history


24
Jul 19

On the anniversary of the completion of Apollo 11, and other things

Today is the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Apollo 11 mission. And somewhere in the comments of this NASA stream of the capsule recovery someone writes “Is this happening now?” And that’s what you’re going up against in the world. Maybe Buzz Aldrin is right, about this too.

Anyway. I put this picture on Instagram over the weekend, while I was watching the CBS special marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

I took that photo Thanksgiving weekend in 2006 at the Space and Rocket Center. A whole bunch of family decided we’d all go look at all the sites in between turkey and barbecue and it was a great day. I’m not related to the people in that photograph, but I did listen in to the conversation enough to figure out what was going on.

There’s three generations of a family in that photograph. The younger man brought his son and father to see the museum to show his son what Grandpa did.

Grandpa worked on the Apollo missions, as an engineer. This was a trip down memory lane for him and he played the moment very cool. The grandson was too young to really appreciate this yet, but the father that middle generation man, was very proud of this moment.

The little boy, he probably just wants to go flip and toggle things in the museum’s displays. It might not have mattered to the old man, who, along with a lot of other people were taking part in A Great Thing.

It mattered, though, to his son, who carries this sense of pride about it.

Attitudes are curious. They can attach, morph and bind themselves to a single moment or ideal or action and carry us through a generation. That older gentleman had the war, and then space and the moon. His son has the memory of the moon, the echoes of the 1970s and the information age.

What’s that little boy going to have? Of course, he’s not so little anymore. That photo is almost 13 years old now. But this was the part of their conversation that I recorded at these displays.

“Ask Granddad about which one he worked on.”

“Which one did you work on?” the six-year-old asked.

“Apollo 17,” the grandfather replied, a little quiet and sheepish that others might hear.

What’s an Apollo 17 to a 21st century babe? Maybe dad, or grandpa, was teaching him how to throw a football. He surely was showing him his gramps was a big man. “Grandad helped send people to the moon … ”

Yes he did young man, yes he did. Your grandfather helped do that. Tell everyone you meet.

We watched an IMAX about the lunar landings and, afterward, my mother asked me if that was something that is impressive to my generation. She was in middle school when NASA first kicked moon dust around. She probably remembers what dress she had on the day those crackling little words made it back into the atmosphere.

The moon landings had come and gone before I was born, a historical inevitability. I have the sense of wonder of the achievement, but not the drama of the attempt. It has always been a magical thing to think Someone’s been there, but I’ve never had the notion that it couldn’t be done, only only the question of why we haven’t gone back. Budgets, interests, war, different rhetoric and other causes dragged us away, and but for robotic exploration the interim has been full of wasted moments in that respect. We had moonmen on MTV and conspiracy theorists.

To think it was only a few years before I was born that we reached up and grasped at something we’ve feared and marveled at for all of time … that carries a weight.

That we’re on Mars, that’s impressive. That we have tourists in space, that’s already become passe. That I shared a room for a brief moment with a man — and in a NASA facility the number might still be “several” — who helped put us there, that people a generation younger than I am will remember him, that’s special in a very important way.

Haha. I’d forgotten about this. That same day, at the Space and Rocket Center, someone suggested we ride something they now call the Moon Shot. Through the magic of science, you are flung 140-feet straight up in 2.5 seconds, achieving 4Gs on launch, and a few seconds of weightlessness in the descent. I started talking smack. My grandmother, who delighted in showing me up, agreed to a ride. Again, the conversation as I recorded it:

The Yankee: Arrrrrgh!

Mom: Arrrrrgh!

GrandBonnie: When does the ride start?

Seriously.

When we were doing this in 2006 NASA was still working on the hardware and software for the Mars Science Laboratory. Launched in 2011, of course, it landed on Mars in August of 2012. I have a dim recollection of watching live footage of the control room when it landed, and I wondered how that felt next to the moon.

Robots! On Mars! (And still operational, years after the initial goals!)

It is never happening now, as grandparents always know. The ride always started a long time ago.


6
Jun 19

The 75th anniversary of D-Day

A good friend of ours is a US Army officer, a paratrooper. Five years ago, he had the opportunity to jump into France as a part of the 70th anniversary ceremonies commemorating D-Day.

He jumped with this flag, which hangs in my office.

Here’s a video of his jump. He went out the door of a German plane on a beautiful day over Normandy.

That view makes it difficult to imagine jumping into the dark, knowing the enemy you’ve been training for is waiting below.

