Lafayette Vignettes, Part 1: The Astronaut Alumnus

Neil Armstrong statue!

Why did my wife want to go to college for her birthday? To see Neil Armstrong.

In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

Once upon a time in 2019 Anne decide she wanted to celebrate her birthday with a jaunt around the city of Lafayette, an hour northwest of our Indiana home. She cobbled together a short to-do list of things she wanted to see, not lengthy but enough for a leisurely afternoon — a bit of Indiana history, a bit of downtown tourism, and a bit of healthy walking.

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“Ad Astra” Per Verba Omnium

Ad Astra!

If his space soliloquies mend just one broken father/son relationship out there, then they were worth it. Did they, though?

In the grand, 21st-century tradition of Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian, and First Man comes another tale of an A-lister shot into space with a massive budget both in-story and in reality. Honorable mention goes to Duncan Jones’ Moon, which had to make do with a fraction of the cash but was more relatable than at least two of those tentpoles.

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“First Man”: The Last 2018 Review

first man!

If that had been me in 1969, the first several recorded minutes of the moon landing would’ve been me screaming, “AAAAAHHH! THAT’S THE MOON! WE’RE ON THE FREAKING MOON! AAAAAAHH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

Here at Midlife Crisis Crossover we try not to hold ourselves to too many fixed rules, but one I haven’t broken yet is: every film I see in theaters gets its own full-length entry. Sometimes they can take a while because I get distracted by other things I’d rather write about first. Sometimes shifting into overthinking mode takes more brain muscle than I care to exert. Sometimes I don’t feel like a movie needs more than a shrug and a “meh”, but I refuse to settle for a three-word entry. Sometimes I’m not enthusiastic about sharing candid thoughts on a film I thought would be much better than it was, and would rather see succeed despite my tepid reaction to it, particularly if it’s not doing well in theaters in the first place.

That reluctance brings us to First Man, the latest film from Damien Chazelle, director of La-La Land and Whiplash, two films I loved. Our family saw it back in October on its second week of release. In the past we’ve sought out spaceflight history in our entertainment as well as in our vacation choices (cf. Kennedy Space Center, the Cosmosphere, et al.). I assumed this would be one of my favorite films of the year.

it kinda wasn’t. Hence the nearly three-month delay on the mandatory wool-gathering. But I can’t get to my annual “Best/Worst of the Year” pop culture listicles until and unless I finish all the movie entries first. So here we go, checking the one missing box. Because it’s always exciting when you have to force yourself to write.

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Former Kickstarter Junkie VIII: The Final Reward

Fight for Space!

Me explaining to people why crowdfunding is no longer my thing.

Hi, My name is Randy. It’s been five years and two months since the last time I pledged money to a Kickstarter campaign. This week I achieved closure on that chapter in my hobbyist life at last.

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Our 2007 Road Trip, Part 7: Space, So Near Yet So Far

Explorer!

As of 2007 the Space Shuttle Explorer was docked in Florida, and we were there. Extra points to experienced Highlights readers who can spot me and my son up there.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2007 we changed up our strategy a bit and designed an itinerary for what would prove our most kid-friendly outing ever. Granted, my son was now twelve years old and less kid-like than he used to be, but the idea was sound in principle.

Thus in this year of our Lord did we declare: the Goldens are going to Florida!

Longtime MCC readers are no strangers to spaceflight imagery, from the Kansas Cosmosphere in 2012 (link and link) to the Space Shuttle Enterprise‘s temporary residency in Manhattan as of 2016, American space travel has proven quite the must-see whenever we’re in one of its neighborhoods. None were larger or more captivating than the original Kennedy Space Center.

If you have the opportunity to see it yourself one day, do so. But make sure you see it all. And keep in mind you can’t do it by yourself. Literally.

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2015 Road Trip Photos #3: The Welcome Rocket

Alabama Welcome Center!

This never-used Saturn IB launch vehicle is now a fantastic lawn ornament.

