2002 Editorial Index

 

Jan 02 2001: An Odyssey in Review

 

Feb 02 What Happened to 2001?

 

Mar 02 Columbia

 

Apr 02 Great Expectations

 

May 02 Astronomers and Astronauts

 

Jun 02 Two Generations Removed -- From Imagination

 

Jul 02 Space is the Drug

 

Aug 02 Traveling Space Museum

 

Sep 02 Evolution or Progress?

 

Oct 02 Secret Delusions of NASA

 

Nov 02 Freedom of the Press -- NASA Style

 

Dec 02 The Trip

 

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"2001: An Odyssey in Review" January 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

So the great year is finally over. The year we waited for so long to arrive is now a part of history; eventually fading into the background noise as entropy takes its course.

 

In 1968, the year 2001 became synonymous with the future, looking forward with great expectations to the dawn of a new century and new millennium. No matter the hardships of the intervening years, I knew that if I could just hold on to my hopes long enough to see that year in reality, some of the dreams and promises of 2001 would just have to come to pass.

 

Less than 16 months after the premiere of “2001: A Space Odyssey” we landed the first man on the Moon. This was the start of the prophecy of the movie. Once this magic hurdle had been accomplished, everything else could fall into place pretty easily.

 

Okay, so we never figured that the human race would be meeting up with extraterrestrials by this year, but there was certainly a good chance that we would be well established in space with a commercial space station in orbit, just waiting for scientists, engineers, and even tourists. A self-sufficient base on the Moon was almost as certain, and who could guess what our first explorers on Mars would be finding by this time.

 

Just over four years after “2001” the slide began. Apollo 17 became the final mission of human exploration for the entire rest of the century. Even the people who had a hand in canceling Apollo never envisioned it would be so long before we would have the will to return.

 

A reprieve for the ideas of “2001” was sounded in 1984 (another famous year for science fiction fans, with its much starker vision of a totalitarian future). In that year President Reagan announced that a space station would give us a permanent presence in space, actually taking shape in orbit. In fact, it was supposed to be completed “within the decade,” which in actuality was meant to be by 1992. Heck, that would give us nearly a decade of regular operations before the turn of the millennium.

 

Well, here we are, that whole decade later and we can’t even put more than three people at a time aboard this station. ISS still has some promise, but not if the politicians have their way!

 

Today, I often hear people say that it is amazing how far we have come in so short a time. They say that it takes us only three days to fly to the Moon. Unfortunately, I have to point out that we did that many decades ago and that we now no longer have that ability. If we want to fly to the Moon today it could take us decades to reinvent what was thrown away.

 

But even this may be optimistic in that it seems that every year we get farther and farther away from ever going back. How many fantastic ideas have been trounced on and beaten out of the excited minds that bore them?

 

Being in space may be commonplace today, but the idea of truly exploring space has been lost for a long time.

 

As for the movie itself, even the wonder it generated when it first arrived on the giant Cinerama screen is gone. I have heard people remark upon seeing “2001” for the first time on a tiny television, how boring it is, with little or no plot to move it along. They forget that “2001” must also be taken in the context talked about earlier in this column. The first time we saw it, we were just entering space. “2001: A Space Odyssey” took many of us along for the ride, and it still does today in our imaginations. It goes well beyond mere plot points, the motion picture captured the fantastical wonder of the cosmos and the hopes and dreams for our own future.

 

I waited a long time for 2001 to arrive and for “2001” the movie to come to pass. The first has happened, the second, I am still waiting for. I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer.

 

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"What Happened to 2001" February 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

I know that I promised that 2001 was over and I would let it be relegated to history, but some recent events transpired that I just couldn’t let go without comment.

 

As you no doubt have seen, this issue is devoted to our final event of the last year, which focused on the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” This played for two weeks at the Egyptian Theater, along with our special OCSS display to commemorate the movie.

 

I have mentioned previously the sad lack of this movie being available during the year it made famous and how Warner Brothers just really couldn’t have cared less if anyone saw it or not. Well, I was recently sent an email that originated at the web site of film critic Roger Ebert and I thought I should pass along his commentary so you know I’m not the only one ranting about this.

 

* * * * *

 

Space Oddity: No PR for “2001”

December 30, 2001

Question from Godfrey Cheshire, New York film critic:

 

“Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was playing through December 27 in New York at the Loews Astor Plaza but it was a virtual secret because Warner did little publicity or advertising. It was a beautiful, apparently new 70mm print that looked gorgeous in one of the biggest cinemas in New York, but that cinema is mostly empty every show because nobody knows the film is there. What I deduce is that the film was playing because there was a contractual agreement to re-release it in 2001 between Warner and Kubrick, who was known to be working on the re-release before his death.

