Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Everyone needs Space

There is one thing that I have loved longer and more passionately than RUSH, and that is everything Space related.
I can remember as far back as grade one that whenever the teacher let us do a project on anything we wanted you could bet your buns that my project would have a rocket on it somewhere.
In fact, while almost every boy that I knew had G.I. Joe or Big Jim figures.
I had this guy. Major Matt Mason by Mattel.

Who was the luckiest?
That's easy. It was me by a long shot. :)
On July 21, 1969 it was only one month after my 6th birthday but I can still visualize our family sitting around our big old black and white television to watch Neil Armstrong take his famous step off of the Lunar Landing Module and become the first human to set foot on the moon.
I don't remember too much else from that time of my life and I don't recall exactly what I was thinking at the time but I think I knew that it was a huge moment in history.
This was the summer before I was in grade one. I still have this aluminum coin that one of the gas stations made to commemorate the landing.

After the Apollo program ended there seemed to be a long silence from NASA and other space agencies. I assume that they were working away on something but for a spacefan like myself it was pretty quiet.

You can imagine how pleased I was when the Space Shuttle program began in the early 1980's.

Everyone in the world shared the horror and sadness on January 28, 1986, when Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch due to the failure of the right Solid Rocket Booster, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Special pain was felt for the loss of Christa McAuliffe who was selected from 11,000 others to become the first teacher in space. Her poor family and students watched the whole thing.

Then on February 1, 2003, Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing the crew of seven, because of damage to the carbon-carbon leading edge of the wing caused during launch.

But NASA persevered and between 1981 and 2011 a total of 135 shuttle missions were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This was a pretty good era to be a spacefan.
It was especially cool when my amazing lads of RUSH wrote a song called "Countdown" for their "Signals" album to show their love of the Space Shuttle.

Here are the lyrics:


Lit up with anticipation We arrive at the launching site The sky is still dark, nearing dawn On the Florida coastline

Circling choppers slash the night With roving searchlight beams This magic day when super-science Mingles with the bright stuff of dreams

Floodlit in the hazy distance The star of this unearthly show Venting vapours, like the breath Of a sleeping white dragon

Crackling speakers, voices tense Resume the final count All systems check, T minus nine As the sun and the drama start to mount

The air is charged A humid, motionless mass The crowds and the cameras, The cars full of spectators pass Excitement so thick you could cut it with a knife Technology...high, on the leading edge of life

The earth beneath us starts to tremble With the spreading of a low black cloud A thunderous roar shakes the air Like the whole world exploding

Scorching blast of golden fire As it slowly leaves the ground Tears away with a mighty force The air is shattered by the awesome sound

Like a pillar of cloud The smoke lingers high in the air In fascination With the eyes of the world We stare...

Absolutely perfect description, as usual.

During spring of 1982, the band watched the launching of the Columbia Space Shuttle from Cape Kennedy. Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart wrote "Countdown" as a result of the experience. "It was an incredible thing to witness," he said, "truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

You're so right Neil. I wish I could have experienced it too.

One of my favourite people, the late, great Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences.

In 1980, PBS aired Mr. Sagan's 13-part series "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage". What an incredibly amazing series it was. Carl's passion in telling the stories was matched by my passion to listen to him tell them.

The series was the most widely watched series in the history of American public television until "The Civil War" in 1990.

As of 2009, it was still the most widely watched PBS series in the world and won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has since been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 500 million people.

I have no doubt at all that Mr. Sagan singlehandedly created millions more spacefans as a result of the series.

So where would all of these new spacefans be able to go to share the love of space?
It just so happens that also in 1980, Carl Sagan along with Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded a wonderful new group named The Planetary Society.

The Planetary Society has members all over the world and is the largest space interest group on Earth.

Speaking of Earth. I have posted this before on here but will do so again just because it is my favourite passage ever written.

It is from Mr. Sagan's book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space".
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different.

Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner.

How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life.

There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.

Visit, yes. Settle, not yet.

Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
He wrote it to describe his thoughts after viewing this photograph taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from Earth, as part of the solar system Family Portrait series of images.

In the photograph, Earth is shown as a tiny dot (0.12 pixel in size) against the vastness of space.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System. It was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of Carl Sagan.

Sadly, Mr. Sagan left us on December 20, 1996 at the age of 62 after losing his battle with cancer.

I miss him still.

Yes, I am indeed a member of The Planetary Society and have been for many years.

Approximately ten years ago The Society did something very cool and allowed its members to submit our names to be placed on DVDs that were to be mounted onto the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

I am proud to say that the names of myself, Cheryl and the boys are sitting on Mars at this very moment on the Rovers.

That's not the only cool part of that DVD though.

In the top of those two pictures above can you notice the little dots and lines around the outside of the surface?

It turned out that The Planetary Society partnered with the LEGO company and wrote a coded message on the DVDs. The challenge was to decipher the code and be one of the first people to submit the answers to win prizes.

4039 people submitted their answers. Out of that 1409 correctly solved the Spirit code and 639 cracked the Opportunity code.

The Spirit message was "Wish you were here" and Opportunity was "Explore to learn".

I wish I could say that I was the first one to crack the codes but that was a guy in California who has a PH.D. in computer science and a chess programmer, and a cryptographic systems programmer.

