naturedance: Caltech GeoChem BS, former ITS staffer, and member of Blacker Hovse (techer geek)

Monday evening I and a friend attended Dr. Stephen Hawking’s public lecture in Pasadena, Why We Should Go Into Space. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen one of Dr. Hawking’s lectures, nor the only time I’ve seen him in person; his frequent visits to Caltech and my past inability to escape that campus’ gravity well and/or event horizon meant that like many other former Caltech undergrads I’ve seen him around campus, and also, when his assistant came to the computer department to get email set up for him, I was the person to activate the account for at least one of his visits.

It’s humbling to see the lengths he must go to in order to communicate, regardless of the import or impact of his ideas.

Of course he’s a scientific genius, and he has a lovely, gently dry sense of humor that tends to sneak up on the unwary.

It’s also very neat to know that the new Pasadena Convention Center was packed to capacity for a scientific lecture. That says something fundamental about the community.

It also says something fundamental about science and public science communication that, both in his presentation and in the other presenters remarks bracketing his talk, there were many, many references to Star Trek. “To boldly go where no one has gone before” has become so embedded in the psyche of everyone who works and dreams of humanity’s future in space. Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of our future, the idealism that embodies, the wonder of exploration, and the depiction that just about everyone can make some kind of a useful contribution to that effort… these concepts capture the imagination of science geeks and science fans and everyday people in ways that are difficult to describe, and difficult to quantify, but it provides a shared philosophical vocabulary shorthand that we all collectively speak.

Read more... )

I guess this little post is my contribution to the collective human hive-mind of the internet for today…. yes to hope, yes to discovery, yes to exploration, yes to idealism, yes to science being approachable and open and inspiring, and yes to public discourse on science being celebrated.

naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
Thanks to [ profile] montyy0 for the reminder... it's today!

James Cook and the Transit of Venus

I'll likely watch one of the webcasts linked above, or I might possibly bring my binoculars, duct tape, and a couple pieces of white cardboard to work to build an optical projector on my lunch hour (instructions are here).

That reminds me... I discovered a new-to-me podcast just now which I've added to my subscriptions in iTunes: 60-Second Science is by the folks at Scientific American magazine. It's now on my list of science-related or environmental-related podcasts that includes:

Nature Podcast
NOVA scienceNOW
NPR: Environment
Science @ NASA Feature Stories Podcast
Science Friday - Making Science Radioactive

What podcasts do you listen to?

And yes, thanks to LOPSA I'm also now adding In The Trenches, a podcast by sysadmins for sysadmins hosted by Kevin Devin and George Starcher. Yay LOPSA!

Edited to add: It's about 1:20pm here and I took my binoculars and a piece of white cardboard (and a few bemused coworkers) outside. We didn't have a tripod so the image was wobbly, but we were able to spot the tiny black dot on the image of the sun projected onto the cardboard. Cool!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (reflective)
First, a bit of personal stuff...

My hands/wrists/arms/shoulders are throwing a fit because I've been on the computers too much lately and one of them has a keyboard that messes with me, so this entry's formatting is not up to my usual standard, sorry.

(edited to add: work ordered another minikeyboard for me for that computer earlier in the week, and it just arrived. Bliss! For the record, I now depend on BenQ Desksaver keyboards on all of my PCs; regular keyboards with tall keys spaced wider _hurt_. I've also switched to using more comfy trackball thingies rather than mice with Evil Scroll Wheels, for the same reason.)

Grad school class is going OK, though I'm really tired and buzzwords bend my brain. I've got lots to type up about the books and articles we've been reading, though, and I hope to do so as part of my studying this weekend for the midterm next week.

I bought myself a new 12" Mac laptop. It rocks. I'm still getting the hang of it, but I do love it so far.

Work is crazy and busy but I'm hanging in there, as usual.

And here's what I spent my lunch hour reading...

Wil Wheaton mentioned on his blog at a potentially interesting site called Digg. He also has a really great story about running around his front yard like a loon because it's his birthday. As always, Wil rocks.

Wil's post led me both to and to photos of a release of ten thousand superballs boinging their way down a San Francisco street.

That led me to an interesting photo storage site.

The science links page at Digg led me to the BBC's really cool section about exploring Mars.
Lake of frozen water:
Possibly found the crashed polar lander:
Rover missions extended:

Other interesting stuff on LJ:

"Don't be smart."

Language creation stuff -

Nation-state simulator program/game -

That reminds me... I stumbled across a neat tutorial for making planet images using Photoshop a while back...