 

“The reason it is being dumped like this, one surmises, is because the current Warner regime has no enthusiasm for a full-blown re-release. I feel a sense of personal outrage about this. ‘2001’ inspired my very first movie review when I was a high-schooler way back in ‘68, and I’ve been anticipating its 2001 re-release literally since I’ve been a professional critic.

 

“But even if one isn’t a fan of Kubrick or the movie, I think you have to agree that this showing of the film with no publicity is a shabby, criminal way to treat any important film. Worse than not re-releasing the film at all, it’s an expression of contempt for film history and audiences who retain an interest in the cinematic past. For Warner to do this while it is raking in millions on “Harry Potter” is a sad commentary on the state of our film culture.”

Roger Ebert replies:

 

“I showed a new 70mm print of the film last April at my Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois, where it sold out and received a standing ovation.

 

“I am convinced a proper re-release would be a huge success. Disney reveres its classics, and is currently re-releasing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on IMAX screens. An IMAX release of ‘2001’ would make perfect sense.

 

“I forwarded this message to Jan Harlen, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and co-producer of several of the later Kubrick films, and he responds that he intends to follow it up with Kubrick’s friends and advisors in Los Angeles.”

Roger Ebert, film critic, Chicago Sun Times

 

* * * * *

 

So there you have it. I am not the only person to feel outraged at the handling of this film by Warner Brothers.

 

I know that many people within OCSS responded to my call, many months ago, to contact Warner and let them know that we wanted to see “2001” in theaters during 2001. I would like to believe that the people of our chapter had something to do with their eventual response of getting it out to theaters here on the West coast, not to mention the overwhelming response that it received while playing here.

 

Too bad New York City doesn’t have the Orange County Space Society!

 

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"Great Expectations" March 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

There are days I want to just sit back and relax. A good case in point is the production of this newsletter. I actually have a few stories completed that I’ve been waiting to run for months. I can insert those stories during a slow period. The problem, of course, has been that we have yet to have a slow period, so these stories will have to wait for yet another month to appear.

 

When I was given the opportunity to participate in an interview with our new Administrator of NASA, Sean O’Keefe, there was no way to turn it down. And when the interview turned out to be fairly interesting, I felt it was my job to make sure our readers had a chance to hear for themselves what this self-professed “bean counter” has to say about the future of our space program.

 

I have to admit right up front that I was aghast when I first heard of his nomination for the post vacated by Dan Goldin in November. Sean O’Keefe was coming to us from the Office of Management and Budget. It was in this position that he had held NASA’s budget to the chopping block and literally made other potential nominees for the slot run for the hills.

 

What chance did we ever have of getting to Mars with a person at the helm who didn’t know a thing about space, who didn’t share in the vision that has driven us for so long to explore and see new vistas?

 

His answer when asked if we should be actively planning to send humans to Mars was hardly what most of us would want to hear: “What’s the point?” he asked.

 

Then he goes on to tell us why he feels this way: “If we get there and say, ‘Well, we’re here [on Mars] and now what’s supposed to happen next,’ then what have we really accomplished? We have to have something in mind for why you do it.”

 

Sometimes it is hard to put into words, but we need to find those words because we have to convince people like Mr. O’Keefe exactly why we want and need to go. If we can’t explain it to ourselves and NASA, how will the general public ever stand behind such an adventure?

 

Coming on the heels of Dan Goldin, maybe Sean O’Keefe is what is needed, but I still have my doubts. NASA engineer and space historian James Oberg summed up the differences between Goldin and O’Keefe when he said, “[When] Goldin walked into a room, he was convinced he was the smartest man there. Sean O’Keefe knows he’s not.”

 

At his swearing-in ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum he told of his children’s reaction to his NASA appointment: His son Jonathan said, “Gee, that’s amazing, Dad, I thought you had to be really smart to be in that job.” Then his son, Kevin added, “Yeah, you have to admit Dad, you’re no rocket scientist.”

 

Understanding that he doesn’t know it all can be a major step in the right direction. He is already surrounding himself with very smart people, such as U.S. Marine Corp Major General Charles Bolden, a four time space shuttle veteran, as his Deputy Administrator.

 

On the other hand, soon after our interview, the NASA budget was released and things started disappearing almost immediately. A major example is the Europa orbiter that was to look for signs of life on that Jovian moon. Will the Pluto mission go down that same road in the near future, and what else will we lose? He talks about getting back to NASA’s core mission, and yet exploration is that core. Arbitrarily cutting anything planned to go past Mars is not the way to infuse the frontier spirit back into our space program. He needs to be an Administrator, not a bean counting politician.

