Space Oddity

I found out that pictures of the Roadster in Space were put into the public domain, and I couldn’t resist.

Wired reported: “SpaceX revealed last weekend that a mannequin wearing the company’s new spacesuit would ride in the driver’s seat of the electric sports car. Nicknamed Starman, the dummy will listen to some tunes on its long and endless journey: David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity.’ ”

I watched the Falcon Heavy launch on my computer after the fact, as one does these days. Aside from the fact that it didn’t explode on the pad, the remarkable thing was the robust cheering from the crowd at launch.

Did Mr. Musk hire a cheering section? Probably not, but it’s a fun thought. Compare with the launch of Apollo 11 — you can hear faint cheering briefly right after liftoff. Maybe the microphones weren’t in position to get much crowd reaction in 1969.

An aside: Jack King, who announced the Apollo 11 liftoff, died only in 2015.

The Strangest Stamp You’re Likely To See For a While, Maybe Ever

Because I was so busy today, I naturally took time out to watch a couple of episodes of Vintage Space, a series I happened across a few months ago. It’s always interesting. One installment I watched today, “Only Three People Have Died in Space,” was about the ill-fated Soyuz 11 mission.

The three would be the unfortunate Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev, who died in space when their capsule depressurized suddenly just before re-entry. The spacecraft’s automated system then returned the dead crew to Earth.

I remember hearing about that. I was paying close attention to space news by 1971, even though I was 10. As usual with Soviet missions, and especially ones that didn’t go well, the information was a little vague at the time. I’ve read about it since, but it was good to hear host Amy Shira Teitel offer more detail about the accident.

Interesting to realize that for someone her age, just over 30, all of the early programs are purely history, without a memory component. I’m really glad I remember Apollo.

Toward the end of the segment, she discusses a set of stamps issued soon after the mission by Equatorial Guinea — certainly printed elsewhere for that nation — honoring Soyuz 11. That’s where things got strange.

One of the stamps, as seen above, gruesomely depicts the dead crew. “It is one of the strangest depictions of fallen heroes on a stamp that I have ever seen,” Teitel says. I’ll go further: it’s one of the strangest stamps I’ve ever seen.

The Frozen World of Bob

This from a recent NASA press release: “On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. The target Kuiper Belt object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation (486958) 2014 MU69. NASA and the New Horizons team are asking the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target…

“After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons project plan to choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects. The chosen nickname will be used in the interim.”

Well, well. The space agency directs interested parties here to suggest a name, or see what’s already been suggested. Such as Mjölnir and Camalor and Z’ha’dum. I might well suggest “Bob.” If it’s good enough for the cold, forbidding Northwest Territories, it’s good enough for space rock(s) in the cold, forbidding Kuiper Belt. I will not suggest some variation on Boaty McBoatface.

May Pause

Back to posting on Decoration Day, May 30, which happens to be the day after Memorial Day this year. By then I might have seen a thing or two to post about, but no promises.

I picked up a NASA public domain image recently while reading about the spacecraft Cassini’s grand finale. It’s one of those images that’s more beguiling the more you stare at it.

8423_20181_1saturn2016More images of the planet and its moons are here, including one of oddball Iapetus. That moon, and a number of other Saturnian things, come up in a video made featuring Sir Arthur C. Clarke about a year before he died. Glad he lived long enough to see Cassini-Huygens explore Saturn.

Godspeed, John Glenn

project_mercury_astronauts_-_gpn-2000-000651Occasionally, a public domain picture from NASA is just the thing. I opened up Google News at about 3 this afternoon to take a look at the latest outrages worldwide, and the page informed me of John Glenn’s passing. I knew he was still alive, but I wasn’t sure whether any of the other Mercury 7 astronauts were, so I checked.

The answer is no. He was the last one.

I don’t remember any of their flights, of course. I barely remember any of the Gemini missions. It wasn’t until Apollo that I started paying attention, but when I did, I made a point of learning about Mercury and Gemini too. I well remember my excitement at finding the July 1962 edition of National Geographic, which covered Glenn’s flight, about 10 years after it came out (because we saved them, like everyone). I read every word of the article. Early space flight was covered in other editions, too, and I read them as well.

