Off We Go …

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

On this date in 1947, the United States Air Force became a separate, independent service under the newly enacted National Security Act of 1947. So today’s quote must be:

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder
At ’em boys, Give ‘er the gun!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under
Off with one helluva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!


(USAF 70th Birthday Logo.)

The “Air Force Song” was originally written in 1938 by Robert MacArthur Crawford and entitled “Army Air Corps.” Since the song became part of the Air Force when we became a separate service, that goes to show that our Air Force pioneers knew a good thing when they heard it!

I look back with great fondness on my time in the Air Force. To those with whom I served, and especially to all those serving today, I offer deep gratitude and a proud salute!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Reaching the Utmost Limits

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Twenty-seven years ago today, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-31. I worked that mission as part of the Air Force Flight Test Center recovery crew: I stood alert on the flightline during the launch on the 24th, ready for the possibility of an “abort once around,” then greeted the vehicle on the lakebed when it landed on the 29th. In between, of course, the famed telescope was deployed.


STS-31 mission patch. “Bolden” refers to USMC MajGen Charles Bolden, who eventually became NASA administrator. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

(I know, I know: This post is supposed to be about a quote, so get to the quote!)

You probably know that the telescope’s namesake, Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), was an influential astronomer. He demonstrated that other galaxies exist beyond the Milky Way — showing that the universe was even more enormous than we thought until then — and also correlated the redshift (the degree to which light is shifted toward the red end of the spectrum) with distance to show that the universe is still expanding.

So here’s the quote to start this week: in 1936, Hubble wrote,

Eventually, we reach the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows and search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial.

That quote brings two things to mind for me.

First, that the Hubble Space Telescope has shown us that far more exists at “the utmost limits” than most of us ever imagined or perhaps even can imagine. It turns out that besides our own vast galaxy there may be anywhere from 200 billion to as many as 2 trillion galaxies in the universe, each with billions of stars. Even as we build more and more powerful instruments to probe the depths of space, I feel sure that we won’t reach “the utmost limits” of what’s out there in many lifetimes.

But the second thing I thought of when reading that quote is that it could apply not only to telescopes and understanding the universe but also to thought. I imagine a similar sentiment describing all knowledge, not just astronomical knowledge: Eventually, we reach the utmost limits of our reasoning. There, we study shadows and search among ghostly errors of imagination for truths that are scarcely more substantial.

And if we reach those utmost limits, what then do we do?

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Blogging the New CD: W is for Winter

This is the final post in a series about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

The most intense winter I ever experienced was at Thule Air Base, Greenland. I was stationed there from July 2000 to July 2001, and had the privilege of commanding the largest tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network and the pleasure of making friends with a lot of terrific people. Among other things, I got to stand on the Greenland ice cap, to visit Inuit hunting camps, and to swim in North Star Bay — while icebergs floated nearby!

So when my friend James Maxey asked me to write a song for a winter-themed event he was hosting, my thoughts immediately turned to what winter was like at the top of the world, only 750 miles from the North Pole.

I have been where the winter steals the sun for months on end
Where ice-laden winds blow blinding storms down to the frozen bay
And the solstice noon is midnight dark and the cold will not relent
And every soul despairs a little as the old year fades away

“Winter Simplifies the World”

Sled dogs on North Star Bay
The frozen bay, with Mount Dundas in the background. Thule Air Base is behind you as you look across the bay. (Image: “Sled dogs on North Star Bay,” by NASA ICE, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

The song moves through sadness and loss and into determination and hope, because if we can hang on through the dark, cold night that seems as if it will never end, we can find love and joy when spring returns. And so I hope you can find something to like — or even something to relate to — in “Winter Simplifies the World”.

To paraphrase George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, winter is always coming. But spring is always coming, too.

___

Finally, here’s a picture of where I used to work, taken in January 2007:


View of the Thule Tracking Station’s radomes that protect the ground antennas from the elements. Taken during the long Thule winter “night.” (USAF Image.)

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

A Space History First, AND a New NASA Communication Relay Satellite

Twenty years ago today — January 13, 1993 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying a new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS).


(EVA-1 Crewmember Greg Harbaugh working in the Shuttle’s payload bay. NASA image.)

The STS-54 crew — John H. Casper, Donald R. McMonagle, Gregory J. Harbaugh, Mario Runco, and Susan J. Helms — spent almost six days in space. They deployed the fifth TDRS spacecraft during their first day in orbit; the TDRS’s Inertial Upper Stage maneuvered it into its higher operational orbit.