 

So now he is in position as head of our space agency, ready to chart our course over the coming years. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that maybe he’ll come through in the end. Sit back. Hold on. It’s going to be quite a ride!

 

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"Astronomers and Astronauts" April 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

What is the difference between an astronomer and an astronaut? They both accomplish their work by exploring space. They both extend the frontiers of human knowledge. And they both believe that the destiny of the human race lies among the stars.

Or do they?

 

You would think that those who study space and reveal its wonders to the rest of the world would implicitly understand the craving of humanity for new horizons, since they themselves are on the forefront, peering into the distance.

 

But not all astronomers agree with this basic tenet. In fact, the same can even be said of those who actually have gone into space, the astronauts.

 

The best example of the former is an astronomer by the name of Dr. James Van Allen. Even if you don’t know about him personally, you certainly are familiar with a small discovery that he made at the dawn of the space age, in 1958. This discovery was the radiation belts that surround the Earth and protect astronauts in low Earth orbit from harmful doses of cosmic rays. These belts now bear his name, the Van Allen Radiation Belts.

 

He was one of the first scientists to fly an experiment into orbit when his Geiger counter was placed aboard the Explorer 1 satellite. This was the first successful launch of a satellite by the United states, on January 31, 1958.

 

But even before that day, he was against what he termed a dreadful waste of money to actually fly people into orbit and beyond that to the Moon and other planets.

 

Sure, it costs more to send people into space than it does to send robots, but then what is the purpose of doing this at all if human beings are never supposed to follow in the footsteps of their machines?

 

I consider James Van Allen a wonderful scientist and astronomer, but a narrow-minded, short-sighted man.

 

On the other hand, astronauts usually know right away that having a person on board a spacecraft is a good thing. When something goes wrong, a person can judge the situation and make corrections to save a mission that otherwise might be lost.

 

Think what discoveries have been lost on the Galileo mission to Jupiter since there was no one around to kick open that jammed high-gain antenna.

 

But even astronauts do not always agree that just anyone should be allowed to free themselves of the bonds of gravity. Many in NASA say that if you want to go into space, you must be well educated and must train for years before making the attempt at taxpayers’ expense.

 

The astronauts in this category are just as short-sighted as Dr. Van Allen. You might be surprised how many of them are out there.

 

However, there are also those who understand our yearnings to not only see the sights but to experience them for ourselves. These astronauts, we applaud wholeheartedly.

 

We must also go beyond that to understand what these men and women do for a living, in that each time they go to work, they literally put their lives on the line. You think that getting into your car and driving on the freeway at rush hour is dangerous? How about having six million pounds of rocket engine thrust strapped to your back for an eight minute, 0 to 18,000 mile per hour, ride into orbit!

 

This is certainly something that most of us will never do, even if we want to. On the other hand, we still want to get into orbit, so what are our alternatives? Right now there are none, but with these astronauts paving the way, we will all eventually have the opportunity to buy a ticket or even to go there to live and work.

 

Instead of fighting traffic on the 405, wouldn’t it be great to take a leisurely jaunt across the Moon from Clavius to Tycho to check out some fantastic new discovery that has recently been dug up there?

 

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"Reviving Teacher in Space" May 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

For sixteen years we have lived with the promise of then-President Ronald Reagan, that, after the Space Shuttle was made safe to fly again, a teacher would once more be assigned a slot to go into space. The job of this teacher would be to continue the lessons begun by Sharon Christa McAuliffe, that were tragically cut short on the cold morning of January 28, 1986.

 

This promise has finally been fulfilled, at least in theory (see also “Simply the Best,” page 7). Last month, the new NASA Administrator, Sean O’Keefe announced a major policy speech. Many believed that O’Keefe’s announcement would contain sweeping reforms for NASA and might even provide a new vision of where this agency should be taking our country in space in the coming years (hopefully back to the Moon and on to Mars, was what many were waiting for).

 

Instead, we basically got the same rhetoric that has been spouting from NASA Headquarters for most of the last decade. The one exception in O’Keefe’s speech was his declaration that 50-year old school teacher Barbara Morgan would finally have the chance to fly in space.

 

On the surface, this is extremely exciting news, but let’s look at exactly what will happen. First of all, Barbara will not fly for at least another two years, making it over 18 years since we were promised she would do so. Mr. O’Keefe wants to make sure that Space Station Alpha is at least finished with what is known as the “core complete” stage before allowing her to fly. This part certainly makes sense since she is an educator, not a construction engineer.

