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May 14, 2010

Posted by Patrick at 02:52 PM * 51 comments

STS-132, originally uploaded by pnh.


Comments on STS-132:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 02:57 PM:

Patrick, in company with a great many SFWAns, is now on the bus heading back to the Nebula Awards weekend. He says they're all buzzed from watching the takeoff.

#2 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:00 PM:

A cloud rope unravels
Into infinity.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:02 PM:

That is a sight.

#4 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Unravels -- extends -- uncoils --

Poets, help...

#5 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:15 PM:

Lizzy L #4: I hope this will do:

A cord of smoke from earth into the sky
with freight of hearts and history is drawn
by active force; so barriers are torn
and continents are spanned in blink of eye.
We turn to go, with world-accepting sigh,
not knowing just how such moments are born
but sensing now that the magic has gone
up with the fliers and so cannot die.
No matter that the age of space is old
and all its miracles turned everyday
each heart still feels that eager childish surge
of hope that somewhere out there in that cold
darkness of space there are beings that play
our human games and match our every urge.

#6 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:19 PM:

You had a much MUCH better vantage point than the one shuttle launch I was at, long long ago.

#7 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:20 PM:

That'll do, Fragano. Thanks.

#8 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:22 PM:

I never do get tired of those sights. Thanks, Patrick.

#9 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:41 PM:

Wow. Proof positive that SFWA wields Power: Shuttle launches *never* go off on schedule.

My parents lived in Melbourne Beach, on the "Space Coast" for 15 years. The only tolerable thing about being there was the launches -- not only of the Shuttle but the Delta rockets etc. from Canaveral Naval Air Station. We would turn on NASA TV (standard on basic cable in those parts) to watch the countdown, then when the main engines started we'd head outside to the front lawn. In a matter of seconds we'd see the plume start rising over the palm trees across the street. Many more seconds would pass until the sound got to us -- a low, deep rumble that could have been mistaken for many other things except for how low and deep and long it was.

The night launches were the best. I will never forget the time we went down to the beach and stood on top of the stairs traversing the dunes, on one of the rare nights when the beachside haze was absent and we had a crystal-clear view up the coast. The moment the main engines turned on, the horizon caught on fire. It was *incredibly* bright, even though we were more than 40 miles downrange. We were able to follow the Shuttle all the way until main engine cutoff, practically all the way into orbit.

My mom was an elementary school teacher down there, and it used to drive her nuts that she was in the minority of teachers who made a point of bringing their classes outside to watch the launches if they were during the school day. Most everybody in that area just took it all for granted.

Say what you want about boondoggles and the inherent danger of manned spaceflight, this stuff is *COOL*.

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:42 PM:

Still on the bus back to Cocoa Beach.

Mary Kowal: That was the very definition of "to boldly go."

Liz Gorinsky: I'm shocked that you're splitting an infinitive.

Mary: That's how we're going to get into space. Star drives powered by the energy released by splitting infinitives.

Me: Ah, the Grammar Drive.

Liz: [looks alarmed]

Me: You know. "To Infinitive and Beyond!"

#11 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:47 PM:

*SNRCH* on the Grammar Drive. Nice.

I was doing the Chant of the Rising Bird right along with all of you as I watched on CNN. Posted about it here.

Go, go, GO!

#12 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 03:48 PM:

And Lizzy, maybe you want "unwinds"?

#13 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:13 PM:

The hard thing about the design of the Grammar Drive is maintaining the chain reaction, in which each infinitive emits an adjective with just the right energy to be absorbed into exactly one other infinitive. The reaction is controlled by inserting and withdrawing fully conjugated verbs and adjectives which readily absorb adverbs without releasing any energy. Over time, these "control verbs" are transformed into exotic and unstable phrases, which must be disposed of safely.

Unfortunately, the Grammar drive, though promising, was never fully developed by NASA, due to environmental concerns about its use within the noosphere.

#14 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:15 PM:

Ah, the Nebulas! Now I get why half of my flist seems to have been at the launch.

#15 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:27 PM:

Ern Malley: "I have split the infinitive. Beyond is anything."