Like all editions of NG, it was well illustrated. One in particular stuck with me: how John Glenn might have died in 1962 and not 2016. Reading that also meant that I knew how the dramatization of his flight in The Right Stuff movie would turn out (also, I’d read the book). Astronaut not incinerated.

The news set me wondering about how many of the Moon walkers are still around. Seven of 12, as it turns out, but every jack man of them are in their 80s. Buzz Aldrin’s the oldest, nearly 87, while Charles Duke is the youngest, at 81. Wonder if Aldrin would even have the energy these days to offer up a punch to a Moon landing denier who clearly deserved one (officialdom agreed; Aldrin wasn’t charged).

Summertime Hiatus

Time for a summer hiatus. Time to celebrate what ought to be a string of less-than-working days from Juneteenth to the Solstice to Canada Day to July Fourth to Nunavut Day (July 9), just to make it inclusive for all North Americans. Back to posting around Sunday, July 10.

Yesterday I learned more sad news, that my old friend Ed Henderson has died. I’ve mentioned him periodically in BTST over the years, and I believe he was one of a handful of people who read it regularly. Last year I visited him at his home near Bellingham, Wash., and we had a fine time — as fine a time as his precarious health allowed. I’m very glad I went. Sometime in the not too distance future, I will write more about him.

On the Solstice, I took a look at the full moon. First one on the Solstice since 1948, they say. Looked like all the other ones I’ve seen, but it was pleasant enough.

Closer to home, as in our back yard, the clover is lush.

Schaumburg cloverWho considers clover a weed? Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, this is my own, my native clover? Pleasing to gaze at, pleasing to lie on.
Payton dog 2016The dog knows that, too.

Western Ohio &c

We arrived in downtown Dayton late on a Friday afternoon, May 27, and from the look of things, Dayton isn’t an 18-hour city just yet. Municipal planners probably aspire to that: there’s been some nice infrastructure work at Riverscape Metro Park and Five Rivers Metro Park downtown, including walkways, an elegant garden, a pavilion and other public spaces that look fairly new. As for the private sector, I also spotted a few new apartment projects downtown.

But as a tertiary market, Dayton’s downtown still seems to close up at 5 pm. That’s almost old fashioned now, as the way things were in most smaller downtowns in the last third of the 20th century. Only a handful of people were out and about in the late afternoon/early evening of a warm late spring/early summer day in downtown Dayton, some at the riverfront, others outside the Schuster Center, an event venue.

The main river along downtown is the Great Miami River, which eventually flows into the Ohio. A tributary that meets the Great Miami near downtown Dayton is the Mad River. I like that name. Later, I drove by Mad River Junior High. Now that’s a name for your school.

Less amusing to learn about was the Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (part of the Great Flood of 1913), which is memorialized along the Great Miami. The Dayton flood spurred the creation of the Miami Conservancy District, established in Ohio by the Vonderheide Conservancy Act of 1914, which authorized levees and dams and such to prevent another monster flood. It was a great age of civil engineering, after all. So far, it seems to have worked.

Of course, no matter how obvious the public good, someone’s going to be against it.

Also downtown: Fifth Third Field, where the Dayton Dragons minor league team plays. In the plaza near field are large concrete baseballs. On these Ann proved herself to be more limber than the rest of us.

Fifth Third Park, Dayton 2016At the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, I happened across Lookout Point, the highest elevation in Dayton. This is the view from there.
Dayton - View from Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum In 2010, the cemetery completed a tower and columbarium on the hill, along with landscaping all around. It’s a lovely spot.

Woodland Cemetery and ArboretumLookout Point, Woodland Cemetery, DaytonThe cemetery also put in a time capsule at Lookout Point, to be opened in 2141, the year of the cemetery’s tricentennial. Guess 2041 wasn’t far enough in the future.

