2003 Editorial Index

 

Jan 03 Centennial of Flight

 

Feb 03 Groundhog Day

 

Mar 03 Columbia

 

Apr 03 Flights of Fancy

 

May 03 Space Camp

 

Jun 03 Working Together

 

Jul 03 Chapter Excellence

 

Aug 03 International Star Registry

 

Sep 03 Second Anniversary

 

Oct 03 The Legacy of Columbia

 

Nov 03 The Rocky Voyage of Galileo

 

Dec 03 Centennial of Flight

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"Centennial of Flight" January 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

Seems like just yesterday that mankind only dreamed of flight. Well, to get specific, it was actually just under 100 years ago.

 

December 17, 1903.

 

Not a date that most people are familiar with, and yet it must be regarded as one of the most significant in history. After working for years to perfect a flying machine, Orville and Wilbur Wright finally succeeded where untold inventors and engineers had failed. The windswept and dune-covered beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, will forever bear the mark of our first powered ascent into the air.

 

The genius of what they accomplished is lost on the average person. Who thinks twice about boarding a jet to cross the state, country, or fly around the world? Yes, they may take a moment to reflect upon the tragic events of 9/11 and how air travel was forever altered in its wake, but hardly anyone takes any notice of what is required to actually put that jet in the air. We are all literally riding on the wings of two brothers who saw over the horizon.

 

Our own country failed to recognize their achievement for decades. The illustrious Smithsonian Institute steadfastly refused to give the Wrights credit for over four decades. Instead, they put their weight behind Samuel Pierpont Langley. They had good reason to do this since the Smithsonian had put their money on Langley, while ignoring the Wrights.

 

Due to their neglect, the first ever heavier than air flying machine was actually crated up and shipped to London, England, where it was nearly lost permanently during World War II. It was only after this conflict, largely dominated by, and eventually won by, air power, that the Smithsonian finally realized what the rest of the world already knew: The Wright Brothers had been first.

 

At the time of their invention, many others tried and failed. So why did Orville and Wilbur succeed? Primarily because they had the audacity to figure things out for themselves. For years, all the aeronautical research had relied on certain tables of measurement. The Wrights kept butting into a wall before finally coming to the conclusion that these data that everyone held sacrosanct, was, in fact, wrong.

 

In response, they built their own wind tunnel and developed their own data. When no one could build them an engine with the right power and a low enough weight, they learned how to build one themselves. Perseverance, and a certain knowledge that they could overcome any obstacle with the strength of their intelligence, drove them onward to success.

 

No luck was involved, just methodical testing, building, failing, and trying again, until all the problems had been solved.

 

Even today, there are many mysteries surrounding the 1903 Wright Flyer. It only flew four times on that cold morning on Kill Devil Hill. While discussing their last flight, a wind gust caught the fragile Flyer and tumbled it into fabric and match sticks. It was not reassembled until 1928 for exhibition at the Science Museum in London.

 

Now we are entering the Centennial Year of Flight. This entire year will be spent celebrating the achievements of these two brothers. More than 25 replicas of the 1903 Flyer will tour the country during the year, and many of these will attempt to recreate what they did 100 years ago. The entire year of festivities will culminate right back where it all started on December 17, 2003, at Kitty Hawk.

 

The Ford Motor Company and the Experimental Aircraft Association have put up the money to fund a reproduction built by Ken Hyde that is scheduled to fly that morning.

 

It has been a personal dream of mine to be present on that day and watch this replica take to the air. Ten years ago my wife and I visited that spot for the first time, standing at the foot of the launch rail that sent the craft on a flight shorter than the wingspan of most present day commercial airliners. How could either brother have ever guessed where their creation would lead in such a short span of time? Who can foresee where it will take us in the next one hundred years?

 

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"Groundhog Day" February 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

On February 2nd of each year we honor a very strange tradition of watching a groundhog pop his head up out of a hole to find if he sees his shadow or not. If he does, he retreats back into his burrow and goes back into hibernation for an additional six weeks of winter.

 

Okay, so what’s NASA’s excuse? What’s the excuse of our entire country?

 

When did we collectively see our shadow and decide to retreat into our burrows, in hope that a long, cold winter would pass us by?

 

It certainly seems like this is what has happened, at least with regard to exploration. Not just space exploration, but just about any type we can imagine. Space is just the one that interests us most here at OCSS, and is what I think best typifies the overall attitude of mankind at this particular time.

