Space. The final frontier. I may not have been a huge fan of the television show Star Trek (although those teleporting beams were pretty cool) but I have always been a fan of space. The stars. I’ve watched just about every space movie ever filmed from 2001: A Space Odyssey “Open the pod bay doors HAL” to the recent Ad Astra. I remember going to the movie theater with my dad in 1969 to see Marooned starring Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman. I was nine.
Well, this is an exciting couple of weeks for space news. First, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe which launched from Cape Canaveral on August 12th, 2018 to study both the sun’s corona and the mysteries of the solar winds reactivated its instruments on May 9 to collect and transmit data for its 5th orbit around the sun. On June 7th, this particular orbit will get within 11.6 million miles from the Sun’s surface. In space terms, that’s close. In fact, it’s the closet a manmade craft has ever gotten to the sun. It is relaying huge amounts of data on how far out the solar winds travel as well as new data on coronal mass ejections (an eruption of “magnetized plasma” from the sun’s corona) which can interfere with earth’s communications and satellites.
Wanting to capture the imagination of the general public about six months before that launch, NASA requested that people submit their names to them and those names would then be placed on a memory card inside the craft to send off into space. It was an opportunity to “touch” a star. A total of 1,137,202 names were submitted. Naturally, I joined in on the fun. According to their press release “three months before the scheduled launch…the card was mounted on a plaque bearing a dedication to and a quote from the mission’s namesake, heliophysicist Eugene Parker, who first theorized the existence of the solar wind.” I received this certification that I was officially on board:
I like to think a tiny, tiny piece of me is up there in the galaxy. My friends tease me that any space aliens will have a specific list of names to look for when they arrive. For some reason, I find that hysterically funny.
The other big news this week is that the United States is resuming its manned flights from American soil; the first time since the Shuttle program ended in 2011. And it’s historic because for the first time, NASA is partnering with a commercial company to fly their astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, to the International Space Station (ISS). The men will ride in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule placed at the tip of the reusable Falcon 9 rocket. Weather permitting, the launch is scheduled for today (May 27th) at 4:33 p.m. EST. We are all praying that the men stay safe and it’s a “go for launch.”
And I’ll be standing outside watching. I’m privileged to actually live on the Space Coast in Florida allowing me to watch multiple launches. We’ve driven up to Cocoa Beach (yes, the same town where fictional astronaut Tony Nelson released a certain Jeannie from her bottle) to Port Canaveral to right outside my front door (a smaller view, but still quite visible). Night time launches are the most beautiful. I’ve even gotten up at 2:30 am to watch with visiting family members. Over the last ten years, SpaceX has launched 87 times, mostly sending satellites to space.
For this post, I want to add a book recommendation. The title is Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut. It is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. The author is Mike Mullane. At times, he is irreverent and hysterical, but he is also full of passion for his career, his colleagues and for space travel. It also contains amazing facts and inside stories about the shuttle program.
I’m not sure why space speaks to me. But to be living so close to historic Cape Canaveral and the steady “buzz” around live rocket launches, is a thrill for me. It’s almost like it was written in the stars.