The Apollo Leap


They Went to the Moon
& Discovered Our Earth

This famous shot of the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon was taken half a century ago by astronaut Bill Anders, helped by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. But it didn’t come to light until a few months later. When it did, it went straight to my wall.
Like millions of teens, my room in 1968 was a dizzying array of passions and people I admire. There was a spot for the Earthrise shot next to a tongue-stuck-out Einstein, a bonnet-clad Che, a nearly nude Brigitte, Beatles, Hendrix, and Caetano Veloso to boot.
So, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally touched down on quaint-named Tranquility Base 50 years ago this Saturday, the deal was already done. Still dauntingly impressive, but the new world had been discovered the previous December. And it was blue.
To this day, we’ve yet to know another heavenly body that, despite being rock-solid, appears translucent and blue in space like no other. No other has oxygen and water enough to nurture life’s exuberance, all packed into such a transfixing image.
No one but this planet is suitable for the likes of us. And never before it was so close to being murdered by the very species that depend on it the most. In 1969, Earth’s blueness was a revelation to be cherished. Now, it’s our only argument for survival.

GO FOR GLORY. BRING BACK ROCKS
We’re bound to this ship, no matter how far we may go. And we haven’t even got far. In fact, we couldn’t really go anywhere without carrying our home with us. Since that’s impossible, whatever we do to our home, will determine the fate of its dwellers.
Even those who’d like to leave it and live somewhere else, know that it’s a one-way ticket out of life. And maybe to the relevance they’re sure won’t be achieved here. Bon voyage to them, there’ll always be a need for pioneers. But I’m staying put, thank you very much.
The Apollo 11 trip to eternity remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements. But it’s also one of our biggest failures, as we did little to step beyond it, and now it’s as great as a masterpiece in a museum: intriguing but shut away from reality, an end on itself.
We’re inspired by that moment, as we should, and we relish its significance, for it reflects all that’s great about our nature. It transcended everything around it: the nation that finally placed a man on another world; war; the politics; all of it.

THEY PUT A MAN ON THE MOON
But it was but a moment, now lost in time. In five decades, we went from the unshakeable hope for the future, the human genius and the power of technology, to the far-out opposite end of clarity; we simply don’t know how we’ll get through this crisis.
We knew then that a trip to the Moon would be remembered, and celebrated, and it could trigger a new era, fulfilling our destiny as wanderers of the great beyond. Now we’re actually afraid that there won’t be anyone left then to mark its first century anniversary.
For over 200,000 years, we’ve walked all over this planet, explored every nook, probed each hole, went down all abysms, and climbed up mountains high and higher. We dove its deep oceans and tested its fiery volcanos. We died and were reborn many times.
Our civilizations are built out of this world’s dust and bones. But one thing our journey hasn’t quite led us to yet is to the harmony of coexisting with the sphere that supports us. We have nothing on the serenity that the pale blue dot floating in the vacuum exudes.

SOMEONE HAS TO TELL THE KIDS
All we’ve built now conspire to destroy us, and we should be so lucky if, in the process, Earth’s spared. We may not see this, but if it survives us it may no longer be blue and ethereal as it looks now. It’ll have to be violent to rid itself of the plague of us.
And yet the fight to reverse course and start it over, even if not from the very beginning, is not just possible but our best shot. It’s either that or reckoning with angry kids we’ve sentenced to live and die in a poisoned era. That or we will choke on our own mistakes.
It was thrilling to believe we’d stepped up, and anyone could be a guest of another planet. Even that the very fuel and raw materials, (more)
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Reaction Wheels

Satellites Die, Visitors Speed Up
& Black Holes Rule the Milky Way

Paraphrasing Lady Michelle Obama, when reality goes low, lift up your eyesight at the universe. (It wasn’t really like that but we’ll stick with her wisdom anytime anyway.) Things are rough on the ground, but out there, they’re still stunning.
Was Uoumuamua, the rare interstellar object that’s just visited us, an alien ship? What about those two satellites that signed off almost simultaneously? Or the black hole at the center of the Milky Way? Will it ever bring back my silk socks?
We allow ourselves to be intrigued by the puzzling and the silly in equal matters. It may become impossible to hold on to our grip on an ever evolving set of circumstances. Life keeps tricking us but we always manage to keeping on coming back for more.
The unpredictable world of lately, what with changing climate conditions and unprepared leaders making stupid decisions, tempts the wisest among us, and it’s OK to seek refuge by just looking at the sky. Never mind most of what we see took place ages ago.
Except when it doesn’t. We count on predictability, even as we complain we’re bored. Thus our light take on the possibility we’ve just met a messenger from another world, the surprising synchronicity of two man-made machines, and, well black holes.