 

Less than 15 years ago we were just starting to see signs that the Soviet Union might soon collapse. But even those signs that we can now see in retrospect, seem to have taken us by surprise when it really happened. Who could have predicted such a complete and total collapse of communism and the break up of a world power in such a short time period?

 

When it did occur, we were all fast to jump on the bandwagon of “The Peace Dividend.” This was supposed to mean that all that money and energy that was once spent fighting the Cold War could now be put to better and more peaceful uses. It seemed so logical at the time.

 

Unfortunately, what has really come to pass is that the end of the Cold War has destabilized the entire world. Where once it seemed very clear as to who was on which side, we now have a multitude of sides, and even those keep changing on a daily basis. Never has there been so many conflicts and tensions at one time all over this planet.

 

One of the beacons of hope to unite many different cultures is still space exploration. Even though there may be problems, the International Space Station is still a marvel of engineering and cooperation. Many nations have designed and built bits and pieces all over the world, using different cultures, training, ideas, measurement systems, and tools. Yet, it all comes together nearly flawlessly 200 miles above the Earth.

 

So now we keep our heads down inside our burrows and ignore the forces that could truly change and unite. Why can’t we expand on programs like the ISS and invite even more international cooperation?

 

The best thing would be to set worldwide goals for exploration of our solar system. We have to invite all who wish to participate and figure out ways where countries can help that may not have even realized they could do so. Bring the rogue states into the fold and maybe they wouldn’t be rogue states any more.

 

This has to be done carefully, since there are obvious hazards that must be overcome. I don’t want to sound too simplistic and idealistic and have you think I believe that all the world’s ills can be solved by having Iraq and North Korea working side-by-side with us on board the Space Station. It will take a lot of hard work to make it happen and make it real.

 

But cooperating with our enemies has shown a much better long term benefit for all than creating smoking craters where they once stood. An excellent example is the obvious one: Russia. They are too busy trying to build a viable economy now than to try and launch ICBMs at us.

 

China is still very problematic, but since they are part of the global trading economy, who truly believes that they are planning a nuclear attack against us anymore? Heck, they want to be a part of space exploration so badly that they have created their own manned space program just to prove that they are worthy for us to take on as partners aboard ISS. Once they are successful at becoming the world’s third manned space power, will we be able to deny them their place?

 

Let’s forget whether we see our shadow. After all, if you’re looking at your shadow, that means you’re looking down at the dirt. Instead, we should all have our sights turned upward.

 

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"Columbia" March 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

It was just another boring space science mission. If it wasn’t for the presence of the first Israeli astronaut, hardly anyone in this country would have been paying any attention at all. As it was there was little fanfare when Columbia lifted off the pad on her final voyage, and not much else as the mission progressed through the 16 days of discovery.

 

For me, though, it was different, as it probably was for many of those in our organization. I have had the great good fortune to have been able to witness just about every aspect of a shuttle mission at one time or another. I saw my first landing at Edwards AFB in August 1977 (Enterprise) and my first launch at Kennedy Space Center in June 1983 (Challenger).

 

Overall I’ve had the chance to see a quartet of launches and over two dozen landings. I’m especially proud of the fact that I was able to be on hand for the first landings of all six orbiters. I’ve been at Plant 42 at Palmdale for several rollout events, watched as the shuttle was mated to the 747 and sped down the runway to head back to The Cape. I lost count of how many times my wife and I went outside to watch the shuttle pass overhead while still on orbit. However, there is one aspect I have never been able to witness first hand: reentry.

 

On February 1, that was hopefully going to change. It looked like there was a chance that Columbia would be high enough above the horizon as it dove into the atmosphere of Central California on its way across country to land in Florida, that we would be able to see her flying by, trailing a hot plasma trail.

The night before landing, I got all the parameters we needed from the Internet. Then I spent a lot of time on the telephone calling everyone I could think of that was in the right area and wouldn’t mind getting up early for a great three minute light show from 5:54 to 5:57 am. Some even made plans to come down and join us in the Irvine area.

 

Well, we got to our viewing spot in an area that I thought would give us a clear and fairly dark northern horizon. Cameras and tripods were set up and everything looked great. Three of us stared at the sky, searching in vain for the shuttle. I guess it was a little too low and a little too murky in that direction to let the trail shine through.

