So many words, so little time....

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Unknown Heroes...

We keep hearing about heroes. How we need more heroes. How everyone needs them. IMHO, the problem isn't that they're thin on the ground, but that many people don't know about them. Here are a few I've found while looking up stuff about Spaceship One.

Very few people know what he did, but a lot of people know his name.
Capt. Glen W. Edwards was a promising test pilot whose life was cut short in the crash of a Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing jet bomber on June 5, 1948, along with the rest of the bomber's crew. He was a decorated combat pilot and already experienced in the exacting flying required for flight testing when he helped to set a transcontinental speed record in the experimental XB-42 pusher bomber in Dec. 1945. Ironically, the plane that killed him was a direct ancestor to the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. When the Air Force became it's own military branch and took possession of the facilities known as Muroc Army Air Field, it was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in his honor.

Back before civil rights, this was an even more amazing achievement...
Maj. Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., the first African-American to be chosen as an astronaut by either NASA or the military. He was born Oct. 2, 1935, in Chicago. He graduated from high school at 16 and Bradley University at 20 with a Bachelor's in Chemistry. He was Cadet Commander of Bradley AFROTC and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve. He entered flight training, and after graduation became a T-33 instructor, training USAF & Luftwaffe pilots. He earned a Doctorate in Physical Chemistry from Ohio State. He graduated from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards in June 1967, and was selected for the MOL programn at NASA. Sadly, he never got to fly in space. On Dec. 8, 1967, he was killed when his parachute failed to deploy properly during a test-flight of an F-104D. We didn't carry on as we started, though. The first black man to fly in space was a cosmonaut named Arnaldo Tanayo-Mendez who flew to Salyut 6 in 1980. He was also the first Hispanic, as he was from Cuba. The first black American to fly space was Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. on August 30, 1983.

Sorry, Mr. Hawk. You do okay, but this guy is really E X T R E M E!
On August 16, 1960, a then Captain Joseph Kittinger jumped out of the open gondola of the Excelsior III helium balloon at 102,800 feet and free-fell to the ground. He was testing a multi-stage parachute for pilots who have to bail out at that insane altitude. He is currently the only human to break the sound barrier without benefit of a vehicle. Not only did he survive, he landed safely and is still working in aeronautics. Without him and his work on this and many other jumps and balloon flights, the space and flight suits, parachutes and other recovery apparatus for the space and aeronautics industries would be much poorer.

He retired from the Air Force in 1978, and began ballooning around the country and entering balloon competitions. Kittinger won the Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race four times during the 1980s and retired the trophy after three consecutive victories. In November 1983, he established a new world record by flying a 1,000 cubic-meter (1,308-cubic-yard) helium balloon from Las Vegas, Nevada, to New York, covering 2,001 miles (3,220 kilometers) in 72 hours. The next year, Kittinger became the first person to fly alone by balloon across the Atlantic Ocean. Setting out on September 14, 1984, from Caribou, Maine, in the 3,000-cubic-meter-Rosie O'Grady, he floated 3,543 miles (5,702 kilometers), touching down in Cairo Montenotte, Italy, on September 18, by Kittinger's account, 83 hours and 40 minutes after launch. His flight set a record for both the longest solo balloon flight and a distance record for this class of balloon.

Although after this flight, his record-setting days ended, Joe Kittinger has never stopped flying. He has piloted 78 different types of aircraft over the years and received numerous military and civilian awards and decorations. He is an aviation consultant and a barnstormer, touring around the country with his open-cockpit biplane and taking children on their first airplane rides.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

By Klonno's Carborundum Claws!

I love my Mom. She sent me a birthday present, and getting a package from her is always an experience. She's lived in Alaska since she was 9. Back in the days when TV was two weeks behind the rest of the country if you got it at all because they had to ground-ship the tapes up there. Moving stuff around wasn't quite as easy as today, so when you shipped something you made damned skippy sure that the thing was properly wrapped and taped. It had to be able to stand freezing, bumps, mashing and all sorts of indignities. She's never got over the habit, I'm afraid, even in these days of FedEx.

I received a vaguely cube-shaped box that looked like it was wearing a space-suit. You could have shipped the thing to the Moon, at any rate. It was wrapped in white paper with the shipping information written on it in 100pt Sharpie-script, and then entirely mummy-wrapped in clear strapping tape. Once you hacked your way through the epidermis, you discovered a dermal layer of yet another complete wrapping of white paper and tape. Under that, lay a layer of duct tape, completely covering the box. Then you actually get to the box. Which contained another box, and several of those packing things that look like blown-up Baggies. Opening that last box revealed the treasure - six books. I kid you not, she armor-plated books to ship them.