 

However, what doesn’t make sense is the entire policy of NASA under which Barbara is finally being allowed to fly. Back in the days of Dan Goldin, he decided to reinstate the Teacher-in-Space program by instituting a new classification of astronaut called Educator-in-Space. So far, the only person allowed in has been Barbara Morgan.

 

With the way this program is instituted, it means that, for a teacher to fly into space, they have to first leave their classroom very far behind. The teacher must become a full-fledged Mission Specialist, undergoing years of training, then additional years of waiting to be assigned a specific flight. Barbara was accepted in the astronaut class of 1998, and it will take at least six years for her flight to lift off the pad. So far, she is the only person from this class that has been told they will fly.

 

How long has it been since Barbara has been in a classroom? Christa took a few months off from her position to train as a Payload Specialist for the Challenger flight. As soon as she came back, she would have returned to her classroom, thus being able to directly relate what she had learned to her students. That was the primary purpose of doing this in the first place.

 

I am certain that Barbara is a wonderful teacher, but because of the new NASA requirements, she no longer actually teaches! Isn’t this sort of defeating the purpose of what she is supposed to be doing?

 

Reinstating the Journalist-in-Space program is a next likely step for NASA if the Educator-in-Space program with Barbara Morgan is a success in 2004. But how many journalists will be able to leave their jobs for so many years just to get that one chance? Plus, the question must be asked about how that person can hope to relate to those in their chosen field, let alone the general public, after so many years away from the day-to-day environment of their profession, just to fulfill the NASA requirements?

 

The Payload Specialist program was a great idea and, along with the Teacher-in-Space program, it too should be revived.

 

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"Two Generations Removed -- From Imagination" June 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

We are constantly faced with providing the best displays and programs we can in order to educate and excite people about space exploration. This can be a tough job, especially when we are bombarded by people that tell us we must become more interactive and provide a full hands-on experience.

 

Most of our exhibit materials come out of my own personal collection. These are models, photographs, videos, and toys that I have built, created, produced, or purchased over the years. Each time we go on the road, I have to pack up a good portion of my living room and take it along.

 

Because I was raised before there were such things as Nintendo, Game Boy, and Play Station, what I have does not usually qualify as hands-on. In fact, most of the time I hope that those looking at our displays would keep it hands-off! A lot of what I have qualifies as very fragile.

 

On many occasions this has been a major detriment in that I have had extensive damage to some of my pieces. And even though whatever has suffered can usually be repaired, it will never again be quite as it was before. Some individual models I have built took a month of my time to put together, so I have a great deal invested in them, regardless of the actual purchase price.

 

Yet I keep coming back the next time, so I guess that I must really enjoy what OCSS is doing!

 

Recently, however, I read information that shows that these non-interactive displays may not be such a bad way to present our ideas after all. So packing and unpacking the condo several times each year may be paying off big time.

 

A study done by the Committee on Public Education for the American Academy of Pediatrics, quoted in Aviation Week & Space Technology (May 6, 2002, p.61), has shown that “kids exposed to ‘light screens’ — television, computers, and video games — for extended periods at an early age do not develop the sensory pathways that enable imagination and creativity. In fact, these children are considered sensory deprived.”

 

Michael Mendizza, a researcher for Touch the Future, a nonprofit learning design center in northern California says, “The problem of ‘endangered minds’ — and the near collapse of our educational system — is literally a diminishing capacity for abstraction among the general population. Because we’re so saturated with data, the ability to think deeply about content, then abstract from that [to obtain] meaning and consequences — to connect the dots — is diminishing. Children can still memorize quite readily because that’s a basic neurological process. But they can’t come up with meaning. If they have to think, they have a real difficult time imagining — and I emphasize the word ‘imagining’ — what’s being asked of them. Developmentally, this diminishing capacity for authentic creativity is [linked to] a lack of imagination.”

 

He goes on to point out that 40 years ago the average 14-year-old had a speaking vocabulary of 25,000 words, while today the average is only 10,000 words!

 

The point of all this is that this drop in creative thinking and imagination has been brought about by all of this interactivity that everyone preaches as gospel when it comes to education. What we need instead is to re-ignite the brains of kids by giving them a chance to look at something and have them create the scene in their own minds instead of giving it to them on a platter.

 

At OCSS, we provide the means by which an imagination can be sparked. Showing a model of a Saturn V and then giving a child the context in which to put it, allows their own minds to provide the wonder of what it means to fly to the Moon.

 

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"Space is the Drug" July 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

Wanna get high?

 

Well, if that’s the case, you can’t do much better than space!

 

My formative years included the late 1960s, when getting high was a national pastime for the youth of this nation. Peer pressure was intense to imbibe in anything that changed your reality. I lost count of the number of times I was offered a joint or some other “recreational” substance.

