NASA Picked The Wrong Space Probe Mission

Sailing The Titan Seas
ALP: Titan Mare Explorer (TiME)

After the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, NASA will launch in 2016 the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) probe to study the interior of Mars. That sounds… boring. The two other proposed space probes was a comet hopper and landing a robotic boat on the methane lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan. It’s painfully obvious that NASA picked the wrong space probe mission.

Landing a robotic boat on another world would have been a really cool thing to do. Drilling for rocks on a barren planet isn’t as cool. Comet hopping? Oh, please. We got Kristen Stewart for that.

If manned spaceflight is being turned over to private industry, maybe private industry can take care of the unmanned missions that NASA doesn’t want for not being boring enough. Maybe a Kickstarter project can raise the money to help build the probe, Virgin Galactic can launch the probe with a satellite launcher and James Cameron can do a documentary about the mission.

Space used to be the next exciting frontier for humanity. As a young child in the 1970’s, I read every available book and pamphlets at the local library about all the space probes being sent out into the solar system. The Voyager probes are still ticking nearly 35 years later, hurling out into interstellar space with enough nuclear fuel to keep transmitting until 2020. As an adult, I can’t find the excitement for space anymore. Perhaps because NASA is leading the way in being boring rather than being visionary about the future.

Cutting 400 Trees For The Space Shuttle Parade

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is coming to South Los Angeles for a 12-mile, two-day parade before arriving at its final home at the California Science Center. That’s the good news. Everyone loves a parade. How often do you see a 78-foot-wide, five-story-tall spacecraft being towed down the street? The bad news is that 400 trees have to be cut down to accommodate the width of the space shuttle.

But for some residents in South L.A., the excitement of the shuttle rumbling through their neighborhoods quickly faded when they learned that 400 trees will be chopped down to make room for the behemoth.

[…]

Many worry that the replacements — young, wiry trees that will provide little shade — will pale in comparison to the mature magnolias that line the Crenshaw corridor. Others are concerned that the bare streets will further depreciate property values.

Didn’t NASA do an environmental impact study on transporting the space shuttle to its final home before selecting Los Angeles?

Cutting down mature trees reduces the amount of shade that keep buildings and sidewalks cool during the summer. Replacing mature trees with double the number of young trees won’t replace that missing shade for a generation. Which is why most communities have made it difficult for homeowners and developers to cut down mature trees. Cutting down even a single mature tree can be a substantial loss to a neighborhood. Multiply that by 400, the loss becomes an environmental tragedy.

This reminds me of the classic episode from “The Andy Griffith Show,” where the fine citizens of Mayberry spruce up the place for a Hollywood movie and the movie producer stops them from cutting down of a historic oak tree because they were ruining the small town atmosphere he was looking for (begins at the 20:00 mark).

Like a very young Ron Howard, I went through a Hollywood movie making phase during the late 1970’s. (Except my father refused to get me a Super 8 movie camera as developing the film was expensive for a wannabe George Lucas without an allowance.) That an old oak tree could be sacrifice for a Hollywood movie—or “progress” under different circumstances—was a disturbing idea to me then. Sacrificing 400 mature trees for a spacecraft relic is a disturbing idea now.

A Lacking Curiosity About NASA’s Mars Rover

NASA Curiosity Rover

On Monday night I was busy writing a new blog post. At least, I was trying to. With the 2012 London Olympics blaring from the TV in the living room and NASA TV blaring from my roommate’s iPad in the dining room, I was getting a conflicting headache in my office. If that wasn’t bad enough, Twitter was going bonkers. Seven minutes of terror became seven minutes of distractions as NASA landed their newest rover, Curiosity, on the planet Mars with picture-perfect precision.

Since I’m taking a summer break to restructure my writing business, I’m busy staying on top of current tasks like blog posts and implementing some big changes. I’m so busy that I don’t have time to watch NASA drop a one-ton vehicle on the Martian surface or the pair of Redbox DVDs —“Lockout” and “Piranha DD”—that I picked up for the weekend. I couldn’t avoid it entirely. I live in a crowded studio apartment, where the living room, dining room and office with a pair of twin beds in between are crammed into an L-shaped room.