Not that I'm complaining. You see, these books are special. I sometimes think she wonders exactly what kind of cuckoo brought me to her nest. She's very proud of me, but she really doesn't get this whole computer thing, and most of the rest of the stuff I do. But she went out and found something that I will cherish. Back in Jr. high I found them in that weird corner of the science fiction section that no one ever visited anymore. Among others, it was E.E. Smith's "Lensmen" series that was read and re-read during my time at that school. The librarian used to have to order me to turn them in so someone else could have a turn (but no one ever did). I'd let them sit for a week as per our deal, and then I'd go and get them again. I had a set of them I got when I was grown, but I lost them in the move to Seattle. Since I've gotten down here, I've only been able to find one - a first paperback edition of the last book, printed in 1966. It's the same edition our library had, except theirs was a library edition. I hardly dare to read the thing because it's fragile, but I like knowing it's there. I had bragged about finding that one a couple years ago, but we hadn't really talked about it since. She found that an obscure publishing house had re-printed the whole thing in trade-paperback editions with new forewards by such lights as Michael Straczynski, but with all the original artwork from the 1954 hard-bound editions. That's what she sent to me in that space suit.

So, you'll have to excuse me. I have Gharlane the Eddorian to vanquish.

Clear ether! ;)

Monday, October 18, 2004

From the Quotable Quotables department...

As I grow older and older / And totter toward the tomb / I find that I care less and less / Who goes to bed with whom."

Dorothy L. Sayers

Monday, October 11, 2004

Sorry. I'm afraid it's a bird, or a plane...

I read it in a newspaper nine years ago. Superman had met a real-life Kryptonite, and at that time they weren't even sure he was going to survive. Even if he did, he was going to be a quadraplegic. There was sadness, but in our hearts was a little part that didn't believe it could keep him down.

And he came up swinging. I have no doubt there were long dark nights staring at the suspended ceiling above that hospital bed where it was very hard to remember why. But he made it past them and with hard, painfully slow work began to come back. There was no doubt that one day he'd do it. Each little sign of progress they announced just fed the thought. He was doing it, slowly but surely.

But he never got the time. There are many who die from the same ignominous force that took him. Pressure sores and the systemic infections they often produce claim the lives of hundreds of paraplegics, amputees, diabetics, and bed-fast patients of all types every year. They are induced by a bewildering array of conditions, and the infections are armed with an even more bewildering array of germs. If I was going to start stumping for a medical cause out of all of this, it wouldn't be for stem cell research. It would be for septicemia research.

The lights in the Fortress of Solitude are turned out. Hidden behind a secret door in an unassuming bachelor apartment a stretchy suit with a large yellow "S" is slumped down on it's hanger a little deeper. There are those who are already working to pick up the fight and they will do it in their own way and time. But tonight there is a pair of very big red boots to be filled sitting on the floor, and a red cape with no strong shoulders to fly from.

Rest in Peace, Christopher Reeve.

Monday, October 04, 2004


This day held two events important to the closet space-hound, and they're in unfortunate opposition to each other. Today we exult, and we mourn.

Rutan's Scaled Composites LLC built it, and now we're a go. Spaceship One's second flight won it $10 million dollars and the first real street-cred for private space exploration. Mike Melvill's spiraling first flight and Brian Binnie's flawless second qualified them for the prize and so much more. They could have delayed another couple of days and still won the prize, but today had a bit of appropriate flavor, being the 47th anniversary of Russia's historic Sputnik launch.

The flight not only won them the prize, but it broke one of aviations longest standing records - altitude record for an airplane. Set by X-15 pilot Joseph Walker in 1963, that altitude was 354,200 feet (67 miles or 107.9 kilometers). Binnie's flight reached an altitude of 367,442 feet (69.6 miles or 112 kilometers) at it's highest point.

They also broke new ground for the concept of what makes an astronaut. Binnie is 51 years old, and Melvill is 61. Looks like Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys" was more prophetic than he might have guessed. The stringent restrictions NASA put on astronaut physical condition are being stretched to include quite a bit more of the standard population.

Not only that, but now the sky's the limit. There are big plans percolating all over the world tonight that yesterday were considered pipe dreams. Big money is being put up to go with them. Virgin's plans for space tourism are just the beginning. There is a certain sober knowledge that with this increased activity comes the risk of lives. But that is the case in every new frontier explored.

