Category Archives: Astrosociology

First Man – First Impressions

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the new film “First Man”, based on Neil Armstrong’s life and his eventual walk on the Moon. It is a good movie, if a bit uncomfortable at times. I’m not much for high-drama, angst-dripping movies, and there is some of that here, though not completely unrealistic as such movies sometimes are. Throughout the movie, there is a common thread of loss for the Armstrong family, especially for Neil personally, and a lot of it would tend to make a person emotionally withdrawn. Neil seems introspective by nature in both his portrayal here and in what I’ve read about him in the past, and certainly the filmmakers bank heavily upon that in the script. That’s definitely part of my discomfort, of course, and it was amplified by how long the director dwelled on these introspective moments. How long did he dwell, you ask? The whole movie was a study in introspection as observed in third person… Sometimes, that became quite dull.

That said, there were highlights of Neil’s career that punctuated why he did the things that he did, and why there is so much value in the movie for the audience. The Gemini flight that went so well, until a stuck thruster on the spacecraft sent Neil and his crewmate Dave Scott tumbling at more than one revolution per second. Of course, history shows that they overcame that problem and survived the mission, and the film shows that too. And wow, how well did it show it! Honestly, it was one of the most insightful, most energizing bits of cinematic peril I think I’ve ever seen. The portrayal is a signature moment in Neil’s career as an astronaut, and the public may finally be able to really grasp what happened over the heads of the world back then.

Speaking of portrayals, there is one thing that did grate on my nerves in this film. Cleanliness. Or lack thereof. Oh, hell no, NASA facilities never were, and are not, the grime-ridden warrens of under-lit locations some of the scenes conveyed. There is one scene where during a particularly stomach-churning training session that Neil and another astronaut find themselves heaving in a facility restroom. I’ve been in cleaner restrooms in backwoods truck stops. Having worked around or within NASA facilities over the past few decades, I’ve seen a few of the various restrooms. While some of the postings have been old, originally-equipped places, they are kept clean and functional. Doubly so for anything the crews use. The idea that the astronauts were using a NEW facility that looked like it had been intentionally dipped in grease then a bucket of mildew, well, that’s nonsense.

The spacecraft were no exception here, and were pretty ridiculous. Without exception, every spacecraft looked from the get-go as if it had already flown more than one mission. The Apollo 11 command module was the biggest offender, with dirty work surfaces and banged up handles and such. The tools used by the crew for training are not for flight, which allows for some rough handling and wear and tear. However, the flight tools are usually tested for operational suitability, and after handling with great care, are packaged for each crew for use only on their mission. Again, it looked like their tools had been used to fix a big rig at a truck stop somewhere, and kicked around on the ground a bit. Used as a hammer, too. And rusty (rusty!) toggle switches. That bothered me a lot. I can go today and walk right up to the Apollo 17 command module and even at five decades old, there are no rusty, crusty switches. The Apollo 11 CM, and indeed all NASA spacecraft, have been and still are clean as an operating theater, at least on their first mission.

Honestly, I think this all comes down to impressions, those that the filmmakers wanted to create. The austere, even cold Neil Armstrong, the dirty, grim NASA environment, it seems that an intentional effort was made to forge a picture of a grim but determined life leading to a great achievement at the end of one major milestone. I can understand from the point of view a good dramatic work of art, and this film is certainly that, but as a space geek both professionally and personally, these inconsistencies stood out like a sore thumb. A greasy sore thumb with a small, open laceration off to one side of the nail, whilst doing brain surgery with torn gloves.

There is a lot more that I could say about this “First Man”, but I think my biggest impression is the stoic feeling of pushing through loss to excel at a worthy attempt at exceptional goals. That’s going to play well with audiences I think, and it should, because it’s very well done.

Apollo 11 and Self-Awareness

I just figured out something about myself, courtesy of this post by Aesop at the Raconteur Report:

Happy Peak of Western Civilization Day

I’m not going to expound endlessly on this, as Aesop says it so well, but I realized that the reason I’ve hung on so tenaciously to my work in the space industry is tied in very closely with my personal views on society. Whether or not I am a member of this world, I am an American, and a Western construct. The height of Western accomplishment absolutely is the Moon landing.

I don’t mean “Murica is Number One” sort of jingoism (though I guess I don’t NOT mean it, either) but a deeper heritage of exploration that a lot of civilization have failed to embrace. Either they never had that urge, or they didn’t take it as far in the past, or they are only really moving on it now. There is one more possibility, of course, they followed the call, but abandoned it, indeed somehow shrunk from it for various reasons. That’s what concerns me, and drives me. The Western world has been in a holding pattern and seems to be losing ground the past few decades, navel gazing, or maybe trying to convince itself via globalization that following the herd is somehow safer and smarter. We’ve been moving on that abandonment track for too long.

This manifests itself in how the Western human space exploration and exploitation has stalled. We’re risk-phobic, afraid of what failure “looks like” as a media matter and loss of funding. We use our space programs as a geopolitical tool instead of a leadership program. Between those two problems, we end up moving too slow and too timidly, trying to achieve perfection and also not piss anybody off. When the rest of the world looks to the West for leadership, they end up pissed off at us anyway because we are so concerned with avoiding failure by also avoiding accomplishment.

