athelind: (explore)
#CarlSagan is trending today on Twitter.

It would have been his 80th birthday.

I offer this, because there is little more that need be said:




We succeeded in taking that picture (from deep space), and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.




Happy birthday, Unca Carl.

Thank you.

athelind: (explore)
"It's a bad week for NASA," someone said.

To those we've lost as we reached for the stars:



Apollo 1: 27 January 1967
Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom • Edward H. White II • Roger B. Chaffee

Space Shuttle Challenger: 28 January 1986
Francis R. Scobee • Michael J. Smith
Ronald McNair • Ellison Onizuka • Judith Resnik
Greg Jarvis • Christa McAuliffe

Space Shuttle Columbia: 01 February 2003
Rick D. Husband • William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson • Kalpana Chawla • David M. Brown
Laurel Clark • Ilan Ramon








Though a nation watched them falling, yet a world could only cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky


athelind: (far call)

Former U.S. astronaut, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, has died at the age of 82.









Godspeed on this journey, Commander. You gave us all, the whole human race, a gift beyond measure, and someday, perhaps, we will finally allow ourselves to inherit your legacy.


athelind: (cue howard)
Last year, I posted an LJ entry that said that the defining moment for our generation wasn't when man set foot on the Moon, but when we turned away.

Most of my commentators, bless their literal souls, thought I was just talking about the space program, and at that stage in my recovery, I wasn't quite up to clarifying the symbolic and metaphorical dimensions of the statement.

I picked up a copy of Fight Club last week, and [livejournal.com profile] thoughtsdriftby and I plugged it in on Friday night. This is the quintessential movie of my generation.

It comes closer than anything else to explaining exactly what I meant.

Preach it, Tyler:
I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables — slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.


You are keeping tabs on the Occupy Wall Street protests, aren't you? If not, check out http://boingboing.net, and, as the Good Book said, consult your pineal gland.

Fnord.



EDIT: The first comment on the post has forced an addendum, hopefully early enough in the morning to catch most my Loyal Audience on their first read-through:

I really do appear to only be able to communicate half of what's going on in my brain at any one point.

I said Fight Club was "the quintessential movie of my generation". I didn't say "Tyler Durden is a Divine Prophet."

[livejournal.com profile] notthebuddha was close -- Tyler's rant is HALF the truth. Pahulnik, in this speech, succinctly describes the malaise afflicting Generation X. We came into a world of progress and potential—we were literally promised the Moon—only to have it ripped away from us.

"Ah, never mind that. Here, have a crappy job and an apartment full of cheap furniture. Oh, wait. We're shipping the crappy jobs overseas. Why aren't you paying for your cheap furniture anymore?"

Fight Club is, in many ways, a cautionary tale. Sometimes, we all find ourselves in Tyler Durden's headspace, entertaining fantasies of just randomly beating the crap out of someone, or blackmailing your pissant boss, or taking your hands off the wheel as you ram the accelerator into the floorboards just to see what happens.

You can deny that and repress it and end up like the Narrator, or you can face it head on and channel it.

When you subtract the explosives, the beating the crap out of each other in basements, and the long-term goal of hunting moose in the vine-covered towers of the city, Tyler's idea of "zeroing out the credit system" sounds a hell of a lot more rational and productive than bailing out the banks for using fraud and doubletalk to rope thousands of people into mortgages they couldn't afford. The banks wound up with the houses and the money; if the bailouts had gone to the swamped homeowners themselves, the banks would have still gotten their money, and we'd still have an economy instead of a shattered, broken population.

At some point, you've got to take a stand. You've got to get angry.

You don't have to go mad and tear everything down. I brought Occupy Wall Street into the end of the post to say, "this is Project: Mayhem done right." It's not a riot. It's not terrorism. It's taking a stand. It's an ever-increasing circle of people gathering together and saying, "We've had enough. No more."

Take a look at the icon I used for this post. I know exactly how things ended for that guy, too. But sometimes, things reach a point where you've got to listen to all the Mad Prophets, all the Tyler Durdens and the Howard Beales, so you can see what drove them mad and make it stop.

You don't have to go mad to say you're not gonna take it anymore.