 

I checked the radio in the van and the news told us that the deorbit burn had gone as planned and that the shuttle was now winging its way over Texas. I told everyone we had missed it and was a bit disappointed as we folded up equipment and started to head home. Considering the early hour, we thought to stop at a Denny’s for some breakfast before heading home and crawling back into bed for some additional sleep. As we were about to pull off the street at the restaurant, the news came on that they were about to land at KSC. At least we would get to hear the successful landing, even though we hadn’t been able to actually see reentry ourselves.

 

Then the reporter said something very odd that I will always remember. He was talking as if everything was normal at the landing strip and that Columbia was just a couple minutes from touchdown. “Everything looks great here, but for some reason we haven’t yet heard the normal sonic booms that accompany the shuttle as it flies in over Central Florida.” He then went on to say that it was also odd that for some reason communications had not been heard from the crew for about 14 minutes.

 

The reporter sounded so normal, like it was just a minor radio glitch or something, and yet at that exact moment the bottom fell out of my universe. I knew then that the unthinkable had happened. That moment was to become another of those where everyone will remember exactly where they were. My wife and I, and our good friend Adrienne, were pulling into a Denny’s when life was altered forever.

 

I was barely able to control the van at that moment, but somehow, I got us out of the parking lot and on the way home. It was about the toughest three miles I’ve ever driven. Needless to say, none of us ever got back to sleep that day, and have had precious little since.

 

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"Flights of Fancy" April 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

With the loss of the space shuttle Columbia still fresh in our minds, I think it is important to temper our sense of grief with a remembrance of the ideals we have that make us want to go into space in the first place. With this in mind, I want to share with you an editorial I first wrote at the turn of the new millennium that expressed my feelings at seeing my first launch of a space shuttle. It first appeared in December 1999.

 

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Remember when you were a small child and you had dreams of flying through the air? You felt yourself to be Superman even without the cape and embarrassing tights!

 

It appears that nearly everyone has had those types of dreams at one time or another. Usually, they are reserved for kids, but I know that adults often get them, too. What is it in our psyche that brings on such dreams even though humans are not built to ever experience this thrill without great mechanical aid?

 

I know that I used to have these dreams quite a lot, but then they disappeared as I grew older. My wife, Cherie, has often had them and she complains that they do not enter her consciousness like they used to. We probably all feel that way.

 

What can we do to make these flights of fancy return? As far as unaided flight goes, that may still be a ways off in the future. But getting your mind to start soaring can actually be quite easy.

 

The first time in my adult life that I felt the lightness of flying again was not long after I witnessed my first Space Shuttle launch. I had seen launches all of my life, usually through the medium of television. However, prior to the shuttle, I had seen several launches from Vandenberg, up close and personal. It wasn’t until the shuttle, however, that the dreams returned.

 

Standing there near the venerable old countdown clock on the lawn of the Kennedy Space Center press site, I watched the Sun rise slightly above the horizon before the first moments of flight by the space shuttle Challenger on STS-7. The engines ignited and the spacecraft pushed backward against the unyielding Earth to fling itself skyward.

 

Because of the distance to the viewing site, it took nearly 15 seconds before the thundering sound finally arrived to complement the view all of us there shared.

 

The sound waves buffeted against my chest, pushing me backward slightly, but this is not the direction I felt I was actually going. Instead, it felt that the pressure had buckled me over and wrestled me into the sky, my arms and feet dangling behind, pushing upward directly on my heart, with my face watching the ground grow quickly distant below.

 

I had never experienced anything like it before. This was so much more powerful than mere flying or floating dreams had been as a child. But now I could feel it and relive it time and again. Each launch with humans aboard that I have personally had the wonder to watch amplified the sensations, instead of having them fade as most feelings do. I think that this is the answer to why it occurred at this first human launch and not the others before: there were people aboard and I knew that because of that fact, that someday I would finally go too. I know that it probably won’t be the shuttle that takes me there, but this was the beginning. Whatever else comes off the drawing boards will owe a lot to this ship.

 

So where does that leave us today for all of us to resume our dreams of flying? It is time to participate as much as we can. It is time to push forward with whatever means we have at our disposal to make our flights of fancy come true. Push yourself, push your chapter, push your friends, push your political representatives.

 

Push yourself in the same way that I felt the power of that first launch pushing at my heart.

You will have no greater reward than to bring yourself back to those feelings you thought were lost in the mists of your childhood. Lift your mind from the ground and start to soar!