Explaining outdated technology to children... "In the old days. Were you black and white?"

Using cell phone data to track behavior...

Baen's online fiction library...

Microsoft unveils new version of its operating system, "Vista" ...the running joke resulting from this seems to be "We are assured that the new name is not an acronym for Viruses, Infections, Spyware, Trojans and Adware. No, no, no, no, no, it's really not."

Think one person can't change the world? Read a little bit about one woman who was instrumental in starting what have now become LGBT Pride celebrations every year around the world, at

Back to work now...
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (reflective)
At some point last weekend, I was babbling with a book group about TV show complexities increasing over time...

The article I mentioned was at the NYTimes, which requires free membership,
but there are all sorts of discussions happening about it (and reprints of it) in various blogs. Here are a few:

I'm not sure I buy the idea that increasingly complex television is making people smarter when compared to other entertainment and hobbies, but I do agree that more complex television is almost always more likely to do that than simple television.

The examples Johnson gives of more complex TV shows may be teaching multithreading, but to me it seems they aren't really encouraging in-depth thought or deep analysis, but rather they are encouraging humans to use more virtual RAM in our skulls. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, I'd just rather see both growing in society rather than one or the other. However, I'd personally still take Cosmos over Hill Street Blues any day.

I think at some point I'm going to have to hit the library and check out Johnson's new book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter just to see what else he's trying to say.

This also reminds me of this post I stumbled over while surfing around on LJ lately:
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (reflective)
I love the reading list of journals I've collected here. A sampling of random interesting things that have caught my eye lately:

[ profile] sclerotic_rings linked to a neat site about Lithops, sometimes called "living stones", and Charles Darwin Has A Posse which is interesting in and of itself, but also because it talks about the damage that the acidity of Post-It adhesives can do to books, even after the Post-Its are removed.

I read an RSS feed of [ profile] pandasthumb, and this recent post includes a list of books I'd dearly love to see donated to every school in the country. I've read a significant number of them myself, and expect to work my way through the rest of the list at some point.

[ profile] yesthattom linked to an interesting article about why some protests make the news and some don't. Did you know that a huge anti-war demonstration by millions of people happened last weekend?
naturedance: Caltech GeoChem BS, former ITS staffer, and member of Blacker Hovse (techer geek)
This coming Saturday I will be volunteering as part of the Sally Ride Science Festival here on campus.

They happen all over the country. They're only one component of the cool stuff done by Sally Ride Science.

*big happy grin*
naturedance: Caltech GeoChem BS, former ITS staffer, and member of Blacker Hovse (techer geek)
I overcommitted myself on volunteering with the SFP folks this year, thinking I could do anything at all to help during business hours in September, but aside from that, I feel really good about what I did manage to do to help out this year.

(Reminder to self: it's all right to volunteer for things in July, August, or October, but NOT SEPTEMBER WHEN ITS-RELATED WORK WILL EAT YOU ALIVE, ok?)

I did two half-hour orientation sessions for prospective students (mostly high schoolers) and their parents, and a few local teachers. My goal was to provide an introduction to Caltech, an overview of SURF, a description of what Seminar Day is, and a few tips to help them get the most of it, and then I take questions from them. All in 25 minutes or less. :-) I love doing this sort of thing.

I need to get the latest pamphlets from Admissions and the Alumni Association for alumni recruiters so I'm up to speed on the latest news on campus.

Seriously... I work there every business day, I eat lunch on campus most days, and I still don't know even an overview of everything that's going on!

Last night, we watched Real Genius over dinner, and I dug out my Legends of Caltech and More Legends of Caltech books and a few of my college photo albums. I've been tripping down memory lane for a lot of varied reasons lately, and it seemed pertinent.

And then I read the latest campus newspaper, the first part of this year's catalog, an outreach booklet called Caltech 101, an update newsletter about the capital campaign from last fall, and this year's introduction booklet that all incoming undergraduates get from the Deans Office. Now I know... what I don't know. Or rather, what I want to know more about. But I'm still sure I'm missing out on hearing about something really cool that's happening, because it's all happening so much all over campus.

I want to see if I qualify to do recruitment meetings in Indiana. If so, the next time I go home to visit my folks, I could have an info session the way one or two guys did when I was in high school.

I want to keep myself more up to date on what the alumni groups are doing.

I want to shift my hours so I have more quiet time in the office to get my backlog of web development and retirement DONE. I'm tired of feeling like I'm too far behind on things to leave my desk or go home.

