Archive | July, 2011

Sorry, Poor Neglected Blog…

26 Jul

…  But really.  I’ve been studying for the GRE, and undergoing the requisite parallel-universe stress that accompanies any major life change.  “How can I choose School X, when I would be equally happy at School Y and become a completely different person based on the people I meet and life experiences I have there?”

There was this cute little Lutheran school that I was thinking of going to, back in 2008.  And Northwestern was always on the table.  And I could have gone to either of those schools, and that would have been fine.  That would have been more than fine, that would have been real life.  And I would have absolutely no idea of the people and experiences I had missed out on from my current real life.

Frankly, I find the infinitesimal odds of being where I am in life right now vaguely worrisome.  I need a Worry Hat.  (Although, to be fair, I like what my unthinking use of the word “infinitesimal” does for my chances on the GRE.)

I am also a bit more homesick for NASA than I can remember being homesick for home.  And then there’s Norway.  And the debt ceiling thing.  And I’m really trying to finish A Dance With Dragons?  And my internship.  I love my internship, I really do; maybe someday I’ll write about it.  But part of my job is making graphs like this:

Incarceration Rates Among Men, by Age and Race, 2008. All data from Pew's "1 in 100 Behind Bars."

And yes, we’re working to fix problems of disproportionality.  And I don’t mean to disavow my previous wild-eyed optimism about a slightly-less-terrible future for all of humanity.  But life is looking just a little grim from where I’m sitting.

It’s probably just all the practice exams.


Life, the Universe, and Everything

20 Jul

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the first Moon landing, and Thursday is the final landing of the shuttle program.  Thursday morning at 4:56 a.m. Central (my) time, to be specific.  I think I am obligated to say “I could never get the hang of Thursdays” in honor of it being the 42nd Moonversary, and therefore slightly better and geekier than the 41st.

Just a side note:  I have been trying for approximately 2 years to get “Moonversary” to catch on.  Google currently yields 67 results for the word.  Not sure why the rest of humanity hasn’t latched onto this most perfect of made-up words, to be honest.  (I think it’s perfectly cromulent.)

Anyway, where was I?

Here? Was I here? The last surface the three Apollo 11 astronauts walked on before walking into their capsule and then on the Moon?

No, although I was there nearly 2 weeks ago.  But now we’re talking about waking up at 4 a.m. on a non-work day.  It’s a silly sacrifice, really, not even as bad as my 3 hours of sleep before the final launch of Atlantis.  I can roll out of bed and watch NASA TV and livetweet while half asleep.  I imagine it will be kind of fun. But it made me think:  how much sleep would I sacrifice to see a Moon landing?

The answer being, of course, “as much sleep as I could sacrifice while remaining sane enough to view and appreciate said Moon landing.”  I believe that would amount to two or three days.  Not that the question’s likely to come up.

And unless unexpected strides are made in the area of space tourism, my career in neuroscience is unlikely to lead me anywhere near outer space.  Although, there is one thing about biology:  it doesn’t tend to wake you up at 4 in the morning.  Of course, it’s also (currently) firmly rooted in Earth, so it’s win some/lose some.

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Cassini and the James Webb Space Telescope

14 Jul

I’ve asked on Twitter and on Facebook, and I will ask now and again at the end of this post:  Please contact your representatives and ask them to restore funding to the James Webb Space Telescope.  My Congressperson has yet to reply back to me.

There are many excellent articles out there already describing the reasons why the JWST should not be axed.  Because it’s the successor to the Hubble.  Because of all we will learn from it.  Because the cost, in comparison to other budget costs, is not that great.  Because we’ve spent time and money and jobs on it already, and stopping it dead in its tracks would leave an utter void.  For the future of space exploration.  For science.  (As I write that, I can’t help but think of the little girl from Up  saying “Adventure is out there!”  And if that isn’t reason enough by itself to study space, I don’t know what is.)

So I could try to go over all of those reasons again.  But I think all of you know that space exploration is important, for all those reasons and more.  So instead, I have a personal story about why I kind of need this telescope to happen.

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“…Nor so unearthly has Earth grown before”

13 Jul

About two years ago, when I set up this Twitter thing for the first time, I wrote in my 160-character biography:  “My inner science nerd and my inner English nerd are in constant competition for my attention.”  Sometimes I think about changing it.  Mostly, I don’t.  It’s still probably the best way to describe the mess that goes on in my mind.

Case in point, the poetry of the shuttle launch.  I haven’t been able to write anything about it, personally, but fragments of poems keep nudging their way into my head.

Going to work on Monday after returning home from the most amazing four days of my life, I walked the streets of a relatively quiet part of Chicago, at the very beginning of a particularly violent storm, and the words running through my head, on loop, were

“As if that were not enough / to make you shiver / while the angel of fate passed you over, somewhere / in New Jersey / you have Bruce Springsteen / writing songs about you and wondering how you are.”

So, my brain, why those words?  They weren’t that difficult to memorize, a year or more ago when I read Matthew Dickman’s All-American Poem for a class.  I hadn’t even tried to memorize them.  But I also hadn’t really thought of them since.

Of course, Bruce Springsteen is in my blood as strong as Star Trek and my love of math and my very morbid sense of humor.  And even with my insanely privileged middle-class upbringing (for Christ’s sake, I just flew down to Florida to see a space shuttle launch), sometimes I still feel like maybe “Badlands” could be about me.  A little.  And I’m mostly not ashamed to admit it.

