Space!

6 Aug

I have been a space cadet geek since I was old enough to understand what those Apollo missions on television were,

and have been a die-hard Trekkie with an ‘ie’ since [date redacted], but my actual active following of Cool Space Stuff has been intermittent over the years. I remember staying up late with a gallon of vanilla ice cream watching the Voyager 2 fly-by of Neptune in ’89, and being flabbergasted that I was the sole person in the office during one of my summer jobs in the ’90’s to go outside to glimpse the shadowed reflection of a solar eclipse.

Yet I wasn’t paying attention to all the other stuff going on during those decades (forex, my younger brother has a distinct memory of staying up to watch the Viking I spacecraft land on Mars; I don’t). Mostly, I sat around grumbling about why we weren’t sending people back to the Moon, or Mars. Meanwhile, NASA and other countries’ space agencies were sending probes to Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, the Hubble telescope was unfurled on the universe, and astronomers discovered the first planets around other stars.

I can’t say what drew me back in to paying attention. I don’t have any particular memories of following the space news of the early 00’s, either. I think it was a gradual drip-dripping of news via the internet. I am a notorious news-o-phobe. I don’t watch the news on television or read it in the newspaper. I avoid news websites. The coverage is invariably Earth-bound and depressing as hell. So if there were exciting discoveries or voyages to be heard about, I wasn’t hearing about them.

Enter the era of keyword-driven automated news updates, blog feeds, Tweetdeck lists, Facebook page liking, and Google searches on “what the hell is ****?” And suddenly, I am discovering fifty plus years packed full of space history that would have thrilled me had I known about it. And I’m getting announcements of upcoming events before they happen, so I can watch them occur live on internet TV, or get them shortly afterwards on YouTube.

It’s two years yesterday the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. I was glued to the Seven Minutes of Terror that evening. This morning, the European Space Agency put their Rosetta spacecraft in orbit around a comet. In September, new Mars satellites from the US and India will reach the red planet (MAVEN and MOM). China has a full-on lunar program unfolding. A year from now, New Horizons will fly by effing PLUTO, dude. By the end of 2015, if all goes well, the Google X project will spur one or more clever private citizen teams competing for their $25 million dollar prize to land a rover on the Moon. And other private companies like SpaceX are working diligently to develop reusable rockets that will cut the costs of traveling to and from space*.

There are cool space events happening every day now. As I type, astronauts on the International Space Station are posting breath-taking images and vines from space (@astro_reid, @Astro_Alex). Citizen scientists have returned a disco-era space probe to active scientific duty.

Plus, you know, Europa. Enceladus.

I wasn’t paying attention before. Now the universe is my oyster.

* This is not without its own uncertainties. To wit, no private corporation signed the international agreement that the Moon and other space bodies “belong to all mankind” and cannot be summarily claimed and exploited. These issues will arise with increasing frequency as private industry ventures further out into space.

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