A Nice Little Place in the Stars

21 Jun

The title of this post should really be “Growin Up.”  But I’m an English nerd as much as a science nerd, damn it, and I just couldn’t do it.  The lines “My feet they finally took root in the earth, but I got me a nice little place in the stars” are, of course, plucked from this song, which made me happy-sad earlier today.  (It’s someone’s fault that there isn’t a better word for that than “bittersweet,” just not mine.)


It has not been a thoroughly cheerful year for my weirdly varied pop culture interests.  Clarence Clemons died this past weekend, Elisabeth Sladen died while I was studying for finals, and, shortly before her, Nicholas Courtney.

As always, when confronted with spooky things like the steady passage of time, I turn to the data.  For once, those data are not entirely comforting.  For instance, 12 people have walked on the Moon.  The youngest was born in 1935.  Of those 12, 3 have died already (a fact I was unaware of until today, and which almost makes my point for me).

A practical solution to this unavoidable problem?  Make sure that someone is watching Tom Baker’s cholesterol levels, that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are always within the reach of capable cardiologists, that Ray Bradbury is kept well away from factors known to cause pneumonia.  Etc.

Because I try to do the “don’t be sad because it’s over, be glad because it happened” thing, in regards to lives, careers, and shuttle programs.  I do try.  But I don’t think I’m alone in finding it somewhat difficult.

For instance, Atlantis completed her final roll out yesterday–the final roll out of the space shuttle program.  As always, NASA provides excellent pictures:

Atlantis Final Roll Out

Click through to see a bigger and better version of the picture, and to look at the teensy cars and people.

This is hardly the first of many lasts associated with STS-135, but it is a poignant one.  The lighting and the crowd make the shuttle look almost as epic as it truly is–as epic as we will remember it having been, when the landing is done and the shuttles are shuttled off to museums (Endeavour, on a happier note, will land permanently across the street from my college campus, although probably not until after I’ve graduated).

But we do move forward.  We look back to the past for inspiration, with pride at the good things that good people have done before us.  Mourning what is past may be natural (actually, I should check the literature before I commit to that statement, mourning could well be completely societally constructed), but there are new musicians, actors, writers, astronauts, physicists, engineers, biologists, all inspired by what went before.  There is Elon Musk.

I had my first full day at my summer internship yesterday.  I’m working for a nonprofit that helps provide treatment and aftercare for people with substance use disorders in the criminal justice population.  Basically, we work according to the undeniable scientific evidence that addiction is a mental disorder, and we use that evidence to help people in the real world overcome problems that would have been either insurmountable or treated as moral failings in the past.

I originally went into neuroscience because I wanted to help people.  I was inspired by many and absurdly varied and disconnected factors at the time–Bertrand Russell, Barack Obama, Jean-Luc Picard.  But what it amounted to was that I wanted to use science to do good in the world, the best way I knew how, and that’s what I’m doing this summer.

I also got my business cards for the NASATweetup, from Moo.com–my very first business cards, ever:

They're kind of adorable. But, you know, Serious Grown-Up Business Cards.

So no matter what is past, what is over and done with, there will be things in the future to look forward to–we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.


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