Communion Of Dreams


One fourth.

Tomorrow I turn 57. Yeah, on the Fourth of July.

That might seem a little weird to someone who doesn’t have a birthday on the Fourth. Not to me. I’ve grown up with it.

But you know what seems weird to me?

That I’ve been alive for almost one-fourth of the entire time that the United States has existed. Run the numbers, and you’ll see.

It’s very odd to realize just how young our country is in some ways. And how much things have changed just in my lifetime.

I remember the early days of the Space Race. I remember the night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

And I remember growing up with casual racism of the worst sort. When homophobia was so deeply ingrained and widespread that the word itself didn’t even really exist. I remember using words like n***** and f***** without a trace of embarrassment, because they were so common.

Things have changed somewhat. Not enough. But still, too much for some people. Because change can be scary. Threatening.

The length of my life will take you to the time of Sputnik. The length of another such will take you back before Kitty Hawk. And just one more will land you well before the Civil War.

Change can be hard. And the fight never ends. But have hope: progress can be made. Both for individuals and for countries. Perhaps, even, for the whole world.

 

Jim Downey

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“Wouldn’t you?”

Man, Chris Hadfield is such a treasure:

And you can pee upside down, which I did, just for fun. Wouldn’t you?

Great little list about the reality of spaceflight at this point in time. Perfect perspective for this weekend, since he manages to capture and convey the wonder and excitement so many of us felt from the Apollo era. It’s so easy to lose your vision, your enthusiasm, in the grim plodding of day-to-day life.

* * *

Thanks to all who helped make the recent anniversary promotion of Her Final Year a success! Worldwide there were about 150 downloads – not a huge number, but it is progress. I hope the book can help those who downloaded it.

* * *

Progress continues on St Cybi’s Well. Hope to wrap up Chapter 9 in the next couple of days.

 

Jim Downey



“Thirty seconds to ignition.”

This is cool:

44 years ago, the entire nation watched as three men explored the unknown. Watch, listen, and relive the excitement of the Apollo 11 lunar landing as experienced minute-by-minute by the courageous crew of Apollo 11 and Mission Control.

Very cool.

 

Jim Downey



Admiration.

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

* * * * * * *

I remember July 20, 1969. As I’ve noted before:

I was at a Boy Scout camp outside of St. Louis when it happened. That night, we all sat around a big firepit, and tried to watch a small black and white portable television with bad reception as Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) E. Aldrin, Jr. made the first human steps onto the Lunar surface and spoke these words (links to audio file on Wikipedia):

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the world was changed forever.

* * * * * * *

Death wins. We all know this. They knew it during the early years of our space program, and there were even contingency plans in the event of the death of the crew on the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong himself thought there was only about a 90% chance of his returning from that mission, as well as only a 50/50 chance that they would successfully land on the Moon (which he always considered the most important aspect of the mission).

But it is a risk which is worth taking.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

Yesterday, after finding out about Neil Armstrong’s death, I spent the rest of the day thinking about the man, reading about him.

Probably the most telling thing is how he lived his life after retiring from NASA. As has been often cited (even by me – and again I recommend the very rare interview he gave last year ), the man was remarkably self-effacing. He didn’t take credit for being the first man to set foot on the Moon. He didn’t exploit the fame which had come to him unwanted. He could have easily cashed-in on his status, reaping riches for endorsements, becoming a permanent celebrity.

Instead, he joined a small university program as a professor of Aerospace Engineering.

Endorsements (of a very limited sort) and serving on the Board of Directors for several large corporations came later. But he still kept a very low profile, trying to live his life as much like a ‘normal’ person as he could.

Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? In a world where celebrity distorts everything — where even my modest accomplishment with one self-published novel would prompt someone to react differently to me — Neil Armstrong managed to live and die without it completely warping who he was.

I honor his place in history as the first man to step foot on the Moon. But I admire him much more for who he really was. That depth of character is what made him a hero.

Godspeed, commander.

Jim Downey



Only nine left.

As something of a follow-up to yesterday’s post, first a quote:

The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space — each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.

That’s the “roll over” text of this xkcd cartoon:

Can you name the nine who are left?*

And related to that, here is an excellent hour-long item you really should check out when you get a chance:

An Audience with Neil Armstrong

It’s in four parts, so you can watch them in chunks. And it really is very good. Armstrong has given very few interviews over the years, and has always been remarkably self-effacing. This is an informal discussion with the man, and it provides some wonderful insight into the whole NASA program in addition to the mindset which led to the Apollo 11 mission.

Jim Downey



After the hype.

Today’s xkcd sums things up pretty well, I think: the actual discovery was cool, but the hype made it feel anticlimatic.

Above and beyond what this says about our press being driven by ASTOUNDING!! news and the failure to get even basic science stories right (with some very obvious and excellent exceptions), consider just what was behind the hype: excitement at the prospect of non-terrestrial life of any sort being discovered.

The initial speculation that NASA had proof of life on Titan swept like electronic fire around the world. It wasn’t just science fiction geeks. Or actual biologists. Or space buffs. It was pretty much the whole world, though some had more fun with it than others.

Why did this capture the imaginations of so many people? Easy: we’re hungry for this news, and have been for decades. It’s not just the countless science fiction books and movies which have fed this hunger (mine included) – it is also the very real science behind the search for extra-terrestrial life (or intelligence). Proof of the existence of life beyond our planet would likely be considered one of the most important discoveries in the history of mankind, and the announcement of such a discovery would be a turning point bigger than even the first time that humans walked on the Moon.

It is easy in a time of recession, when money is tight for most people and the government is trying to figure out ways to cut expenditures, to under-value NASA or basic science research. And I am not arguing for this or that ‘big science’ program, per se. But all you have to do is look at what happened this week, to note the wonder and excitement which was launched by the merest possibility of the discovery of life elsewhere, to realize that this kind of knowledge is something that people around the world are waiting for with eager, almost palpable, anticipation. I think it is one of the very best things about humans that this is the case, and it should be encouraged and used.

Jim Downey



“In event of Moon disaster.”

Curious timing on this – last night I started watching the excellent series “From the Earth to the Moon“.

Anyway, thought I should share. I never really cared much for William Safire but he was undoubtedly a hell of a speechwriter. This is a perfect example of that:

Transcript

To: H. R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire

July 18, 1969.

——————————————————————————-

IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT:

The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.

AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN:

A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.

As I’ve noted before: Death Wins. But that should never stop us from trying.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)