If you’re anything like me (and I suspect a solid 95% of people are, in some meaningful way), this year has been approximately one half fevered nightmare and one half giddy joy. Which is probably the human condition, or whatever. But with recent and less-recent events making me feel like life is an overwhelming horror, I thought it would be nice to dwell on the positives of the past cycle around the sun.
It’s the winter solstice today! Axial tilt: it’s the reason for the season. The days are going to start getting longer again, which is in itself something to be thankful for.
The first thing I am grateful for this year is the ability to find beauty anywhere. My un-love for LA in my last days there furnished me with a brand new motto: “You will find joy wherever you go, idiot.” And three weeks in South Bend provided additional proof, should any be required.
A sunrise in South Bend, of all things. Who’d’ve guessed?
2012 was also a fantastic year in pop culture. By which I mean I Netflixed a bunch of tv shows from the 90s. By which I mean that if I had done nothing else this year but watch Babylon 5 for the first time, it would have been a good year. By which I mean I may have a slight Babylon 5 addiction.
Fortunately, I also happened to graduate college (what?), attend two kickass weddings, read a lot of cool stuff, and get a job (again, what?).
Today was the 75th birthday of cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who, on June 16, 1963, became the first woman in space. After a gap of nearly 20 years, the second woman in space was Svetlana Savitskaya, in 1982, followed by the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, in 1983. This is a fairly decent article about Tereshkova’s journey and current life (though be warned of loud ads).
She also had space hair, but to be fair I think everyone did in the 1960s.
Tereshkova’s call sign on Vostok 6 was “Chaika,” or “Seagull,” incidentally the name of my second-favorite Chekhov play. Happy birthday to a brave woman, and here’s hoping both of us live to see man land on Mars.
… Mars Science Laboratory, MSL, is scheduled to land on August 5th!
Via NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html
I was going to be glib and convert that 1/2 Earth year into Martian years, but it turns out (as it usually does) that things are complicated. I came up with 0.266 Martian years, but don’t quote me on that. After all, I’m not even 12 Martian years old, according to this Nerdiversary calculator. On the other hand, I’m 92 Mercurial years old….
Good luck, MSL and team! The best is yet to come!
MSL launch. Godspeed? I will not rest until "Science speed!" catches on. Considering how clunky and unpoetic it sounds, I will probably never rest.
This set of letters sent to the Hayden Planetarium in the early 1950s regarding reservations for the first interplanetary travel kills me. It may be the best thing in the universe. (Until this, that is.)
This drawing is the best. Saturn even has a ring around it!
Then there are letters that reflect a serious time commitment:
I hope this was the inspiration for some kind of science fiction. Click the image to see more details.
I love this next one because snarky-17-year-old-me would have totally gotten along with this snarky-17-year-old-from-the-1950s. If you look through the entire slideshow, it seems that a lot of the writers are around 17. Mars: a valid alternative to college?
"P.S. I would like to get out of this world before the H-Bomb blows it sky-high."
And then some small part of my brain that eschews morbid humor for just-plain-morbid yells “All of these people are probably dead and we’ve never been to Mars and you’re already 22!” Ahem.
"... and as these jaunts may not be feasible during my lifetime, I'd like to list my children as future rocket riders."
BUT the real point is: whether now or in 1950, your average civilian is ready to drop everything to go to Mars. And that is unquestionably a positive thing.
"And until I am in a rocket heading for the far off space, I won't be content."
Am I going to do an “X Months Since STS-135” post every month for the rest of my life? Probably not. I suspect it will be something like measuring the age of a child in months until it reaches a year or so. But for now, it seems important.
I’m really good at marking milestones. In fact, it may be my one true talent in life. I recently fell in love with this website: Nerdiversary.com. Besides being the three-month anniversary of the final shuttle lunch, today marked the 8,000th day since my birth. I am nearing 12 Martian years. On the other hand, I won’t be 2 Jovian years until 2013.
Jupiter has been on my mind a lot lately, since it’s been so bright in the sky. It looks so stable from here — notwithstanding the actual state of its surface — as if it has always been there, and will always be, no matter what is happening here on Earth.
I went down to the beach today, and was reminded that when I was young and in love with the idea of moving out to the West Coast from the ocean-less middle of the country, I felt the same way about the ocean that I feel about space today. There are, of course, clear parallels between early explorers crossing the sea and modern explorers pushing against the edges of outer space.
The shores of the literal ocean.
“We embarked on our journey to the stars with a question first framed in the childhood of our species and in each generation asked anew with undiminished wonder: What are the stars? Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos
The shores of the cosmic ocean (in this case, Jupiter above Los Angeles).
This afternoon, I crafted a first draft of the last class schedule of my undergrad career. Needless to say, it made me look back on the last four years, mostly in disbelief. Here’s a picture I took with my digital camera (back when everyone I knew carried around digital camera, phone, and iPod as three separate entities, as a matter of course) at my first football game (not my first USC football game, my first football game ever. I still don’t really know how football works.)
FOUR. YEARS. Let's not even try to pretend that makes sense. George Bush was president, the first iPads were still two years away, America had manned spaceflight capability, there were murmurs of trouble in the housing market, China had hosted the summer Olympics, the LHC was about to switch on, and I -- I was an English major.
See the California Science Center behind all the people and all the pretty trees? I didn’t, at the time. (My sense of direction is, as previously mentioned, dire. I was concentrating on making sure I could get back to my dorm by nightfall in case I lost the rest of the group from my floor. Hello, freshman year.)
But I love a museum. I grew up in Chicago; I took the Field Museum and the Museum of Science & Industry (and all the rest) completely for granted, the way you do when you’re a kid. Continue reading
See that dot?
Clearly, I need a telescope. Is anyone watching the Hubble?
It’s tempting to go with Sagan here: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” (Yes, I have that memorized, mostly inadvertently.) But it’s not here/home/us. It is, according to every internet resource I can find combined with my common sense, Jupiter. It is by far the brightest object in the sky besides the Moon and various airplanes.
You see, my building has some very nice rooftop decks that no one seems to use on weeknights when it’s SoCal-cold outside. So I’ve started going out there most days to get some alone time with the stars and various Neal Stephenson tomes.
There are stars and constellations I think I have identified with some certainty — my problem, besides my lack of telescope, is possessing the sense of direction of a brick. Seriously, you can see a bit of highway near the bottom of that picture. My bedroom window faces it, too. I don’t know what highway it is.
A third and equally serious problem is the city itself. Between the light-pollution and the pollution-pollution, you can see only the brightest of stars on the clearest of nights. So while I think I can see a large percentage of Pegasus, or most of Cassiopeia, or three stars that must be part of Cygnus, they lose some of their status as constellations.