 

The amazing thing was that I never did succumb to that pressure. At least not in the way you might expect. Instead I found another way to get that euphoric feeling. I turned my mind and eyes toward space.

 

It was a lucky coincidence that at that same moment in time, there was a cosmic alternative to getting high in a room with black lights, Beatles music, psychedelic posters, and incense. Getting into space and putting footprints on the surface of another world provided an outlet for me that was far beyond what any mere drug could possibly yield.

 

However, I did pay a price. I was considered a “square,” a “nerd,” and often much worse, because I didn’t fit into the norm. Few people understood that I had found something much more powerful than anything they could purchase on a dark street corner or out of some long-hair’s locker.

 

What’s really bizarre is that as I sit here writing this, I happen to be listening to some vintage Pink Floyd. But instead of seeing lots of pretty colors swirling around in my head, I feel a big thrust into the sky, followed by a euphoric feeling of floating, then a view of our world and our universe like no other.

 

You want to see pretty colors? Look at the Voyager movies of the turbulent cloud tops of Jupiter and tell me than anyone could imagine anything close to that reality! A thousand Earths could be sucked into that maelstrom with plenty of room to spare. And what about the sheer beauty of seeing the pastel crescent of Saturn with its rings arcing across the sky, imbedded moons leaving their wakes amongst the icy rubble.

 

Then for the most amazing thing that could be imagined: people hopping down a silvered and golden ladder, in a suit that brings a small part of their home planet with them, then setting a boot onto a weird and wonderful landscape never touched by any living thing. Could Peter Max, Salvador Dali, or Andy Warhol ever have envisioned such a thing?

 

No, this was the dream and then the reality of those squares and nerds. They are the ones who made it happen because they didn’t inhale. They didn’t want to escape from reality, but to reshape it.

 

Today it is very difficult to get the kids to understand some of the concepts that we try to induce using our displays and programs.

 

The peer pressure is certainly as great as it was in my adolescence, if not more so. Yet now there is no outlet for the agile and imaginative minds of youth. I was raised on the dream of going to the Moon, then on to Mars and the outer solar system, then the stars themselves. These were all within our grasp because we knew that nothing was impossible once we set our sights on it.

 

Instead, we now are forced to look inward. The focus of the world is on other things. What do children have to dream about? Maybe this explains the proliferation of new designer drugs that crop up almost daily.

 

The human mind wants to see new things, it wants to see alien landscapes, it wants to think differently and not conform to the everyday mundanity of our small world. We must give people as a whole, and children in particular, an outlet for their flights of fancy; provide the bizarre cosmic landscape without it having to be drug-induced!

 

See all the pretty colors? Yeah, and wow, they’re real!

 

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"Traveling Space Museum" August 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

I am very proud to announce that with this issue of the newsletter our readership will greatly expand with the addition of members from the Traveling Space Museum.

 

We are now officially publishing two versions of this newsletter each month. Those of you in the Orange County Space Society (OCSS) will still be receiving O.C.SPACE, while those who are part of the Traveling Space Museum (TSM) will now receive SPACE TRAVELER.

 

The two editions are basically identical except for the title and some minor cosmetic variations. In addition, the “Secretary’s Notes” from OCSS is replaced by “Diary of a Mad Technician,” for TSM.

 

OCSS and TSM have worked very closely over the last several years. Ivor Dawson, founder of the Traveling Space Museum joined OCSS in 1998 because he saw the great work our organization was already doing in the field of space education.

 

We first met Ivor through SpacePlex at the Fallbrook Mall and soon after featured a story about the place in our newsletter (see O.C.Space, April 1998). One of our members was working at SpacePlex and had filled us in on what Ivor was accomplishing there, and we’ve been working together ever since.

 

Many school groups came to SpacePlex, and one of the most asked questions was if he could ever bring his curriculum to the schools, instead of the schools having to come to him. Ivor saw this as a great opportunity to expand his space, math, and science education ideas, thus TSM was born.

 

In close conjunction with companies like Lockheed Martin, TSM was organized to literally dive in and take over an entire school for a day of space-related activities. This issue of O.C.Space and the inaugural issue of Space Traveler feature two articles about major TSM events over the last couple of months.

 

Future adventures for TSM/OCSS activities are already shaping up. Recently we held several meetings together to map out strategies and ideas with other organizations. Notable among these were one with Chris Pancratz of the National Space Society (the parent organization of OCSS) and also with Peter Comiskey at the Discovery Science Center (DSC).

 

Let me briefly talk about just a few of the things already on tap for our two organizations.