I was however, one of the first ten people who successfully broke the code and won a Planetary Society membership and this truly amazing LEGO model of the Rovers.

I don't remember the exact time it took me to assemble but it was about five or six hours.

The model has 870 parts. Yow... :)

Here is the real thing. Pretty close. :)

These two little Rovers were so exciting to watch and follow on the NASA and Planetary Society websites.

The internet is the best thing that has ever happened to feed my passion for space.

There are videos, pictures and news everywhere about every single thing!

Just a couple of weeks ago on August 6, 2012 I was glued to my computer at 3 o'clock in the morning watching live coverage from NASA of the landing of a new and more amazing probe named Curiosity as we all waited to see if it would survive and land successfully on Mars.

Facebook and Twitter was loaded all night with status updates as it neared the planet.

We were all white-knuckle watching until NASA announced that it had landed and was safe on the surface of Mars.

After all of that excitement and celebration it took me quite a while to get to sleep that night.

This is the most exciting part of this post.

Last year a message went out from the boys' school that they were having a special guest who would be speaking at the school.

It was Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield!

Holy moly!! That's huge!

Seriously, people can meet big politicians and rock stars any time but how often will anyone ever get the chance to meet a real astronaut?? I'm talking about an astronaut who has been into space more than once and is going back up again!

It doesn't get much better than that for a guy like me.

I immediately sent an email to the school principle asking (begging) if it was okay for me to be there at the school when Chris Hadfield was there.

No problem, he said.

I was hanging around the front doors of the school while all of the kids were herded into the gym to await Mr. Hadfield's arrival.

Then he arrived! He was in his blue astronaut jumpsuit and walking towards the front doors.

I can't believe how nervous and starstruck (get it?) I was but I approached him and asked if I could please get a picture or two with him.

He was happy to oblige and we chatted for a minute or so as well.

In the top photo he thought it was pretty amusing when I told him that meeting him was like meeting a rock star to me.

He went into the school and did an amazing talk and answered questions from the kids. It was fantastic.

I was somewhat surprised that no other parents were there to see him.

Five years ago I discovered that just across the border in the state of Maine there is a 1:93,000,000 scale model of the Solar System that runs along US Route 1 from Presque Isle to Bangor. Yes, Pluto is included and always will be in my mind.

It's forty miles (64.4 km) long from Pluto to Sun, and the largest complete three-dimensional scale model of the Solar System in the World.

So guess what the boys and I did? We took a road trip to explore the solar system. It was a great outing and fun day out.

Last week the boys and I jumped into the car and did it again. We decided that we will do our trip at least every five years.

In case you're wondering, the boys do share my love of all things space.

Every day I get a tweet on my Twitter account telling me where and when the International Space Station will be crossing overhead. We try to get outside and see it pass overhead as often as possible.

Check out these pictures of T's bedroom. B has a sports theme in his room but enjoys space stuff as well.

This past weekend our family went to Fundy National Park for a little weekend away. My Cousin and her husband have a cottage just outside of the park where he works and they let us use it to get away.

The park was recently designated as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. On Saturday we saw that several were setting up their telescopes and were allowing members of the public to look through them at the Sun using filters.

We headed over to have a look. The equipment that these folks had was outstanding. So much money invested. I was very impressed.

While the boys and Cheryl were looking through the equipment I had a chat with the chap at the left in the photo above.

It was like I had found a brother in him. We talked about basically almost everything I have written in this blog.

He is a member of The Planetary Society too. He was also glued to his computer to watch Curiosity land on Mars. He also has his name on the DVDs on the Rovers.

We both agreed that after that quiet spell several years ago, the world of the spacefan has become great. With the technology and resources available today we have everything we need.

"Yep" I said, "It's a very good time to be a spacefan". And he agreed.

A couple of hours later we arrived back at the cottage and turned on the news.

I was stunned and saddened when I saw that Neil Armstrong had died that day.

The coincidence was incredible.

My thoughts suddenly returned to that night 43 years ago when I watched him take that huge step for mankind and the effect it had on me ever since.

It became a sad time to be a spacefan.

Rest in Peace, Neil.

Thank you for everything that you did for me and every other person on the Pale Blue Dot.

Stay well,



jan said...


Duncan Matheson said...

Great post. Especially enjoyed Carl Segan's passage on the pale blue dot. It's wonderful to have a passion you can sink your teeth into isn't it? Regards the moon landing, I remember hearing a few years ago that your regular Walmart $19 calculator has more computer power in it than the computers they had for the moon landing. I find that absolutely amazing. Anyway Tim, great post.

KJ McLean said...

I've been reading your blog for quite a while now, and it's something that really resonated with me as a fellow space geek. And I can also tell you from experience that Chris Hadfield has met at least one other tongue-tied, starstruck NBer -- me! Isn't he just the nicest guy? :)

Tim Scammell, PTech said...

Thank you very much Duncan. I'm glad you liked it. :)

Tim Scammell, PTech said...

I was really impressed with what an amazing guy he is. Nice to hear that you've read my blog. Thanks. :)

Tim Scammell, PTech said...

It's great to hear that you've been reading my blog. Thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm gone to inform my little brother, that he should also pay a quick visit this blog on regular basis to get updated from most up-to-date news.
My web page > Civil Engineering construction