WHEN SATELLITES STARVE TO DEATH
When Dawn (2007) and Kepler (2009) started ‘running on fumes’ last week, within two days but far, far away from each other, it wasn’t a galactic sendoff for love-stricken robots. Their expiration dates had already been stretched by many years; it was time.
They were but exhausted; something to do with reaction wheels, as NASA would have it. Both Dawn, sent to probe the asteroid belt, and Kepler, hunter of exoplanets, ran out of fuel. Too much of it went to fire up thrusters and prevent them from spinning.

They’ve outlived retirement and outdone their missions, though. While Dawn became first to orbit multiple extraterrestrial bodies, Kepler‘s found 2,600 planets, a tiny sliver of them loosely resembling Earth. Now, who do you know that did at least one of those things?
MILKY WAY, YER HEART IS A BLACK HOLE
Lying on the wet grass of my backyard, I used to check the stars, track satellites, trace trajectories into the big beyond of our home galaxy. But I’ve never pictured a black hole staring right back at me. They eat everything. That kid wouldn’t be here had he known.
In fact, neither none of us would, if the hole that dares not having a name (Sagitarius A, NASA, really? Why not Black Hole Alley, then?) would exercise the same gluttony towards us as it’s doing to that poor star hanging off its mouth.
A thing about space, or what we think we’re seeing of it, is that its vastness is never bland, and permanent rebirth (more)
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Heavenly Palace


As Tiangong Crashes Down,
Star Dreams Remain Aloft

Has the world gone mad? A camelback rider could’ve said that about the Sphinx in 2550, then under construction. And so could a tourist during the rare pink snowstorm that blanketed Europe the other week. Some may say it about the Chinese space station’s plunge into Earth.
It’s reassuring to see that reality can still top whatever buffoonery the orange rerun of Mr. T. may come up with. What? NASA is inviting people to add their name to the cargo of that soon-to-be launched sun probe? Well, nature has a couple of penguins taking selfies for you.
Not all is fun and cookies however, in the realm of the bizarre and out of whack. Like some nut, high on proving that god existed, who crashed her car on a pole on purpose, with her two kids strapped in the back seat. They all lived but god’d better not help her get back the children.
Or a guy who ran the cops to the ground, and beat a record that shall not speak its name (or get on the Guinness Book): he spent 47 days without going to the bathroom. They wanted to recover some drugs they say he’d swallowed, but after watching him on the throne for six weeks straight, they couldn’t take it anymore and just gave up.
Guess what science came up with, just so we’re clear we have no idea what we carry around in our bowels? Not one but two unknown human organs in less than a year: the mesentery and the interstitium. They’re with us since our bodies got the latest upgrade, circa 30,000 years ago, among the biggest organs in the body. But only now got their own billing.

WE WILL BE LIVING AMONG STARS
The man sitting on the White House toilet, tweeting, is quickly running out of tricks to cover up his con, but life, in the words of that great Jurassic Park philosopher, will always find fresh ways to shock and awe us. Even when it takes, say, a couple of thousand years. Or we’re unaware of its wonders.
Shorter and much more recent is our history building space stations. Since way before the Skylab ended six years of watching over us and precipitously rained in pieces over the Australian town of Esperance, of all places, in 1979, we’ve been trying to stay aloft each time longer.
Mir, which lasted 15 years and managed to survive the breakup of the Soviet Union, before breaking up itself and falling back to Earth in 2001, upped the ante. And the beloved International Space Station, the current title holder that completes 20 years in orbit this November, is still sitting pretty on the night sky.

