GUEST BLOG POST: J.F. OWEN


New Chara Cover2

Thank you for joining me this week as I welcome J.F. Owen, author of “Chara’s Promise, to my little corner of the universe.

A Trekkie and Firefly fan, J.F. has spent most of his career “as a shop rat engineer machining metal, programming robots and designing automation.”

You can visit my friend on his website http://jfowen.com/ and say hello.

So, without further ado…

WHERE WILL THE LINE BE TOMORROW?

Apollo_11

“Mode control – both auto. Descent engine command override off. Engine arm – off. 413 is in.”

“We copy you down, Eagle.”

“Engine arm is off. Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Just a few hours later, at 2:39 UTC on July 21, I watched as Neil A. Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface at Mare Tranquillitatis saying words that every American alive at that time will likely remember forever, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I had just turned fourteen and was immersed in the heady times for science and technology that the “race for the moon” had created. Rare was the young boy or girl who couldn’t recognize the name of most, if not all, of the astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. I could name them all by rote. Everyone knew that the moon was just the beginning. Man would be on Mars by the turn of the century and to the stars by the turn of the next…nothing could stop that, or so we thought. What happened?

Books have been written on that subject and the reasons are many. Complacency, lack of vision and misplaced austerity all played a part in our failure to reach for the stars. We forgot, or failed to realize, how much the space program research had positively impacted our little planet and our personal lives. 

The MRI I had on my knee last year, the smart phone that I carry in my pocket and the GPS that feeds my Y chromosome are all examples of how space technology directly affects me. On a grander scale that same research lead to a host of wide-ranging innovations in electronics, mechanical design, high strength materials, medical science, imaging technology, communications, earth science and agriculture. These are all things that have nothing to do with space but everything to do with everyday living.

Of course, we haven’t totally abandoned our space efforts. We have had Skylab, the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, the Mars rovers and a host of deep space probes. Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan, China, India, Brazil and others also have their own programs. Unfortunately, for the most part, they are all focused on near Earth immediate needs and the “Great Vision” is no longer apparent. But, two developments in the past few years have given me hope.

The first development is the entry of private enterprise into the mix. The United States has always made private contractors a big part of the manufacturing component in space technology, but they’ve always been kept on tightly focused tracks. Companies like Space X, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, UP Aerospace, Spaceport America and the Mojave Spaceport and an equal numbers of players from around the world are now moving into space in a big way. That’s great news for space exploration and utilization. No one does engineering better, more efficiently and more cost effectively than private industry. Beyond that, it’s successful entrepreneurs such as Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Burt Rutan who will provide the vision needed to move space exploration forward. They’re good with dreams; they’ve already followed more than one.

But, something else is happening that I think is going reignite the passion for space exploration in the general public. That’s the major push that the Chinese are making into space. As we speak, China has a rover rolling around on the moon. The United States and the Soviet Union did that over forty years ago, so why does that get me excited? It’s more than just their rover.

Here’s the thing about our manned moon landing—it probably wouldn’t have happened if the United States hadn’t been in a race with the Soviet Union. Historians will say that the race was mostly about national defense and that may have been the case politically. But, that’s not why my parents, family, friends and neighbors supported the effort and sat in front of their television on July 20, 1969. We sat in front of that TV because of pride. We sat in front of that TV because we wanted to be there when we won the race.

China isn’t going to stop with the moon; they have a fire in their belly now and, trust me, they’re headed to Mars. We have another race on our hands and folks here in the United States are just starting to figure that out. I’m probably too old to see who crosses the finish line first, but, mark my words; by 2040 someone is going to land a human explorer on Mars. The first question is—whose flag will they plant? The next question is—will we be content to rest on our laurels again? You and I will decide that. 

Science fiction writers are an odd lot. We spend our time flirting with a blurred and moving line that separates what is from what might be. That’s fun but, as an engineer, I also get to flirt with how fast and how far that line moves.

How cool is that!

So tell me, how many current astronauts can you name?

See ya.

A huge thanks to J.F. Owen for that amazing post.

Join me next week when I begin a month-long series in honor of National Poetry Month. I have four guest poets that I am going to introduce you to.

Until then,

“Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.”
― William S. Burroughs

RELATED ARTICLES:

AN ARCHAEOLOGISTS GUIDE TO HUMANITY IN SCI-FI (yiwashington.com)

GUEST POST: MARIANNE DE PIERRES (yiwashington.com)

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