Fnord.


athelind: (far call)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

If you won a free trip to the moon, would you go? Why or why not?

Yes.

Why?

So many reasons, but let's go with the one in today's xkcd:


The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.



athelind: (green hills of earth)
Last night, I dreamed that I was getting ready to board a starship.

Not a gleaming Enterprise-style military vessel, and not a Millennium Serenity tramp freighter: this was a vessel the size of a city, with hundreds of thousands of crew and passengers.

It wasn't a "colony ship", per se; there was no sense of a set destination. It might have been a generation ship, and I simply wasn't going to see the end of the journey in my lifetime. Whatever the case, the ship was going to be home, and my role there (archivist, journalist, and documentation expert) was going to be my career, unless I decided to apprentice into something more technical.

In fact, if I were going to try to interpolate backstory from the general feel and attitude and thoughts in my dream-self's head, I'd say it was a seed ship, heading out to find likely planets and establish the foothold for settlement. Maybe we'd be dropping off colonists; maybe we'd be putting FTL gates in place; maybe we'd be terraforming; maybe all of the above.

On the other claw, it might have been the Diaspora. Everyone seemed to be going. even though there wasn't much sense of urgency, there was very much a sense that if you weren't on board, you'd Have The Place To Yourself; Please Put Up the Chairs And Turn Out The Lights.

Some hints of longevity there, too, since there didn't seem to be any issue with a gent pushing 50 contemplating a whole new career; there'd be plenty of time. It felt like "I may do this for a while, and then do that for a while, and then do something else", with the impression that "a while" was a period measured in decades.

A lot of this came out in a conversation with a young lady I'd just met—someone who, despite her youth, had been elected "Mayor", head of the civilian administration of the ship on sheer dint of competence.

Note that my ship's billet is pretty much what I'm doing now at my day job, combined with my family's heritage in newspapers. My PoV persona was most definitely me; often, when I have dreams this detailed, coherent, and story-related, I'm Someone Else. Even when it's not something as obvious as being an anthropomorphic dolphin-woman, my dream-selves in these internal movies often have different memories, different skills, and know different people. Dreams starring me tend to be both less coherent and less memorable.

It was surprisingly consistent, and surprisingly ... casual, for lack of a better term. Yes, this was a great adventure, this was a new experience—but it's what we're doing, and Things Need To Get Done. Right now ... nothing's urgent, we're ahead of schedule, don't kill yourself or freak out—Just Get The Job Done. Once everything's aboard, once things settle down after launch, then you can cluster by the portholes and ooh and ahh over The Big Night.

The source material for this one isn't hard to pin down. I just spent two weeks on a job assignment in San Diego (travel for the first time in too long, thanks to the new job!), documenting the decontamination procedure for a company that was closing up shop, and I spent a lot of time by myself in largely-abandoned buildings (Please Turn Out The Lights). On the plane back, I read Heinlein's novella, Methuselah's Children (longevity, obviously, and a gigantic starship with a hundred thousand people aboard. I think the dream even mentioned cold sleep, which I was turning down because I didn't want to miss anything and there was always Something That Needed Doing).

For the record, if you offered me absolutely any job, any life in the annals of in history and fiction—yeah. This. This is what I'd do, more than anything else. Give me a chance to head into the Deep on a giant city-ship, to search and explore and study and build and create, and I will head up that boarding ramp without looking back.






Don't be afraid, the stars are only mirrors/Reflecting all the mornings yet to come ... )

Yes, I know it's '70s Disco Cheese and a deliberate parody of the prog-rock Concept Album.
I'll still be singing it as I head up the ramp.




athelind: (far call)
I remember where I was when I heard, of course. I was sweeping the mess deck on the USCGC Rush. I was only a few short weeks out of Boot Camp at that point.

Several people have quoted President Reagan's speech of that tragic day, when he spoke of how Challenger's crew had ... slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.. Reagan, in turn, was alluding to the first and last lines of a pre-space flight poem written by a World War II aviator:



High Flight
John Gillespie Magee, Jr


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.



athelind: (green hills of earth)
When I mentioned him in yesterday's Writer's Block, I was entirely unaware of the fact that today would have been Unca Carl's 76th birthday.

