Friday, September 9, 2011


From the dawn of humanity our ancestors looked into the night sky with a combination of fear and wonder imagining shapes and gods. The movement of the sun and moon fascinated them. Observations led to knowledge setting standards for time, seasons, and navigation riding the tides and charting courses by the stars.

As civilization advanced the secrets of the night were uncovered. Egypt’s Pyramids, England’s Stonehenge and other wonders still standing begs the question how advanced were our predecessors and how much more did they know than us? Are those secrets lost forever or just waiting to be rediscovered?
Over the centuries every discovery in astronomy captured our imagination while challenging long held beliefs and understandings. The vaunted, controversial and widely misunderstood treatment of Galileo and his defense of Copernican astronomy and the possibility the Earth revolved around the Sun raised the ire of confused philosophers and theologians and is fodder for a story of its own but here I use his work as a stepping stone for exploration.

I urge those interested in the truth to examine the article Galileo and the Inquisition by the great historian William E. Carroll. I’ll entice you with the end of his work that will compel you to seek the beginning.
“How then do we understand the Galileo Affair? Despite the powerful legend of the warfare between science and theology, we need to recognize that the errors in judgment committed by the theologians of the Inquisition involved the subordination of the interpretation of certain biblical passages to a particular cosmology, and that these errors resulted in disciplinary abuses, not doctrinal falsehoods. Without a demonstration for the motion of the Earth, it was indeed possible to believe that the Bible affirmed that the Earth did not move. To insist upon such an affirmation, however, is to violate principles established by Augustine and Aquinas. Nevertheless, the controversy between Galileo and the Inquisition is inconceivable were it not the case that both sides shared common principles: the complementarity between faith and reason, the Bible and science; the role of the Church as the authentic interpreter of scripture; and a commitment to an Aristotelian ideal of demonstration in science In an ironic sense, we might say that the "Galileo Affair" offers ample testimony, not for the warfare between science and theology, but for the harmony between the two.”

Bottom line, science advanced under the patronage of the Church. Faith and reason are not enemies and theologians and scientists both seek the truth. Besides everyone knows the Earth and everything else revolves around we Baby Boomers. However I digress. One friend suggested the blog be changed to the Digressions of the Last Dinosaur.

Where was I? Humanity envying our feathered friends soaring across the heavens, spurred an insatiable desire for us to join them. Lives were lost and limbs maimed when men took to building artificial wings trying to imitate birds without understanding how they fly.

Thanks to a legion of innovative pioneers creating the field of aerodynamics: from Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings of his never built Ornithopter; to inventions where there were actual humans taking flight such as the Montgolfier Brothers Hot Air balloon; George Cayley’s and Otto Lilienthal gliders; Samuel Langley’s aerodrome; and finally America’s own Wright Brothers flying into history at Kitty Hawk and really thrusting the United States into the dominant force of the skies.

Fast forward through the days of Lindberg, Amelia Earhart, both World Wars and other conflicts, passenger flights, to the 50’s when the Soviet Union stunned us in 1957 by putting Sputnik the first artificial satellite into orbit in September and quickly followed with Sputnik 2 in November carrying the little dog Laika, who died in space. I remember even as a four-year-old, joining my parents and neighbors in the back yard waiting and watching this bright small object from earth circle over head until it faded out of sight in a matter of minutes. I would not have been happy to know a dead dog was inside. Even our own program lost a number of monkeys to the cause.

It was game on! US Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson, the father of NASA asserted to the President and Congress if the Soviet Union could put a satellite in space they could put a nuclear bomb right above us. America got serious about space.

Let’s examine the political climate for a second. The Cold War was at its height reflected in our culture of bomb shelters and school safety drills- put your head down and go under your desk and the evil Russian atomic bomb will just pass you by. Popular culture and Science fiction movies were impacted by the times. Invaders attacked us like; Red Planet Mars, Them, It Conquered The World, and of course The Thing From Another World with its classic ending as the reporter in the artic outpost contacts the outside world cryptically warning, “Look to the skies! Keep watching the skies!” Sometimes the aliens were already amongst us taking our bodies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or controlling our minds as in Invaders from Mars.

