My dad spent more than 30 years, from the 1960s to the late 1990s, at NASA Langley Research Center, which turns 100 this year. During that time he worked on Apollo-adjacent technologies, atmospheric and environmental satellite based sensors, and diagnostic equipment for hypersonic jet engines.
That’s a grossly inadequate description of what he worked on. I got to know his work on coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy and its applications to high temperature sensors pretty well, because that’s what he was working on when I was in high school. And I’m old enough to remember his overnight or weekend trips to Wallops Island to fly missions to measure ocean environmental characteristics with lasers in the late 1970s, before funding for NASA environmental research was cut during the Reagan years. But he was also at the center when it was a hotspot of research for the Apollo program. I’ve driven by the huge concrete pad dwarfed by towering girders above where Neil Armstrong practiced manually steering the Apollo landing craft to a safe touchdown—skills he ended up using for Apollo XI.
Looking forward to watching this documentary about the center (narrated by none other than William Shatner) with my kids, if I can just get them to sit still long enough.
The anniversary of the first moon landing, on July 20, 1969, is always a special occasion for me. It’s my dad’s birthday too, and he was a NASA employee for over 30 years, so the story of the space program is the story of my childhood. I was too young to watch any of the moon landings on TV–hell, Apollo 17 took off when I was 5 days old, and the last Skylab mission happened when I was only 18 months old. But I was always hanging out at NASA Langley with Dad, whether it was for mundane reasons (eating lunch in the cafeteria, playing on the playground, going to the Visitors Center, now the Virginia Air and Space Center) or for historic occasions. I was in the main auditorium with Dad when the videos from the first Voyager flybys of Saturn came in, and for other flybys. And I feel a deep sense of family connection to the space program as a whole.
I suppose this attachment to NASA explains my visceral reaction to the ongoing “moon landing hoax” foolishness (I would have been right alongside Buzz Aldrin in punching Bart Sibrel in the face). Thanks to Bad Astronomer Phil Plait for his many good humored but thorough debunking blog posts on the subject.
As good an argument for the Commons as I’ve ever seen. The irony is, of course, that it sits in Google Images with no reasonable licensing in place. Even this bootleg image is claimed as copyright LIFE magazine.
My dad worked at NASA Langley for over 30 years and had his last research experience working in combustion flow diagnostics. Meanwhile, in the summer of 1992 I was a summer intern in Steve’s branch. I can’t claim to have been exceptionally successful at it, other than discovering a latent affinity for information technology, but I did learn a fair amount that summer and remember meeting Steve.
This is the definition of a small world: you turn on the TV and your former boss is spacewalking to rip off small pieces of cloth from the space shuttle.
A few other memories were dredged up by the Slashdot crowd, including the X-20 Dynosoar, a reusable space plane design conceived in 1957 and cancelled in 1963. I remember seeing models of some of the other proposed Air Force space craft in the visitors center at NASA Langley when I was a kid.
Manned espionage platforms speak of a vision of the future that failed to understand how quickly electronics technology would advance to provide communications and surveillance capabilities without costly human intervention. It’s a more Asimovian view of the future than the Philip K. Dick version we got instead.
Alarming, this finding from Cornell that the landing site of the Spirit, in the Gusev crater on Mars, was warmer yesterday afternoon than 14 major points in the Northeast. For the record, the landing site was 12° F, while the warmest city noted, Providence, RI, was only 9° F, while of course Mount Washington, NH, weighed in at -36° F.
You’ll have to forgive the highly Americentric tone of the headline, but when I saw that NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” landed safely tonight, just over a week after Europe’s Beagle 2 disappeared after its descent to the Red Planet, I had to let out a cheer. Just remember: I’m a child of NASA, and though my Dad had more to do with Aeronautics than Space, I grew up on tales and photos from Pioneer, Voyager (I was in an auditorium at Langley when the first pictures of Saturn came back from Voyager II), and the original Viking landers.
I was unable to speak or think past my grief yesterday. I was on my way to a choral practice when I happened to switch on NPR and heard the news. During a break, I used the library’s computers and got the story from Dave. Of course the first thought that went through my mind was, did someone manage to get a bomb on board? But, even though some Iraqis are reportedly saying it was divine retribution, this tragedy seems to have had nothing to do with the looming war and everything to do with the sadness of entropy.
They say about fighter jets that they are thousands of spare parts flying in formation, underscoring both the burden of maintenance and the miraculousness that we can ever get such complicated machines off the ground in the first place. It is so easy to take this for granted, but the Space Shuttle is anything but routine. Stripped down to its airframe every few years and completely rebuilt (as Columbia was recently), the Columbia’s millions of parts not only had to fly in formation, they had to be rocketed into space, then glide to a controlled landing from speeds in the upper atmosphere of about Mach 18. At those speeds, the complex system that holds the craft together can be upended. Entropy is never eliminated, only held at bay, and when the guard fails it reclaims its place with sudden, shocking ferocity.
And, twenty-eight flights and almost twenty-two years ago, after a two day wait, lifting to the skies for the first time before my eyes as I blinked sleepy excitement and mosquitos away and, holding my father’s hand, watched it climb from the wide flat expanse of green Florida wetlands toward the stars.