In a midlife discovery that continues to surprise me, the desert has become an important place for me. Years ago, I took a sunrise horseback ride in the desert near Wickenburg, Arizona. For me, during that first desert foray on the back of the horse, it was the colors and the clarity of the light. I later tried to describe the experience to Anna in a phone call. She laughed at me then. Now, Anna and I have both grown fond of the landscape of New Mexico’s high desert near Los Alamos and Santa Fe as well as at Dorland. It’s quiet, hot, dry, removed somehow from the world with which we’re more familiar. The desert reminds us that only certain types of plants and creatures survive in certain environments.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Our stays at Dorland have often included surprises. During my recent stay, an enormous thunderstorm swept over the Palomar Mountains, and it rained. Hard. The hard rain was followed by an even harder hailstorm. Did I mention that it hit 107 F that day? Two of my lizard friends took shelter on the porch of my cabin during the storm. Growing up in Illinois didn’t prepare me to write those words in a single sentence: desert, hailstorm, lizard.

Even though it happened little more than a year ago, one of our Dorland surprises has made into my family lore. This is, of course, the story of the tarantula who came to dinner. My father particularly likes this story. He’s asked me to retell it each time I’ve seen him over the past year. He likes it best of all when Anna is there to add the part that I’ve been accused of leaving out. It seems that my version doesn’t include a supposed squeal that I purportedly emitted upon seeing the tarantula. I have no memory of this scream. I don’t normally doubt the veracity of my wife’s claims, but hers is the only testimony of this event. When Anna chimes in with her bit, my father chuckles loudly. It’s almost a guffaw. I think he likes it that someone is able to keep my ego in check.

If you can’t already tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my most recent stay at Dorland. With five weeks on the side of Palomar Mountain at my disposal, I even managed to learn a few things about my self and about writing. I’ll cover those things in next week’s post.

If you want to read Anna’s different approach to and takeaways from this iteration of Dorland, check HERE and HERE. For more info about our recent Santa Fe getaway, check HERE

The Academic Minute: Science Meets Poetry October 20, 2014

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Writing.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

On Saturday, Anna was featured on The Academic Minute, an NPR show out of WAMC that airs on stations nationwide, mostly in university towns. Her subject was the intersection of science and poetry. What’s great is that her segment–both audio and transcript–are now in the archives at The Academic Minute, and the page also includes tidbits about some of Anna’s poems that incorporate scientific terminology and concepts.


One of the recurring goals of both artists and scientists is to explain the universe. A poem can offer a particularized truth: a perspective that, because it is embodied in language that engages the intellect, senses, and emotions, offers knowledge of our world. Similarly, both poets and scientists are limited by the constraints of their respective disciplines, but the methodology and priorities of each are quite distinct.

On Traveling: NASM & Other Serendipity August 13, 2014

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Last week, we were back at the University of Maryland. We lived in College Park, Maryland, in the early 1990s while Anna was earning her MFA and working at the Entomological Society of America and Doug was working for NASA at the Center for AeroSpace Information as an abstractor and indexer. The University of Maryland and the surrounding communities have changed in twenty years, with lots more housing and restaurants (we went to Ledo first).

This time around, Doug was participating in a workshop hosted by HILT, or Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching. As part of that program, we had the opportunity to choose among several Wednesday field trips. Of course, you know which one we chose: National Air and Space Museum!

NASM Curator Margaret W

NASM Curator Margaret Weitekamp at “My Shuttle Memories” Slideshow

The special event focused on a behind-the-scenes look at the new NASM crowdsourcing project called “My Space Shuttle Memories.” Margaret Weitekamp, the Curator of the Social and Cultural Dimensions of Spaceflight Collection at NASM, wanted something engaging for the new “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit, and she wanted to reflect the ways in which real people interacted with and reacted to the space shuttle program. She worked with Sarah Banks, NASM’s Social Media Manager, to develop a photo crowdsourcing project that culminates in a slideshow display now in the exhibit.

Model of International Space Station in Current Configuration

Model of International Space Station in Current Configuration

We were disappointed that we hadn’t known about the initial call for photographs, but the museum plans to update the slideshow periodically. So, of course, we uploaded five of our own space shuttle photographs to the “My Space Shuttle Memories” Flickr group as soon as we returned home. We encourage others to do the same!

Based on our discussions with Weitekamp and Banks, we encourage you to follow the guidelines so that your photograph is seriously considered. Even if your photograph doesn’t become part of the slideshow in the museum, it’ll remain part of the collection of “My Shuttle Memories” at Flickr. Here are some things to consider before you upload any Shuttle photos to the Flickr page:

  • The photograph MUST include people. Photographs of the space shuttle or of the plume won’t be considered for inclusion in the museum slideshow.
  • The photograph must NOT anyone under the age of 18, unless you can provide permission from a parent or legal guardian for all children in the photograph.
  • Photographs should focus on space shuttle launches and landings. Generally, very insider photographs won’t be seriously considered for inclusion in the slideshow.
  • Photographs of space shuttle launches in the 1980s and 1990s are especially welcome. Many of us went to the last three launches with digital cameras, so those photographs dominate submissions. If you take the time to scan and submit an older photograph, you may have better odds.
  • You MUST hold copyright on the photograph and be willing to give NASM permission to use the photograph. If they’re interested in including your photograph in the slideshow, they’ll contact you about that process. (In fact, after you submit photos, you should check the email account associated with your Flickr registration at least every ten days.) Copyright holders of selected photographs may also contribute those images to the NASM Archives, but that’s a different, follow-on process.

NASM is open until 7:30pm over the summer, so we also had plenty of time to traipse about one of our favorites spaces in the world. In addition to the new “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit, we took a look at “Sprit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars,” which runs through September 15, and the new-to-us “Time and Navigation.” We couldn’t leave without breezing through “Apollo to the Moon.”

Doug & Anna on Mars!

Doug & Anna on Mars!

Sated with our visit to NASM, we headed home from our cross-country jaunt on Saturday. We returned our rental car, boarded the shuttle bus back to the airport, and heard the doors whoosh shut on our journey. But wait! As we peered out the bus’s window, we saw a spry, white-haired man exit the rental car facility and head behind to the next bus.

We had missed meeting Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon! Or did we?

We never use curbside check-in, but there was no one in line, and that vantage allowed us to watch for the next bus from the rental car facility. We didn’t see Gene Cernan get off the bus, but Doug headed one way and I headed the other to check the adjacent terminal stops.

There he was!

Apollo 17 Astronaut Gene Cernan, waiting in line to check in for his flight just like everybody else. 

We approached. Doug said, “Mr. Cernan.” His daughter nudged him in our direction. “Could we take your photograph?” Doug asked. We thought he might be bothered, feel interrupted

Anna & Gene Cernan!

Anna & Gene Cernan!

Instead, he came right over to the rope, grabbed Anna’s hand, and said, “How about two?” Cernan and Anna chatted briefly about their flying plans that day, and Anna thanked him for going to the Moon for all of us. When he showed up in the security area, Anna wished him a good flight just before he entered the body scanner.

We’ve written about serendipity before here at Lofty Ambitions. Meeting Gene Cernan was indeed a happy accident. But it happened because we recognized someone who matters to us and were willing to take a little risk to seek out his company for a couple of minutes. As we continue to focus on The Cold War, cancer, and space exploration over this next year, we know we have to look for the unanticipated. Gene Cernan reminded us of that need both for immersion in our interests and for openness to what we can’t possibly predict will happen.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 237 other followers