 

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"Space Camp" May 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

In the long ago summer of 1996, just outside the gates to NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, a new Space Camp was opened (see O.C.SPACE, Sep. 96).

 

They had a capacity crowd of kids eager to step aboard one of two brand new space shuttle flight simulators. Also present was Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra to kick things off with a bang. OCSS was asked to participate and we joined several other space education enthusiasts to place a large display at the grand opening event. This was a special occasion, not just because of the opening of this new Space Camp, but because it was the first time OCSS had done any sort of event outside the borders of Orange County.

 

Boy, how things have changed since then!

 

However, as OCSS has expanded, Space Camp California ran into problems and they were forced to close their doors at the end of 2001. A great dream of interactive training for possible future astronauts and scientists was put on indefinite hold due to some bad financial arrangements between Space Camp in California and the parent organization in Huntsville, along with the fact that NASA was grossly overcharging for the lease of what was basically a parking lot outside the main gate at Ames.

 

Last fall a brilliant idea was hatched by a group of people, who also happen to be members of OCSS. What John Spencer, Jason Klassi, and Ken McNerney came up with was to purchase the equipment now lying dormant and to bring it all down to Southern California to start a new Space Camp facility in Long Beach, near the Queen Mary cruise ship.

 

In addition to the Space Camp itself will also be a facility where tourists and day visitors can go called Space Place. This is a entirely new concept and is really exciting. Possible locations include the old Spruce Goose dome at the Queen Mary site or building a new facility. Planned opening is for June 6, 2004.

 

The Space Place group has been soliciting investors for several months and the person who stepped in to become the primary investor is Kaya Tuncer. Kaya knows Space Camp very well since he built and operates Space Camp Turkey.

 

Kaya purchased all the old simulators and other equipment from Mountain View in March and cleared the way to disassemble it and truck it down our way.

 

I was tapped with the job of heading up this operation and ended up spending almost an entire month on the project. One of the greatest things to come out of this was that Kaya sent over the best people he had in Turkey to aid in this job. We never could have pulled off this enormous undertaking without their expertise and dedicated hard work. I’m really looking forward to working with them all again when we start to set the equipment back up next year in preparation for opening.

 

With their help, we were able to take apart two full-scale space shuttle orbiter nose sections, two mission control rooms, a 1/6 gravity chair, a zero-G wall, a Manned Maneuvering Unit and 5-Degree of Freedom trainers, and several other pieces of equipment that give the kids at Space Camp the real feel of being in training for a space mission.

 

We filled eight semi-trucks and sent them on the 400 mile journey south. On the last day of disassembly I asked everyone to pose for the photo you see at the left, taken in the aft flight deck of the shuttle Atlantis. We were tired, but it was certainly worth the effort. stay tuned for updates throughout the next year.

 

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"Working Together" June 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

A common theme of many editorials I have written over the past years has been how all the different space groups should be working closer together. How many times have we seen groups with similar aims taking a completely different track to pursue a goal? It doesn’t make much sense, and it is frustrating to think where we might be if we had been pooling our resources all this time.

 

In many ways, competition can be a good thing. Look at what is happening with the X Prize competition. There are currently about 20 companies in the running to be the first to put a private citizen in space before the end of 2005. Even better is that at least four of those competitors may be able to accomplish their task in the next few months, or certainly by the end of the year (see O.C.Space Special Edition, page 7, May 2003).

 

When it comes to space education (the primary goal of OCSS), competition may not be the best solution to coming up with the most productive way of doing things. A united front is the best approach, and it tells the public that we are not just some fringe group interested in donning Star Trek uniforms at a science fiction convention. We are very serious when we talk about space exploration and settlement as being the true future of humanity.

 

I don’t know about you, but I feel that stagnation and going back into a Dark Age is not the best way to handle our problems on this planet. Unfortunately, there are many people in the general public who may not share that view, and this is why we are doing what we do to prevent that from happening.

 

It is also easy to say that we are a small group and to ask if it is reasonable to expect us to truly affect the future course of space history. Well, I believe that we have made great strides toward our goals. Look at where OCSS has been, where we are, and where we are headed. In the nine years I have been a member, we have gone from meeting in the back room of a bar to being a team player at the premier science center in Orange County. We have members in 13 states and two countries. No mean feat when you consider that we are supposedly a local group.

