Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cheers for Dennis Tito & Inspiration Mars!

For an excruciating four decades now, Americans and the human race as a whole have not ventured past Low Earth Orbit. NASA has, of course, accomplished 135 manned space shuttle flights. We have had a permanent human presence in orbit on the International  Space Station since 2001. Still, with the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, Americans lost the ability to launch manned missions from U.S. spaceports and with it, a crucial stepping stone for venturing out into the solar system.

When it comes to manned Mars exploration, NASA has a vague mid-2030s timeline for an initial human mission to the Red Planet. Many space exploration enthusiasts find that not only disappointing but totally unacceptable. I was a little kid the last time humans walked on the moon. I don't want to wait another 20 years for a manned mission to Mars. 

Fortunately, I'm not the only one. Dennis Tito feels exactly the same way. Having garnered fame by becoming the first space tourist, he is now spearheading Inspiration Mars: A 501-day, 2-person Martian fly-by mission scheduled to depart Earth on January 5, 2018.

Concept of the Inspiration Mars Fly-By Spacecraft

The launch date takes advantage of a close Earth-Mars planetary alignment that would make the journey particulary energy-efficient. SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is the proposed launch vehicle. 

Yes, the Falcon Heavy still remains to be tested. The Inspiration Mars mission still needs to be funded and there has been no word on crew selection other than the proposal for a married couple. A whole range of challenges will need to be met to make the launch deadline. The project is complex, dangerous for the crew and there is no guarantee for success. 

Inspiration Mars is, however, a grand plan fueled by a bold vision. It is exactly what we need right now - as a nation, as a planet. Humanity has a destiny among the stars. Our generation has the means, courage and technology to become historic trailblazers. The U.S. government has declined to take a leadership position, and so individuals like Dennis Tito and Elon Musk are stepping into the void to jumpstart our human future in space. This is a really good thing. It is also something that Americans do very well. This is what we take pride in ~ it's what we do: To boldly go where no one has gone before. 

Because it is there. 
And we want to learn more.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Star Trek's Enduring Allure - Walter Koenig Retweets Me

Ok, I am shamelessly claiming some bragging rights: Walter Koening retweeted me recently. Here is why this deserves its own blog post:

In addition to the moon landing (, the original Star Trek TV show played a pivotal role in stoking my interest in space exploration as a child. I was living in Germany at the time, reduced to watching what I didn't know at the time was a butchered version of the original: Just a handful of the original episodes poorly translated into German, edited down to run in 40-minute time slots at an unpopular time: 6 pm on Saturdays, every two weeks. The reason I remember these details is because I fell in love with the show - even its paler, Germanized version - from the moment I discovered it in the mid-70s. I became a young Star Trek fan in secret, more or less, for years, wondering if anyone else loved the show as much as I did.

Imagine my mad, deliriously stunned surprise when I discovered Star Trek fandom during my first trip to the U.S. at age 16. Complete collections of original episodes on tape. People who totally indulged their love for the show, in public! Novels, fan fiction, photo novels. Conventions, costumes, opportunities to meet the show's stars. At the time I would have been happy to meet just one other person who shared my love for Star Trek. Instead I found Trekkies.Talk about an abundance of riches!

Over the years, I have met William Shatner and George Takei. I recently had the opportunity to hear Nichelle Nichols speak in person. And now Walter Koenig retweeted me. I have tried - and failed - to imagine how my 12-year-old self would have reacted if she had been told about what I would be doing in 2013. 

Walter Koenig is hilarious in the sequence of tweets below. It describes a random encounter on the streets of Los Angeles. It's in twitter format, so to read the story from beginning to end, read from the bottom up. I happened to be on twitter and saw the story develop live as Walter Koenig was tweeting it. His retweet of my response is under 2.)


  1. . Hah. I'm trying to figure out if this is a true story or artistic license. It does have that Only-in-LA ring of truth to it.
  2. "Bye, bye, Mr. Sulu" is what I think I hear.

  3. week old meat. Yhey're disappearing in my rear view mirror. Last thing I see is the little guy with a sad floppy wave mouthing some words..

  4. doing a tuck and roll and landing in her hair. She hurls herself back out the window and I pound the accelerator like I'm tenderizing...

  5. "You want ro play with my titties?", she asks matter of factly. I have a knee jerk reaction and the caramel corn is dancing in the air...

  6. Size lady launches herself through the open wimdow and almost into my lap. The only thing between us is my box of candy....

  7. Crash of '29. Porkpie guy stops in his tracks. "I know you! You used to be that guy who used to be that guy on that show!" Extra Large...

  8. lampost and lumbers toward me. The little guy bops at her side. 6 feet away I see she is past 70 and probably responsible for the ...

  9. dancing to a noteless tune. "Do you know where Alpine Street is?" She peels herself off the fence like chewed Juicy Fruit stuck to a ....

  10. Only mt box of Crackerjacks for company. Finally, a vision of a heavy set lady leaning against a fence and a little guy in a porkpie hat

  11. Tales From The Lunch Counter: 4:00 PM, downtown L.A. Frantically trying to find a film shoot location. Streets are deserted.

    Other members of the original Star Trek cast on twitter - Follow them!

    Leonard Nimoy @TheRealNimoy

    William Shatner @WilliamShatner

    George Takei @GeorgeTakei

    Nichelle Nichols @RealNichelle

    For those of you who are Babylon 5 fans, Walter Koenig is also outstanding in the series as Psi Cop Alfred Bester. If you've never heard of Babylon 5, shame on you.