Ernie Pyle came ashore soon after and helped people back home understand what the men and boys in Europe were up against:

And then, of course, Ronald Reagan talked about some of those famous exploits at the 40th anniversary:


22
May 19

On water on the ground and in the river

Mid-late May is far, faaaaar too early for the first fallen Maple leaf of the year. It hasn’t even been warm yet!

It’s been damp a lot, though. You can tell because the creek is threatening the banks. Of course it could do that if there’s an abundance of humidity.

The maple leaf was in our driveway this morning. The little stream is on campus, winding through the beech and maple. They call it the River Jordan, named after a 19th century university president. He said, when he left IU for Stanford, that he didn’t want a building named after him, but he liked that waterway. It was a hugely prominent geographical feature, especially before the continued campus development. And so it was, but the River Jordan returned to the old name, Spanker’s Branch, when it left campus. (No, really, Spanker’s Branch. There’s a plaque and everything.)

Jordan got a building named after him later, anyway, and the whole waterway now bears his name, as well. That’s our loss. Spanker’s Branch is a great name, but I haven’t yet found the historical origins of the ancient name. My best guess, though, is that it was a name, rather than a verb. But! I have found a 1922 book of local stories that includes an anecdote by an octogenarian about her father playing at Spanker’s Branch as a child. If she was 80, that name would have good way back.

So the search will continue.


18
Feb 19

Happy Presidents Day

I had a whole post here, and the computer, or WordPress or the ‘net ate it somehow. I had a Presidents Day joke and everything. So this will be brief and, probably, better. We have a Presidents Hall in our building at work. It is for university presidents, and when you run this place one day, you, too, can have a painting on the wall.

Today it is a giant banquet hall, more square footage than our house. It was once the grand reading room when our building was the university’s library, until 1969 or so. After that our building served in an administrative capacity and the grand reading room it became a testament to modern 1970s office innovation: cubicles.

Saturday, I was at work, this is our “living room.”

I didn’t go into Presidents Hall at all, Saturday or today. I’ll show it to you sometime. Saturday, though, was Direct Admit Day. Some of the fall term’s incoming freshmen sat in our giant “living room.” I put this on Twitter and …

Someone forgot I work here? To be fair, you never know who is running a group account. Maybe they didn’t read my Twitter bio. Or maybe someone thought all of the pre-frosh followed my account. At least there was a retweet. That’s about the extent of it.

Also this chilly weekend:

Today:




More on Twitter, check me out on Instagram and more podcasts on Podbean as well.


22
Jan 19

We’re back and it is cold and frozen

So since everything, included the roads, are frozen here, still*, let’s talk about some place warmer. Here are a few pictures I took yesterday just before we left Savannah. (Truly, we toted our luggage inside.)

This is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It’s a lovely building, and it marks the local Catholic diocese.

The diocese was installed by Pope Pius IX in 1850. At the time, it covered all of Georgia and part of Florida, totaling about 5,500 Catholics. Another Pope Pius, the XII, split the territory in 1956. So now this covers south Georgia. Much of what was the original church at this location was destroyed in an 1898 fire. The outside walls and two spires were saved.

There was a big renovation project in the middle of the 20th century and a massive repair project in the 1980s put the high altar in the background. Then there was another round of renovation in the late Nineties. So the pews aren’t that old.

Indeed, much of everything here is new compared to some of the beautiful church buildings we have seen over the years, but this one is still lovely, and as impressive to me as the first time I saw it 14 years ago.

The stained glass windows went in around 1904:

Many, if not all of them, were removed, cleaned and re-leaded during the last restoration project.

I didn’t realize you had to do that to windows.

Now, about that organ …

The first recorded organ at the cathedral was installed in 1837. (They held a fundraiser in 1836.) That original organ is now on display, but not in use, at the First African Baptist Church a few blocks away. Organs came and went, one was rebuilt after a hurricane, but lost in the fire. At the turn of the century an organ builder in Delaware installed a new one. That one was removed after 1938, and some of the pipes wound up in local classrooms. During the reconstruction in the 1980s a Massachusetts firm, Noack Company, was selected to build the new organ. A protestant, a Lutheran even, helped bring the organ project to life. The cathedral’s website says that was a first. And that man’s church choir, from the local St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, was the first Protestant concert in the cathedral in 1991.

*The snow was Saturday. You could barely drive around downtown today for the ice in the roads. They have some kind of plan, I’m sure. You’d like to see it activated. You’d like to see warmer temperatures, too. They’ve got about 13 degrees on us today.