I've linked to this before, but it's always worth revisiting:




...That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.



athelind: (far call)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Who would you appoint as Earth's ambassador to alien races, and why?

Since Carl Sagan is no longer with us, I'll have to nominate Michio Kaku.

Unca Carl's still my first choice, though.


athelind: (green hills of earth)
It's late, and we're in the hotel bar. Maybe it's the starport hotel, or maybe it's just this year's convention. It doesn't matter. It's late, and maybe we've been drinking a bit too much, but someone starts singing, and, by the last three verses, we're all singing along.

All of us who know the lyrics, anyway, and what philistine doesn't know at least the chorus of "The Green Hills of Earth", by Rhysling, Blind Singer of the Spaceways?

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
"ALL HANDS! STAND BY! FREE FALLING!"
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet ---

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.


[Poll #1625842]


... can anyone think of something a little more hard rock that uses the Common Meter?


And here's the X Minus 1 radio adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's biography of Rhysling.
athelind: (far call)
Last week was the 41st anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight, widely viewed as the "defining moment" of my generation.

Really, though, the defining moment of my generation was not when Humanity reached out to stride upon the Moon.

It was when we turned away.


athelind: (far call)

Something is consuming hydrogen and methane on Saturn's moon, Titan.



This isn't as obvious, exciting, or definitive a "yes" as, say, an ancient city atop Olympus Mons, or giant tentacles pulling a space probe beneath the ice, and most people are going to react by saying, "aw, that could be anything".

And yes, it could be a lot of things.

But it's an anomaly. The concentrations of at least two chemicals are far from what we'd predict if only simple physical and chemical processes are involved. James Lovelock, before he got famous for his controversial Gaea Hypothesis, postulated that the best way to search for life would be to look for exactly that: "anomalous" concentrations of compounds, far from chemical equilibrium, that are nonetheless stable.

NASA scientists have been saying for years that Titan and a few other gas giant moons have "all the requirements" for methane-based life, if such a thing is possible. I've largely smiled, nodded, and moved on, because, up until now, it looked like the "perfect conditions" on the Outer Moons were at chemical equilibrium.

But now: missing hydrogen and acetylene.

As someone whose entire college curriculum was built around the application of systems theory to biology, that makes me sit up and take notice.


athelind: (far call)
I just watched President Obama's speech at Kennedy Space Center.

My distillation:

He wants to move beyond the "Business As Usual" stagnation of the Shuttle era, but he doesn't want to go back to the days of token high-profile publicity stunt-flights. He wants to set up a long-term program of expanding and extending the human presence in space, and improving the technology to get us out there and let us stay out there. He wants to establish a space infrastructure, and not just one in LEO: one geared for long-range, deep-space exploration.

I don't think he ever said the "C-word", but I might have heard it there, between the lines.

Neil doesn't like it, but Buzz does—and, frankly, between the two, I trust Buzz's opinion more. The guy who advocated the Mars Cycler is not the type to say "we should keep doing it this way because we've always done it this way".


athelind: (green hills of earth)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Do you believe there is other intelligent life in distant galaxies? If no, why not? If yes, do you believe this is something to be feared and avoided or actively sought out?*

This was yesterday's QOTD, and it's taken me until now to answer it.

I am entirely agnostic on this issue. I do not have sufficient data to make a reasonable case for either position—I can think of many reasonable-sounding arguments, but they all come down to unfounded assumptions at one point or another.

Since I'm militantly agnostic on several questions that other people find all-important, this isn't surprising. I'm simply being consistent.

I once read something that asserted that "belief" derived from old Germanic roots that mean "prefer" or ""desire". The etymology is dubious, but the principle is sound: when people say that they "believe" something, I've found that, by and large, they're really asserting that they would prefer that it were true, that the world worked in such-and-such a fashion.**

To my great surprise, I found that, upon examination, I don't have any real preference for either position. I really am agnostic.

If extraterrestrial intelligence exists, then, wow! That's wonderful! Look at all of these new people to meet! All of these new perspectives to learn! All of these new cultures to discover!

