Space X's Falcon 9 launch leaves dreamers behind

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

I had a dream when I was 10 years old and was thrilled when Alan Shepard, in the first manned Mercury Mission, orbited the earth. Okay, we were a bit  behind the Soviets, but, still we had done it, and very soon, I knew we would eclipse them. And we did.

On that day, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut, too. To explore space. Never mind that women, including the legendary Mercury 13, were not part of NASA’s mission back then. It was a manly task in this pre-lib era. Never mind that my Coke bottle-thick glasses (in a fashionable blue metallic complete with fake diamonds) would have rendered me ineligible, I still dreamed the dream back then. Continue reading

Nota Bene #124: I'm a Doctor, Not an Engineer

“I don’t believe in this fairy tale of staying together for ever. Ten years with somebody is enough.” Who said it? Continue reading

Puny Krauthammer ambushes a science giant

by Robert S. Becker

Stay ‘til the end – and a rich payoff of Carl Sagan’s gemlike insights. A little clean-up work first, to clear the palate.

I don’t regularly read Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer (CK, as in crank), often regret when I do, ending with gnashing teeth. From time to time, perplexity or hilarity moves me to the dark side, hunting out the loopy logic behind the latest fringe skullduggery. I used to read that wily conservative wordsmith, Peggy Noonan – a far better stylist – until I gagged at her unctuous Vatican sycophancy.

So, I brightened suspiciously at Krauthammer’s seemingly apolitical title, “Are we alone in the universe?” Continue reading

Nota Bene #123: Behold the Chickenosaurus

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.'” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

"Then, the explosion": a Pulitzer-winning journalist recalls the Challenger disaster

Twelfth in a series

by John Hanchette

All day long, the Internet and television have been full of sound and no little fury over the moth-balling of our shuttle fleet and, realistically speaking, the dismantling of our space program. National Public Radio has been bleating all day for called-in recollections of our rocketry and space adventures, and asking for commentary on whether this indicates “American decline.”

Who can tell? Continue reading

The Shuttle program rolls to a close – now what?: one scientist remembers his winding path and thinks about the future

Tenth in a series

by Michael Pecaut

For most people, there seems to be a period in life when they have to decide what they really want to do. Become a doctor or lawyer, poet or teacher, soldier or fireman. For me, there was never any doubt. I wanted to be an astronaut. Sure, I had other interests. Coming from Hawaii, I thought about becoming a marine biologist. After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, I wanted to be an archeologist. Who didn’t? But all of those ideas were secondary to exploring space. Setting foot on the Moon or Mars. Floating in microgravity. Those dreams were constant.

My first real interaction with anyone involved in the Space Shuttle program occurred at Wahiawa Elementary School. Continue reading

A Sputnik baby remembers Challenger and looks to the future

Ninth in a series

by Gray Smith

I’m a Sputnik baby. Who knows – perhaps my birth in June of 1958 was the result of some Sputnik-induced frolic, since its launch would have been precisely nine months before.

As a kid, I was a total space geek. I wrote many letters to NASA – scrawled on grade-school writing tablet paper – filled with questions, space ship ideas and pictures. To their credit, NASA always responded – with thick, glossy brochures about Mercury, Gemini, and later, Apollo, which I still have today. I belonged to the club that sent a space-related scale model kit every month, and had the gold coin collection that commemorated every flight, as well as a model of the Saturn 5 that stood nearly four feet high. My dad and I built (and lost) LOTS of Estes model rockets, and the G.I. Joe astronaut and capsule was my favorite toy. Continue reading

From Kitty Hawk to Cape Canaveral

Eighth in a series

It’s the village of Kill Devil Hills now, but once upon a time, this open field and grass-covered sand dune had been part of Kitty Hawk—a place made famous when Orville and Wilbur Wright first took to the air. Hundreds of people mill about, walking the trail to the monument, visiting the exhibition hall and visitor center, peering into the reconstructed hangar and workshop.

It’s hard to feel the history here, maybe because the summer sun makes everything hyperbright and hot, so different from the grainy black-and-white photo taken on that December day in 1903 that captured the Wright’s airplane as it wobbled up into the air. Or maybe it’s because of the rows of cars parked in the lot and the masses of people decked out in full beach-tourist regalia.

The air somehow carries a shared sense of pride, like everyone’s proud of Orville and Wilbur, proud of the brothers’ achievement, proud of the inventive spirit that allowed humanity to rise up above itself and above the earth itself. Continue reading

Remembering the Space Shuttle: laying out page 1

Seventh in a series

By Patrick Vecchio

When the space shuttle Challenger burst into a fireball of horror and history on January 28, 1986, I wasn’t watching the live broadcast. In that sense, I was like most Americans. But unlike most Americans, I was learning about the disaster as quickly as details became available.