 

•Scheduled to start this fall is the TSM After School Academy where three schools will be connected together via the Internet for a six week course that will include the Orion Simulator, Odyssey Spacelab, and Mission Control.

 

•NASA Night at DSC where Chris Butler will present his program on Apollo, while OCSS provides displays and other educational materials.

 

•Working with the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation of Great Britain to organize a trade of elementary school students between our countries for a week long excursion studying with scientists and teachers in each other’s countries in hopes of fostering a spark in the students to continue studying for careers in aerospace.

 

•The presentation of our first bilingual program that will be given at DSC in both English and Spanish by Richard Shope of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Educational Outreach Office. The date is still to be determined, but should happen sometime in late October or early November.

 

•A demonstration program for educators in Sacramento that will feature elements of TSM and OCSS. The idea is to put on a demo in the state capital specifically geared to educating the educators about the possibilities we offer for science curricula throughout California.

 

•Working with the National Space Society funding duplication efforts to bring TSM to schools across the country.

Remember that all of this is in addition to our regular monthly meetings and programs already scheduled. And many of you thought we spent all our efforts just producing a really high class newsletter each month!

 

Our readership has expanded and so have our horizons. Nothing but the great curve of the planet ahead, as far as the eye can see. Join us in our journey to the stars.

 

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"Evolution or Progress" September 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

War is the best thing that ever happened to the human species.

 

No, I haven’t gone off the deep end, nor have I taken to writing my editorials from a small cabin in the wilds of Montana. This is just a simple but unfortunate statement of fact. Without armed conflict we, would still be picking berries from a bush on an African Savannah.

 

Let’s recap what has transpired so far: Since the beginning, it has always been aggression and competition that beget life. A single cell vying for survival against the turbulent forces at work on our new planet found a way to win a round by reproducing itself and carrying on into another generation. Several hundred million years passed while its progeny discovered a way to become multicellular. Another billion passed as specialization began. Every step of the way it was a fight against other primitive organisms, or even against nature itself.

 

When dinosaurs came on the scene it was the biggest evolutionary battle Earth had yet seen. Nature finally walloped back with an asteroid that took them all by surprise! But maybe they would have disappeared anyway, since all they knew was how to eat their neighbors. With that single purpose in life there was never an opportunity to form an alternative to aggression.

 

Now we, as upright-walking upstarts, have arrived to bring progress and “civilization” to Earth. But progress always comes with a price. It’s about which side develops the biggest club, the sharpest knife, the truest arrow, the fastest gun, the most explosive bomb, or the most accurate rocket. This is how progress was made and measured. This is who we are and how we got here. But will we also become extinct like the dinosaurs if we don’t find that alternative before it’s too late?

 

During World War II we made explosive evolutionary progress in technology. When the war began, we were barely past the age of the biplane. When it ended we were at the beginning of the supersonic jet age, had already entered space with ballistic rockets, and atomic power had been harnessed. All the ingredients were in place for the subjugation of all cognizant beings on our small world.

 

Then the most amazing thing happened. We got side-stepped on our way to global destruction. The superpowers were originally hell-bent on taking the high ground of space for the purpose of raining atomic weapons on the military bases, factories, cities, and homes of their enemies. But before doing so they decided to show off these powers, to let them see just how futile it would be to resist.

 

 

First was the Soviet Union. On October 4, 1957, they used their prized intercontinental ballistic missile, not to loft an atomic warhead at Washington, D.C. or New York City, but to launch a small satellite into a stable orbit around Earth. Here it beeped away at everyone, proving that no one was safe from the mighty prowess of the Soviet War Machine. Their point was immediately taken and we responded in kind with a satellite of our own to show we were not a bunch of laggards.

 

This is the moment when that alternate door of evolution cracked opened. We now had the ability for massive destruction of both sides in a war. In fact, our nuclear capabilities would ensure that the entire planet could be scoured of all life if we chose to obliterate it. Instead, we took that power and channeled it into the “peaceful” exploration of outer space. At first it was all a simple guise to intimidate each other, but if you do something long enough, sometimes you lose sight of its original purpose.

 

In one short decade we made humanity a spacefaring race, defying every prediction for how fast we could actually develop the technology needed to walk on the Moon. Perhaps this is how our species will survive, finding a peaceful means to evolve, without breeding stagnation. Space technology can then replace war as the best thing to ever happen to the human species. However, we are still very short-sighted. Will we learn that death accomplishes nothing? Can we grasp the concept that great leaps forward can now be accomplished without leaving millions of dead on the battlefield, but instead by sending millions of people to the stars?

