No launch, but time well spent

Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.

–Henry VI, part III, scene 2

After two days of anticipation, the Delta II rocket with the GRAIL satellites were still sitting on Launch Complex 17.

While the rains held off and the sun was shining, strong upper-level winds kept NASA from launching the mission on Thursday, to the dismay of the 150 people attending the space agency’s 25th Tweetup. The mission was rescheduled for Friday morning and quickly postponed again for technical reasons.

It finally launched on Saturday. I wasn’t there. I’m back home, back to everyday life.  Being at NASA was a lot more fun. But the experience over those two days was good enough to say I’d probably do it again someday.

We got to see things and meet people that most Americans — even the most enthusiastic of space geeks — rarely get the chance to do. I saw good things AND bad things. Here’s a sample of both:

Good: We were able to explore the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, the huge structure built to assemble Apollo moon rockets. It was empty, of personnel and projects, save for one corner. Behind a single chain link fence, not 30 feet away, the shuttle Endevour sat parked, as a handful of workers milled about.

Bad: Endevour was being gutted, in preparation for its final trip to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it will sit on display. Much of the airframe between the front windows and its nose, where thrusters and avionics once sat, was missing. The ship looked tired. I think aircraft look best when they’re ready to fly. This reminded me of an autopsy table.

Good: Our next stop was the Complex 39 Press Site, where thousands of journalists covered manned spaceflight since the 1960s. I hadn’t been there since covering a launch in 1984 and it brought back a lot of memories.

Bad: Since the shuttle program is over, the site is essentially abandoned. The grassy area around the famous countdown clock is overgrown with weeds. The clock itself is rusting and in disrepair. Buildings erected by the Associated Press,  CBS and others, look deserted.

NASA is undergoing the brutal Darwinian crunch that the rest of the nation is experiencing. The agency is becoming a shell of its former self; dealing with smaller and smaller budgets, and more and more criticism by people who don’t understand the larger picture.

Since the shuttle program was retired this spring, the U.S. is incapable of getting people to space for the first time in 50 years. This is huge, people.

NASA is doing the science it can with the money it has been given and it’s doing some real good work. But without high-profile manned missions, it will be harder to catch the public’s attention and harder to prove its value to the nation and the world. It’s relying on space geeks, like those of us attending the Tweetup, to spread the word through social media. While that’s smart and budget-friendly, I’m just not sure how effective it is.

In times like these — especially in times like these — we need NASA. We need to dream, to accomplishing something even beyond our imaginations. Something audacious and gutsy. Something American.

As JFK said, we do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. That’s the American spirit I grew up with. Are we up to the challenge?

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Twitterazzi arriving

The 150 people invited to the Kennedy Space Center for tomorrow’s launch of the Grail mission to the moon are gathering in the rain outside the Visitors Complex. Even though registration started at 7 a.m., you can’t actually go inside until 8:30 a.m. Not sure why, really.

A very full day ahead. I’ll blog (and Tweet, of course) when interesting things happen.

20110907-080727.jpg

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NASA giveth and taketh away

The NASA Tweetup is less than a week away and the 150 participants got the official schedule in our inboxes today. There’s some good news and some bad news. First the bad news —  I must vent.

We’re not being allowed to view the launch from the media site, the viewing area closest to the launch pad. Instead, we’re being loaded onto buses and taken to the NASA Causeway, a land bridge some four miles from the pad. It’s an area the public can view launches from (after buying a pricy ticket from NASA for the privilege).

That means some photography gear I’ve secured to get good images was basically a waste. It also takes some the luster off of being selected for something special when you’ll be two miles farther away from the main event as working media and VIPs.

Now, the good news. Sept. 7, the day before the launch, will be a good one. From the schedule:

9:50 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, including stops at the Vehicle Assembly Building and Press Site launch countdown clock, Launch Complex 17 and #GRAIL, and Launch Complex 41 from which Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity (@MarsCuriosity) will launch.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson

It gets better. We’ll hear from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Sally Ride, and then get to see science rock star Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He had his own PBS series, and is a regular on MSNBC, “Real Time with Bill Mahar” on HBO and others.

After the morning launch on Thursday, we get a pass to tour the visitors center at Kennedy Space Center. Tyson will also give a presentation, Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke will be signing books, and at 2:30 that afternoon, Nichelle Nichols will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first airing of the “Star Trek” series by signing autographs and taking photos with visitors.

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Yes, Uhura her very own self will be there, suffering the indignities of having her photo taken with people who will, in all probability, show up in homemade Trek costumes.

I wouldn’t miss it.

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A small step for a Tweep

Since I’ve had this blog, I’ve covered a few subjects – media, primarily, and few recent posts on youth baseball. (A blog should focus on one subject, I know. )

NASA logoBut here comes a new topic: NASA and the geeks who love it.

