June 29, 2012
When a frontier feels like home, it is no longer a frontier; it has become “civilization.” Those determined to wander must now pack their bags and move further into the cosmos.
Space Station is very much on the frontier. It is only my temporary home, and now it is time for me to venture back to my real home. For my generation, Earth is, and will remain, home. The technology for space travel is still in the process of development, and is not sufficiently mature to open this frontier to humanity. We are not prepared to call space our home—yet.
On Earth, the frontiers opened slowly. The technology of sailing was known and advanced for over a thousand years before the Earth was circumnavigated. Such bold acts require the technology, the will, and the audacity to explore. Sometimes you have one, but not the others.
I only hope that my small efforts here, perhaps adding one grain of sand to the beach of knowledge, will help enable a generation of people in the future to call space “home.”
Last Day in Space
Tomorrow we light our rocket,
we burn our engines and likewise,
burn a hole in the sky,
And thus fall to Earth.
How does one spend your last day in space?
Looking at Earth,
a blue jewel surrounded by inky blackness,
Pure Occipital Ecstasy.
Unconstrained by your girth,
you fly with vestigial wings.
The atmosphere on edge,
iridescent blue with no earthly parallel,
Electrifying Diaphanous Beauty.
Guarded by Sirens of Space,
singing saccharine songs,
beckoning you to crash on the atmos-reef
which tears you limb from limb
and scorching what remains
into cosmic croutons that sprinkle onto
the garden salad of Earth.
One last feast out the window,
A looking glass of Wonderland.
Offering both a portal to see your world,
and a translucent reflection to see yourself.
what is your place in this world below,
how do you change it,
how does it change you.
We are wedded to this planet,
until mass extinction we do part.
Perhaps one planet is not enough.
You study your charts,
we prepare our spaceship,
and our minds.
We make ready our descent,
into these seemingly gentle arms.
The eager anticipation of hugging your wife,
your boys with grins followed by pouting faces,
both excited to see you but not understanding why you left.
Oh how does one spend your last day in Space.
What would you do?
Node 2, Deck 5
ISS, LEO 51.603
Editor’s Note: Don and his crewmates André Kuipers and Oleg Kononenko are scheduled to undock their Soyuz spacecraft from the space station at 12:48 a.m. EDT Sunday, and land in Kazakhstan at 3:14 a.m.
May 30, 2012
Last weekend I asked if I could use one of the research freezers onboard Space Station during my off-duty time. I made thin sheets of water about a millimeter thick (sort of like a soap film, but without the soap), and froze them. Then I looked at the ice under polarized light, using a laptop display as the light source for one direction of polarized light and a filter I just happened to have in my personal kit to make “crossed polarizers.”
When the ice sheets were placed between the filter and the laptop screen, the crystal structure became vividly visible. I do not know at this time if the crystal structure is any different than normal ice, but I will find out.
Meanwhile, we were unloading the supplies from Dragon.
April 13, 2012
Nature has a vivid imagination, more so than any human. By venturing into unknown territory, discoveries will be made that tickle our imagination and enrich our minds. On the frontier, you can once again see the world through the eyes of a child.
I wonder why the sky is up, and why the stars abound?
And why the Sun comes up each morn, and why the Earth goes ’round?
I wonder what the Sun on Mars, would bring at dusk and dawn?
I wonder what two moons would say, from Earth lit sky when Sun is gone
I wonder if Mars mountain crags would be a sight to hold?
I wonder if I’d dare to climb, how could I be so bold!
I wonder when Man’s mind will grow, and cease to be so small
I wonder when we’ll venture forth, I hope before we fall
I wonder if we’ll never dare, to reach up through the sky
Forever doomed to live on Earth, and this, I wonder why?
March 14, 2012
Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire, was what Magellan named the tip of South America in 1520. He had seen the fires set by local inhabitants who did not want the Portuguese explorer to set foot on their land.
A new page in the history of this distant part of our globe is now being written. Oil has been discovered off the eastern shore of Tierra del Fuego, and Argentina is building offshore platforms to access it. Brightly lit, they appear from orbit as constellations—not in the starry sky, but on the surface of the sea. Collectively, they are one of the most brightly-lit areas I have seen anywhere on Earth (except for Las Vegas, which still holds the title). From my orbital perspective, this is no longer Tierra del Fuego but Mar del Fuego.
In these pictures taken from Space Station, the dim lights from Tierra del Fuego, visible in the background in the first image below, do not hold a candle to the bright lights of the offshore oil platforms. Click on the images to see them larger.
December 14, 2011
There is a type of social deviate who doesn’t fit in, and who naturally seeks the freedom of the wilderness. The American frontier was settled by that kind of spirit. Ironically, the wilderness of space requires a high degree of social conformity before you are allowed to enter, so today’s pre-selection of candidate explorers effectively requires a different personality type from those who historically ventured into the frontier.
Exploration by individuals or small groups dates from the Stone Age, and is principally responsible for humanity’s infestation of the entire globe. It is undirected and seemingly random, and social progress is achieved more by accident than by design. This is exploration in its purest form—exploration to satisfy human curiosity, in a constant search for new places to live and resources to use. To partake in this kind of exploration is simple: You just go.
Another type of exploration is more organized, and is done by countries and governments. Historically such explorations were made for exploitation: the taking of natural resources, the control of key geographic regions, and eventually, colonization. Exploration was a wealth-creating enterprise that, if consistently pursued over decades, returned orders of magnitude on the initial investment. This kind of exploration is no longer possible on Earth.
Society-sponsored exploration has therefore shifted from exploitation to knowledge acquisition. We explore today for science, for new knowledge that will tickle our imaginations and enrich our minds. This exploration is well planned and conducted by professional explorers selected in part for their ability to conform. At the same time, exploration has shifted from a wealth-generating activity to a wealth-consuming activity.
One aspect of this gentler age of exploration is the difficulty in maintaining a consistent level of effort over a period long enough to make progress. Meaningful exploration on today’s frontier requires about ten years, sometimes more, of consistently directed effort before significant scientific returns are seen. The shift from wealth generation (exploitation) to wealth consumption (knowledge) creates a constant battle for justification of the investment.
As space technology advances, we will reach the point where we started in the Stone Age: Exploration with no more justification than individual curiosity. Such an eventuality will open the Petri dish of Earth and allow this infestation called humanity to contaminate our solar system.