 

OCSS works with many other space education organizations and many of our members are also members of these other groups. When just about anything important happens in this field, we are somehow involved.

 

This issue of O.C.Space features an article about the movement of Space Camp, in Mountain View, to a possible new home in Long Beach. Moving Space Camp was the brain child of people who also happen to be members of OCSS. Many of the people who are investors in this operation are also members or close associates of ours. Additionally, there are many people under consideration for employment by Space Camp once it becomes operational, who also happen to be associated with our chapter. Coincidence? I think not.

 

Is this something that could have been accomplished 13 years ago when OCSS was first established? Very doubtful. It has taken a lot of hard work by our members to become as recognized within the space education community as we have become.

 

However, there are times when I wonder why we haven’t been even more successful in our efforts. Why isn’t everyone interested in space rushing to sign up with OCSS and help out? Recent events have shown me that the reason may be that some people have to let their egos get in the way of what is right and what is ethical. It is too bad that this happens, but if we continue to strive, in the long run I believe we will prevail.

 

In the meantime, we need to keep our egos in check and make sure that what we are doing is in the best interest of our goals, not just for ourselves.

Where will the next decades take us? Impossible to say, but I think I can hazard a fairly accurate guess based on our past performance. We will have members from an even wider segment of society than we already do, and I’ll wager that some of them (possibly even someone reading this column right now) will have been into space for a first hand look and feel for what is there. Yes, we already have several astronauts as members of OCSS, but in this case, I am talking about a private citizen, someone who just wants to go there to see for themselves. What a journey awaits us.

 

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"Chapter Excellence" July 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the 2003 International Space Development Conference in San Jose. ISDC is an annual event hosted by the National Space Society to bring together members throughout the world.

 

This is only the second time I have gone to an ISDC (see O.C.SPACE, August 2001), and I hadn’t really intended to go this year either. Work on the Space Camp project has been so hectic, not to mention that I had already spent over a month in the Bay Area not long before to disassemble the Space Camp equipment, that I thought maybe I should sit this one out.

 

Events overtook me, however. Our good friend, and long time member of OCSS, Bob Hillhouse, was in charge of the Space Enterprise track of programming at ISDC. He had scheduled some great speakers on the topics of Space Tourism, Building a Space Business, and much more. Several people had to cancel at the last minute, so I asked Bob if I could help out. He accepted my offer, so I traveled to ISDC to give a program about the Space Camp project.

 

Another reason I wanted to attend was that another good friend and member, Sema Basol, was also going, and I wanted to do what I could to help promote her fantastic organization: Global Friendship Through Space Education. Throughout the weekend, Sema made some great contacts for GFSTE that will hopefully pay off big in the coming years.

 

Several things were especially fun. One was when the President of JP Aerospace, John Powell, gave a talk where he discussed a project called PongSats. For years JP has launched rocket tests in the desert. Some of these reach the edge of space at over 100,000 feet. Every flight carries a payload of PongSats, which are literally ping pong balls filled with some sort of imaginative experiments from students. His descriptions of some of the ideas were fascinating. It is hoped that the students at the Youth Space Summit in Turkey will be able to participate in this program for a future flight.

 

During the conference, I also had an opportunity to discuss ideas about how to enhance the chapter system of NSS with new Executive Director, Brian Chase. He was very receptive and presented many ideas of his own, showing that he was not just giving lip service to the chapters. Also, at the end of the conference, Brian was gracious enough to video tape a greeting that will be played for the students at the Youth Space Summit.

 

Overall, the conference this year was sparsely attended compared to the one I had gone to in 2001. The economy caught up with a lot of us. However, the programming itself was excellent. This was especially true of the Space Enterprise tract, which was heavily attended throughout the weekend.

 

At the end of the ISDC each year, an awards banquet is held to honor the wonderful work done by NSS chapters. OCSS has been consistent at winning awards each year. This year we were pleasantly surprised to receive the top honor given to a chapter: “Chapter Excellence — Chapter of the Year.”

 

OCSS received this honor for all the outstanding programs and events we accomplished in 2002, including 19 programs and 14 public displays. We could not have won this great award without the hard work and dedication of each and every member who supports OCSS. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you in OCSS. This is your award. You deserve it!

 

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"International Star Registry" August 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but I couldn’t resist saying it again after a recent comic strip summed it up so very nicely (see page 7). If you’ve ever thought about giving a gift to someone by naming a star after them — Don’t!