The crew spent their remaining time in space conducting a variety of experiments: they took spectrographic readings of X-ray sources with the Diffuse X-ray Spectrometer (DXS); studied biological systems under microcravity using the Commercial General Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGPA), the Chromosome and Plant Cell Division in Space Experiment (CHROMEX), and the Physiological and Anatomical Rodent Experiment (PARE); measured flame propagation in microgravity with the Solid Surface Combustion Experiment (SSCE); et cetera.

As for the space history “first” — on this mission, then-Major Helms became the first U.S. military woman to fly in space. Still on active duty in the USAF, she is now a Lieutenant General and the Commander of 14th Air Force at Vandenberg AFB.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The 'Space Warfare Forum' is in a Coma — Should I Resuscitate It, or Pull the Plug?

Most people don’t know that the Space Warfare Forum exists. (Actually, most people don’t care, but even most of the ones who might care don’t know.) The fact is, the Space Warfare Forum has been inactive for 2 years — so, should I kill it?


(USAF image.)

My friends and I started the “Space Warfare Forum” about 15 years ago or so, if I recall correctly — we were stationed at Falcon Air Force Base, which is now Schriever AFB, in Colorado, and actually started the forum as a brown-bag lunch discussion group within the 4th Space Operations Squadron. The discussions continued after I transferred to Offutt AFB, Nebraska, in 1998, but we soon transitioned into an e-mail format that continued when I transferred again to Thule Air Base, Greenland, in 2000.

The e-mail discussions grew unwieldy, so I installed a bulletin board system on my web site which we used for a little while. The first version was susceptible to spam commenting, so I transitioned to the current vBulletin setup (direct linked here if you’re at all interested). We published an article — “Toward Space War” — based on some of the discussions, and at one time the forum had about 100 members, but after the spam debacle lots of folks dropped out.

Keeping the forum available is easy enough, but I’m not sure there’s any point. In the past I’ve made the platform available for other groups — my high school had its own section for alumni until the spam blowup happened, and Port Yonder Press used it for a short time for an online writing course — but those are as defunct as the space warfare section. At this point I’m pretty sure no one but me would miss it if it disappeared, and I’m not sure there’s much value in it from an archival standpoint.

I’m interested in everyone’s opinion on the question, but I’d especially like to hear from forum members (if any of them should read this): Should I terminate the Space Warfare Forum? And if not, what should I do with it?

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

On Being an Old(er), New(er) Writer

Or, brief thoughts on my 2nd year of Campbell Award eligibility.


How can someone this old be a new writer?

This is what comes from having second or third careers: the experience of once again being “new” at something. It’s actually a pretty familiar feeling for me, having gone from assignment to assignment in the Air Force … especially since so many of my assignments were wildly different from one another. But it’s also odd to be pushing 50 years of age and yet be a newbie.*

But when it comes to this science fiction and fantasy writing game, I feel newer than new.

I’ve made some progress with the writing thing: to date I’ve published five short stories in the genre, with two more on the way this year. I’m pleased with that, and in some respects I’ve reached a level of success I wasn’t sure I would ever achieve. But I know I have a very long way to go, so much so that it seems unreal that my limited success has placed me in my second** year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

If you visit the Campbell Award page via that last link and scroll down, you’ll see all the Campbell-eligible authors listed. I am in some wonderful company, as I know several of the writers who are both first- and second-year eligibles. Everyone eligible has the option of putting together a personal profile with a bio and such, and I have my own Campbell Award profile, too. In a few months we’ll find out who received enough nominations to go on the final ballot. (I may receive a nomination or two, and I’m grateful to the folks who brought my name up this past weekend at illogiCon, but I feel that most of the others on the list have better credentials for being on the ballot than I do.)

The whole thing — the publishing success as well as the award eligibility — seems very strange, as if it’s happening to someone else and I’m just spectating. I wonder how long it will take for that feeling to wear off, if it ever does. Because not only do I know that I’m still very new at this, but I feel as if I’ll be “new” at it for years to come.

And maybe that’s not all bad. In the same vein as “you’re as young as you feel,” maybe I can get away with continuing to feel “new” at this science fiction game for a long, long time.

