June, 2012

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Monday, June 18th, 2012

Despite knowing about the shuttle retirement, a recent article saddened me. The Space Shuttle, for better or worse, has been described as the most complex machine ever built by man. Despite reliability and safety issues, the retired shuttles each have well over 100 million miles on the ‘clock’, and deserve both respect and honor. So, seeing a friggin’ spaceship sitting on a barge in the middle of the river, like so much trash, felt hopelessly depressing. Sure, it’s nice to know that they’re going to good homes. And I’m sure I’ll see one up close and in person at one museum or another, at some point. Perhaps the one now on board the Intrepid, on the shore of the mighty Hudson, though I’d have to reassess my intent to never visit New York City unless under duress.  But the visit will be like standing at the grave site of a loved one.

The last time I’d seen her alive was atop a dazzling orange flame, vanishing into the distance. Thanks to good luck and the generosity of a friend with a spare ticket, I’d witnessed the final launch of Discovery about a year and a half ago. Actually, there wasn’t much detail from where we stood, several miles away from the launch pad, along with thousands of others. But when that thing lit up, all the time, dollars and inconvenience of traveling a thousand miles to Florida instantly became worthwhile. On a purely visceral level the dazzling light and sound were captivating, in a way that television and print are just unable to capture. But knowing what was going on, that half a dozen men and women had just taken off on a 5-million mile jaunt, in a 27-year-old spaceship of a design known for killing all its crew every fifty missions or so, was just as extraordinary, though in a very different way.

All over, now.

I grew up as NASA did. When I was of single-digit age, Alan Shepherd was making his ballistic voyage. I was in high school when we walked on the moon. And I was at one of my early jobs on the day in 1986, when Challenger exploded. I remember a technician running into the lab shouting ‘The space shuttle blew up’. How could it be? We’d never lost one in the air until then.

Perhaps happier times are ahead. The SpaceX launch to the space station, Virgin Galactic, and others. $200k is still a bit much for me for a suborbital hop, as will be available in a few years. But if it got down to $20k, I’d give it a try. I don’t have a spare $20k laying around. But I could see making that in car payments over 5 years, and I’d gladly drive a junker for five years in exchange for that experience.

There will come a day, though, when Virgin Galactic or someone like them will lose a ship. It’s inevitable. So, would I still be willing to go if I knew the statistics were the same as the Shuttle, that is, every fifty or so missions, the ship is lost, with all hands.

I’m not as sure. But I hope I would.




The Writer’s Group

Monday, June 11th, 2012

At the suggestion of many, I’ve joined a writer’s group. We meet to share and  critique each others work, and hopefully improve our skills through the experience. I’ve got a short story in progress that depends upon a unique ‘twist’ at the end to make its point. I’d shared it with about four people before submitting it to the writer’s group, and only about half the readers ‘got’ the ending. So I rewrote that part, making it more obvious.

Then I sprung it on the group. Only about half the readers there got it, and of the two that didn’t, one was the member I was *sure* would get it.

So, its back to the drawing board, I guess. There was a suggestion to drop a clue or two early on, but I’m not sure how I can do that without tipping my hand.