It’s kind of fun to download some of the RAW images sent from planet Mars by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. Nothing fancy really (at least not yet), but for stretching the levels of the image, making a few adjustments here and there, and cleaning the pictures up a bit. I’m not doing this for science — all I want is a nice snapshot — so I’m not terribly worried about skewing data. It’s enjoyable and truly amazing that images recorded yesterday on the surface of Mars, many millions of miles distant, are available for me to play with and enjoy today. I’ll play with and share a few more; there are panoramas to be made!
It seamed like it might be fun to toy around with brand-new raw images just received from the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. I must say I didn’t do much with the image. Still, it was fun to see details emerging from a formerly soft, gray picture as I made adjustments to the image. I’m away from my home office so I used GIMP instead of Photoshop but I’m sure to play with pictures like this more often in future!
It was 40 years ago today, July 16, that the Saturn 5 rocket destined to throw men to a landing on the Moon lifted off its launch pad atop an enormous pillar of flame. Apollo, "has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy" according to a Wikipedia article, was the image of manly beauty. So it was with the spaceships. They gleamed white in the floodlights by night; the pristine metal towers glistened by Florida daylight. The Moon landings showed us humans walking and leaping upon the surface of a neighboring world. The men who made those journeys, especially that first one to land –Apollo 11– were rightly called heroes, for their courage if for no other reason.
Like seemingly everyone else in the world, I watched that launch, that landing, that walk on the Moon in wonderment. Even today, these four decades later, I look back, study the photographs, and am glad I was around to see the accomplishment. There are now many good books filled with personal and technical detail, and easy access to high-quality images of the stunningly beautiful and "magnificent desolation." It was a grand adventure and we all felt like participants.
In 1971, I was privileged to receive a Reader's Digest Grant for student journalism, funding a trip to Cape Kennedy and participation as a member of the press corps. Wistfully pawing through my small collection of materials from that trip, I recall what an adventure that was: to report on the launch of Apollo 14. A great deal of attention was focused on the launch — Apollo 13 had proved bad things can happen to spacecraft; would Apollo 14 fare better?
With other members of the press, I was bussed to a spot too near Pad 39A the night before launch, made some photographs, and heard the bus driver chewed out by NASA security — well, at least firmly told to leave. The next day I elbowed my way to the cordon just in time to watch and photograph Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell boarding their van to be transported to the rocket. Later I heard and felt the thunderous percussion of the Saturn 5 as it rose from its pad and disappeared through the clouds. That great rocket, the powerful, beautiful Saturn 5, shook the very earth upon which I stood some three and a half miles distant, and this young reporter was choked up.
So remembering Apollo 11, and Apollo 14, and all the others, and the brave men who rode towers chased by fire, I send out my admiration and appreciation. It was a time of greatness for beautiful Apollo and for all who made those great accomplishments possible.
There are some who fear the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider –a mammoth atomic particle accelerator– saying it will create black holes that will, with a giant sucking sound, consume the Earth and all we hold dear. A NASA scientist I was listening to last night reassured his audience… sort of. When someone asked when was it that the LHC was supposed to begin operations, he replied, "oh, it has been started. And we're not really here."
The speaking engagement went swimmingly! The environmental education center's meeting room was just the right size to comfortably accommodate the 40 men, women, and children who attended. One guy, from the NASA Glenn Visitor's Center, even brought along some color photo handouts illustrating Mars exploration technology. The new Vista notebook computer ran the StarOffice Impress presentation flawlessly and, despite some flubs pressing the wrong remote control button a couple of times, I got through the show in pretty good shape. My program ran a bit long (about 1 hour, 10 minutes) but not uncomfortably so, I think. Unexpectedly, the sky was clear (though seeing was so-so). Only one member from the astronomy club, Bill, showed up with his telescope. I asked and was allowed to take the 8-inch Dobsonian telescope, owned by the center, out and use it to accommodate those interested. First time I'd ever used one of those and I enjoyed it very much. We looked at Mars –a tiny but bright disk in the eyepiece with no markings visible– but wowed 'em with views of the Orion Nebula and, just as it was clearing the trees, Saturn rising in the east. One woman, especially, was thrilled with views of the nebula, coming back again and again to take another look. It seems there's always someone like that and it can make all the effort worth while! So I hope I disabused some people of Mars mis-information and we gave them a look at the heavens above. Sharing truth and beauty with others… not a bad Saturday night at all!