If We Can’t Put a Man on the Moon…

Here’s something I posted as a comment on Phil Plait’s blog.  Seemed like it oughta be a post of its own;  now if I could just get Phil’s readership.

The concept here is a very common longing for the good ol’ days of NASA, when failure was not an option, and we could get to the moon instead of just going round and round in Low Earth Orbit.  I hear this a lot.


I have worked on both manned missions and unmanned science missions.  I was old enough to watch and understand as Neil Armstrong stepped off the LM pad, and I find that moment to be the high point of humanity.

So, can we do that again?  No.  Not now anyway.  And it’s not about vision, it’s not about taking chances, it’s not about boldness.

It’s about money.

The Apollo program, at its peak, took 4% of GDP.  Think about that.  1 out of every 25 dollars spent in the US was spent on getting people to the moon, at least for a couple years.  The current US GDP is 14 trillion dollars, so a similar level of effort would be $500 billion per year.  That’s more than 25 times NASA’s current budget.

Getting people (safely) into space and back is bloody expensive.  Take Apollo 13.  Yes, it was great dedication and knowledge and cleverness that got them back alive and safe.  But it was also the existence of high-fidelity simulators, a massive infrastructure, and a huge team of ground personnel that made it possible to bring the astronauts back.  That kind of backup costs a lot of money. And most of it is salaries, which means it costs the same in real terms now as it did in 1965.

I won’t argue that today’s NASA isn’t overly risk-averse, and yes, the effect of this risk aversion has been to add layers of review and bureaucracy rather than to really work at improving reliability.  But to actually return to the glory days of Apollo would require not just the mental commitment but the financial commitment of the Apollo days.

The shuttle was over-hyped, but was it actually badly designed?  Well, if it really were so far from optimal, there would be a better solution by now.  Many very large companies with vast resources have been building rockets for decades, with lots of non-NASA customers, and while there have been minor improvements, things really haven’t changed much.  Getting into space is just hard, and expensive.  Doing it with the reliability we expect if there are people on board is that much more costly.  It’s easy to long for the good ol’ days of Apollo, but until we are ready put our moneys where our mouths is, it ain’t gonna happen.

[title of post]

Whoa, another post?  I thought this blog was dead.

But there’s [title of show] playing at Signature, in the smaller (ARK) space, and it’s another one of those that keeps me going back there even though the large space has become home to mega-spectaculars (and Broadway-bound bombs like Glory Days).

Plus hey, Sam Ludwig!  When was it I saw him in Pippin?  Google says 2006.  Google knows everything!  (And Google is wrong; it has to be 2005.)  Yeah, and none of the girls wanted to kiss him in the orgy scene when they found out he was still in high school.  He was so clearly the standout that Jenna and I knew he was destined for stardom right there.  When he showed up to auditions for Assassins at KAT we were all, “Craig, you have to cast him!  Plus he can play guitar!”  He shoulda been the balladeer, but we had nobody who could play Hinckley, and Hinckley does have that whole play-guitary moment at the beginning of Unworthy of Your Love.  And Sam rocked it.

Continue reading ‘[title of post]’

Fly, Little Boeing! Fly Like the Wind!

Well that was a sucky day of travel.

And it was going so well.  Got to the airport in plenty of time, found a decent parking space.  Got through the TSA checkpoint with all my clothes on.  Well, except the belt, which either has more metal than my old belt or they’ve lowered the sensitivity threshold on the magnetometers.  Walked away without it, cause for some reason it came through a long time after the computer and I’m still not used to collecting it.  Guess it’s a really confusing belt in X-rays.  Or maybe it’s because they have that stupid long tunnel the shit has to ride through after it’s done being scanned, and the whole pipeline stops while they look at the next item.  Stupid ass design.

But no wait, I was having a good day.  Because the nice TSA lady called me back to let me know I’d forgotten my belt.  Then I got to ride the shiny new trains at Dulles, instead of the stupid mobile lounges.  No.  Wait.  That was in a dream.  I only got to look at the shiny new not-yet-open-to-the-public trains.  Still adjusting the strength of the MagLev solenoids I suppose.  Cause given how long we’ve been waiting, they’ve gotta be MagLev.  With a load of Pascaline D and a detachment of Alliance soldiers in the next car.

Continue reading ‘Fly, Little Boeing! Fly Like the Wind!’

I Want my Fury!

Next up: Who's gay?

Next up: Who's gay?

Don’t you hate when life imitates art?

Standing in the checkout line, living normally in a world of steak, prepackaged couscous, and kitty litter.  A world, in short, of normalcy, of a universe I can believe, with consistent laws and ordinary people.  And then, this!  And all of the sudden I’m up Ben Edlund’s universe without a superpower.

It’s the perfect story
So they say
Hammer’s call to glory
Let’s all be our best
Next up – Who’s gay?

