Tag Archive | science

My Life on a Space Station



What would my life be like if I lived on a space station? I mean a station orbiting high above the earth, rolling gently through our galaxy, rocketing into outer space. I mean an enclosed world all to myself, a world with no one but me.

On my space station, there’d be no conflict. No arguments, no yelling. Peace, calm, my mind at rest. Would it be freeing? Would I feel like I did as a child at the end of each summer, waiting in boredom for school to start again? It could be an eternity of boredom.

I’d need to stay busy, I suppose, or go mad. Ballroom dancing? Fun, but not without a partner. Gardening might be essential for survival, but I doubt I would find joy in weeding. I’d need to exercise. Treadmill, yoga. And meditation. I could watch my own navel.

How would I spend my time? Would I bring the complete works of Shakespeare with me to fill the hours? Would I choose great literature, opera, ballet? Mozart? Yum Yum and Van Gogh, Monet? Star Trek? Anne-girl and her Gilbert? Jo and Beth, Meg, Amy? The Big Bang Theory? Would I study string theory, quantum physics? The stars? Or would I discover them for what they all are, points of light too far away to reach.

Why would I choose to live by myself, in the middle of nothing, without company from any other human being? Would the melancholy become intolerable? I might crave affection to distraction. I might get all the way out there, billions of miles from anyone, only to find that I miss humanity. Of course I would miss my children. I would miss Paris, and the beauty of a New England autumn, the Acropolis and Rome. Mont Ste. Michele, Giverny. Would I miss you? Would I grow old and in the utter silence of a frozen universe, think of you?



Time is a Long, Long Ladder


At some time in your life, you’re going to begin questioning why you exist. You’ll take a look at the length of your history, at your stories, your accomplishments, your failures. You’ll think of your present, of the beliefs you cling to and those you’ve allowed to slip away. And the future? An indecipherable mass of uncertainty. You can’t know.

Time only travels in one direction, even though one’s memory is not linear. But what if your life was more like a space elevator? A space elevator that runs along a ribbon-like track made of carbon nanotube fiber. Carbon nanotubes have enormous tensile strength. They can be woven together to form a very thin ribbon or cable of immense strength. The ribbon is cemented into the ocean floor at the equator, and a length over 22,000 miles long launched into space. It rises up to orbit with the earth, held in place by centrifugal force. That force at the top of the ladder is stronger than gravity. The ladder will seem stationary at its base on the surface of the earth, while its top will be spinning through time and space.

Now add an elevator that can climb the carbon ladder and deliver you right up to the top of the world, more than 22,000 miles up. And what’s at the top? A hotel for space tourists, of course. A real destination that you can visit as many times as you wish, vacation time permitting.

If you compare the ladder to your life, the base cemented into the ocean is your past. The cement, your family; the ocean, your friends. This is your watery world. Now step into the elevator cabin and thrill as you climb the carbon ribbon toward the sun. This remarkable journey is your present. You’ve got to shield yourself from the radiation all around you. And protect yourself from electrical storms. Those are the challenges your life brings your way. At the top is your future, that space hotel in the sky with every amenity available in the universe. What a vacation! You can’t imagine that future, you simply have to experience it. It’s the enormity of space: who can know what it will bring? Since it will take many days to reach the top, you’ll need a few months of time to fully enjoy your space hotel.

But then, probably too soon, your vacation is over and you must descend. Your past becomes your future, your return to your beginnings. The journey is still pleasant, though your ears may pop. But unlike the space hotel orbiting the earth, your final destination is known. Your future is no long a mystery. You’re going back. You’re going home. Your future becomes your past. Your present repeats, though in reverse.

How is it possible to know your future? How can you choose a future, when only the present is real? Maybe we live in parallel universes, where at any given time, what’s real can vary. I wonder if the only way to figure out why you exist is to take that carbon nanotube ribbon of a space elevator into the sky. Up through the clouds, up past the atmosphere, up into the coldness of space, up where the earth holds us but still allows us to spin freely in time, in utter darkness and emptiness. Time is a long, long ladder. But I wonder which way to travel on it. Which way is real. Which way?

PS Space elevators and carbon nanotube space ladders are real concepts originating in science fiction, but currently being designed and developed. Someday, you’ll be able to take your vacation up a very thin ladder to a space hotel in the sky.



Florida Revisited


I thought I would write prose about my trip to Florida in July to see the final space shuttle mission. But it turns out that I am more inspired to write poetry about my experience.


Florida Revisited

I sat on the edge of the bayspace-shuttle
In the sandy green weeds
And watched
In near fatal pain and agony
As the liftoff began
Those seconds of flight
3 – 2 – 1 and liftoff
And the horizon filled
With a fiery light
A vertical prayer
Answering my call
Pull away! Set me free!
A vortex of glowing flame
A roar
And then Pele, the goddess of fire
Flung a column
Straight up through the gaseous
Whirls of smoke and steam
Miles of cloud reaching
For eternity
Taking the space vessel
And the fire within me
Shooting it up
To her heavens
Forcing its unnatural path
Pulling against gravity
Shoving through the dense air
And up
Away from me
Leaving an emptiness
A hole in the sky
Where once there was sunlight
And birds, and natural vapors
And agony
Now leaving nothing
No pain
It was carried away
To the vacuum of space
No agony
My agony had no base
No foundation
Once the space shuttle launched
There was nothing to hold it
Nothing to keep it in place
Gravity is not so tough
Einstein would agree
It’s relatively easy to overcome
Unlike the magnetic life force
Of the epic vessel
Compelled to leave this earth
Careening into space
Breaking free
Leaving nothing
No feeling or substance behind

But over time
Pele will be satisfied
She’ll have ripped me sufficiently through
Tortured the vomit-like anguish out of me
Until the next epic flight
Birds will wing back
Filling in that void
Cumulus and nimbus will return
All things natural
Will resume their destined tracks
Though agony is gone for good
Finds a way to return



Tidal Wave


The news today came instantly from across the wide world, all the way from the other side of a vast and angry sea. From Japan, over satellite, we saw videos and photos of massive earthquakes and giant tsunamis, as they were happening. Within minutes, even seconds, we Americans bore witness to the fury of Mother Nature unleashed on Japanese soil. It was a shock sent round the world, breaking apart whole villages, slamming into continents, traveling 500 miles an hour or more. Though awed by the destructive power of an earth gone mad, we’re impressed but not awed by the immediacy of our news links.

How different the world was in 1968; an eternity away from 1584 when Sir Walter Raleigh sailed the high seas and named the new colony Virginia for his virgin queen. In PERSEPHONE IN HELL, teenage Glory experiences the world more like Queen Elizabeth I than like any modern girl today.

“There are idiots and savages all around. And no one to defend me from them. It was no wonder Queen Elizabeth sent scouts to the new world while she herself stayed home. It’s boring being safe, but probably, better than being abused. I thought idiot jerks were only in my backwater town, but in fact, they’re everywhere. Even a queen has to wait, sometimes for years, for news from across the sea. Savages are everywhere. And the new world I’m longing for is oceans away.

Someday, I’ll be free to go wherever I want, whenever I want. It will be a new world, and no dumb creeps will stop me from getting there. She took some small comfort in her thoughts.”

For Glory, there is no immediate news, no quick cure, nothing to do but hold on tight. Accept the disasters and difficulties of her life. Wait for events to unfold.

Sometimes it hits me like a shock wave, how fundamentally altered from 1968 our lives are today. It’s almost an eternity, a sea of time away.




Ask Not



January 20th is Inauguration Day, the day an elected U.S. president is sworn into duty. This year was the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. I don’t remember this speech, considering I was eight years old when he delivered it. I do recall very well the day he was assassinated. I was ten years old by that time and more cognizant of the world. I remember my teacher crying as the principal of the school announced over the loudspeaker that the president had been shot. I walked home after school as always, and saw my older sister crying as she caught up with me on the sidewalk. I remember saying, ‘we didn’t even know him, why are you crying?’ and her reply ‘you are too young to understand.’

It was clearly the end of an era, the end of Camelot, the end of innocence for an entire generation. JFK wasn’t a perfect president. In fact, with the Cuban missile crisis, we almost went to war. But his most important words live on, and instruct us well if we care to listen and learn. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said. “Ask what you can do for your country.” Our new era of individual liberties, self obsessions, and demands for instant gratification overshadow any sense that the common good should even be considered. His words sound almost quaint in today’s context.

But there was a time when individuals put aside their parochial concerns and turned their minds to greater ideals. This passage from my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL brings back Glory’s memories of the moon landing.

“…it was the event of a lifetime, of a hundred thousand lifetimes. It was July 20th in the year 1969 – the first time ever in the history of humankind that a man would walk on the moon.

The Apollo 11 lunar module. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins. They were the talk of every conversation, the images behind every thought, everybody’s greatest heroes. The Eagle has landed, Armstrong said. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. A human footprint on the surface of the moon, an inconceivable fete. Of course no one could think of anything else.

Perhaps it was the end of an era, the end of time as we know it, of a time when people had limits and old ways and weights placed on them so they could barely move forward. So even the brightest and best could only inch ahead.

Or maybe it was the beginning of time, a time of anti gravity, of breaking free from the old constraints, of leaping lightness, of acceptance and tolerance for new ideas.”

Though I was only a child when President Kennedy lived, I remember the pride and passion that he inspired people to feel for their country. Not in a bullying ‘we are the greatest’ way. Not in a phony ‘love it or leave it’ way. But with respect and pride for the incredible accomplishments of the day, and hope for a better future. That is the legacy that President Kennedy left us. That is the part about him that I will always remember.