#16 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 04:44 PM:

Pillar of cloud crowned with flash of flame
Bearing aloft this shining steed with grace--
Glory of the skies, altitude you claim,
Holding hearts and minds in your strong embrace.
From the teaming crowds who watch your ascent,
Rises the Space Age chant of "Go, Go, GO!"
Others, behind a thousand screens, silent --
Willing you upward, so to boldly go...
From shore to shore your praises do we sing--
Revel in each journey, hail each return,
Sun and Moon, Star and Earth-light limns each wing,
To share that voyage our hearts always yearn.
It grieves my soul to know that this journey
Is your last travel to the starlit tourney.

#17 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:19 PM:

elise, it's in other hands now. Thanks, Fragano and Lori!

#18 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 05:34 PM:

The reason the Grammar Drive has not been developed is that the Pentagon diverted most of the expenditure into the development of Syntax Bombs.

#19 ::: Jake Bodhi ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 06:10 PM:

They delayed the July 29th launch I've been planning to see. I'm still taking some beach vacation time then, even without the launch. Guess I'll have to make the September launch.

#20 ::: magnus ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:15 PM:

How's that for a carbon footprint?

#21 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:49 PM:

This is Atlantis' final mission. Their patch has a sunset on it.

#22 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 07:54 PM:

Magnus, #20: Actually, very little of what you see there is carbon -- it's almost all water vapor and a few nitrates. See that big tank on the bottom of the shuttle? It holds hydrogen and oxygen, which is the primary fuel.

#23 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Am I the only one who sees that and immediately thinks of the double contrail from Challenger's explosion?

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:11 PM:

Not hardly. First thing I thought of (and I wish it weren't).

#25 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:57 PM:

Lee @22: On the other hand, most commercial hydrogen is produced from natural gas, by splitting off the hydrogen atoms and then reacting the carbon atoms with water to produce CO2 and more hydrogen. The result is that you end up with an amount of hydrogen with an energy content a bit less than the energy content of the natural gas you started with.

So, overall, it's got a carbon footprint a bit more than if it had produced all that energy by burning natural gas. (Oh, and the energy to liquify the oxygen and hydrogen also presumably came from the electric grid, which has a fair carbon footprint as well.)

To provide some numbers: Assuming the natural gas is pure methane (CH4), you get CH4 + 2H2O -> 4H2 + CO2, which is 40kg of CO2 for every 8kg of H2, and the external tank holds about 100,000kg, so that's at least 500,000kg of CO2 released to make that hydrogen. To put that in perspective, that's about what you'd get from 100 cars for a year.

The reason I'm being pedantic about this is that I used to work on an alternative-energy research team, and there is this quite common perception in a lot of the alternative-energy discussions that hydrogen is a clean energy source. It's not. It's a clean energy storage mechanism, but that energy has to come from somewhere else -- and that distinction is very critical when one's discussing how to solve energy problems.

#26 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:01 PM:

elise: I was doing the Chant of the Rising Bird right along with all of you as I watched on CNN. Posted about it here.

I saw your post a couple hours ago - trying to get back in the habit of reading my fList more than once a blue moon - and wondered whether you meant a literal launch or whether you had indeed recently succeeded in rehabilitating a baby bird.

Now I know.

Knowledge is awesome.

#27 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:02 PM:

Fragano, how do you do that?

#28 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:08 PM:

Me too, actually. A flicker of dread, then erased by Patrick's textual chortle of joy (and remembering elise's LJ post and going, "Oh, this is what she was talking about it.")

But the flicker was there.

Sometimes, I get told, usually by people who think of JFK's assassination as the defining tragedy of their generation, that 9/11 is the defining tragedy of mine. To which I reply, No, you're thinking of the generation after me, or maybe you're mistaken in thinking everyone in the same generation defines their generation by the same tragedy... In any case, mine was Challenger. And that photo of a contrail in the sky made me flash on that first, and on today's actual launch second, only confirms that.

But today is about joy. Woooooooooo indeed!

#29 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:11 PM:

It was stupendous. Amazing. It could not have been a more perfect day.

I am done in.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:36 PM:

I get Challenger on liftoffs and Columbia on landings.
(I also see them doing victory rolls in their next life. Without engines, because they don't need engines there.)