Although, does the Enquirer really count as life?  I mean, since they absorbed the Weekly World News those guys have had to have something to do I guess.

Still, if you’re gonna show me things like that in the checkout line, I really think I deserve to have Marty Noxon show up at my house.  Or NPH.  Or at least David Fury.

Life is so fucking unfair.


Upon a time, I had two screws
Within my life, upon my shoes.
Held in tight, against my sole
Where I could not refuse.

Then one day most unexpected,
Solid threads had been rejected,
Leaving open space that I had
Thought was well connected.

The clip I hear, just as before;
Like tap-dancing across the floor.
But half the power holding strong
Is not there anymore.

Now one is left, and though it might
Still keep me pumping through the night,
There’s something missing in my world.
Next time I’ll use Loc-Tite.

Untitled #1

What makes a shape to last
As plaster wreaths itself in dust
When earth is fired
Or retired by the next wave?
And who will save
The moment when a god is slain
Or slakes an earthly virgin’s lust?

When does a story told
Through colored composition hold
A moment’s heart?
Or start another school
And who will rule
Tomorrow’s silent silver screen
When narrative serves more than gold?

How can an empty crease
And feathered quill release
With ink and skill
The thrill of secret love?
And who will move
The kings and queens to come
And make of sorrow slight surcease?

Where have the bodies hung
In frozen air, from stages sprung
With sharp sinews
Or music, heart to steal?
And who will feel
The rhythms yet to beat.
And hear the melodies still unbegun?

Why do I need to ask?
Uncap the pen, remove the mask.
Grab hold the thought
And caught, flinch not, nor blink,
Or who will think
To build, from vision, art
And put the shoulder to the task.

Inspired by a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago in June 2003.  Never let it be said that I rush my verse out the door.  Also I predict this will look absurd when auto-copied into Facebook.

Yes on Nate

Nate Silver predicts Prop. 1 will be defeated in Maine. I sure hope he’s right.  This is the same Nate Silver who predicted last November’s elections with pretty much 100% accuracy, at least for the president and senate.  I didn’t check the numbers for the house.  He’s giving 5 to 2 odds that 1 will be defeated.

I randomly picked 2020 as the year by which I predict same-sex marriage is a done deal. If 1 loses, I’m thinking it’ll be more like 2015.  C’mon, Maine!  Let’s get this stuff fixed!

Bite me, Walt Whitman

This is no tiny little jewel box. This is The Jewel Box, a large star cluster visible with the naked eye, if the eye in question happens to be well south of the equator.

Photo taken by WFPC2 on the Hubble Space Telescope.  Click to enplait.

Photo taken by WFPC2 on the Hubble Space Telescope. Click to enplait.

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars ~ mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination ~ stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern ~ of which I am a part ~ perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 1

I have nothing to add.

Thanks to commenter “Dave” over at Bad Astronomy, for reminding me of this quote.

Wasted in the Great Unknown

Vacant crowded streets of stone
Recall a memory, unknown.
Beneath the neon, not outshone
By women tan and thin.

Displayed like sirens from inside
Where crystal walls the world divide
And by revealing, coyly hide
A golden mannequin.

Which lightly trying to beguile
Mind to thoughts more versatile
Removing clothing, thoughts, and smile
Opening to view

So much of skin, a golden lotus
Hoping for a moment’s notice.
Yet my thought, sad and remote is:
All I want is you.

Flower Power

It’s all about the bikes.

Bikes here, bikes there. Bike rush hour! In Soviet Netherlands, bikes take precedence over cars. Vaaaht a caahntry!

The daily ride from the hotel to the university, about 2 miles, is bike paths all the way.  Some roads go like this, in cross section:

  1. sidewalk
  2. grass median
  3. Northbound bike path
  4. grass median
  5. curb
  6. car parking lane
  7. Northbound car lane
  8. Southbound car lane
  9. car parking
  10. curb
  11. grass median
  12. Southbound bike path
  13. grass median
  14. sidewalk

Even in downtown Utrecht, bricked tight as any old-school European city, the bikes win.  Wide lanes on the sides of the street, and the cars have to fight it out for the middle.  A park right in the middle of where you need to go?  No worries, there’s sure to be a bike trail across it.

And no hills!  Nothing but flats.  But no glass on the road, so not that kind of flat.  Although always a headwind, or so they say.  I haven’t particularly noticed.

Check out the tornado-shaped plastic flower arrangement here at SRON, apparently made from discarded bike tubes.  With the talcum powder still on.  I love it!

Note to pedestrians:  The word “fiets” sounds like a cognate for “feet”, so you might think “fietspad” means footpath.  Wrong.  “Bike path”.  Really, that should be your first guess.  I’ve been here five days and haven’t been in a car yet.

It’s all about the bikes