 

The International Star Registry (ISR) sells stars, or at least they sell the names for stars. This seems like a really great idea on the surface. There are literally thousands of stars visible to the naked eye on a very dark night away from city lights.

 

Of these approximately 3,000 visible stars, most do not have names. Only the very bright ones like Mizar, Rigel, Arcturus, and others have been assigned monikers. The rest are listed by their NGC (New General Catalog) number or some other obscure method that just about anyone outside of astronomy circles would find confusing.

 

So, why not start assigning names if people would like to pay for the service? Well, sounds like a great idea, but the ISR cannot do that. They are not an officially recognized body that can assign or approve names to any celestial object.

 

For many years now, the ISR has been selling names to gullible people who would like to honor a loved one. Not only do they feed on that gullibility, they often feed on our grief. ISR markets to people who have recently lost a family member. They say that by giving ISR a fee to “officially” name a star in their loved one’s memory, you are giving them a monument that will literally last a billion years and more.

 

I have always felt anger toward ISR for doing something as despicable as leading people on in this way when they have absolutely no legal leg to stand on. For your money all you ever get is a piece of paper, not a piece of the cosmos.

 

Many of our members may already be familiar with the fallacy of ISR, but for those who are not, please take heed if you ever see or hear their ads and feel a compulsion to take them up on their services.

 

Another reason that I have chosen this time to write about the horrors of the International Star Registry is that they are getting more and more aggressive in their tactics.

 

All professionals associated with astronomy know the real way that stars receive names. They know that ISR is a crock of garbage. Many observatories and planetariums placed notices on their websites and warned callers to their institutions to stay away from ISR.

 

How does ISR react to this? They threaten to sue any place that tells people that ISR has no right to name stars. And the worst thing is that without exception, every institution has caved in under that threat. Not one place stood up to them and told them to bring on the lawyers if they think they have such a great case for defamation. The managers all state that they are at the mercy of public funding and can’t take any chances.

 

Well, OCSS will not cave to their tactics. I want to take this opportunity to state for the record that the International Star Registry is doing something illegal, immoral, and unethical.

 

All of us should do whatever we can to get the word out to stay away from these people. I invite ISR to come after OCSS, or me personally, and tell me that we can’t tell the truth about their scam. If they want to threaten a lawsuit for defamation, bring ‘em on!

 

Whatever you do, stay away from the scam of ISR.

 

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"Second Anniversary" September 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

It’s difficult to believe that two years have passed since September 11, 2001 — day that would change the world and yet now it seems so far away. The immediacy of seeing those towers collapsing, of seeing the Pentagon on fire, of hearing those words “Let’s roll,” are now part of history. Soon another year will pass, then another, then a decade, then a quarter century. What will be the lasting legacy of that day in 2026?

 

I think it will be a day that will haunt all of us who were alive to see it, the same way that the images of Challenger and Columbia will be forever etched in our brains. It has been nearly a year since Columbia and (can you believe it?) nearly 18 years since Challenger. Has time diminished anything of those events in our memories?

 

Think of the impact that Challenger had on us all and especially on the school children everywhere watching a teacher rocket toward orbit. Next summer there will be students graduating from high school who were not even born when the accident occurred. For them it will always be something viewed on TV and read about in history books. For those of us who witnessed it as it happened and lived through the aftermath, we will never be the same.

 

So I believe it will be with 9-11. Before we know it there will be kids who will grow up never having seen it first hand, only witnessing it through their parents or teachers.

 

I watched the television that day, just like I had on January 28, 1986 and February 1, 2003; even as I recall vividly January 27, 1967 and November 22, 1963; just as my parents can see the awful images in their mind’s eye of December 7, 1941. These are all dates that transcend a calendar. They take on a meaning of their own.

 

Some of these dates hit home more than others because there is more of a personal connection to them. Challenger is a great example of this in that I was covering the fantastic mission of Voyager 2’s flyby of Uranus on the day the shuttle lifted into the cold Florida sky. The giant screen at the Von Karman auditorium at JPL was tuned to Kennedy Space Center that morning. Afterward we were to return to our media duties as the flyby wound down, and Voyager entered the blackness between planets once again, awaiting its final encounter with Neptune three-and-a-half years later.

