Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ground control to Major Tom

I assume you have all seen the YouTube video of Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, singing Space Oddity. If you were one of the five people who didn't, here it is:

I like how he changed the lyrics so, you know, Major Tom doesn't die at the end of the song.


So why am I writing about a YouTube video that was popular like 2 months ago? Well, because today I had the pleasure of meeting NASA Administrator Charles Bolden who stopped by the marine house on post for a meet and greet (Administrator Bolden is a retired Marine Crops General as well as a former astronaut.  He was on the mission that put the Hubble telescope into orbit.  Pretty cool, right?)

Anyways, he talked a bit about current NASA initiatives like preventing asteroids from hitting the Earth (which I am all for, given the effect an asteroid hitting Earth likely had on the dinosaurs) and the Curiosity rover's upcoming attempt to scale Mount Sharp on Mars to study the history of the planet and, you know, look for signs of life.  Not like, little dudes running around (though I'm sure they would be thrilled if they found some of those), but just any signs of things like potassium, nitrogen, stuff like that.

Anyways, it was a really interesting conversation.  It's fascinating to hear people who have been to space describe what it's like to be there.  Sunita Williams, an Indian-American astronaut who is incredibly popular here in India, talked a lot about how you can't see borders in space and how easily you can see it's one world.  Administrator Bolden talked about how you see 16 sunrises 16 sunsets in one day and how incredible the burst of light is at sunrise and how dark the darkness is after sunset.  First of all, I didn't know they orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, so the 16 sunrises and sunsets was news to me.  When I was relaying this to Mr. ATK he asked, "How do they sleep?"  We decided they must have bedrooms without windows.

The other thing he said which I found very...moving, I guess, was how from space you can't see people or buildings or anything.  It's similar to what Sunita Williams said I suppose.  He said you don't see the Earth as a little ball, because they don't get far enough away from it, but you can see pretty much the whole thing.  He said when you look at Earth from space there's no sign that humans necessarily live there.  He said you can see linear patterns from far away so roads kind of show indicating some form of intelligent life obviously lives on Earth.  He also talked about how at night you can see the lights from cities, which creates quite the contrast between places like Europe, which is very well lit, and Africa, which is not.  I've seen the pictures of the world at night and you can see that stark distinction between Africa and Europe, or North Korea and South Korea. I think the pictures alone are powerful, but I can't imagine what it would be like to actually look at it firsthand.

See? Isn't this picture of the Iberian peninsula awesome?

It was all very interesting and made me think about how much I liked space as a kid.  I think space is pretty popular with kids in general (surely, I am not the only one who remembers the Punky Brewster episode where she wants to be an astronaut).  Then, of course, you get to high school and college and realize you need to do all sorts of crazy math and advanced science in order to be an astronaut and you switch to something less hard.  Or in my case, less math-y.  Still I can't help but hear all these cool stories and think, "Man I wish I had put more effort into math and science."

Eh, I guess I'll just have to read about all the cool space stuff and hope someone else saves us from any errant asteroids.  I'm not too worried, these NASA boys seem to have this stuff on lock.

Waiting while Administrator Bolden autographs a picture for me. Yeesh, I have terrible posture.

My autographed picture!
 Also, in the Q&A I asked the administrator what he thought about Newt Gingrich's "colonize the moon" announcement during the Republican primary.  He said, "Everyone laughed at him. But I didn't."  Of course, he then went on to explain that if we are going to have humans live somewhere else in the solar system, it's really Mars we should be talking about, not the moon.

1 comment:

  1. I am one of the 5 people who never saw that U tube of Space Oddity. Thanks for sharing it.