May 25, 1961, 55 years ago: John Kennedy challenged America to go to the Moon

May 25, 2016

President Kennedy at Congress, May 25, 1961

President John F. Kennedy speaking to a special joint session of Congress, on May 25, 1961; in this speech, Kennedy made his famous statement asking the nation to pledge to put a man on the Moon and bring him back safely, in the next ten years.

It was an era when Congress would respond when the President challenged America to be great, and Congress would respond positively.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy delivered a special message to Congress, on the challenges facing the U.S. around the world, in continuing to build free market economies, and continuing to advance in science, as means of promoting America’s future.  He closed with the words that have become so famous.  From the Apollo 11 Channel, excerpts from the speech, via Fox Movietone news:

History from the Apollo 11 Channel:

In an address to a Joint session of the United States Congress, Kennedy announces full presidential support for the goal to “commit…before this decade is out, to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” and urges Congress to appropriate the necessary funds, eventually consuming the largest financial expenditure of any nation in peacetime.

Though Kennedy had initially been convinced that NASA should attempt a manned mission to Mars, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans spent three days and nights working, ultimately successfully, to convince him otherwise.

The complete speech is 46 minutes long.  The JFK Library has a longer excerpt in good video I haven’t figured out how to embed here, but it’s worth your look.  The Library also features the entire speech in audio format.

The complete copy of the written text that President Kennedy spoke from, is also available at the JFK Library.

NASA has a good site with solid history in very short form, and links to a half-dozen great sites.

Can you imagine a president making such a challenge today?

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


No grumpy uncles, kids, or loving family, at the dinner table in space

March 31, 2016

In space, no one asks you to pass the potatoes.

Year-in-Space astronaut Scott Kelly Tweeted out a picture of his family dinner table, after his return to Earth.

Dinner with @StationCDRKelly (Scott Kelly);

Dinner with @StationCDRKelly (Scott Kelly); “My first #dinner at a table on #Earth! More than food, I missed the dining experience while away on my #YearInSpace.”

Astronaut diets don’t excite us anymore, once we learn everything is mashed up and put into plastic, squeezable containers.  Everyone can empathize with the joy of sitting down with beloved family and friends for a good meal. These scenes, more than almost anything else we do, represent the foundations of our our civilized lives.

Two smart phone screens visible, and the photograph itself probably shot from a smart phone. The family dinner table changes.

And yet, this family dinner table looks familiar to most of us, easily recognizable as a place for social interaction, for talk, discussion, argument and love, throughout U.S. history.

Commander Kelly’s table includes immediate family and others — 13 places in all. Is it so much different from Uncle Sam’s and Lady Liberty’s table in 1869?

Thomas Nast's

Thomas Nast’s “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner,” Harper’s Weekly, 1869

Is the Kelly family table so much different from the one Norman Rockwell depicted in his series on the Four Freedoms?

Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom from Want,” part of a quartet based on the Four Freedoms State of the Union Speech of Franklin Roosevelt, in January 1941.

Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom from Want,” part of a quartet based on the Four Freedoms State of the Union Speech of Franklin Roosevelt, in January 1941.

Which is not to say that every breaking of bread leads to peace and harmony, as I had hoped when I found this photograph in 2013:

Photo of a lunch in an anteroom of the President’s office, with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by White House chief photographer Pete Souza.

Photo of a lunch in an anteroom of the President’s office, with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by White House chief photographer Pete Souza.

Smart phones aside — in every nearly-accurate picture of a family meal some family member will be distracted from fellowship by something — getting together for a meal remains a cornerstone of human culture, of human existence.

Welcome back to Earth, Scott Kelly. You can bear witness to the accuracy of the Barry McGuire/P. F. Sloan line (edited here), “You can leave for a year in space, but when you return it’s the same old place.” We hope your witness will be more optimistic than when McGuire first sang it.

-30-

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Geography from space: Nile at night, a river of light

September 25, 2015

Geography teachers love the Nile Delta because it so well epitomizes what a river delta is — clear demonstration of the delta form, in real photos.

From the International Space Station, the model gets ramped up a bit:

A stunning pic taken by @StationCDRKelly while on @Space_Station shows the Nile River at night http://go.nasa.gov/1iAE3EV

Twitter caption: A stunning pic taken by @StationCDRKelly while on @Space_Station shows the Nile River at night http://go.nasa.gov/1iAE3EV

The Nile becomes a river of light, showing the advance of electrified human settlement along the banks, and providing stark contrast to the unlighted desert on either side of the river.

What other cities, landmarks, or geographical features can you identify in the photo?


Autumnal equinox, September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

You can only get this shot on two days each year.

I was sad to discover most of my U.S. history students (juniors) didn’t know what an equinox is. So the autumnal equinox always offers a teaching moment that ticks off the teacher raters.

Summer 2015 ended at 4:15 a.m., September 23.

This is what an equinox looks like, from 2013 photos.

From Astronomy Picture of the Day: Earth at Equinox. From the Russian meteorological satellite Elektro-L

From Astronomy Picture of the Day: Earth at Equinox. From the Russian meteorological satellite Elektro-L

Explanation from NASA:

Equinox Earth
Image Credit: Roscosmos / NTSOMZ / zelenyikot.livejournal.com
Courtesy: Igor Tirsky, Vitaliy Egorov Explanation: From a geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator, Russian meteorological satellite Elektro-L takes high-resolution images our fair planet every 30 minutes. But only twice a year, during an Equinox, can it capture an image like this one, showing an entire hemisphere bathed in sunlight. At an Equinox, the Earth’s axis of rotation is not tilted toward or away from the Sun, so the solar illumination can extend to both the planet’s poles. Of course, this Elektro-L picture was recorded on September 22nd [2013], at the northern hemisphere’s autumnal equinox. For a moment on that date, the Sun was behind the geostationary satellite and a telltale glint of reflected sunlight is seen crossing the equator, at the location on the planet with satellite and sun directly overhead (5MB animated gif).