 

September 11 now also has some personal connection to me in that a few months ago I happened to be in New York City for the first time in more than 30 years. While there, I saw the gaping hole in the ground that once was the World Trade Center. When I had been there last, their construction had net yet begun, and now they were completely gone from the planet. I had seen them from afar, and even photographed them a few times from across the river, but being up close to the place where they used to stand will forever reverberate in my soul like no television image ever could.

 

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"Legacy of Columbia" October 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

The work of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) has come to an end. They delivered their final report at the end of August to NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. We have now had a small amount of time to absorb the report and the impact it will hopefully have on the future of human space exploration.

 

There were several major findings that came out of the CAIB. The primary physical cause of the accident was conclusively proven to be that a small piece of insulating foam broke off the forward orbiter attach point on the External Tank. This foam flew backward in the slipstream and struck the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing, causing a breach in the reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC). Sixteen days later, during reentry, hot plasma at over 3,000°F entered the wing through this breach and destroyed the structure of the wing. When wing integrity was lost, the orbiter lost control and broke up in the skies over Texas, killing seven American astronauts.

 

The secondary cause of the accident was the “culture” within NASA that allowed this to happen in the first place. Even though they had been presented with a wake-up call after the Challenger accident in 1986, NASA allowed many of the same problems that led to that disaster to continue and grow until the second loss of life was inevitable. If an engineer believed that there was a safety of flight issue, it was their responsibility to prove that their beliefs must be taken seriously enough to warrant even a cursory look at the issue. In other words they had to prove it unsafe to fly, when NASA, post-Challenger, had supposedly made it policy that it must be proven safe to fly.

 

Without exception, all red flags raised by engineers about the possibility of a breach after launch of Columbia were completely and soundly ignored by anyone and everyone that was in a position to actually do something about the problem. The astronauts were lost due to apathy of the upper management of NASA that didn’t want to put a tight flight schedule in jeopardy.

 

But not all blame must be laid at NASA’s doorstep. Culpability must also be accepted by the Congress and President of the United States. Prior to February 1, 2003, the day Columbia was lost, President Bush had made not one policy statement about the American space program. Congress had continually slashed funds needed by NASA, including specifically the money required for safety upgrades to the aging orbiter fleet.

 

The CAIB stated emphatically that the Executive Branch of our country must take spaceflight seriously enough that a policy must be initiated to clearly state what it is that this country intends to do in regard to space exploration. Then this policy must be backed up by whatever funding is necessary to make that happen.

 

If this country decides that human spaceflight is too expensive then that must be addressed; however, if this country decides that there is a future for humanity off this planet, then the goals must be stated emphatically for all to see.

 

As Thomas Jefferson told the Continental Congress when asked why we needed to write a Declaration of Independence when everyone already knew what we were fighting for, he stated succinctly: “To place before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.”

 

The same must be held true for NASA and our future in space.

 

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"The Rocky Voyage of Galileo" November 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

Jupiter has been a source of fascination since the first telescope was trained on it nearly 400 years ago. It is the giant of the solar system. All the other planets could be combined into one and still not match the mass of Jupiter. Some have even suggested that, with just a little more of a push, Jupiter could have been coaxed into being a star in its own right. What a difference our sky would be if we lived under two suns.

 

Arthur C. Clarke even took it so far as to have that actually occur (through some slight alien intervention) in his sequel to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “2010: Odyssey Two.”

 

Speculation and fiction only satisfy us for a short period. To really understand a place we must go there. If we can’t do it in person, we have to send our robot emissaries. In the last 30 years Jupiter has now been flown by five times (Pioneers 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, and Cassini) and orbited once (Galileo).

 

The Galileo orbiter and its probe were a logical follow-up to the highly successful flybys of the 1970s. First scheduled for launch in 1984, it was a very rocky road indeed for this intrepid explorer. Delays piled onto delays, but launch was finally on track for May 1986. Then the Challenger disaster struck and the launch vehicle for Galileo, the Space Shuttle, was grounded for nearly three years.

 

As the investigation unfolded, it was decided that the powerful upper stage Galileo was mated to for launch from the shuttle’s cargo bay, was just too dangerous to have astronauts associated with it. The Centaur was scrapped and an innovative and round-about gravity assist route to Jupiter was devised that made use of a Venus swingby, as well as two by Earth, before finally being propelled outward to Jupiter. This could all be accomplished with much less power and thus the Interim Upper Stage (IUS), which was shuttle-certified, was allowed to loft Galileo.