If ETI doesn't exist, if we're the only conscious, tool-using species at this particular epoch—or if we're the first and only such species to ever emerge—then we and our progeny can, if technology and physics will ever allow, expand to the stars without barriers or hesitation or White Liberal Guilt Prime Directives. It's ours. All ours.

And that has its bright spots, as well.


*I am going to arrogantly assume that "distant galaxies" is, as is so often the case, Astronomically Illiterate Shorthand for "other star systems".
**I will now irritate a vocal portion of my audience by opining that the contrapositive often holds, as well.

athelind: (Eye of the Sky God)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

What's the first major news event that you remember hearing about as a child? Where did you learn about it? How did it impact your world view?

The Vietnam War wasn't really an event when I was a child: it was simply another fact of existence. It was always there, always part of adult conversation, always part of my father. I don't actually remember the period that my father was in Vietnam, or even when he came home, but for as long as I can remember, his time there has been one of the defining attributes of his personality.

The first event -- or series of events -- that I really remember as news stories would have to be the Apollo flights, and I learned about those by having my mother bundle me up in front of the TV and watch every single manned flight.


Let's see if LJ will recognize its own template if I cross-post from DW...
athelind: (far call)
In the wake of columnist and Nixon speechwriter William Safire's death, here is the speech that he wrote for the President to read in the event that the Apollo 11 astronauts were stranded on the Moon.

It's surreal to read this today; earlier this morning, I found the lyrics to "The Green Hills of Earth" running through my head:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.


Strange to think what might have been, and, thankfully, was not.


Does anyone know where to find MP3 or video of a decent filksinger performing "Green Hills of Earth"? The only ones I could find today were, frankly, terrible.
athelind: (Default)
In the wake of columnist and Nixon speechwriter William Safire's death, here is the speech that he wrote for the President to read in the event that the Apollo 11 astronauts were stranded on the Moon.

It's surreal to read this today; earlier this morning, I found the lyrics to "The Green Hills of Earth" running through my head:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.


Strange to think what might have been, and, thankfully, was not.


Does anyone know where to find MP3 or video of a decent filksinger performing "Green Hills of Earth"? The only ones I could find today were, frankly, terrible.
athelind: (Eye of the Sky God)
This is making the rounds of my Friends List; for those who haven't seen it yet, it's my turn to share.







I always said that Unca Carl was a poet.


athelind: (Eye of the Sky God)
This is making the rounds of my Friends List; for those who haven't seen it yet, it's my turn to share.







I always said that Unca Carl was a poet.


athelind: (far call)
I just spoke to my mother on the phone, and she had her own memories of the landing.

"We all sat up and watched every minute of the landing. People asked me later, 'how could you let your children stay up until all hours like that?' And I'd answer, 'how could I not?'"
athelind: (Default)
I just spoke to my mother on the phone, and she had her own memories of the landing.

"We all sat up and watched every minute of the landing. People asked me later, 'how could you let your children stay up until all hours like that?' And I'd answer, 'how could I not?'"
athelind: (cronkite)
I've missed too many of these, I fear. For the fortieth anniversary of man's first landing on another celestial body, I started planning more than a week ago. Rather than lean on my usual hymn to the Apollo astronauts, I was going to post footage of Walter Cronkite, and his reaction to the landing. On Thursday, the avuncular delivery of The Most Trusted Man In America was a significant part of my post reflecting back on the launch of Apollo 11. I even uploaded a special icon for the occasion.

And then, on Friday, Mr. Cronkite passed away, making my plans both more appropriate and more poignant.

Back to you, Walter.







athelind: (Default)
I've missed too many of these, I fear. For the fortieth anniversary of man's first landing on another celestial body, I started planning more than a week ago. Rather than lean on my usual hymn to the Apollo astronauts, I was going to post footage of Walter Cronkite, and his reaction to the landing. On Thursday, the avuncular delivery of The Most Trusted Man In America was a significant part of my post reflecting back on the launch of Apollo 11. I even uploaded a special icon for the occasion.

And then, on Friday, Mr. Cronkite passed away, making my plans both more appropriate and more poignant.

Back to you, Walter.







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