I’ve been picked as one of 150 Twitter users worldwide to attend what’s known as a Tweetup; an event where Twitter users actually congregate in one place and presumably Tweet about it. This NASA Tweetup revolves around a science mission called GRAIL, set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center Sept. 8, sending twin satellites to orbit the moon for six months. From NASA:

“The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will create the most accurate gravitational map of the moon to date, improving our knowledge of near-side gravity by 100 times and of far-side gravity by 1000 times. The high-resolution gravitational field, especially when combined with a comparable-resolution topographical field, will enable scientists to deduce the moon’s interior structure and composition, and to gain insights into its thermal evolution — that is, the history of the moon’s heating and cooling, which opens the door to understanding its origin and development.”

NASA started doing Tweetups a couple of years ago to increase its presence in social media. The Twitterazzi get a two-day pass. The day before the launch they get a special tour of the space center, talk to scientists involved in the mission and see the launch up close the next day. It’s not media credentials but probably the next best thing.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

Highlight: Former astronaut Sally Ride will reportedly be at the Tweetup. She’ll be promoting her project, Sally Ride Science, geared toward middle school students. There will be cameras aboard the GRAIL satellites that kids will be able to direct to take photos of specific areas of the lunar surface.

I covered Ride’s first shuttle flight, STS-7 in June 1983, and her second and last flight in 1984. Ride was the third woman to go into space;

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was the first, in June 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. Savitskaya flew again in 1984 and became the first woman to walk in space. Both Russian women went into politics after their space careers.

I’ll be blogging (and Tweeting, or course) leading up to the Sept. 7-8 Tweetup. Follow me at @Jim_DeLa.

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Put one in the win column

Jamie slaps the ball to the left side of the infield.

The Sarasota All-Stars finally had something to cheer out loud about Friday morning. Playing a team from Belleview, a team that’s definately NOT a stacked tournament team, we won, 23-5, in a game called after four innings.

Every game I’ve seen has been a blowout and I don’t know why.

The kids are happy and the coaches are relieved. I think everyone on the field feels the pressure’s off and it’s time to have fun. Everyone got at least one hit.  Everyone played better on defense today, too.

So, the last game starts in two hours. We’re cooling off at home (it’s brutally hot and humid today). Jason and Jamie are playing Wii baseball and arguing about Tampa Bay Rays trivia. I couldn’t ask for better kids. Father’s Day has come early.

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Ouch. Ouch.

tough lloss
Coaches talk to the team after a loss.

The good guys went down in flames again Thursday afternoon, 21-8. It’s getting ugly and the frustration is begining to show.

The results were predictable because the kids do what players their age tend to do: throw the ball around too much, and many of them can’t throw accurately or catch consistently. They’re 6 and 7 years old — it’s normal.
 
And while the kids are doing OK, the grown-ups are beginning to crack. The head coach started saying, to no one in particular, he really doesn’t know much about baseball before asking me to make the lineup. After the game, another coach informed me my lineup stunk because his kid hit last in the order.

You know, youth baseball at its finest.

The best observation of the day came from two high school kids I had the pleasure of sharing the press box with. The official scorekeeper/scoreboard operator and his buddy, the PA announcer, were chatting about a lot of things. Between the topics of summer jobs (not enough time off) and girlfriends (they’re too clingy), came this gem:

“We never played tournaments in T-ball.”

“Yea, it’s crazy.”

“They shouldn’t put that much pressure on these kids.”

I have to remember that. My faith in the youth of America has been renewed.

 
 

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Ouch.

The best thing I can say is, is only lasted three innings.

The view from the press box

Talk about running into a buzzsaw. A team from the Tampa area handed us a 15-3 loss this morning. Scuttlebutt is they were a “traveling” team, whch means they’ve played together a lot, mainly in tournaments. In T-ball. Seriously.

On the bright side, Jamie and Jason turned a nifty double play in the third inning.

We’re at home now, chilling before we need to get back to the field at 12:30 p.m. for a 1:30 game. The kids are OK. “It was 15 to 3,” Jamie told me. “But it’s OK, we have three chances left.”  Her smile told me it will, indeed, be OK.

And Jason is too busy playing “The Bigs” baseball game on his Wii to be bummed about losing. He loves baseball. That’s my boy.

We got the first game under our belts. It’s a good thing.

I was thrown a curveball before the game. Since I’m not on the field during the game, I volunteered to keep the scorebook for the team.(Full disclosure here — I am a ScoreGeek. I kept stats for various teams in school and have three different scorekeeping apps on my iPad).

I took our lineup upstairs to the booth … nobody there. I wandered over to the other dugout to get the lineup from the other coach and went back up.  A teeneager was there to run the scoreboard but no one from the league, to handle things like protests and keep the “official” book.

This guy sticks his head in the door, looks at me and tells me I have to announce the teams. ME? I don’t think so. Do  it now, he’s yelling…  So I’m thinking, should I go with Harry Carry or Vin Scully? I do a pretty good Marv Albert, but he doesn’t do baseball. OK, let’s wing it.  “Good morning and welcome to Sarasota…”

And then, of course, things go horribly wrong. I can’t read the writing on the other team’s lineup card. It looks like a P or a D and there’s a long last name without a whole out of vowels. “Batting fourth, number 15, Miguel Palll…eghhh….avia. ghhtiieieia….”

Hey, you get what you pay for.

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