 

Launch finally occurred at 09:53 PT on Wednesday, October 18, 1989, five years late. Also, because of the lower power available and the three planetary gravity boosts required, the three year transit would now take more than six years (arrival occurred in December 1995).

 

Space Shuttle Atlantis boosted into the clear sky with Galileo in the cargo bay (with three future OCSS members there to watch it go). Everything went perfectly after launch until the sunshade used to protect the spacecraft during its plunge into the inner solar system was jettisoned and the large wire-mesh high-gain antenna was finally unfurled. It didn’t work.

 

The rest of the mission was accomplished at an extremely slow data rate. Almost all the photos and other science data had to now rely on the low-gain antenna, thus curtailing some of the spectacular photo sequences expected to be received. The photos finally beamed back to Pasadena were of higher quality than Voyager, but there was a magnitude less of them to be had.

 

Still, what was received was groundbreaking for planetary scientists and breathtakingly beautiful to the human on the street who cared enough to watch the news. The planet itself took a back seat to the wondrous discoveries on the major moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. Enough evidence was gathered to raise high hopes that Europa may even be an abode of life (Arthur C. Clarke strikes again!).

 

Now, Galileo has finished its mission. At 12:43 on September 21 (just three hours before our September OCSS meeting), Galileo plunged into Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere at 108,000 mph. This way, it stands no chance of ever contaminating Europa with nasty Earth-borne microorganisms.

 

Farewell Galileo, it has been a fantastic 14-year long odyssey.

 

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"Centennial of Flight" December 2003

by Michelle Evans

 

What a difference a hundred years can make! Can you imagine how your life would be different if we did not have the power of flight? Far off places like Paris or London or Istanbul would still be places where few of us would ever travel. If we did, it would takes weeks or even months to get there.

 

Family life for those of us with relatives who might be across a continent would be a major area of change. Now they are just hours away. What if they were days or a week or more from you? Of course, some people might say that it would be a good thing if relatives were farther away!

 

Whether for good or for bad, the Wright brothers have now wrought us a century of flight. We can pick up and go almost anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice (nowadays, disallowing the fact of waiting in long lines for security, of course).

 

The funny thing is how we all know that the Wright brothers were the first to solve the ages-long puzzle of controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight, when it took nearly a half century for some people to recognize that fact. This was even true amongst the supposedly learned establishments such as the Smithsonian Institute.

 

Today, the National Air and Space Museum on The Mall in Washington, D.C., is coveted as the place where the 1903 Wright Flyer resides. But how many know that it was not installed there until 1948? The reason for this was that, until that time, the Secretary of the Smithsonian only acknowledged their own scientist, Dr. Samuel Pierpont Langley, as the true inventor of flight. They definitely had a “Not Invented Here” attitude.

 

The Smithsonian was not alone in this. Many people across the globe refused to believe the claims of the Wrights until they actually showed up in the skies above them. The French, for example, believed for many years that their own Blériot had been the first to take to the air and return safely to the earth.

 

In some cases, is was true that others, independent of the Wrights, were able to achieve flight in different parts of the United States and overseas. However, they did it after the Wright brothers and did not have anywhere near the control of their machines that the Wrights demonstrated. Taking off and flying, usually in a straight line, but even sometimes in circles, could be achieved, after a fashion, through rudimentary aerodynamics and if enough power and patience was to be had.

 

The difference that the Wrights presented was that they did not force their way into the air, but took several years of thoughtful study and research to understand the problems. Then they tackled and resolved them one by one.

 

On that very cold and windy morning of December 17, 1903, when the 12-horsepower engine puttered to life and pushed the Flyer down the track and into the air, Orville had complete control in all three axes – roll, pitch, and yaw. No one had ever done that before, and no one else was even close to understanding it in the way that the Wright brothers did.

 

One of the many things they had to learn the hard way was that data supposedly discovered by others such as Octave Chanute and Otto Lilienthal, and was regarded as gospel in the aeronautic community, could not be trusted as so many others had done before them. The Wrights literally started from scratch and figured it all out for themselves. Fundamental discoveries were made at every turn, and that is why we are where we are today.

 

It took years for this conflict of proprietorship to be resolved, but now we fully understand what an enormous contribution Wilbur and Orville made to the then fledgling science of aeronautics.

 

Where will the next hundred years of flight take us all?

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