 

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"Secret Delusions of NASA" October 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

NASA is currently using the September 11 terrorist attacks as an excuse to limit the freedom of the press concerning our civilian exploration of space. The problem is that the attacks happened after NASA had instituted some of its most recent policies to keep reporters at bay.

 

To give you an idea of what NASA is up to, I am turning the rest of this column over to author James Oberg. As a former employee of NASA and a great advocate of truth, he recently published a book entitled Star-Crossed Orbits. In it he talks about the openness of the ISS crews and how their candor has been stifled by NASA.

 

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To [International Space Station Expedition 1 Commander William] Shepherd, many of these struggles took on an almost military flavor.

 

[After a docking with a Progress resupply ship] the crew found that many of the station’s systems weren’t working right, including the system for reporting what wasn’t working right. “We have tried several times to get the ‘crew squawk’ tool running,” the entry for January 5, 2001, stated [a squawk is a complaint]. “We are able to log in, but the program either locks up or won’t launch when we try to run it. We would like to ‘squawk’ the ‘crew squawk’ for starters.”

 

This innocuous and somewhat humorous complaint was one of the items that NASA decided to censor from the publicly released versions [of his flight log]. “Certain operational, debriefing material has been edited from the Expedition One ship’s log, explained NASA’s Web site. “This material is considered an integral and critically important element of the ongoing, deliberate decisional process NASA is undertaking related to long-duration ISS missions.

 

“To be effective,” the explanation continued, “these communications require absolute candor in discussion that would not be available if parties to the exchange thought the material might be released to the public.”

 

The uncensored logbook entries that I was able to review, however, suggested that NASA’s deletion of large amounts of text from the officially released versions also served to limit public awareness of the difficulties on board.

 

Shepherd’s written comments provided a view of space station life that is refreshingly free of spin, to the benefit of both space workers and the general public. But the tradition he tried to establish was unable to take root.

 

NASA itself altered other public-insight policies. During the course of the first expedition, which ended with the crew’s return to Earth aboard a visiting space shuttle in mid-March 2001, radio communications with Earth were regularly fed out live over the NASA TV channel. Conversations between astronauts in Houston and Moscow were available nationwide via many cable channels or through a backyard satellite dish.

 

That stopped the day the crew landed. Although the voice signals are still played during working hours in the press offices of several NASA centers around the country, the public’s access to them has been cut off. A public affairs official at Johnson Space Center told me that NASA didn’t any longer “have the resources to support distribution on NASA TV.”

 

While there wasn’t at first any reason to suspect that this looming space blackout was motivated by a desire to deliberately cover up or distort events on NASA’s space station, occasional lapses in candor by NASA press officials in the recent past raised the concern that a monopolized information flow would be a slanted information flow. Whether the issue was a flubbed debris-dodging maneuver in 1998, or some non-functional Russian space suits in 1999, or a false fire alarm compounded by a computerized checklist crash in 2000, the people that NASA hired to inform the public just weren’t fully up to the task. “Happy talk” is easy, but rigorous candor about problems takes a level of effort — and a mindset — that has sometimes been lacking. The way I see it, the public’s right to know shouldn’t be held hostage to perpetual budgetary issues, squeamish censors, or bureaucratic inertia. But that’s NASA’s new openness (or lack thereof) policy.

 

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"Freedom of the Press -- NASA Style" November 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

Homeland Security. These seem to be the catch words on everyone’s mind nowadays. Having security is certainly an important part of life. Without it we all start to hide in the shadows, afraid to come out and face the day. Look at the effect just two people and a sniper rifle had on the residents of the Washington, D.C. area recently.

 

But then there is the other side of the coin. What happens when security becomes so paramount in our minds that we are willing to have the government take away our liberties in order to enforce that security?

 

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Those who willingly give up their freedoms in order to ensure their security, deserve neither freedom nor security.

 

Benjamin Franklin, 1776

 

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Look at events in Russia. After the democratic revolution, new radio and television stations started to broadcast and even flourished. Recently, President Putin stepped in and cited security concerns when he closed down the last of the non-state operated television stations.

 

Homeland Security is a handy phrase to toss about when things don’t go the way the leadership of a country thinks they should go. Maybe something offensive or detrimental was said about the administration. Wouldn’t it be best to simply eliminate the source? Invoke Homeland Security and no one will bat an eye about what you have done.

 

As I pointed out in last month’s column, NASA is using this same excuse to stifle freedom of the press when it comes to coverage of our space program. My report raised the ire of others (see “To the Stars,” page 6) and I find that wonderful. We should be very, very angry at anyone, or any agency, within this country that wants to upset one of our fundamental freedoms.

 

As was pointed out last month, NASA has curtailed full release of what is happening aboard our space station. Anything they find embarrassing, even something as inconsequential as a small computer glitch, is edited out of anything that reaches outside their fortress walls.

 

NASA countered by saying that any member of the press may get a full and unedited version of what happens in space by being at the NASA press site where all transmissions come through loud and clear all the time. However, this too, has now changed.

 

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA has instituted a policy where all reporters are only allowed at the press site when it is convenient for NASA. They are no longer allowed unfettered access to the site, but must show up at a guard gate when NASA tells them to, board a NASA-controlled bus for transport to the site, and then leave all at the same time when NASA deems it is time to go.

 

Reporters who have been covering the space program since its inception are now required to reapply each and every time there is a new launch. If at any time NASA decides someone is reporting something they don’t like, they can simply stop issuing their credentials for the next event. This has already happened to reporters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, who published derogatory remarks about the space station.

 

So, how far do we let NASA use Homeland Security as an excuse to do what they have obviously wanted to do for a long time anyway? (Remember that many of the security restrictions were already in place prior to September 11, 2001, including the revocation of press credentials at JSC that I mentioned above.)

 

Yes, I agree that the Space Shuttle may be a tempting target for terrorists and we should do what is in our power to prevent some nut from having access to it, but let us not forget what country we live and why we are here.

 

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"The Trip" December 2002

by Michelle Evans

 

Normally I try to stay as far away as possible from commercials. Nearly everything I watch, I do so after it has been recorded on my VCR so that I can skip through the annoying ads. However, there is one ad currently running that I don’t mind sitting through. In fact, I have watched it over 20 times as of this writing and it has effected me about the same way each and every time.

 

The television commercial in question is called simply “The Trip.” It was produced by Sony to get us consumers to run out and buy their products. In this commercial you see TVs, computers, camcorders, and much more of the Sony product line, but I don’t mind one bit.

 

Heck, I like the commercial so much that I was compelled to write an entire editorial about it.

 

The reason I admire this particular commercial so much is that it features space. But not the stuff we see with shuttles lifting off into the Florida sky, or astronauts doing government work at taxpayer expense. In this case we follow a successful businessman as he attains his dream of flying into space as a tourist. This is the ultimate dream of many of us within the Orange County Space Society, and is certainly top on my list of Things To Do.

 

The first time I saw it, my wife and I were skipping through ads on “The West Wing.” As the tape sped past the VCR heads, I noticed a scene that appeared to show a shot from an Apollo mission. Immediately stopping the tape, we went back and watched from the beginning.

 

A new female vocalist rendition of the classic “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash provides the background music as we were slowly enveloped by the idea of someone who has made their mark and is taking his payoff by riding a rocket into orbit.

 

Let me take you through this vision as it unfolds:

 

It is sunset on a lake in Washington state. Sitting at his home by the water we see a man listening to Russian language tapes as he watches the sunset. We then see him as he gets in shape, running in the fields near his home, drinking energy fluids, exercising with a trainer.

 

He checks the weather for Moscow on the Internet, packs his luggage, then heads to the office to sign his contract. A corporate man explains that he can still back out if he wants to, but with no hesitation he says, “No, my bags are packed.”

 

A 747 flies over our heads and then we land in a foreign airport with a small woman holding a sign looking for “Mr. Douglas.” Then it is off on a quick tour of Red Square in Moscow with many dour looking Russian officials.

 

Next we’re on a bus heading into the woods. The first hint of something special comes here as we see a passenger riding the bus with “Mr. Douglas” that looks suspiciously like a Russian cosmonaut. We pass a guard gate where the man in the gatehouse barely glances up as we pass through the checkpoint.

 

Our first true indication of his destination happens as his escorts take him through the zero gravity water training facility at Star City.

A closeup on his face as a visor drops and locks into place, a smile of anticipation is seen, along with a twinkle in his eye. Next is a view in the flame trench of a Soyuz booster undergoing ignition, followed by the rocket arcing up into the cold Russian sky.

 

The music swells as we see “Mr. Douglas” ecstatically floating free of his couch. A large porthole is behind him. The first words come on screen: “When your kids ask where the money went…” We float toward the porthole to see the black of space and the brilliant blues of Earth below. His camcorder in hand, “Mr. Douglas” floats toward the window with awe in his eyes. We see the final words: “show them the tape…” By now, if the viewer doesn’t have goosebumps, you must be dead.

 

You can still catch this ad either on TV or at an OCSS meeting, or you can go to the Sony web site at www.Sony.com and view the entire commercial online. Scenes from the ad are shown in the photo article on page 3. Definitely two 0-g thumbs up!

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