So after the orientation sessions this morning, I was kind of an outreach floater for the rest of the morning, talking with anyone who had questions and then nearly filling in as a judge in one session because the fellow was running late. Then I went to the session chair training meeting at 11:15, and then lunch at noon. I sat with some SURFers, a high schooler and his Dad, and S, and Roommate. This was her first in-person introduction to SURF, and it felt great to share a window on this part of my Caltech experience with her. Her college experience was so different in some ways from mine; it's been great comparing notes and getting a broader view of the world.

I chatted with random folks for a bit and then we went to chill out in Moore courtyard, and then we made sure all of the AV equipment in the session room was working. I chaired a mini-session, only four talks, in Aeronautics this year. Fascinating stuff.

After that was followup with my session's judge and schmoozing with the other SURF volunteers and the SFP ladies.

The semifinal round of the Perpall Speaking Competition are in November. I heartily encourage anyone within range of Pasadena to attend.

I wanted to check if something of mine was still lurking in the undergrad long-term storage area, but we couldn't find it, so it looks like it's been put to other use by now. Since we were already down in the SAC, we did a quick tunnel over to Throop, a slow saunter around Milliken Pond and Beckman Institute, and then found the car and hit Zono Sushi for dinner.

SURF Seminar Day always tesseracts past and present for me. Oci being sick lately has had me thinking about when I got her, too, and that was my first summer SURFing. I feel much closer to the 19 and 20 year old I was when I was SURFing those two summers than I normally do nowadays, and it's a strange feeling. Also, my Caltech entering class' ten year reunion is coming up next spring.

Having Roommate there, talking with her about why I care about SURF and why I care about Caltech, and seeing her reactions to her first batch of SURF talks... it provided some anchor here in the present for me, one I hadn't really figured out that I needed. Rather than getting linked to my past, today somehow felt different, like present was linking with past and past with present. Rather than looking at my present self from the perspective of my younger self, I feel more like I'm looking at my younger self from my present self.

I don't quite have the words to describe what's rattling around between my ears just now, but... ah, at least I've tried. :-)

I wish my parents lived closer so they could come see a day full of SURF talks.

I wish I could somehow hook up a USB drive to my skull and put what this place has meant to me in mental pictures and feelings so that others could just see it and feel it...

Anyway, we just came home and, on a whim, went for a quick soak in the hot tub. It started raining while we were down there, and it felt great.

I now feel something of a cross between a teabag and a baked potato. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

And now it is time for comfy PJs and hot spiced cider. Mmmmmmm.

What a fantastic day!!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (together with earth usgs)
[ profile] sclerotic_rings linked to Astrobiology's article about the asteroid Toutatis, which will pass within four Earth-to-Moon distances of Earth on Wednesday. Cool stuff if you've got a telescope or set of binoculars handy.

And the harvest moon is tonight. Last night I caught a moonbeam shining into our living room. The moon was just beautiful. I should find my binoculars before dusk tonight.

Folks over in the [ profile] geology community are talking about recent and ongoing earthquakes up at Mount St. Helens. They've linked to a Yahoo! News article with some pretty pictures, and the USGS Earthquake Hazards site has a special bulletin about recent activity, and the USGS Volcano Hazards site is also full of interesting stuff.

On the political front, [ profile] yesthattom excerpts from The Unfeeling President, an article by E.L. Doctorow.

And now, some tea, because I'm having trouble getting vertical this morning. It's been steeping while I've been catching up on my LJ reading. MMmmm, Fiji, from Infusions of Tea, with orange honey from Bill's Bees. Mmmmmmmmm...

Last night I read the first section of a book of Robert Frost's poetry my Mom gave me. A few of the poems in A Boy's Will (published in 1913) really resonate with me. I think I'll be posting some of them here. I woke up this morning with fragments of John Greenleaf Whittier's In School-Days running through my mind, too.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
The robotic Mars rovers have friends. Lots of friends. They still seem to be trying to decide what to call their nonterrestrial blogspace, but they're very entertaining. Some of the long-range probes are very lonely, some of the satellites are flirting with each other, the earlier rovers are fangirling the newer models, the Hubble is posting art rather than poetry, and it all started with [ profile] spiritrover and [ profile] opportunitygrrl. If you're curious, check out my friendslist; I've friended all of them that I've found.

Also, as I just mentioned to a friend this past weekend, I used to be able to remember which planets were in the night sky at various times. I kept up with it, you know? And it's been ages since I've done that. Living in Los Angeles means that I see fewer stars than I'm used to, but the planets are usually visible even with all the extra light around. And yes, even though I've been here pretty much constantly since 1992, I still expect the sky to look like the sky I grew up with.

