Friday, May 06, 2011

Captain's Log: First U.S. Astronaut in Space and the Next Ones, Sunpower, Planetary Alignments 

It's the 50th anniversary of the first flight of a U.S. astronaut into space--the suborbital flight of Alan Shepard in Freedom 7.  What a thrill it was to watch this on TV as a kid in western Pennsylvania!  That I could watch it live was a huge gamble and a difference with the secret Soviet flights that NASA played up.  This is when we all learned "A-OK"  and that the end of the countdown wasn't "Blast-Off!" but "Ignition---Lift Off!"

To the left of Alan Shepard is Gus Grisson, who was next in space, another suborbital flight.  Just peeking between them is John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth.  In high school I had a photo that all three signed, but it has since disappeared. 

Talk about All Good Things...the end of the Space Shuttle flights is so close that the next-to-last scheduled launch, of the shuttle Endeavor, drew the largest crowd in years--some 750,000 were on their way, including President Obama and his family, when the flight was postponed because of a technical problem.  (It still hasn't been definitely rescheduled.)  Another dramatic facet was the presence of Rep. Gabriel Gifford, recovering from gunshot wounds from a would-be assassin, whose husband is the mission commander.

In other space news, our sun has entered a more violent phase after several years of quiet.  The largest solar flare in four years erupted in February, and scientists expect more to come.

And though it's not as dramatic as the planets lining up in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the night sky of Earth shows an alignment of four planets now (Mars, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus.)  Last week it was six (Uranus and Neptune, too, with the Moon nearby.)

A couple of Star Trek notes: while the JJ Abrams film and its sequel (still scheduled to go into production soon) have driven attention to the original series, I've noted that the only Star Trek series available on TV where I am is Star Trek: The Next Generation, both on a local channel (every night at 11) and the Sci-Fi Channel.

Finally, while the most pervasive Star Trek reference this week probably was "Resistance is futile" applied to Osama bin Laden, my favorite for sheer cleverness was by Rachel Maddow, referring to the response of certain politicians to folks back home opposing their attempts to kill Medicare: "They had to turn the spin doctoring up to stun."

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