Like the Olympics, I wasn’t going to avoid NASA TV. Although I didn’t watch it, I caught the grist of the audio feed and monitored the Twitter tweets that raced across my timeline. The tweets before, during and after the landing were what really distracted me (listed below in no particular order).

  • Some people found it ironic that they were watching NASA TV on an iPad that has more computing power than the flight computer for the Apollo 11 moon launch. (Monday was also Neil Amstrong’s 82nd birthday.)
  • The best way to watch history in the making is to have NASA TV and the Twitter timeline opened in separate side-by-side windows on your computer.
  • Editorial cartoonist Jeffery Koterba tweeted a Curiosity cartoon that he drew. Yes, you have to go out a long ways to find someone with an unbiased opinion about the 2012 presidential election. Mars is definitely a red planet.
  • Adrianne Curry’s Star Wars themed birthday pictures of her in a black bikini.
  • Since the initial black-and-white pictures of the wheel looked like ultrasound pregnancy pictures, I tweeted: “Bad, Rover, bad. You know you need to use protection.”
  • Here’s the proud father of all these ultrasound pregnancy pictures (via @Oatmeal).
  • Quote: “NASA scientists at their monitors, I think Jerry Lewis will break in and tell us to keep calling in w/donations” (via @EverettMaroon)
  • Quote: “If there is intelligent life on Mars, can you book me a room, thanks, because I am outta here?” (via @HogsAteMySister)

After the brouhaha was over, I took some Nyquil, went to bed, and woke up the next morning to finish the blog post before starting my non-writing tech job (i.e., the job that really pays the bills). As the search for extinct extraterrestrial life continues on the solar system’s most barren planet, I had an excellent idea for a science fiction short story involving the new Mars rover.

Something Missing From Three Obituraries

Three veteran actors passed away this month: Andy Griffith (7/3/2012), Ernest Borgnine (7/8/2012) and Sherman Hemsley (7/25/2012). All three were my favorite TV actors when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. After reading their obituaries with great interest, I noticed a trend among the obituaries for all three. They made no mention of the specific TV show or movie that I came to love each of these actors for.

Although I enjoyed watching “The Andy Griffith Show” as a young child, I was more of a Don Knotts fan back then. I didn’t appreciate Andy Griffith until he appeared in “Salvage 1” that ran for one season in 1979, about a junkman who builds his own rocket to recover all the junk left by NASA on the Moon. This series aired before the fiery demise of Skylab and the beginning of the space shuttle program. Ordinary citizens building a workable spaceship despite the federal government’s monopoly on spaceflight was an intriguing idea back then, and more so now that private spaceflight is becoming a reality.

Ernest Borgnine had a famous face that appeared in many movies and TV shows long before I was born. Until he appeared along with Jan-Michael Vincent (“Damnation Alley”) in “Airwolf,” I never took noticed of him. As the father figure and mentor to a reclusive Viet Nam veteran fighter pilot who stole an advanced military helicopter, I wished I had someone like him when I was growing up as a teenager.

I first saw Sherman Hemsley in “All In The Family” as the black neighbors who tormented Archie Bunker in his bigotry, and became a huge fan with “The Jeffersons” about being a successful businessman. But that’s not the role I remembered him best for. It’s in the movie, “Love At First Bite,” as a Harlem minister performing a funeral at a black church, when Count Dracula (George Hamiliton) pops open the coffin. Needless to say, a dead black man coming back to life as an undead white man is very unsettling. Mrs. Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) also makes an appearance as a court judge in this movie.

The International Space Station Flyby At The Movies

Pirates of The Caribbean 2 Movie PosterSaw “Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead’s Man Chest” on Friday night. The movie had an interesting twist on the Davy Jones’ Locker myth. But the real highlight was standing in line outside the theater at 9:15PM to see the International Space Station (ISS) swing by overhead. A very bright dot that moved very fast as it made a right at Jupiter and then a left at the Moon. The people in line weren’t even aware that the ISS in orbit or the Space Shuttle Discovery gone up on Fourth of July.

I told them that the police helicopter patrolling nearby was a UFO when we had several “close encounters” when the searchlight swept the parking lot. The police should have gone after the idiots who insisted on driving their fancy sports car through the long line of people in search of a non-existent parking near the theater.