We had no idea what to expect from our first foray into Alabama. Our seven-day round-trip drive took us both ways through the 300-mile expanse it occupies between Tennessee and Louisiana, and gave us opportunities for stops at several points of varying interest levels. Our first impressions confirmed our research results: it’s large. It contains multitudes.

That location in the photo? That’s just their Welcome Center.

Right this way for more about this spaceflight souvenir…

“Interstellar”: Space Enough at Last

Interstellar!

“Hey, kids! Wanna journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination?”

Not all of Christopher Nolan’s films are five-star masterpieces (here’s nodding off at you, Dark Knight Rises), but the foundation of new ideas that underpin each production guarantees we’re in for a unique cinematic experience rather than prefab Hollywood conveyor-belt product. Witness the debate-class spectacle that is Interstellar — one-half homage to 2001: a Space Odyssey, one-half admitted love letter from Nolan to his daughter bearing messages of hope, curiosity, science, human achievement, and the strength of intangible, immeasurable bonds that keep us connected even when we’re parsecs apart.

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2012 Road Trip Photos #35: the Kansas Cosmosphere, Part 2 of 2: Starship Parts Catalog

As we saw in our previous installment, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas, provides a good, safe home to many retired spacecraft and spacecraft understudies. Their collections are a comprehensive tribute to those pioneers and daredevils who yearn to see mankind reach beyond our spatial boundaries and discover what else lies in store for us in God’s universe.

Ad Astra per Aspera, Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, Hutchinson, Kansas

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2012 Road Trip Photos #34: the Kansas Cosmosphere, Part 1 of 2: Starship Graveyard

Once we returned from the Underground Salt Museum to the surface world, Day Eight of our nine-day journey continued on the other end of Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Our family has seen space-race paraphernalia in other museums such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (2003), Kennedy Space Center (2007), and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (2009), but the Cosmosphere competes in its own way, particularly with souvenirs from foreign contributors to the space race. Kansas seems like the last place on Earth you’d find a dedicated repository for cosmonaut relics, but there it was.

Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, Hutchinson, Kansas

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Starbase Indy 2012 Photos, Part 2 of 3: Ezri Dax, the Real Astronaut, and the Hippie Space Chick

Despite the focus of Part One on Klingons extraordinaire Robert O’Reilly and J. G. Hertzler, they weren’t the only unforgettable personalities appearing at this year’s Starbase Indy convention. For Trek fans who’d attended previous cons (and therefore already had the chance to meet each Klingon warrior), the headliner would be Nicole DeBoer, making her first Indianapolis appearance. She’s known to us as Ezri Dax, a season-seven regular from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who had big shoes to fill when Terry Farrell’s Jadzia Dax exited the series.

Nicole DeBoer, Ezri Dax, Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Starbase Indy 2012

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So Long, Mr. Armstrong, and Thanks for All the Steps

Neil Armstrong, 1930 - 2012When the crew of the Apollo 11 flew their previously voyage to the moon and took those fateful first steps on the Moon on behalf of all humankind, Neil Armstrong was 39, Buzz Aldrin was three weeks short of 39, and Michael Collins was three months short of 39. When I was 39, I took my first step in Manhattan. They win.

It should go without saying how easy it is to be impressed and intimidated by the monumental nature of such an accomplishment, and at what seems like such an early age, all things considered. It’s no surprise that all other Internet news was therefore benched and ignored today when word was received that Neil Armstrong just passed away at age 82.

Over the years, our family has encountered a smattering of examples of what Armstrong and other astronauts made possible, particularly the vehicles and tools they used to break all those barriers and dare the impossible.

The Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 2007. Some were unmanned; some very much weren’t. If the moon landing hadn’t happened, I imagine much of the later flights would’ve looked very different, if America had bothered with them at all in that depressing, isolationist alt-timeline.

Rocket Garden, Kennedy Space Center

In 2009, the Field Museum of Natural History offered us the chance to remote-control this li’l simulated Mars Rover. If Armstrong and His Amazing Friends hadn’t reached the Moon, it’s safe to say landing anything on the surface of Mars would’ve remained a science fiction pipe dream, and Curiosity would have never existed (to say nothing of the effect on curiosity with a lowercase ‘c’).