One famed burial I didn’t see at Woodland: copperhead Clement Vallandigham. In reading a bit about him, I found out about his death in 1871, when he was working as a defense attorney after unsuccessful attempts to return to office.

“Vallandigham’s political career ended with his untimely death on June 17, 1871,” notes Ohio History Central. “While preparing the defense of an accused murderer, Vallandigham enacted his view of what occurred at the crime scene. Thinking that a pistol that he was using as a prop was unloaded, Vallandigham pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The gun discharged, and Vallandigham was mortally wounded.”

At least his client was acquitted. That’s further even than Perry Mason would go to get a not guilty verdict.

On the way home, we stopped in Wapakoneta, Ohio, a town south of Lima and hometown of moonwalker Neil Armstrong. Just off I-75 is the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. I’ve read the design is supposed to evoke a future Moon base. Maybe the sort of Moon base Chesley Bonestell would put in the background of a lunar landscape.

Armstrong Air and Space MuseumThe museum’s probably interesting enough, with Armstrong artifacts and other items related to space exploration. The Gemini VIII capsule is there, in which Armstrong and Scott almost bought the farm. But Ann wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the place, and we wanted to press on to Ft. Wayne for lunch, so ultimately the admission fee we didn’t spend went toward that lunch. I did buy some postcards at the museum.

The Armstrong Air and Space Museum’s web site stresses: “The museum is owned by the State of Ohio, is part of the Ohio History Connection’s statewide system of historic sites and museums, and is operated by the local Armstrong Air and Space Museum Association. Neil Armstrong was never involved in the management of the museum nor benefited from it in any way.”

Before leaving Wapakoneta, I wanted to find Armstrong’s boyhood home. It wasn’t hard; the town is small. The house is privately owned by non-Armstrongs, so the thing not to do is venture too close. No doubt occasional oafs do just that, though probably fewer as time passes and fewer oafs remember his achievements.

Another good-looking small town in western Ohio is Troy. We stopped there to obtain doughnuts at the local Tim Hortons. That part of Ohio is within the Tim Hortons realm; our part of Illinois is not. Troy has a handsome main street and a fine courthouse.

Finally, with this trip, I’m glad to report that I’ve been to Neptune. Neptune, Ohio, that is, an insubstantial burg in Mercer County along US 33. Far from the ocean, and far from the planet of that name, though no further (roughly) than anywhere else on Earth.

Curiosity made me waste spend a little time at the USGC Geographic Names Information System, and I discovered that there are five populated U.S. places called “Neptune,” not counting variants like Neptune Beach, Fla. Besides Ohio, they are in Iowa, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Someday maybe I’ll look up the other planets.

The More Common Kind of Transit

Transit of Mercury, eh? A few news sites were pumping up today’s transit as a “rare” celestial event, but something that occurs 13 or 14 times per century here on Earth doesn’t merit that adjective. The next one’s going to be in 2019, for crying out loud. A transit of Venus, now that’s rare in human terms.

Besides, Mercury’s annoyingly hard to spot in the sky under normal circumstances. Is it ever known to hang so bright in the morning or evening sky like Venus? Glimmer red-orange like Mars? Appear as a bright white dot late in the evening like Jupiter or even the dimmer Saturn? No, it hides in the glare of the Sun.

Even so, I might have taken my eclipse shades out — the ones I used during the transit of Venus, without harm to my retinas — and looked for it this morning, but for one thing here on my part of Earth: completely overcast skies. Ah, well. I’m glad that didn’t happen back in ’12 and I hope it doesn’t happen for the solar eclipse next year.

Curiosity observed a transit of Mercury on Mars about two years ago, the first time any kind of transit has been observed from anywhere other than Earth (by earthlings, I should add), and something I didn’t know until now. That should have been bigger news than today’s garden-variety transit. Also, should there be observers on Mars — people or machines — in 2084, a transit of Earth will be visible from that planet.

Here’s a take on the transit of Mercury I saw in Lileks, in the comments section of all places. Then again, his comments section tends to be a cut above the norm.

