Homer Hickam on Where We Go in Space Exploration

From one of my favorite authors and former NASA engineer:

What’s painful is my conclusion that as a people, as a government, and as a country, we don’t seem to care if we can put astronauts into space or not.

How did we get to this sorry state? Where are those days when every American boy and girl dreamed of flying to the moon, Mars, the very stars; when an entire country was energized to set sail on a new ocean? President John F. Kennedy said it best in September 1962: “No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. . . . We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it!”

And we did. We put our sweat, intellect, money and the very souls of our astronauts into that marvelous enterprise—and succeeded. Who would have imagined that one July morning in 2011, when the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center, that America’s manned space program would come to an end?

To answer his question about how we got to this “sorry state,” I believe it is due to terrible lack of emphasis on and quality in teaching science to young people.

While I love CBS’s Big Bang Theory, I suspect many — because they’ve never been exposed to anyone who is a real scientist — think all scientists fit into that funny caricature. I do speeches on scientific innovation and tapping it for economic gain, but few are interested — in spite of the large profit potential!

I do agree with Mr. Hickam that many of the tools are in place for a turn around:

…educate the people to understand why spaceflight is important to our economic, social, moral and technical success as a nation. Sending your kids and teachers to Space Camp or the 48 Challenger Learning Centers across the country is a good start. There they can learn about the mathematical and engineering wonders behind Mission Control or join the crew of a simulated orbiting space station.

Fortunately, we’re in fair shape for a space rebound. There’s a miracle of the “God looks after fools, drunks and the United States of America” category called SpaceX, the amazing little California company that can. With a little steady seed money, SpaceX could put the Russians’ antique Soyuz spacecraft out of business and have our astronauts in space very quickly. Independent accountants say SpaceX could beat the Chinese and everybody else on the price per pound to orbit. Talk about jobs! Wouldn’t it be nice to be first again in a multibillion-dollar industry?

Sounds right to me. Lets make it happen!

Saturday at the Cosmosphere

The real Apollo 13 on display  

Frequent readers of “Meteorological Musings” know what a fan I am of the Kansas Cosmosphere, generally thought to be the second best space museum in the world. It is second only to the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum.

There is an encore event surrounding Sean Casey’s IMAX movie Tornado Alley this Friday and Saturday. Here is the schedule:

Friday, Nov. 4
4 pm.  Sean Casey Presentation, with Q&A, “Storm Chasing Adventures”
4:45 pm.  Drawing for TIV2 ride winners followed by rides.
Saturday, Nov. 5
2:30 pm. Author and AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President Mike Smith presents “Warnings Save Lives: A Look Back at Greensburg, Udall and Joplin.”
3 pm.  Book sale and signing with Mike Smith, “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather.”
4 pm.  Sean Casey Presentation, with Q&A, “Storm Chasing Adventures”
4:45 pm.  Drawing for TIV2 ride winners followed by rides.
The Cosmosphere is at 1100 N. Plum in Hutchinson. 800-397-0330 or 620-662-2305. Visit www.cosmo.org

I will be incorporating some of the lessons learned during the just-ended tornado season, the worst since 1953.

Looking forward to seeing everyone next weekend at the Cosmosphere!!

Flying Over Earth at Night, With Thunderstorms

Amazing video from the International Space Station of flying over the earth at night taken with a low-light HD sensor (select HD at the bottom of the YouTube frame).

My favorite part is the thunderstorms which begin about 20 seconds in.

The video ends when daylight begins.

Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat

Aurora Visible Tonight and Tomorrow Night?

From Spaceweather.com:

GEOMAGNETIC STORM IN PROGRESS: A major geomagnetic storm is in progress following the impact of a CME on August 5th around 1800 UT. Sky watchers at all latitudes should be alert for auroras after nightfall. Tip: the best hours for aurora sightings are usually around local midnight.

UPDATE: 8AM Saturday: The aurora was reported as far south as Nebraska. 

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Discovery Launch Successful

Discovery successfully lifted off on its final flight this afternoon.

Because it was the final flight, I decided to listen to the stirring sounds of “Yeager’s Triumph” from the soundtrack of The Right Stuff (the part where ‘Gordo’ Cooper becomes “the greatest pilot anyone has ever seen” at the end of the film) while I watched. It was amazing. You can hear the music here.

And, if you’d like to see something else amazing, click here to see 132 Shuttle launches in 132 seconds.

WeatherData’s Jeremy Lezniak captured these this image of the launch of Discovery (its smoke plume, actually) as captured by the WSR-88D radar on our SmartWarn® screens used by our meteorologists.

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Homer Hickam

Homer Hickam, author of one of my favorite books, Rocket Boys, and former NASA engineer has a piece in the Wall Street Journal charting a new future for NASA. I agree with both Hickam and President Obama that it is time for the private sector to take over routine launches of civilian spacecraft. I’m am not convinced we need to go back to the moon, but certainly a case can be made given the resources present there.

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Views of Earth from Space

Astronauts are Tweeting photos from space. Details here (hat tip: The Telegraph). Here are a couple:

The photo below shows fog over England (the blurry appearance, upper left), the aurora borealis (green on the earth’s edge, far upper left) and mainland Europe (right). London and Paris are the brightest “clumps” of light.

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