[ profile] sclerotic_rings links to an article here that caught my attention just in time... next Sunday, all five of the visible planets will be visible in the evening sky at the same time. That's cool.

And I am quite amused that the Sumerian Word of the Day over at [ profile] sumerianwotd (which is now dutifully written on the back of my hand) is "mul" -- constellation.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (reflective)
The courtyard in the center of the Beckman Institute building here at Caltech is one of my favorite places on Earth. The fountains, the trees, the architecture just speaks to me somehow; it always has.

There are clivia and magnolia plants in bloom in various places all over campus. My parents would be so jealous... they're still dealing with stormy winter/spring weather in Indiana. By contrast, we're having a heat wave here... I think it was between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Pasadena yesterday.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
I'm battling my standard start-of-school-year upper respiratory infection, but other than that, and being very, very busy, I'm doing well.

Last weekend I volunteered with the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships program at Caltech, for the annual SURF Seminar Day.

I talked to high school juniors and seniors and their parents about seminar day, SURF itself, and Caltech in general. Then I chaired a session in Chemistry, keeping the presentations ticking along on schedule and collaborating with the Perpall Speaking Competition judge for that session to decide who to send on to the semifinals.

It was really tough this year. There were a lot of good presentations, and many of them were very good in different ways, so it was incredibly difficult to compare them.

SURF is an amazing program, and it keeps getting bigger. There were over two hundred and twenty-five students presenting the results (or lack thereof!) of their summer research last Saturday, and there is a Summer Seminar Day for the nonCaltech SURFers and MURFers (that's Minority Undergraduate Research Fellowships) a month or so earlier that had at least a hundred and seventy-five student presentations.


SURF students write research proposals in the spring, working in conjunction with an experienced researcher in their field to formulate their project proposal. Once submitted for consideration, those proposals are reviewed, and some projects are funded by the program. Those students whose projects are funded spend ten weeks of their their summer doing original research under the encouragement of a group and a mentor, usually a Caltech professor or post-doctoral scholar, but sometimes a researcher up at JPL (that's NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory). They participate in group meetings as a full member of the research group they are working within, and the SURF program itself has lunchtime and evening events and workshops and roundtables all summer long. At the end of the summer, the students write up a technical paper and give their seminar day presentations... whether or not their project got results or worked; that's just like real world research in academia. Some lucky/industrious students usually end up publishing their work in technical journals; some students usually go to present their work at NCUR (the National Conference on Undergraduate Research) and/or at SCCUR (the Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research).

Many students SURF the same project for more than one summer, submitting a followup proposal each year for consideration. Some students continue their summer projects either for credit as during-the-school-year independent research, or as a work-study job to help pay for their college tuition and expenses.

Most undergraduates don't get the opportunity to do this sort of original research at all; they have to wait until grad school for this sort of experience. Not at Caltech. As a friend of mine says, SURF is one of the crown jewels of the Institute. Undergraduates have a lot of energy, and their participation in the research community at Caltech gives the whole place a much different vibe than it would have otherwise.

I'm proud to have been a SURFer in '93 and '94, to have attended NCUR and given my presentation there, to have been a peer coach in '94 helping MURFers and nonCaltech SURFers prepare for their seminar day talks, and a volunteer with the program for the past few years on seminar day.

More information is here, and yes, undergraduates at other colleges may apply for the program:
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
One of the Caltech security guards was rolling around on a Segway today, and while interesting, it caused less of a stir than the mechanical elephant that Nate Austin built for Ditch Day back in 2002.

Yesterday I overheard a new grad student talking with some friends about the weather... getting a barometric pressure reading from his watch... in units of hectopascals.

Passing out new email accounts to the inbound undergraduates last weekend, I saw quite a few cool geeky t-shirts, including:
- a lovely full-color photo of Bert and Ernie, with "Math is fun!" (I've now found it online!)
- "I'm smiling because you all have finally driven me insane."
- lots of binary and physics equations, too many to remember...

And even though this entering class were mostly born in 1985, most of them still seem to know that 42 is the answer, and that six times nine is the question, and how many (and which kind) of swallows it takes to fly a coconut to England.