Actually I have a problem deciphering if the scriptwriters and directors were warning of communism or lampooning the hysteria of McCarthyism. Perhaps it was both? For most people the subtleties were lost and the message became the ancient mysteries of space.

I digress again, surprise! At any rate the US hustled to catch up while the Soviet Union kept notching firsts sending dogs in space and returning them and in April 1961 making Yuri Gagarin the first human in space.
But I’m getting ahead of myself and least I’m not digressing unless I’m digressing over not digressing.
Back to the US and space, shocked into action and determined not to lose the space race Ike, spurred on by LBJ and other Members of Congress including Jerry Ford , signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) with the futuristic mission “to improve life here, extend life there, to find life beyond”. Sound’s like it was written by Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry.

Moving fast in December of that same year with the American satellite Atlas 10B President Eisenhower gave the first radio broadcast from space. “This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite circling in outer space. Through this unique medium I convey to you and all mankind American’s wish for peace on earth and good will toward men."
With the birth of the Mercury Project, American manned space exploration was the goal and our nation looked to the gutsiest astronaut candidates available, our military flyers and test pilots. They were indeed as Tom Wolfe titled his book, which tells the story I can’t contain in a blog, THE RIGHT STUFF. Do yourself a favor read it and watch Philip Kaufman’s movie by the same name.

These novice astronauts knew the dangers of flight, but also the incomparable thrills of speed and spectacular sights. Everyone one who has ever flown in a plane, helicopter, or even a hot air balloon has experienced a small portion of the beauty, sense of freedom, and sheer joy of soaring through the sky. Imagine orbiting the Earth or even piercing the atmosphere for a short time.
In 1960 President Kennedy was elected bringing energy to our nation with his clarion call for public service and the space program embodied the adventurous spirit and unbridled optimism of the New Frontier. You had to be alive and a child in those magical years to really understand how school children idolized the Mercury 7 and the space program along with a President you actually wanted to imitate.
It should be stated NASA and the space program considered the safety of the astronauts paramount. This was still a country valuing highly the sanctity of human life. Everyone knew and accepted the dangers, the astronauts themselves, everyone connected to the program and even the elected officials but a live pilot returning was the only acceptable measure of success.
We rejoiced May 5, 1961 when Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space. Less than 3 weeks later JFK took it all up a notch when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared his intention to land a man on the moon and return him safely before the end of the decade.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish…We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon—if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

People working for the space program and all of us embraced the challenge, the wise wondering how it would be done, while the blissful ignorance of youth crowded out our doubts. John Glenn reinforced everyone’s optimism as the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 but in the very next year on November 22nd our hero died in Dallas.

Things began to get crazy. Vietnam divided us, social changes buffeted the world and people wondered how we could afford a space race when millions of Americans and others lived in poverty. The problems of civil rights rightfully called for correction. Then in January 1967 tragedy struck again this time killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Grand Rapids own Roger Chaffee in an accidental fire in the command module on a launch pad.,

Past often is prologue and President Johnson the father of the Space program became its savior using his political acumen to keep it on track and transform JFK’s dream into a reality.

Richard Nixon was President and supportive of our Space race. Literally the whole world watched or knew when on July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and for that moment mankind truly was one. Buzz Aldrin joined him and they both passed into legend and history as the first humans on the lunar surface watching Earth setting in the distance. This was indeed the collective efforts of many and the hope of President Kennedy but it was decisively achieved through the efforts of LBJ.

The story of America’s Space Race is best told by Sandy Cohen Curator at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum and an expert on their exhibit: To the Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s . Tuesdays with Tormala was honoured to have Sandy Cohen as a guest and he regaled listeners with President Johnson’s role as Father of NASA, and as the political force providing the leadership that made President Kennedy’s vision of placing a man on the moon within the decade a reality. You can listen to Curator Cohen’s interview at the following link.