And this brings me to our sadder note. It was also announced that Gordon Cooper died yesterday at his home at the age of 77. Astronaut on board Mercury 7 and command pilot of Gemini 5, he was known for his cocky charm and his extreme cool under stress. In a story carefully recounted in the film "The Right Stuff", he was so calm during the countdown to his flight that during a hold he fell asleep on top of a fully-fueled Atlas booster. He was also the first American to sleep in space (his mission was the first to last more than a day), and he was the last American astronaut to orbit the Earth alone. When asked which of the astronauts was the best pilot, his answer was, "You're looking at him."

So I say, "God Speed!" to the men and women of Scaled Composites (and the other companies starting their own ventures), and to Astronaut Gordon "Gordo" Cooper. May we take to the skies in safety and may we never forget those who helped us get there.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

I Am Un-American....

rant warning: condition red

It's recently come to my attention that I am un-American. I watch the wrong shows. Or because I don't watch the right news. Or because I haven't splashed my electoral choices all over my mini-van. Or because I have a huge Spitfire skateboard wheel logo leering out at tail-gaters.

The genesis of this rant comes from three emails I have received. The first was about two weeks ago. I've exchanged mail with this individual in the past about retro gaming and thought this was more of the same. Not so. I was chastised because I didn't carry a banner on my site proclaiming for all the world to see which side of the church I'm supposed to be sitting on that particular November day. Now why anyone who can see lightning and hear thunder would expect to find political information on a site called "Momgamer" is a tale for another screed.

This afternoon I've received two others. One from a rather insistent democrat who I know professionally. This individual had seen me leaving the parking lot of an ASP.NET user group meeting and they were enquiring why I didn't have a bumpersticker. They know of my other political activities and have participated from the sidelines, but for some reason they think people give a rat's bikini about what I decide to ruin my car's paint job with. Oh, and the skateboard company logo is Satanic. News to me.

The last was from what looks like some rather hardcore Republican PAC that should have ended up in my bloody spam-catcher but it has enough real info in it that it makes me think it was directed. Probably off the voter registration list. The Republican spam was refreshingly free of debate spin, but very harsh on Rush's recent Neilson numbers and made a stern call for anyone with an R in the box to tune in. I'm also supposed to boycott CBS and all their advertisers in retaliation for the recent kerfubble and give their organization money. Okay.

I have some news for people that might be very hard to bear. Be strong, and read these:

1) I DON'T DO ELECTRONIC POLITICAL ACTIVITY OF ANY KIND. What is confusing? It does absolutely no good. It's like the Hatfields cold-calling the McCoys - just not going anywhere. But they keep trying it, because most marketers and spin-meisters have to drop their trousers to count past 10. It's yet another tax on people who can't do math, except we all pay it in time and annoyance. The return rates are positively abysmal (less than 1/2 of a percent in many cases), and I assure you not enough strangers give a rat's bikini about my electoral opinions that my not wasting the bandwidth the banner would use isn't going to prevent anyone from being led towards my version of the light.

2) I DON'T WATCH TV. At all. I play games, and watch movies. I long ago cut that waste-and-nonsense-spewing line into my house and it's been the better for it. Yes, I don't watch Rush anymore, but you really can't watch him any less than I do, either. I came off his radar six years ago. And I assure you that Mr. Rather and the rest of them have struggled along just fine without me for that time as well so I don't think my buying Tide is going to affect their opinions.

3) I HAVE A LIFE. It's not a lot, but it's my life. My every interaction with other human animals or even some wildlife and vegetation isn't centered around this next election. In fact, I've been known to participate in those other activities while certain supposedly world-shaking political events have been going on. I'm sorry, I didn't pause and genuflect in the direction of the debates. I shall report for flagellation immediately.

4) LAST I CHECKED, MY VOTE WAS MY BUSINESS! And that's protected by law. Anyone who is bugging me about my vote will be told to go straight to the Alternative Destination by the most direct route possible. If I like you, you'll just get the $2 tour on the way. And no, you many not have my !@*(&# Social Security number, either! I feel the same way about it.

Do me a personal favor. Next time you feel the need to email me something like this, spend the time you would have spent concocting your brilliant gems of wisdom concocting an email for your congressional committee and your local election officials. Participate in a Get Out the Vote drive for whomever you support. Many organizations in your area can use your help as things really swing into high pitch. Get off your butt and really do something about your opinion.