Remembering when government gave humanity hope for the future: A giant leap for mankind on July 20, 1969

July 20, 2016

It’s a day to remember history.  Do you remember that day, the first time humans set foot on the Moon?

Southwest Elementary in Burley, Idaho, existed in a world far, far away from the U.S. space program. We watched rocket launches on black and white televisions — the orbital launches were important enough my father let me stay home from school to watch, but when he dropped me off at school, I was in a tiny band of students who actually made it to school. Potato farmers and the merchants who supported them thought the space program was big, big stuff, worth missing school.

By John Glenn’s flight, a three-orbit extravaganza on February 20, 1962, a television would appear in the main vestibule of the school, or in the auditorium, and we’d all watch. There were very few spitballs. Later that year my family moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Earthrise from Apollo 11, before the Moon landing

Moonrise from Apollo 11 prior to Moon landing.

Toward the end of the Gemini series, television news networks stopped providing constant coverage. The launch, the splashdown, a space walk or other mission highlight, but the nation didn’t hold its breath so much for every minute of every mission. Barry McGuire would sing about leaving the planet for four days in space (” . . . but when you return, it’s the same old place.”), then six days, but it was just newspaper headlines.

The Apollo 1 fire grabbed the nation’s attention again. Gus Grissom, one of the three who died, was one of the original space titans; death was always a possibility, but the U.S. program had been so lucky. Apollo’s start with tragedy put it back in the headlines.

The space program and its many successes made Americans hopeful, even in that dark decade when the Vietnam War showed the bloody possibilities of the Cold War. That darkest year of 1968 — see the box below — closed nicely with Apollo 8 orbiting the Moon, and the famous Christmas Eve telecast from the three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William A. Anders. The space program kept us hopeful.

By early 1969 many of us looked forward to the flight of Apollo 11 schedule for July — the space flight that promised to put people on the Moon for the first time in history, the realization of centuries-old dreams.

But, then I got my assignment for Scouting for the summer — out of nearly 50 nights under the stars, one of the days would include the day of the space walk. Not only was it difficult to get televisions into Maple Dell Scout Camp, a good signal would be virtually impossible. I went to bed knowing the next day I’d miss the chance of a lifetime, to watch the first moon landing and walk.

Just after midnight my sister Annette woke me up. NASA had decided to do the first walk on the Moon shortly after touchdown, at an ungodly hour. I’d be unrested to check Scouts in, but I’d have seen history.

And so it was that on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon: “A small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind,” was what he meant to say in a transmission that was famously garbled (at least he didn’t say anything about jelly doughnuts).

NASA provided a video compilation for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2009:

P. Z. Myers says he remembers a lawnmower going somewhere. It must have been very bright in Seattle. (Thanks for the reminder, P.Z., and a tip of the old scrub brush to you.)

2016 marks the 47th anniversary.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) lists 11 dates for U.S. history as the touchstones kids need to have: 1609, the founding of Jamestown; 1776, the Declaration of Independence; 1787, the Constitutional Convention; 1803, the Louisiana Purchase; 1861-1865, the American Civil War; 1877, the end of Reconstruction; 1898, the Spanish American War; 1914-1918, World War I; 1929, the Stock Market Crash and beginning of the Great Depression; 1941-1945, World War II; 1957, the launching of Sputnik by the Soviets. Most teachers add the end of the Cold War, 1981; I usually include Apollo 11 — I think that when space exploration is viewed from a century in the future, manned exploration will be counted greater milestone than orbiting a satellite; my only hesitance on making such a judgment is the utter rejection of such manned exploration after Apollo, which will be posed as a great mystery to future high school students, I think.)

* Why 1968 was such a tough year, in roughly chronological order: 1968 produced a series of disasters that would depress the most hopeful of people, including: the Pueblo incident, the B-52 crash in Greenland, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the nerve gas leak at the Army’s facility at Dugway, Utah, that killed thousands of sheep, Lyndon Johnson’s pullout from the presidential race with gathering gloom about Vietnam, the Memphis garbage strike, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., riots, the Black Panther shoot-out in Oakland, the Columbia University student takeover, the French student strikes, the tornadoes in Iowa and Arkansas on May 15, the Catonsville 9 vandalism of the Selective Service office, the sinking of the submarine U.S.S. Scorpion with all hands, the shooting of Andy Warhol, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Buenos Aires soccer riot that killed 74 people, the Glenville shoot-out in Cleveland, the cynicism of the Republicans and the nomination of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia crushing the “Prague Spring” democratic reforms, the Chicago Democratic Convention and the police riot, the brutal election campaign, the Tlatololco massacre of students in Mexico City, Black Power demonstrations by winning U.S. athletes at the Mexico City Olympics, coup d’etat in Panama. Whew!

More, from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

And even more:

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

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


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?

More:

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-

More:


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

More:

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.


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