I have hope for the future. *grin*

ETA: Folks looking for fun stuff about Caltech may be interested in these links:
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (Howard Dean) (thanks to [ profile] sclerotic_rings!)
I really, really want to grow a Wollemi pine in my apartment. When I have a yard of my own again I'll probably be planting a ginko and some magnolias... all for the same reason: they've been around a long, long time.
Oooh, look! This is an excellent place to learn the basics of contributing to campaigns, legal issues about talking to people about candidates, and how to register new voters.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
Sometimes I really love working at Caltech. I picked up a flyer in the coffee shop this morning, and I just have to share it with you... my Mom highly recommends the book and its author, and the actors... well, you'll recognize the names. *grin*

There was a miniseries made of another of the author's works, which I have on DVD: Longitude, which starred Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, and Ian Hart (you might recognize him as Professor Quirrel from the first Harry Potter movie). If you get the chance to read any of the author's books, or to watch Longitude, I highly recommend all of them.

A one-time only special performance!

An Evening With Galileo and His Daughter
to benefit The Planetary Society and celebrate the Galileo Mission and its Team

starring John Rhys-Davies & Linda Purl
directed by Robert Picardo
written by Dava Sobel

Monday, September 22, 2003 at 7:30 pm

The Pasadena Playhouse
39 South El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, California

Help honor the Galileo Team

At the reading, Claudia Alexander, John Casani and Torrence Johnson will accept a special award on behalf of the Galileo Team

On September 21, 2003, the Galileo spacecraft will plunge into Jupiter on a targetted trajectory of self-destruction, ending a remarkable voyage of discovery. The Planetary Society will pay tribute to the mission and to the team that made it possible with a special theatrical event - a one time reading based on Dava Sobel's best selling book, Galileo's Daughter.

"An Evening with Galileo and His Daughter" explores the dynamic relationships among science and religion, reason and faith, and father and child. Dava Sobel bases her story of Galileo's scientific discoveries and subsequent battle with the Inquisition in letters written to him by his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun since the age of 13.

John Rhys-Davies is best known for his roles in the three Lord of the Rings films and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Linda Purl is known for her stage and television roles, including Getting and Spending and Happy Days. Star Trek actor and director Robert Picardo will direct the reading.

Reserve your tickets now!
Tickets for the reading only are $60 for standard seating and $75 for premier seating.
Tickets for the reception only are $100.
Tickets for the reading and reception are $150.

Buy online at or call Barbara Rayworth at (626) 793-5100.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
Tonight's total lunar eclipse (from 8:14pm Pacific time, reaching totality at 8:40pm Pacific time) has me thinking about other space news items...

You can send your name to a comet. NASA's JPL has a project called Deep Impact which is sending a list of names on a disc attached to the impactor spacecraft, which will collide with comet Tempel 1 as part of its research mission.

Last Friday a Japanese rocket launched with the world's first probe designed to bring back samples from the surface of an asteroid. is a great site to get the latest space-related news, by the way. They have a whole subsection about the moon, with gorgeous images, scientific information and lunar lore.

The next lunar eclipse with be visible from North and South America in November.

Also in November, believe it or not, you can view a total solar eclipse over Antarctica on a charter flight that will also fly over the South Pole. I'm betting that if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it...
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
Two mirrors of the same article:
here and here. Go read.

This woman is the essence of coolness.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)

I am bit amused that the Russians said that they will manage to keep the station "permanently staffed" at least until the end of this year. Perhaps something was lost in translation?

In any case, this is good news.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
I listened to some of it here at work via a live web stream. What technology we have nowadays... and the NASA webmasters have my unending adoration for doing an awesome job with every website I've ever seen affiliated with their organization. There's a whisper of professional envy and motivation to join that team in the back of my mind somewhere at the moment.

I wish I could more coherently convey my thoughts on the service and the amazing community of people assembled there, but here is a start:

Strength in grief. Solidarity of purpose, if not details. Beauty and nobility and diversity and dedication. Exploration and glory and bravery and daring and discovery. Idealism and and commitment. Community and children and the future.

naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
It has been percolating in my mind this morning that in my ideal world, our space program not only includes an international scientific and cooperative effort like the ISS, but also piloted and robotic exploration of cutting-edge frontiers. We need projects which are highly visible in the public eye.

This stuff is not easy. It is, in fact, rocket science! And the world has had setbacks before.

This is an interesting article which includes some budget information about Japan's space program as well as the ISS and European Union member space budgets. I wish I knew of a comprehensive site about all of the space program budgets worldwide, and what their major scientific projects are...