I work to bring back the idea that risk is not a dirty word, and risk to cement humanity off-planet is required, as it’s always been required to breach a frontier. As a Western man, I want to reclaim that heritage in space, because we need new peaks in the history of our civilization, and we are still capable of making the climb.

Space Nation Update

Well, I downloaded their app for their perception of astronaut training, as a beta tester. I appreciate their intent with trying to combine entertainment, education, and social interaction, but as with most beta releases, there’s some technical issues that they’ll need to overcome.

Right now, I was able to access the initial activities, but since the first week I’ve been getting daily messages that there are new daily missions and when I click on the weekly adventure, and it tells me that I’ve completed the daily mission. Of course, I haven’t done so… And this morning it now locks up when I try this.

I’ll be a dutiful beta tester and let them know my woes.

Kindred Spirits – Space Nation

Kindred Spirits – Space Nation

I ran across a new organization out there, Space Nation, who has the noble goal of creating the largest space discovery community on the planet. Their belief statement reads thus:

We believe that Astronaut skills are life skills. Using a range of space experiences to connect everyday life to space, and space to everyday life, we’re motivating and enabling discovery of space skills for 21st Century Space Travelers.

We believe that expansion to space is a key moment in human evolution that brings new perspectives, unity and tangible benefits to humanity, the Earth and worlds we have yet to discover.”

To those of us on the Outbound journey, this sounds incredibly familiar.

Frankly, it’s exciting to peruse their website, and see the sorts of things they’re delving into. In particular, they are working on what they call the Space Nation Astronaut Program (SNAP). This program kicks off in February of 2018, including a new smartphone app that guides the program participants as they work their way forward, culminating in a possible free flight into space for the top performer! This is a bit if genius where they offer free training towards an astronaut skillset and way of thinking, under the concept that astronaut qualities are excellent qualities for life in general. As per the Outbound motto, “We Live and Work In Space”, Space Nation’s philosophy aligns so very well with our own.

I’ve signed up for their “Space Station Orbit” newsletter and also for the SNAP, and I have to say, I am excited to see what begins to develop two months from now.

The Weird, Ugly Side of Space Politics

Keith Cowing at NASAWatch seems offended by this image:

Lockheed Martin Orion Spacecraft in Martian Orbit

#JourneyToMars Facebook hype from @LockheedMartin As if Orion with only a service module will be in Mars orbit

Here’s a bit of SpaceX concept art that is essentially the same as the CowingSnark is concerned about:

Dragon entering the Martian Atmosphere - Elon Musk Instagram Concept Art

It’s rather GOOD concept art, and I can see why Elon Musk published it on Instagram. Can we NOT poke at concept art? That seems incredibly picky, perhaps even petty.

Nuclear Aftermath – Future Studies for the Really Hardcore Student

There is a recent article by Steven Starr over at the Federation of American Scientists, bemoaning yet again the futility of surviving Nuclear War. Suffice it to say, even after a long heritage of debunking nuclear winter, there is always a subject matter expert willing to re-approach the concept.

What does this have to do with Outbound’s mission, you ask? Simply put, with recent geopolitical events as they are and continue to develop, we face a renewed and increased chance that a nuclear exchange is in our future. Perhaps our near future. Despite the horror that promises, the likelihood of human extinction from that event is not high, but it will set back human civilization. How far back is primarily driven by how prepared we are to recover from the event. Pre-emptively surrendering humanity’s future isn’t the best strategy.

Imagine all the people that will be asking themselves: “Aren’t I supposed to be dead? What do I do now?”

Hopefully, WWIII will be averted. If it isn’t though, we’ll be better served both on Earth and beyond by being prepared to weather the (fire)storm. As a reference, here is some excellent information on doing just that:

The Good News About Nuclear Destruction

And in addition to plans to survive a nuclear war on Earth, a faster implementation of space settlement (a la Outbound) removes at least some humans from the stupidity, and allows them to continue advancing our race while the Earth recovers.

Mars Underground and Grumpy

In my continued theme of interesting YouTube wanderings, I’ve run across this video:

The Mars Underground

It describes the history of the Mars Society and the Mars Direct mission. Again, I wouldn’t recommend this unless I really enjoyed watching it, which I did. However, I have come to the definite conclusion that Robert Zubrin is one bitter guy. I hope he can find a way to shed his attitude, and stow the chip on his shoulder somewhere far from his reach. I think he is really a (frustrated) genius, and would move with more freedom and be better regarded without his acerbic tone.

For Diehard Space Geeks

This is a really great bunch of film history of the original astronauts from Mercury through Apollo. The restoration of these candid shots is wonderful, and for those of us who like to see space nostalgia walking and talking, it’s quite a sight. And yes, the background audio is not linked to the video, it’s a media presentation of what I understand was the third group of astronaut selectees. Enjoy!

The Lost Archives: NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Missions

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