Guy Fawkes & Martians &c

One more warm day. Then no more. Unless the forecasts about next week are right. What kind of November is this?

It’s Guy Fawkes Day again, and not a burning effigy in sight. It’s really something we should import. Lately I’ve been reading What If? 2, a collection of counterfactual history essays that I picked up used for 50 cents, but “What If Guy Fawkes Had Succeeded?” isn’t one of the subjects. Naturally that question’s been taken up elsewhere.

All of us went to see The Martian on Sunday. All in all, a well done bit of hard SF. Titanium hard, though considering the story, the focus on the technology of space travel and survival in a hostile environment isn’t misplaced. The movie also managed to present its exposition — and there was a lot of it — in a way that didn’t goo up the narrative, which is no small trick.

One thing (which the author of the book has acknowledged): the Martian atmosphere is so thin that a raging storm of the sort that got the hero in his jam would be impossible. The planet does have dust storms, of course, but not hurricanes of dust. Never mind.

There’s no overt indication of when the story takes place, so I figured it was either 20 years or so from now — very optimistic indeed, considering the sluggish pace U.S. manned space exploration these days — or in a present-day world in which a program to send people to Mars got started in earnest in the 1990s (it was, after all, something the elder Bush proposed). The flags on the spaceships and shoulder patches, I noticed, had 50 stars. A nice detail would have been to use the 51- or 52-star designs.

I suspect the only way U.S. astronauts are getting to Mars in a few decades is if the Chinese decide to attempt it.

From a web site I’d never heard of before but happened across recently, purporting to cover real estate news (all sic): “According to Investor Daily, TIAA-CREF’s Phil McAndrews has recently stated that the United States economy is under fairly good state that tantamounts to the continuing optimistic forecasts for the commercial property segment.”

That’s a sample from an item laid out like a real article, but clearly not written by a native speaker of English. The item, in fact, is a little hard to read, and larded with advertising links and other annoyances. And then it crashed my browser with an irritating “Unresponsive Script” message. I’m not overly worried about competition from such Mickey Mouse efforts as this.

Does anyone use “Mickey Mouse,” as in amateurish, any more? I had a teacher in junior high, our band director Mr. Fields, who was fond of the term. Now it sounds like it belongs to an earlier generation — Mr. Fields’ generation, or about the same age as Mickey himself. Maybe in more recent years, Disney minions have made trouble for anyone who uses Mickey like that. I’d better watch out.

Thursday Tidbits

Cool air to begin October. Fitting.

I saw part of The Iron Giant on TV a few years after its 1999 release, coming away with the impression that I ought to see all of it someday. That day was Saturday: Yuriko, Ann and I watched it on DVD. Upon its theatrical release, apparently the studio dropped the ball in marketing it, so the movie didn’t do well, but it caught the attention of critics. I can see why. Not flawless, but high-quality animation and a fun story.

Occasionally we still discover another food that the dog will eat. This week it was refried beans. She was pretty enthusiastic about them, in fact.

NASA has just published remarkable images of Charon, moon of Pluto. Or are they considered twins these days? I haven’t kept up with those definitions. Anyway, how often do we see something that’s absolutely, for sure never been seen by humans before? Not often.

Around 30 years ago, when I bought my first car, I remember pricing some Volkswagens. As usual for a young man, I was looking for an inexpensive car. Volkswagens of the time weren’t as inexpensive as I thought they would be.

A decade earlier, when you wanted an inexpensive car, they would have been the thing. They were People’s Cars, after all. But somehow the brand had strayed away from the entry level by the early 1980s, and before long I owned an entry-level Toyota, a company that remembered to make models at a variety of price points. I’ve bought a number of other Toyotas since then, too, above entry level.

Now that Volkswagen’s been caught committing mass fraud, I imagine the talk a few years ago between two upper-level company managers (in cartoon German accents). After all, imagined conspiracy scenes can be fun.

Hans: Can we really get away with this?

Fritz: Ja, the Americans are too stupid to catch on.

Obviously they learned nothing from the history of the 20th century.