THE FALLING BROKENDOWN PALACE
Do not blame the Chinese for trying. Here’s a land where the impossible takes place everyday. For millennia. From building a quasi-replica of Paris to having a number of metropolises sitting on empty, awaiting its much slowed down population growth, China gets it. But Tiangong 1, its first space station, is coming back to Earth.
Where? No one knows. The prototype was not supposed to last pass the two-year mark, in 2013, anyway. These things cost a lot to maintain. They say the next one will be bigger and better than this small but highly-sophisticated space bus. Still, a refrigerator-sized leftover chunk may surviving reentry. So look out.
Even if what goes up has to come down, eventually, whatever happens above has been considerably better, and nobler, that what’s going on down here. For to keep people up there takes our best and the absolutely limit of our capacity as living beings. Astronauts make us proud.

CHERISH THE FRESH & THE UNEXPECTED
Yes, the world has gone completely insane. But just as it’s crucial to know all about thorns, let’s not forget to caress the petals. The fiery universe, or universes, are expanding to the speed of life, but we’ve been given a bubble to breathe in and grow. We’re the guardians of the guardians that protect us.
We’re not excelling at it, that’s for sure. But let’s not confuse (more)
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Spacing Out

It Could’ve Been Worst,
But Keep Your Eyes Open

Done complaining? you’re actually very lucky. While you were asleep the other night, Earth almost got hit by an asteroid nobody knew about; you were closed to turn into confetti. See, things are not that bad. In fact, as you whine, a lot keeps happening right above you.
For instance, an old satellite just woke up from its slumber and began beeping, just like that. And you should also count your graces for not being a soon-to-meet-its-maker astronaut: they could accuse your deceased body of spreading microbes to outer worlds.
All this proves is that life, a train The Famous Pale Blue Dot Photo of Earth, Taken by the Voyager 1, on Feb. 14, 1990always ready to take off, keeps on tracking, and you’d better stand clear of its closing doors. Don’t want to be dragged down to a dark and narrow tunnel, watching riders go about their business inside, while you’re handed your papers outside it.
Speaking of tunnels, you may live in one and may not know about this, but since Tuesday, Nov. 8, a heavy fog came down, and a lot of people seem stunned, walking like zombies and foaming at their mouth. Something to do with some bad new – the 11/9, the say -, but don’t quote us on that.
The point is, you may think that it’s all unacceptable, unfair, and you won’t put up with it one little bit. Well, good luck with that; the next few years will be very depressing, indeed. You’ll find plenty of reasons to wallow in pools of disappointment and drown in wells of sorrow.
Or, after mourning the missing opportunities for a sec, you could lift up your chin up and catch a glimpse of the sky; it’s amazing how things are busy up there. For a change, that sobering realization that you are, after all, small and barely count, does put things in perspective.

THE MOUNTAIN THAT MISSED EARTH
Even your jubilant Uncle Bob, who can’t wait to corner you at Thanksgiving to tell you, ‘I told you so,’ knows that, among the infinitude of worlds out there, there’s a rock with our address and a clear mission: wipe out zealots and bigots and racists and misogynists with one swapping gulp.
That you don’t consider yourself ‘them’ makes not an iota of difference; you know you’ll be gone too. So, asteroids and meteorites usually top anyone’s list of civilization killers. On Nov. 1, a previously unknown one ‘almost’ became it. 2016 VA zapped within 0.2 times the moon’s distance from us.
It does seem far, but the thing is, either way, we didn’t know about it until it was too late to do anything. Now, put that ‘sobering realization’ in the context of your troubles, and you may catch a whiff of our drift here. Happens all the time. So, as the Brits say, chin up old chap.

THE GHOST SATELLITE THAT WOKE UP
Truth to be told, we track a lot of space rocks, but it’s impossible to track them all. As if we weren’t busy enough with that, we also track over 500 thousand man-made debris, all traveling at top speed, that we sent aloft and now are menaces to our survival out there.
Among them, are some of the Lincoln Experimental Satellite series, like the LES1 that almost immediately after launch, in 1965, malfunctioned and went dormant for 46 years, at the wrong (more)
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* It’s Fly By Us
* War Lord

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