Wait. Animated .gif?  Cool!

The Earth at equinox, 2013; from Russan space program, via NASA.

The Earth at equinox, 2013; from Russan space program, via NASA.

The autumnal equinox is at 8:22 GMT or 4:22 am EDT on Wednesday. The two satellite images below from the European Meteosat show the sun angle on Earth from June 22 near the summer solstice and then today at the same time.  Notice the sun angle has changed dramatically, and the High Arctic is no longer seeing 24 hour daylight.

June 22 2015 from Meteosat.

Below is today at the same time.

Seviri Sep22

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is partly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Annals of Global Warming: Warm the oceans, raise the sea level

September 15, 2015

Svein T veitdal is one of those rare scientists who can explain why science observations are important in effects on people in just living their lives. A good man to listen to (you can follow his Twitter account: @tveitdal).

Recently he sent this notice:

Critics of the science of climate change and the work to slow or halt warming don’t like charts like that. Sea level is something measured by humans, worldwide, for a long time. That’s real data.

And it’s scary.

T veitdal’s Tweet was just a small part of a very large graphic from NASA, explaining the observations that tell us sea levels rise, how the observations are made, and what it means to you and me.

NASA infographic on sea level rise

NASA infographic on sea level rise: We know seas are rising and we know why. The urgent questions are by how much and how quickly. Available to download, this infographic covers the science behind sea level rise, who’s affected, how much melting ice is contributing, and what NASA is doing to help.

Yeah. “Your planet is changing. We’re on it.”

As Ban-ki Moon said the other day, there is no Planet B. We have only one Earth.

General science teachers, geology teachers, physics and chemistry teachers, history, geography and human geography teachers should see if someone at your school has a plotter and can print this thing out for you, poster size.


God uses kitsch to tell conservative Christians to give science a break

February 9, 2015

Look what the Hubble Telescope found!

Look what the Hubble Telescope found!

Photo from Hubble Telescope (via Washington Post) suggests “conservative Christians” can lay off their hatred of science, and especially astronomy, and let funding for NASA increase again.


December 27, Great Beginnings Day 2014: Darwin, Apollo, and more

December 27, 2014

December 27 is one of those days — many of us are off work, but it’s after Boxing Day, and it’s not yet on to New Year’s Eve or Day. We should have celebrated, maybe.

It’s the end of the year, and yet it is also a day of great beginnings.

We should celebrate December 27 as a day of portent: A good embarkation, and a good, safe end to a nation-encouraging trip to almost touch the Moon.

HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship

HMS Beagle, on a voyage of discovery

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle set sail on an around-the-world voyage of discovery that would change all of science, and especially biology, forever.

December 27 1831
After a few delays, H.M.S. Beagle headed out from Plymouth with a crew of 73 under clear skies and a good wind. Darwin became sea-sick almost immediately.

Darwin never fully overcame his seasickness, but he fought it well enough to become the single greatest collector of specimens in history for the British Museum and British science, a distinction that won him election to science societies even before his return from the trip — and cemented his life in science, instead of in the church.

Darwin’s discoveries would have revolutionized biology in any case. But, in analyzing what he had found, a few years later and with the aid of experts at the British Museum, Darwin realized he had disproved much of William Paley’s hypotheses about life and its diversity, and that another, more basic explanation was possible. This led to his discovery of evolution by natural and sexual selection.

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail in 2009 honoring Darwin’s discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

On December 27, 1968, Apollo 8 splashed down after a successful and heartening trip to orbit the Moon. The three crewmen, Commander Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, had orbited the Moon, a very important milestone in the methodological race to put humans on the Moon (which would be accomplished seven months later).

1968 was a terrible year for the U.S., with the North Korean capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo, assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign, riots in dozens of American cities, nasty political conventions with riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, a contentious and bitter election making sore the nation’s divide over Vietnam policy, and other problems. On Christmas Eve, Borman, Lovell and Anders broadcast from orbit around the Moon, a triumphant and touching moment for the Apollo Program and Americans around the world. Their safe return on December 27 raised hopes for a better year in 1969.

Motherboard.tv has a great write up from Alex Pasternack, especially concerning the famous photo taken a few days prior to splashdown:

In 1968, NASA engineers were scrambling to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon by decade’s end. Because delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program, NASA chose to change mission plans and send the crew of Apollo 8 all the way to the moon without a lunar module.

Exactly 43 [46] years ago, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit another celestial object. As they came around the dark side of the Moon for the third time, Frank Borman, the commander, finally turned their capsule around. And then they saw the Earth.

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…

One of the resulting photos taken by Anders on a Hasselblad camera became one of the world’s most iconic images.

As Bill Anders recalls it:

I just happened to have one with color film in it and a long lens. All I did was to keep snapping… It’s not a very good photo as photos go, but it’s a special one. It was the first statement of our planet Earth and it was particularly impressive because it’s contrasted against this startling horizon . . . After all the training and studying we’d done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back, [and] as human beings to explore moon orbit, what we really discovered was the planet Earth.

Plan to raise a glass today, December 27, 2012, to Great Beginnings Day for the human race. December 27 is a day we should remember, for these achievements. (But if you’re raising a glass, consider Carrie Nation, too!)

Also on December 27:

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


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