But my memory-loop’s fixation on those few lines wasn’t just about Bruce.  It wasn’t just my family, or my childhood.  It was the sense that somewhere, in New Jersey or anywhere around the world, someone is wondering how I am.  The sense that we are all (forgive me) connected.

It is stupid to have to say it like that, but it is true.  Carl Sagan and Ron Garan and probably John Lennon have said it better.  Biologists and psychologists and astronomers and poets and singers and children’s television shows have said it better.  But maybe it still needs to be said.

People were following my shuttle journey on Twitter and Facebook, people that I barely knew, or didn’t know, or hadn’t talked to in a very long time.  Strangers behind a twitter handle who I had been retweeting for a month and finally met in person.  I feel lucky to have them all in my life, and I can only aspire to be worthy of their attention.

Or rather, your attention, if you’re reading this.  Thank you.  It means a lot to me to be able to share this experience with as many people as possible.  In my own small way, I guess I am “writing songs about you and wondering how you are.”  Even if I don’t really know you.

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And It Doesn’t End

12 Jul

A very poor screenshot of about a 3-inch screen on slow Starbucks wifi. But still a picture from SPACE.

I finally made it back from Florida (weird, weird, wonderful Florida) at about 10:00 on Sunday night.  I tried to go to sleep immediately, since I had work on Monday morning.  That almost worked well.

Until I realized:  I actually spoke to three people who had been in space.  Just talked to them like this was a normal thing that actually happened to people.  (With no more than my usual starstruck awkwardness.)

Then, Monday morning, still averaging about 4 hours of sleep per night over the past week, I drove downtown and sang along to Marian Call on my iPod.  And grinned wide enough that people on the Kennedy who happened to see the girl in the blue Element with the FSM sticker and the venti caramel macchiato probably feared for their safety.  Probably.

The thing is, I don’t think I will ever fully get over what I’ve experienced in the past week.  And that’s the best part about it.

Because I was going into space withdrawals by about Friday night, I knew I would have to watch the live stream of today’s spacewalk (EVA, extra-vehicular activity).  Of course, our power went out yesterday after about an hour of rain.

This is real rain, Chicago and/or Comcast.

(Damn it, Chicago, we had storms worse than that for half a day, and then launched a shuttle like it was no big deal.  You have an hour of storms and we lose power for going on 27 hours.  I guess everyone can’t be as efficient as NASA….)

So, as you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I’m watching the EVA on my laptop at Starbucks.  Where I walked this morning, due to my lack of car.  It took about half an hour.  Uphill both ways.

It’s amazing to me that I couldn’t dry my hair this morning, but am still currently watching a live feed of a spacewalk happening over 200 miles above the surface of my planet.  Beautiful.

This still isn’t my final wrap-up post, because I know I’ll probably tear up and laugh while writing that one, and, well, I’m in a Starbucks.  More to come when our power comes back on.

For now, I’m just glad to report that the feeling of the launch doesn’t end.

Hello up there!

9 Hours Later

8 Jul

I’ve been awake for 19 hours on 3 hours of sleep, and I am mosquito-bitten and sore.  My shoulders are sore.  I have no idea why my shoulders are sore.  They just are.  But I wouldn’t trade any of this for all the world.

That was what I thought when I walked up toward the VAB this morning:  I wouldn’t trade any of this for all the world.  I thought the same thing periodically throughout the day.

I’m so tired I can barely see straight (the three-hour drive back from KSC to Orlando didn’t help much, I am sure), and I’ve been on the computer so much that I find myself mentally hashtagging my own thoughts.  So I’ll write more, hopefully, tomorrow.  Or soon.

Did I mention yesterday that Astro_Mike and Astro_Wheels signed my geeky NASA cross-stitch?  I don’t think I did.  So I’ll leave you with this.  Really glad I didn’t have to change the date underneath the logo.  And only partially because it’s annoying to undo stitches.

Definitely requires ironing and framing.

A thirty percent chance of good weather

8 Jul

I haven’t had internet since before the launch, so instead of driving myself crazy by restarting my computer, turning airport on and off, and starting and quitting Chrome and Firefox (because you never know), I’m writing this blog, which will obviously be posted much later.

We had an amazing spot for the launch, right across the water.

Not as close as we got yesterday, but I don't think that would have been legal.

The whole time, I’ve been saying that I knew I would cry.  But I guess I always figured I would cry like, you know, sad movie music making you tear up crying.  Nope.  About the second the engine turned on, I was full-on tears down my face, not able to talk crying.  It was like flipping a switch.

The vibration from the sound wave was just as amazing as everyone said it would be.  At first I thought I had missed it, but you can’t miss it.  It feels like sound waves hitting you, more than it feels like hearing something.  It was completely mad.

For the amount of cloud cover that we did have, we were able to see the shuttle for a fairly long time.  After grabbing a few pictures of our sobby messes of selves in front of the cloud, we wandered back into the twent and watched the live feed from the camera until it separated from the orbiter.

Of course, when that feed ended, someone with zero concern for my tear ducts replayed the launch along with Bear McCreary’s “Fanfare for STS135,” which had previously been introduced by Seth Green.

I’m going to have to process this all later, and maybe write something more introspective then.  Along with gorgeous launch photos from other people.  Thanks for coming along for the ride, everyone!

Oh, apropos of nothing, custom (free) M&Ms:

Just when we thought the day couldn't get any better....