Mars Rover, museum RC version

At first I thought about truncating this entry and centering solely on this image of an Apollo spacesuit (also from KSC, 2007), which seems more solemn than any astronaut ever ought to be.

Apollo  Spacesuit @ Kennedy Space Center, 2007

On second thought, I decided I prefer this heads-held-high tribute from the Kansas Cosmosphere, June 2012 — a fitting expression of admiration for those great deeds, emboldened by the hopes that someday they’ll inspire and be followed by deeds even greater.

Ad Astra per Aspera

May God bless you and keep you, Mr. Armstrong.

“Fight for Space” Documentary to Ask: Whatever Happened to the Final Frontier?

At the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS, this sign looms over you as you descend the steps into the main exhibit hall in their basement, where rests a comprehensive collection of rockets, spaceships, and aeronautical paraphernalia from various countries that share an active or tangential history with space travel. Man’s quest for space has been fraught with skepticism, debate, setbacks, and major disasters. “Difficulties” is an understatement.

That basement location is an apt metaphor for the state of American spaceflight today, compared to other agendas and priorities that garner larger headlines and weigh on us more heavily in the moment. What once seemed like a top-shelf objective for purposes of scientific research and frontier exploration is now a set of mostly forgotten toys boxed up and forgotten in some dark corner. A few weird kids still cherish them and try to make the most of them, but no one else is interested in watching them play or buying them better toys.

The Cosmosphere has one small section dedicated to the current state of space travel aspiration, including photos of several independent companies and programs (not just American) dedicated to continuing the work that NASA started but now seems too crippled to pursue alone. I had passing familiarity with Virgin Galactic and SpaceX before we visited the Cosmosphere on this year’s road trip, but I was surprised to see that several other would-be pioneers have tossed their hat into the ring to see what they can make happen.

I’m not surprised at my relative lack of awareness. I first learned about the 2010 mothballing of the Space Shuttle program from a 2009 exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum. I couldn’t believe that such a declaration of retreat hadn’t somehow caught my attention before. A tiny shuttle diorama had to break the news to me. When events and successes occur in or about space, they tend to be reported in the back section of your few remaining local newspapers (the same section containing “news” such as “College Study Shows Eating Causes Fat”), or in an easily overlooked article link buried among two dozen other such links in the “Stories with Ten Hits or Less” section of your favorite news site. If we’re not actively hunting for space news, our odds of keeping tabs on it by casual happenstance are nil.

Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt is working on a new feature-length documentary called Fight for Space that aims to update us all on just what happened to the space race, where it is now, who does or doesn’t care, and why America’s support for it has all but withered away. Hildebrandt and his crew have already conducted numerous interviews with scientists and non-scientists alike, with plans and hopes to keep adding more diverse viewpoints to the mix that would push the movie even closer to fairness and balance.

To that end, Hildebrandt launched his Fight for Space Kickstarter campaign last week to fund his efforts beyond the initial investments. At their current rate of acceleration the project should be fully funded by Monday, so a desperate call to arms and wheedling for more money is hardly necessary. Regardless, pledges are still accepted, the reward packages are generous, and I’m curious to see if extra support would make the movie even snazzier.

The Kickstarter page has a short video with excerpts from some of the interviewees already in the can — the likes of Neil Degrasse Tyson, the inimitable Bill Nye the Science Guy, Star Trek: Voyager‘s Robert Picardo, and several studious-looking science guys that some of you probably know and love. (I wasn’t kidding about my ignorance.) The same page also informs us of PBS’ officially piqued interest; shows us a 2013 US government budget projection that would provide NASA with just enough lunch money for half its staff; and links to an hour-long speech from Tyson, who I’m told may be the coolest astrophysicist of all time.

I’m not sure I foresee the Fight for Space campaign becoming another Order of the Stick, but I look forward to seeing this movie, and I wouldn’t mind if they had the chance and the resources to make it even bigger and better. At the very least, maybe they can use the extra petty cash to buy NASA the largest Christmas turkey in the shopkeeper’s window.

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