Category Archives: Popular Culture

The Year In Review

from Dave Barry:


…when the abandoned Chinese space station Tiangong-1, which has been anxiously watched by scientists as its orbit decayed, plunges back to earth and, in a worst-case outcome, fails to land on attorney Michael Avenatti, thus enabling him to continue appearing on CNN more often than the Geico Gecko.

Meanwhile President Trump, faced with — among other problems — a continuing immigration crisis, increased Russian aggression in Syria and a looming trade war with China, launches a barrage of assault tweets at what is clearly the biggest threat to the nation: Amazon. Trump is forced to back down when the retail giant threatens to suspend the White House’s Amazon Prime membership and cancel delivery of a large order placed by the Defense Department, including six nuclear submarines, two aircraft carriers and a missile-defense system with a five-star average review rating from other nations.

Responding to alleged Russian infiltration of Facebook and massive breaches of user data, the Senate Committee of Aging Senators Who Cannot Operate Their Own Cell Phones Without the Assistance of Minions holds a hearing intended to answer such probing questions as:

▪ What IS Facebook, anyway?

▪ Where does it go when you turn off the computer?

▪ Is there a print version?

▪ Is Facebook the one with the video of a cat riding on a dog?

▪ How the heck do you get a cat to do that, anyway?

Patiently attempting to answer these questions is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wears a suit and tie and does a solid job of impersonating a regular human, except for not blinking and at one point having a tentacle emerge briefly from his left ear.

Abroad, the big news is a historic summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. In what observers see as a major breakthrough, Kim agrees to sign a letter of agreement explicitly acknowledging, for the first time, that he has exactly the same hairstyle as Bert, of Bert and Ernie.

In sports, Patrick Reed wins the Masters Tournament, prompting jubilant Eagles fans to celebrate by destroying what little is left of Philadelphia.

We laugh so we don’t cry.

Apollo 8

Half a century ago today, a spaceship left earth to take astronauts not just beyond LEO, but all the way to and around the moon. That was when we won the race.

Bob Zimmerman reflects.

[Update Sunday morning]

More thoughts from John Wenz. This statement isn’t inaccurate, but it is a little misleading:

It was the first time humanity had orbited another body that wasn’t our home planet.

Yes, it was, but some have concluded from that fact that they weren’t orbiting earth. None of the Apollo missions left earth orbit, because they never reached escape velocity, and when you orbit a moon that is in orbit around a planet, you remain in orbit around that planet along with it. No human has ever left earth orbit, but Elon seems to have the most serious plans to do so.

One other point, unrelated to Wentz’s piece. I was looking at the Wikipedia page for the mission, and found this bit of (misleading, at best) history:

On August 9, 1968, Low discussed the idea with Gilruth, Flight Director Chris Kraft, and the Director of Flight Crew Operations, Donald Slayton. They then flew to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, where they met with KSC Director Kurt Debus, Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips, Rocco Petrone, and Wernher von Braun. Kraft considered the proposal feasible from a flight control standpoint; Debus and Petrone agreed that the next Saturn V, AS-503, could be made ready by December 1; and von Braun was confident that the pogo oscillation problems that had afflicted Apollo 6 had been fixed. Almost every senior manager at NASA agreed with this new mission, citing confidence in both the hardware and the personnel, along with the potential for a circumlunar flight providing a significant morale boost. The only person who needed some convincing was James E. Webb, the NASA administrator. Backed by the full support of his agency, Webb authorized the mission. Apollo 8 was officially changed from a “D” mission to a “C-Prime” lunar-orbit mission.

Webb may have authorized it in August, in the sense of changing the mission category, but this was probably to keep the option open, not because he supported doing it. I’m pretty sure he continued to oppose it, and it may be that one of the reasons for his retirement in October was to not have it happen on his watch (though he probably would have left anyway in the New Year, with the incoming administration of Nixon). Tom Paine (who did favor it), as Acting Administrator, actually made final approval in November, a few weeks before the flight.

Reproduction On Mars

Nadia Drake has the latest. We continue to not have a gravity lab to study this.

[Update after reading the whole thing]

They seem to be proposing a gravity lab (still unfunded), but they want to put it in lunar orbit. I see no reason to do this, other than to give the Gateway something to do; LEO (and probably in the ISS orbit) makes a lot more sense to me.