___
*Holy moley, am I really that old? It used to be that I was younger than I looked. Maybe I still am.
**And final!

Image Credit: Eternal Rose Photography, 2010.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Suborbital Apollo-Saturn Test Flight, and Bill Dana Goes Supersonic

Forty-five years ago today — August 25, 1966 — NASA launched another suborbital Apollo-Saturn vehicle to test Command & Service Module systems in advance of manned Apollo launches.


(AS-202 launch. NASA image.)

AS-202‘s flight objectives were to verify the Saturn 1B launch vehicle’s integrity, loads, and performance, and to evaluate the separation system, emergency detection, and heatshield of the Apollo spacecraft.

Mission controllers fired the CSM’s engines multiple times to test their rapid restart capabilities, accelerating the capsule for reentry to test the heatshield. It performed very well: “Maximum temperature of the spacecraft exterior was calculated at about 1500 deg. C, temperature inside the cabin was 21 deg. C (70 F).”

Jump ahead five years in time …

On this date in 1971, NASA pilot William “Bill” Dana made the first supersonic flight in the M2-F3 lifting body.


(NASA lifting body pilots with M2-F3 in the background. NASA image.)

Last November, I blogged about Dana making the first flight in the M2-F3. I likely will continue posting occasional references to Dana’s flights, because he’s one of the most interesting people I ever met (during my first USAF assignment, we were both on the Flight Readiness Review Committee for the very first launch of the Pegasus system). If you want to know more about him, check out his Wikipedia page.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

My First Air Force Orders

Pawing around in the filing cabinet, I found my Extended Active Duty Order, dated 25 years ago today: August 12, 1986.


(US Air Force seal. Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The orders assigned me to the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (Air Force Systems Command), Edwards AFB, California.

In officialspeak, Block 12 of the orders told me exactly what to do:

Effective date of duty is on or after 9 Sep 86. On or after this date, individual will proceed and report not earlier than 0800 and not later than 2400 hours on 15 Sep 86 to the 24 hour arrival point, Edwards AFB CA.

And thus, the stage was set for the adventure …

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Two 'Gray Man' Space History Connections

Fifteen years ago today — March 22, 1996 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to Russia’s Mir space station.


(STS-76 launch. NASA image.)

Shuttle mission STS-76 was the third Shuttle-Mir docking mission, and carried astronauts Kevin P. Chilton, Richard A. Searfoss, Linda M. Godwin, Michael R. Clifford, Ronald M. Sega, and Shannon W. Lucid. Lucid stayed aboard Mir when the rest of the crew returned to Earth.

What’s the Gray Man connection to STS-76? When Dr. Sega became the Under Secretary of the Air Force, I worked for him until my retirement. In fact, he presided over my retirement ceremony:


(Two-time Shuttle astronaut Dr. Ron Sega, Under Secretary of the Air Force, presents Gray with a letter of appreciation from the Chief of Staff. USAF image.)

The second Gray Man space history connection comes from another launch, 5 years ago today: a Pegasus-XL rocket carried three microsatellites (ST5-A, -B, and -C) to orbit as part of NASA’s New Millennium Program. As I’ve mentioned before, when I was stationed at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB many years before, I was on the Flight Readiness Review Committee for the first-ever Pegasus launch.

It looks ever more doubtful that I’ll get to fly in space, but it was nice to be at least marginally associated with the space program during my career.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

National Security Space History: Minuteman ICBM

Fifty years ago today — February 1, 1961 — an SM-80 Minuteman-IA intercontinental ballistic missile was successfully launched, marking the first test flight of the full-up solid-fueled ICBM.


(Minuteman-I missile. USAF image.)

Of more interest to me, this Air Force fact sheet notes that in April 1959 “Boeing launched the first Minuteman mockup at Edwards AFB, California. Test flights of mockup missiles continued into May 1960, all of which were successful.”

Why does that historical tidbit interest me so? Because many years later my first assignment was to the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards, where those test flights had taken place. What made them remarkable was that those test flights at the Rock were tethered, meaning that after the missile left the silo* it was still shackled to the ground. I wish I had one of the images to post, of the missile trying to get away while sturdy lines held it fast.

Many of my friends spent tours of duty as missileers and missile maintainers, on later versions of the Minuteman as well as other ICBM systems. To each of them, and others whom I don’t know, I say: I’m grateful for your quiet diligence and your deterrent power which kept (and keeps) us secure. I salute you all.

___
*Which I visited many times, at Area 1-100.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather