Tag Archives: tweetup

EndeavourLA Launch Event

11 Oct

There was one minor problem with the tweetup this morning: no wifi. Like I said, a minor problem, and served mainly to make me feel guilty for not live-tweeting (which is one of your first-world-ier problems).

Other than that, everything went off without a hitch. The elementary school kids got to launch rockets after a countdown to introduce the crew of STS-134 (well, 4/6ths of the crew). It was kind of painfully adorable. More so when they got to ask questions (and especially when one girl prefaced her question by telling Mark Kelly that she was glad his wife was doing well).

From left: Mark Kelly, Gregory Johnson, Michael Fincke, and Andrew Feustel.

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11 Oct

I know I shouldn’t play favorites. And I also know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize spacecraft to the extent that I probably do. But despite all of that, before I got a chance to see Atlantis up close this summer, Endeavour was always my favorite of the orbiters.

I’m not sure why. It could be because it was the baby orbiter — only a little younger than me. It could be the fact that it uses the British spelling of the word. It could be the name itself — along with Discovery and Voyager, it’s one of the best purely descriptive names (that is, not named for a scientist or a character in mythology).

According to NASA’s lovely summary of Endeavour’s history,

Endeavour was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18th century British explorer James Cook, an experienced seaman, navigator and amateur astronomer. He commanded a crew of 93 men, including 11 scientists and artists.
Cook’s main objective, tasked by the British Admiralty and the Royal Society, was to observe the Transit of Venus at Tahiti. This reading enabled astronomers to find the distance of the Sun from the Earth, which then could be used as a unit of measurement in calculating the parameters of the universe.
Cook’s achievements on Endeavour were numerous, including the accurate charting of New Zealand and Australia and successfully navigating the Great Barrier Reef. Thousands of new plant specimens and animal species were observed and illustrated on this maiden voyage. Cook also established the usefulness of including scientists on voyages of exploration.”

A painting of the HMS Endeavour -- which reminds me that there were painters at the STS-135 launch. I wonder how their work turned out? Would love to see the final products.

I think all of that’s kind of fantastic. Because of course scientists are useful. I am always a fan of stories dealing with the gradual discovery of things that seem painfully obvious now (like how doctors should wash their hands between patients?).

My recent habit of rooftop stargazing has also made me wonder about the earliest astronomers. What would I have concluded, without any of my modern knowledge, about the changes in the Moon from night to night? About the fact that planets don’t flicker? I mean, no wonder people in the past thought any crazy thing they thought about the stars. I am pretty consistently glad that modern society has figured this all out for me, so that I can focus on things like the brain.

(Feel free to picture, here, someone 300 years in the future thinking to herself, “I’ve been wondering about the earliest neuroscientists. What would I have concluded, without any of my modern knowledge, about the problem of consciousness? No wonder people in the past thought….”)

Every little bit helps, and it sounds like the earlier Endeavour did more than a little bit to shape our earliest true understanding of the universe. Here, though, is the Endeavour we’re gathering to commemorate today, in what is, for my money, one of the most beautiful images in all of history.

Just, wow. (Image from NASA)

In Praise of Museums, for EndeavourLA

7 Oct

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