#31 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:44 PM:

Damn. The one time I made it to a shuttle launch, they scrubbed. There was a great feeling of community about the event nonetheless--the Launch Junkie old hands and the newbies. Afterward we all repaired to the same diner and talked about launches people had seen.

I would have seriously loved to see this one, though. Deep, deep dyed envy.

#32 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 10:52 PM:

Nicole @ #28, I'd never presume to tell anyone which tragedy was their generation's.

Some of us geezers remember all three. I had just turned 13 when JFK was shot, and I remember sitting in front of the tube all weekend. Challenger happened while I was driving to work; got into the building and parked in front of a TV that time too. And 9/11 needs no reminder.

#33 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 11:05 PM:

"Twelve thousand, half-million, million and more,
Picnicking out on the warm-water shore.
Nobody notes that we're always at hand
To watch all the spaceships that take off and land."
- Witnesses' Waltz, words and music © by Leslie Fish

#34 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:46 AM:

Jacque #27: It beats working.

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:50 AM:

Re, "the chant of the rising bird". I feel that the original poet needs to get his, ahem, props:

Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

(T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton)

#36 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 11:24 AM:

by Winifred Welles (1893-1939)

My shoes fall on the house-top that is so far beneath me,
I have hung my hat forever on the sharp church spire.
Now what shall seem the hill but a moment of surmounting,
The height but a place to dream of something higher!

Wings? Oh, not for me, I need no other pinions
Than the beating of my heart within my breast;
Wings are for the dreamer with a bird-like longing,
Whose dreams come home at eventide to rest.

The timid folk beseech me, the wise ones warn me,
They say that I shall never grow to stand so high;
But I climb among the hills of cloud and follow vanished lightning,
I shall stand knee-deep in thunder with my head against the sky.

Tiptoe, at last, upon a pinnacle of sunset,
I shall greet the deathlike evening with laughter from afar,
Nor tremble in the darkness nor shun the windy midnight,
For by the evening I shall be a star.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 02:01 PM:

They mount a thread of smoke to reach the sky;
we hold our breath below. Recall of sight
of those before who lost their lives gives fright
until calm voice reports all safe; we sigh.
And so again we've sent them to the black,
explorers yes, but artisans as well;
carrying breath for later ones to dwell
there and move outward on their track.
Rejoicing's tinged a melancholy hue:
Atlantis will not ride again the fire;
her sisters are all soon to follow suit.
Though plan's not made, I hope some day a crew
will board a future craft to journey higher,
while giving these adventurers salute.

#38 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 03:44 PM:

Fragano #5 and Bruce #37 - May I quote your verses, and if so, what attribution should I use?

Linkmeister #23, PJ #24, et. al. - I also flash on that split contrail every time I see or even hear of a launch. It's certainly a defining tragedy for me, though (unlike those Nicole mentioned) I don't quite have the hubris to claim anything for a whole generation.

And of course, yes, I am aware of the environmental impact, human risk, and budgetary cost of sending people rather than robots into space-- but we need dreams. And heroes.

#39 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 07:55 PM:

She was first among our shuttles, and we watched her from afar:
Liftoff's soaring angel-plume, re-entry's falling star.
She carried hope and knowledge on that flying fortnight run
Crewed by warriors and healers, and sometimes both in one...

(From Cat Faber's "Columbia")

#40 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:21 PM:

J. Random Scribbler #38: You may quote me, providing your give me full attribution.

#41 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:42 PM:

J. Random Scribbler #38:

Feel free to quote the verse in #37 as long as it's not modified and it's attributed to me as Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers); please also include my blog URL:

#42 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 11:54 PM:

I actually live in Cocoa Beach. Our master bedroom sliding doors look north over the width of the Edwards Bay, which gives us a unique view of shuttle launches over open water, from southeast of the pad.

Cocoa Beach is a narrow barrier island, with very little light pollution for night launches. It is something to see when the shuttle (or the Delta heavy, for that matter) explodes from the pitch at 4:30 AM... lying in bed with your head propped on a pillow, yellow haze heating up the low line of mangroves, and the gold flecks showing through the thatch of faraway Australian pines... the sky blinks, and here the white-yellow fire breaks forth... sure, for men like Patrick Roscoe, it's easy to see the launch as something phallic, to bring in the two naked bodies holding hands under the sheet, the young lovers, a stir of legs as it burns higher, waiting, listening for the shockwave. But Roscoe would put in more here because he is a silly man, and a vain slayer of imagination.

