I had plans to fly down to Florida to see the very last space-shuttle launch, the one in the bottom right corner, and meet with my best friend from the internet, someone I had never met in spite of a decade of regular correspondence. We were going to watch the ship launch, then road-trip across the American South to New Orleans, stopping along the way to see things like Florida’s Real Live Mermaids and an exotic animal conservatory. It fell through, as many things do – his work schedule changed, the launch was delayed – so the plan changed and I flew to meet him in New York instead. The last star-ship sailed into the sky without us. Now the friendship is dead and so is the shuttle program. We missed out on both history and love and I’m still not sure, a year later, which was the greater tragedy.
A time-lapse taken from the front of the International Space Station as it orbits our planet at night. This movie begins over the Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America before entering daylight near Antarctica. Visible cities, countries and landmarks include (in order) Vancouver Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Phoenix. Multiple cities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mexico City, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, El Salvador, Lightning in the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Lake Titicaca, and the Amazon. Also visible is the earths ionosphere (thin yellow line), a satellite (55sec) and the stars of our galaxy.
The space shuttle Discovery had its final launch today. I watched from home, glued to my laptop screen, as the entire process played out over live streaming video from Florida, while Tony watched it with me over messenger, cheering for the crew from his Microsoft office in Redmond. We were a small slice of the future right then, together though separate, witnessing history through now common technology, eyes on an image televised live from the side of a rocket roaring with fire into outer space. The number of viewers at the foot of the screen declared that we’d shared the experience with over 30,000 other people. Beautiful. With that number there and Tony’s words on the screen, it was the first time in almost a week that I haven’t felt lonely.
The original, unedited, tweeted direct-from-orbit photo is here, courtesy of astronaut Doug Wheelock.
Some astronauts report losing their fingernails on spacewalks because of bulky gloves that cut off circulation and chafe against their hands. To avoid this inconvenience, a couple astronauts have taken to ripping off their own fingernails before reaching orbit.
Fingernail trauma and other hand injuries are spacewalkers’ biggest complaint, she said. In a recent study of astronaut injuries, at least 22 reported lost fingernails, a phenomenon called fingernail delamination. It happens because of pressure on the fingertips, but researchers also think circulation cutoff could be to blame.
Somehow somewhere in the next twenty-four hours, the maddening mess around me has to coalesce into a travel ready me. I’ve no idea how I’m going to accomplish this, as I’ve put all my warm clothes into a suitcase and discovered it’s still half empty, even when it contains a sleeping cat. Apparently over time I’ve renounced being an Owner of Sweaters, or even of Pants or Long Sleeved Shirts, essential ingredients during the last biting Montreal winter I gleefully survived. I suppose today I’ll take a bit of time, disguised cleverly as my lunch hour, and unearth some, though I’m not entirely sure anymore where such things are sold. The Le Chateau sale place is close, though, as is Winners, and if I don’t find anything there, I might as well give up until I can go shopping along Rue St. Denis or St. Catherine’s, a plan that gets shiner with every passing hour.
Most of our plans for Montreal are the shiny sort, (Go Directly To Santropol, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Get $200 Dollars, and the equally obvious Purchase A Warm Coat Already You Foolish Girl), though they did a bit of an unexpected shimmy recently, shaking off the drive down to NYC with Melanie and Lung, leaving us with some uncertainty in regards to our adventures. I remain optimistic, however, even as I face the terrible pressure of being an inexpert wedding photographer, as according to a quick poll over on Facebook, which very quickly took on some serious consistency, everyone’s favourite thing to do in Montreal is eat delicious food, a skill at which I am pleased to claim to be somewhat of a master. Om nom, om nom indeed.
ITEMS STILL MISSING: warm clothes, camera flash, ear cuff, bras, ipod cord, jammies, one lime stocking.
The shuttle appears to be in good overall shape, but the survey did uncover a 53cm (21in) line of chips on the vehicle’s right side. The line of chips uncovered by the inspection are in thick tiles that make up the protective heat shield on Atlantis’ starboard side. The damage is located where the right wing joins the shuttle’s fuselage. Nasa said the chips could be related to a debris event detected by the wing’s leading edge sensors 104-106 seconds into the lift-off.
This report leads to one of those surprising and uncomfortable truths about humanity’s current space travel skills:
If something goes wrong on this mission, Atlantis’ crew will not be able to shelter on the International Space Station (ISS). The station orbits at around 350km (220 miles) above Earth, while Hubble occupies an orbit about 560km (350 miles) up.
The Shuttle can’t fly there. It can’t shed 130 miles of altitude, establish a new orbit on a radically different inclination and maneuver to ISS. Because our things that fly in space still aren’t really spaceships as we’ve been brought up to think of them. In fact, the Endeavour’s on the launchpad now, ready to launch an unprecedented rescue mission if it’s determined that the Atlantis may not survive re-entry.
On a cool spring eve March 15th, 2009 a bat, crippled and wistful, clung to the Space Shuttle Discovery as it was thrust toward the great beyond. Goodbye and godspeed, my magnificent Spacebat.
At some point during the countdown, Spacebat—a Free-Tailed Chiroptera—was spotted latched to the foam of the external fuel tank, occasionally moving but never letting go. Wildlife experts deduced that he had injured his wing and shoulder, leaving him with little chance of survival. He remained on the tank until launch. NASA’s cold report?
The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit.
True! But here’s how it should have read:
Bereft of his ability to fly and with nowhere to go, a courageous bat climbed aboard our Discovery with stars in his weak little eyes. The launch commenced, and Spacebat trembled as his frail mammalian body was gently pushed skyward. For the last time, he felt the primal joy of flight; for the first, the indescribable feeling of ascending toward his dream—a place far away from piercing screeches and crowded caves, stretching forever into fathomless blackness. Whether he was consumed in the exhaust flames or frozen solid in the stratosphere is of no concern. We know that Spacebat died, but his dream will live on in all of us.