That morning marked the first time I had been trusted to lay out page 1 for the newspaper where I was working. I had worked there for four years and wanted to show the editors I could handle the increased responsibility. Continue reading

The launch of STS-135 (from about as close as you want to get)

Sixth in a series

by Michael Pecaut

On Friday, I was one of the million or so people to see the launch of STS-135 live. More than that, I was one of the lucky few to see it from the parking lot of the VAB, 3.4 miles away from launch pad 39A. That might seem like a long way, but trust me, you don’t want to be much closer than that.

Surrounded by NASA workers yammering about previous launches, high school students and undergrads yammering about the next party, and camera nuts yammering about f-stops and shutter speeds, I waited for hours, unwilling to give up my spot on the pavement. No time for eating. No time for the restroom. We weren’t going anywhere. Continue reading

Remembering the Space Shuttle: Columbia – the road trip

Fifth in a series

by Evan Robinson

Thirty years ago last April, six of us set out from Lake Geneva, WI, in two cars. We had told our bosses that we were taking a few days off to see Columbia’s first launch. Lawrence, his wife Josie, and Jeff were in Lawrence and Josie’s car. Erol, Paul, and I were in mine.


I’ll say, right from the beginning, that many of the routine details of the trip are hazy now. I couldn’t consult photos, because they’re all in storage. I don’t remember the route we drove, although I suspect that we went from Lake Geneva through Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Gainesville, Orlando to somewhere near Cocoa, just inland from Cape Canaveral, following I-65 and I-75. It’s likely that some of the sharp memories of the trip are just as hazy as well. But everything here is as I remember it, with some support from Google. Continue reading

NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

Fourth in a series

As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Continue reading

The Space Shuttle: first thoughts on the end of an era

Second in a series.

I just watched the space shuttle Atlantis take flight for the last time, and I’m trying to figure out why I feel so much like I did after my grandfather died.

Is it because so much of my life has been defined by my attitude towards space exploration, and because the space shuttle symbolized that?

Is it because the first shuttle went up when I was eight, I saw Challenger blow up at 13, saw Columbia break up on reentry when I was 30, and have now lived to see the end of American space flight for the foreseeable future at the age of 38? Continue reading

Remembering the Space Shuttle: "Something has happened…"

This article originally appeared on July 8, 2011. We repost it today to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.


First in a series.

A few moments ago, at 11:30am EDT, Atlantis lifted off, marking the 135th and final mission in NASA’s historic Space Shuttle program, which began in 1981. The Shuttle era was defined by glory and tragedy and perhaps even a bit of banality. After all, the first time you do something it’s exciting, but at some point it becomes routine, even if the something in question involves lobbing over 2,000 tons of metal into space.

Over the coming days, as the crew of Atlantis orbits the earth, conducting experiments and, one hopes, taking a few moments to enjoy the ride, the staff at Scholars & Rogues will be offering a series of personal reflections on the program. We have also invited some guests to drop by, including our rocket scientist buddy Dr. Michael Pecaut, who has had quite a few experiments up on the Shuttle (and is at Kennedy Space Center right now working on yet another one). Continue reading

"Light this Candle"

It’s been a big week for the USA.

First, American troops raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed al Qaeda’s leader.

And today is the 50th anniversary of America’s first manned space flight. On May 5th, 1961, Alan Shepard lifted off from  Cape Canaveral for a 15 minute flight that got America on the board against the hated Soviets, whose hero Yuri Gagarin had not only already flown in space but had orbited the earth some weeks earlier.

While Shepard’s flight was only a jog compared to Gagarin’s, it had plenty of drama. The US was trailing the Soviets in rocket technology and the previous two launches (one with a dummy astronaut) had gone off course and subsequently  had to  be destroyed.  No one at NASA could say for certain that Shepard might not go the way of his mannequin predecessor.

In fact, Shepard’s flight was delayed three days as NASA technicians tried to solve potential flight problems. Continue reading

Do Svidaniya, Yuri and Vladimir

If you’re a Boomer, particularly a Boomer male, the “space race” resonates with you as much, maybe more than JFK,  Beatlemania, or Vietnam. You spent a lot of Saturdays wishing the most recent Mercury/Gemini/Apollo mission would release its hold and that all systems would be go so the spectacle of the launch itself could flicker on your TV – and you could get back to watching cartoons.

But the astronauts themselves were rock stars – before there were rock stars. They were real, live American heroes – and while I and many of my generation found ourselves torn between widely varying (although not so different, we now know) heroic types, no one doubted the couragesometimes tragically expressed – of our space explorers. We lost  some of our guys (including my personal favorite, Gus Grissom) – but we had to beat the Russians. If they took over space, life as we knew it would be over. Over….

And they had the first space hero – Yuri Gagarin. Continue reading