Ever wonder about Inspiration? What it is? Where it comes from? Why it hits you the way it does? For some, when Inspiration strikes, they liken it to a bolt of lightning.
I have the good fortune to be married to an incredible woman who occasionally has access to social events that most folks only dream of attending: seats at Oriole games just five rows behind the dugout, sky boxes at Ravens games, and a charity event where I donated under my pen name. But those pale in comparison to the event to which I escorted her this Thursday past.
Maggie works for The Space Telescope Science Institute as the Executive Assistant to the Director.
Ever heard of the Hubble Space Telescope?
There you go.
Rings a bell, doesn’t it?
Last Thursday was the 25th Anniversary of Hubble’s launch, and the celebration was grand indeed. The day-long event included Key-notes and panel discussions by scientists, high-level administrators, and astronauts—that’s right, astronauts—and afterwards, opened to the public for autographs for a short while. Families of STScI employees came with their kids and some dressed them in flight suits. Photographers documented the goings on, and STScI staff directed visitors and guests here and there.
Then, cocktail hour was upon us.
The VIPs and guests +1 piled into busses and the drivers navigated their way to The American Visionary Art Museum through the downtown Baltimore rush-hour, which managed to turn the cocktail hour, into the cocktail twenty minutes. But that was fine. We punched out a little conversation and a couple drinks with friends and then shuffled up to dinner.
|STS-125 Mission Patch|
|STS-125 Commemorative Plaque signed by the crew.|
If you look closely, you'll see the plaque is made out to Maggie,
but she lets me view it occasionally.
She also brought home (for me), an autographed copy of the iconic scene from Top Gun, where the Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot, Scott Altman, sends a friendly "Hello" to his counterpart in the Russian Mig-28.
(You didn't really think it was Tom Cruise at the controls of a U.S. air superiority fighter, did you?)
If you saw the movie, I’m sure you’ll recognize the scene.
(He! He! He! He!)
So you’ll understand my complete and utter giddiness when, while seated at the table beside Maggie, she says to me, “Turn around. That’s Scott Altman behind you.”
When Lightning Strikes.
Being able to introduce me to a living breathing astronaut was something she just couldn’t pass up, but I didn’t even give her the chance. The man flew in space four times. FOUR! TIMES! And commanded the shuttle twice. And you think Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory is in awe of these guys? Can’t hold a candle to me. I was out of my chair in less time than it takes the Atomic Clock to tick off a millisecond.
I did manage to keep my totally star-struck excitement in check. I introduced myself and began talking about Navy stuff, something sailors love to do. We chatted for just a few minutes before the Emcee asked everyone to take their seats, but before he returned to his table, he graciously agreed to a selfie, which I will shamelessly place on display here, but as you can see, Maggie is never happy about pictures she's in, no matter whom they’re with.
|Me, Maggie & Shuttle Commander Scott "Scooter" Altman|
I think it goes without saying that this rates among the top five coolest experiences of my life.
I never dreamed of being a writer. I dreamed of being an astronaut, but my path took me elsewhere, and flying as enlisted crew aboard the P3 was as close as I got, so when Maggie says I have a man-crush, I harbor no shame in admitting that it’s true. I met Scott Altman, a man who commanded the Shuttle in outer space. Outer Space. Jesus, the words themselves resonate and seem surreal to me. The danger involved in space flight is enough to garner enormous respect for these men and women, as evidenced by those who came before and gave all: The flight crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Yet, in spite of the hazards, or perhaps because of them, they continue to reach for the heavens.
That night I arrived at the crossroads where Science Fiction meets Science Fact. It was a departure from the fantasy of literary characters such as Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Captain Kirk, to the reality of flesh & blood men & women like Shepard and Armstrong and Lovell and Ride, and now Altman and Grunsfeld and many, many, others; pioneers who put their lives on the line, not to sail westward on wind-powered wooden ships as did Columbus, but skyward, riding machines of steel on tongues of flame toward the unknowns of space. They do so not for glory or wealth, but for the chance to realize a dream, and perhaps in the process, do something few have ever done—something truly great.
Carl Sagan said, "The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth." Looking up at the night sky, I think we are so much smaller.
An important side note:
Watching the video’s in the links below, we can see that Hubble provides not just the most comprehensive look deep into our celestial home, a frontier we know little or nothing about, but it provides the only look.
What happens to Hubble, and our window to the Universe, when the money runs out?
Hubble’s staunchest congressional supporter, Senator Barbara Mikulski, will retire next year. Who will pick up the baton? Now that the Obama administration has seen fit to mothball our shuttle fleet and put our orbiters into museums, thereby reducing the greatest space-faring nation on Earth to begging rides from the Russians, we must continue to explore the universe any way we can. Fortunately, Hubble has provided a means to do that, but it is nearing the end of its life cycle.
Enter James Webb—Deep Space Telescope
Tentative scheduled launch, 2018.
It will undoubtedly need congressional funding.
Request your Congressman/Congresswoman to vote for funding. Congress votes to piss dollars away on a planetary scale for all manner of crap and foreign aid, so let us keep some of the AMERICAN TAX MONEY—your money— at home! Tell Congress to slice out a few billion for James Webb.
See what our space telescopes can do.
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