This final sendoff of Atlantis was particularly memorable for me, as I was surfing with an old friend of mine recently returned from a far off place. From out past the second sandbar, we caught sight of the white torch just as it breached the horizon. We watched it grow, and then climb for twenty degrees or so, before a set wave came and I paddled down the face, hopped to my feet, then rejoined Atlantis once more - Hail, Atlantis! Never again! - gleaming like a single point of sunlight, screaming alone against the blue, linking sea to sky with desperate white cloudstring... all joyous: the coolness of the wave, the clean breath of the salt wind on my face, the pelicans gliding by...

Next time one of you kind folk visits Cocoa Beach, for a launch or otherwise, you must stop in to Heidi's Jazz Club to enjoy a few drinks with the Ron Texeira trio. And you absolutely must make sure to save room for the baked brie.

#43 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2010, 03:46 AM:

Mine is the generation of dead Kennedys and Daleks. My oldest recollections of TV are the low-quality pictures of the Presidential funeral, and them: the demonic pepperpots exterminating everything.

I also remember seeing three Thor IRBMs on their launch pads, a couple of miles from where I lived, and only thinking "Spacemen!". The RAF's IRBM squadrons, dotted across Lincolnshire, had three missiles at each launch site, stored horizontal and un-fuelled. It was a long while before I finally figured what it meant to have three on the pads, glinting metal pillars in the sunlight, and just why we might have gone to visit my Grandmother that day.

That's my generation: the children who were to be exterminated.

#44 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 11:38 AM:

Dead Kennedys here too, and Apollo 0ne...

It wasn't until I reached high school that I finally figured out why Mom and Dad were so nervous during October of my second year in school (1962).

I was firmly convinced that I would never reach age 21 because I was sure we'd have launched the Bomb(s) by then.

Alas, Babylon and the film version of On the Beach induced nightmares. Fail Safe was even more appalling...

#45 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Lori Coulson @ #44, Fail Safe used still photography as effectively as I think can be done in a motion picture. Those final scenes were beyond wrenching.

#46 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 05:39 PM:

When I was a kid I had a copy of Reader's Digest Strange Stories and Amazing Facts. I was a bit worried that the chapter on Nostradamus made it look like he predicted nuclear war in the year 2000 (which was way in the future still at that time)

#47 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 06:07 PM:

In the early to mid-50s, ( I was 10 in 1956), there weren't any commercial jet planes operating over the US; any contrail you saw up high was a military plane, and we were encouraged to wonder whether it was one of ours or one of theirs as it made good justification for the "get under your desk and kiss your ass goodbye" drills in school. We saw a lot of military jets above Philadelphia then, being 150 miles from Washington, DC, 100 miles from New York City, and having a large Navy base and ship construction yards of our own, so were surrounded by high value targets. Knowing that when you saw one the odds were pretty good that it was "one of ours" wasn't as comforting as it should have been.

#48 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 08:08 PM:

Bruce Cohen #47: On my last hike, (Crabtree Falls) we got buzzed by a fighter jet while we were eating lunch. Scared the shit out of us! (Quote from one of my buds: "So much for the tranquility of nature!") Apparently, there's an air base nearby, and they need to get in their flying time....

#49 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Does the smoke plume sort of wiggle because thrust is alternating between the two engines in a steering feedback loop?

#50 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2010, 12:18 AM:

Erik @49

Unlikely; the twin boosters are solid fuel rockets, and unlike a liquid motor, you can't shut those off. It's probably different layers of air. There can be some quite sharp boundaries between wind directions at different altitudes, as you may have encountered when throwing a frisbee, or flying a kite. Or, of course, launching a model rocket.

Every model rocket motor letter is twice as powerful as the motor before; unless I've miscounted, the SRBs would each be an AC (where you go to Z and then go AA, AB, AC). Together, they're an AD. Plus the big main tank, I'm not sure. Perhaps an AE?

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