With information as readily available as the internet and cable/satellite TV make it, we ought to be able to tell with a considered glance the status of the world's exploration beyond our planet, right? So far, the only thing that's come close is and it's not really what I'm looking for. - ISS Science Operations News site - NASA's Human Space Flight ISS site
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
I'm a science geek. I've always been a science geek, and the heroes of my childhood are the women of NASA's astronaut program. My parents kept me home from school for a partial day so that I could watch the first launch of Columbia back in 1981. My parents had posters from the moon landings, a moon globe... I had two little die-cast shuttles, I remember that one of them had openable payload bay doors. I had the Lego Moon Lander, and a bunch of the Lego space sets... the little red Lego people were pilots and drivers, the white Lego people were mission specialists, and the yellow Lego people were mission commanders. I had a few whole space programs developed to explore various places in the house. And yes, I was also a Star Wars and Star Trek geek, but that's a whole 'nother topic.

Young people today (and some older ones, probably) don't realize what the space shuttle program meant to folks like me. The manned space program had pretty much stagnated since 1971, starved for funding and recognition. Columbia was a gleaming symbol of our hope for ourselves and our world. It was step along the way to our collective brighter future. It meant a return to the path of innovation and discovery and exploration which had previously slipped into disrepair and drifted from the willful focus of the American people, and our government, since the moon landing goal had been reached.

For many in this modern world, scientific discovery is our quest, our challenge, the highest calling we can imagine. Space is the greatest unknown that captures our imagination, because while medicine and sub-atomic physics are incredible, no one can travel those frontiers, we can only observe them. Those who choose to risk their lives toward this purpose have our utmost respect and thanks, and some envy... their dedication and daring and qualification for such elite jobs sanctifies them on some level deep in our psyche. If scientific endeavor is our faith, then researchers, scientists and astronauts are our shamans, our priests, our wisewomen, our saints... and some become our martyrs.

For women and girls, the fact that the shuttle program had the United States' first group of female astronauts in training to reach for the heavens was such a significant milestone... the first woman to undergo the same testing as the Mercury astronauts, Jerrie Cobb, passed with flying colors back around 1960, but the program was not opened to women until 1978.

I was born in 1973, and yet I remember clearly when the first women were accepted into the program. I have vivid memories of my childhood back to younger than age two, in case you're disbelieving me at this point...

If you are unfamiliar with the progression that women have made, check out this page and this page (there's another mirror with similar content here). The profile stories are very inspiring.

There for a while, I followed every launch, every mission payload, every astronaut's life story. I had photos of the first women to complete the astronaut program hanging on the wall of my room, encouraging me to reach for my own type of excellence, whatever it might turn out to be.

Part of the reason that the loss of Challenger was so hard on me was that it was the ship that carried Sally Ride into space for the first time. The loss of Columbia, the ship that revitalized our space program, that hosted Peterson and Musgrave's first spacewalks... it has hit me hard, especially during a time when I have been trying to accomplish a lot of lofty goals with little resources at my workplace.

It is a tragedy to lose seven of the world's best and brightest, and my heart goes out to their families and loved ones, as well as the large behind-the-scenes teams on the ground who are grieving. It is a tragedy that some of the science experiments on board Columbia cannot be completed. It is a tragedy that the delay caused by grounding the remaining three shuttles (Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour) will further impact the already-stressed International Space Station program.

But more than that, it is a tragedy that it takes a disaster to bring our space program to nationwide attention.

It is a cold fear wrapped around my heart that Congress may try to further cut funding to the space program. Beyond the technical advances of both manned and unmanned space flight, our space program is a symbol of hope for the future and a celebration of our country. I'll be writing my representatives in Washington, D.C., to that effect, and I urge you to do the same.

Columbia flew its first mission in 1981, and though it's been overhauled, it's basically reconditioned 1970's technology. We owe ourselves more than that. We owe our dreams more than that. And we owe the smart, hard-working folks at NASA more than that.

This article says that it costs $435 million for each shuttle flight, and that there are 1.2 million separate procedures required to prepare a shuttle for launch. What we are attempting with the space program has a huge scope, and the shuttle program was supposed to be merely a step, not the final effort.

Feel free to use these icons wherever you like.

I am so thankful to have lived now, when we have a space program. I am so thankful to have had real live heroes when I was a child. What heroes will today's children look to for inspiration in the coming decades?

Without our dreams, without our heroes, without our inspirations, will we fail to solve the more earthbound problems facing our world, which are no less important than reaching for the stars? Hunger, violence, intolerance, inequality of opportunity and education... these are problems with solutions, but only if we have the spirit, the intellect, and the intestinal fortitude to deal with them.

February 2017

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