There have been other tragedies in our shuttle program and we mourn the loss of those heroes also, but I daresay not one astronaut would ever say we should abandon our space program or even reduce it.
The by-products alone are invaluable to us all :Computer-Aided Topography (CAT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technologies; cordless power tools; freeze dried food; virtual reality; micro-lazers; Charge Coupled Device (CCD) chips for digital imaging breast biopsies; improved kidney dialysis machines; smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; satellite navigation; and many, many, more! Now think of the good paying jobs and the impact the space program has had on our economy and quality of life.

Then there are the intangible, but maybe even more important, by-products of enthusiasm, inspiration and the gift of imagining almost anything is possible etched in the hearts and minds of our youth.
A young Matt Johnson watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon and now he is a Born-Again Rocketeer & N-1 Russian Moon Rocket Historian, Level 2 NAR flyer.

Matt explained he became a Born-Again Rocketeer after his father died in 2006, a common occurrence in the field. The desire to regress to father-son days of old finds a great vehicle to honor that relationship through model rocketry. Matt achieved Level 2 National Association of Rocketry (NAR) two years ago. He can fly about 30 lbs.

Johnson became captivated with the Russian Moon Rocket N-1 four years ago by researching the design when he wanted to launch a 30 engine rocket, as the N-1 is.
Over time Johnson became friends over the Internet with Alex Shlyiadinsky, the focal point of Russian documentation on the N-1 and creator of the AutoCAD file for it, and Vladimyr Antipov, photographer and Buran engineer. Matt also befriended the late Mike Dorffler, of Estes Rockets, and the CGI designer of the N-1 file in England, Nick Stevens. After a time Johnson decided they had enough information to produce a book on the physical nature of the N-1, A Modeler’s Reference Guide to the N-1: the Soviet Moon Rocket. The book should be ready by this Christmas.

I was privileged to have Matt Johnson as a guest on the same radio show with Sandy Cohen and Matt’s enthusiasm connected with the listening audience. Johnson is an outstanding ambassador for the rocket modelling community, as he explains in his own words.

“For the vast numbers of parents out there who are looking for a way to connect with their kids, model rocketry may be a starting point! Nothing quite captures the imagination of kids (and adults) like building and launching your own rocket, powered by an honest-to-goodness black powder rocket engine. Model rocketry is a safe, sanctioned and proven hobby for all ages. And relatively cheap, compared to the gear needed for sports. The hobby allows for mentoring of beginners and group enjoyment for hobbyists.
The good news is that we have two clubs in the immediate area, SMASH, (Southwest Michigan Association of Space-modeling Hobbyists, 2nd Place National Section) and MMAR Muskegon Michigan, Area Rocketry), available at their respective web sites. These clubs fly out of Muskegon Waste Water Facility almost every weekend. The kids, adolescents and adults are always ready to help newcomers. The NAR is even offering free kits with their instant sign-up box this year!
Building model rockets with the family supports historical study, hand-eye coordination, modeling skills, painting skills, and scientific understanding. Quite a lot for one simple package! The NAR supports school groups through the TARC (Team America Rocketry Challenge) which sends kids to DC every year for Nationals. The NAR also gives scholarships to schools, individual students and first-time NAR National Attendees under 18yrs.”
One can conclude from our past accomplishments Americans need to reach once again for the stars.
Investing in our space program is a stimulus program that is ready to fly. It will create jobs and products while bringing new discoveries and industries. But most importantly of all ensure America leads the world in technology, science, and knowledge.

If President Obama and Congress are serious about reinvigorating our economy and taking on the National Debt then position the United States to grow a new space industry with the potential to create good paying jobs and a sustainable tax base.
It’s time to dream again! It’s time to believe again! It’s time to do again!

Fire up the Shuttle program, build even better rockets to take us to the Moon and construct a base there to mine minerals and launch us onto other missions.

Mr. President at the dawn of the 21st century how about using the hope and change we voted for to conquer the last frontier?

Let me end this by going back to the beginning and may we follow NASA’s original mission jazzed up by Hollywood as spoken by actor William Shatner, Star Trek’s own Captain James T. Kirk on the start of every program when hope to travel in space lived even though we had yet to step on the Moon.“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Beam us up Mr. President!

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