Space, the Final Frontier

Friday, May 29, 2020
NASA SpaceX Demo-2 Astronauts

On the morning of Wednesday, May 27, I tuned my TV to the NASA channel and stayed there. Scheduled was the first manned flight launching from US soil in eleven years. That’s how long ago the space shuttle program was retired. I remember thinking at the time that that was a bad idea. It was embarrassing to think that we’d now have to depend on the Russians for transportation to the International Space Station. And we had no ability to go anywhere else.

I was in third or fourth grade when I found a book called “The Rolling Stones” in my school library. It was about a family named Stone who took a rocket ship into space. Wow! A story featuring a family with the same last name as me! It was fortunate that Robert A. Heinlein wrote a lot of what were called “juveniles” in the days before YA, because I read every one of them that I could get my hands on. That led to discovering other science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Lester del Rey. My reading life was made up of exploring the Moon, Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

In 1960, I stood out in my front yard at night watching Echo I, the first American communications satellite, pass overhead. Echo I wasn’t very sophisticated; it was a shiny balloon off which signals were bounced. That made it very bright in the sky, not hard to see at all.

And in 1961, we were all glued to our televisions to watch Alan Shepard go into a trajectory that barely qualified as being in space. He wasn’t the first man in space. That honor went to Russian Yuri Gagarin. That rankled, and not just me. It’s also the reason I was so aggravated when the US decided to let the Russians handle our travel to the International Space Station.

As I watched the preparations for the SpaceX flight on Wednesday, all the feels of man’s first ventures into space came back to me. I couldn’t help but compare the trim fit of the suits the astronauts were wearing with the clunky ones worn by the Mercury 7. The twin Teslas that drove the astronauts to the launch pad with the industrial vehicle Alan Shepard rode. The LCD displays as opposed to the green-tinted cathode-ray tubes in the command center.

But the adventure was the same. We were taking another step toward that future in space after a very long hiatus. Dreams of landing on the moon, of building a colony on Mars, of someday leaving our solar system for unknown worlds beyond, were all possible again.

When I was twelve, I thought it might be possible to one day vacation on the Moon. But after a number of missions—and some spectacular disasters—we pulled back. We weren’t taking trips to the Moon. We gave up rocket ships for the space shuttle, a fancy airplane that could go no farther than Earth orbit. And then we gave up the space shuttle.

It’s been a very long wait for me to see us once again blasting off for the stars. (Okay, we’re not going to the stars yet.) It got a little longer when weather forced the postponement of Wednesday’s flight. They’re going to try again tomorrow, but Saturday’s weather isn’t certain either.

Nevertheless, I’ll be back watching the NASA Channel from the beginning of coverage until SpaceX Demo-2 docks safely with the ISS. And once again dreaming of conquering the final frontier.

Mapping the Story

Friday, May 15, 2020
One of the things I have to keep track of while writing a series is where all the landmarks I’ve described are. Sometimes this is simple. For my African Violet Club mysteries, I had a simple handdrawn map of the retirement home and its surroundings. That included the small town of Rainbow Ranch, but, as I said, that was a small town.

Whitby, a.k.a Shipwreck Point, is a little more difficult, and as I’ve started writing The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant, the third book in this series, it became imperative that I do better than a map sketched out by hand.

Now, since Whitby is based on an actual location, I was able to start with a Google map of that. But there were a lot of adjustments to make. Slight changes to the coastline, moving roads, then designating where the landmarks were.

Gimp is capable of doing the first part. I tried using Affinity Photo, which makes some tasks easier, but I’m more familiar with Gimp, and once I downloaded the latest version, I got started using various brushes and colors to modify the original map.

Then I had to figure out how I was going to show the hotels, the boardwalk, and the houses I’d mentioned in the books. Fortunately, I’d already purchased credits at, where I spent a lot of time searching for the appropriate icons. Most of these come in collections, which means you have one picture with multiple graphics in it. That required cutting out each icon I needed, then resizing them so they were appropriate for my map.

I also had to refresh my skills in Gimp to rotate text when I labeled the roads and buildings.
Making a map is a detailed, time-consuming task. I’m not quite done with the places I’ve invented yet. And as I write more books, I’ll have to update the map. But if you’re curious as to what Shipwreck Point looks like, here’s what I’ve got so far:


Mind Trips

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Once a month, I like to write about things I’ve been doing for the past four weeks. Not only does this monthly post let you get to know me better, it provides me with a record of when I went somewhere, what I saw and heard and smelled.

But I haven’t gone much of anywhere this month except the grocery store because of the Wuhan Virus, which in politically correct terms is being called COVID-19. I’ve always considered politically correct terms dangerous because they hide the truth. I prefer to call things what they really are. But before I veer off into the political, let me get back on topic.

This is the time of year when Tucsonans spend a lot of time outdoors. Between the winter rains and the summer heat, we have a glorious few months of wonderful weather. The sun shines and the temperature is in the seventies and, possibly, the eighties. The wildflowers bloom, followed by the cactus. Those things still happened, but I didn’t see them in person.

Right now, I’m missing trips to the Reid Park Zoo. Five years ago, the elephant herd grew when Nandi was born to Semba. I made several visits to the zoo during her first year and took lots of pictures of the baby elephant. This year, Nandi got a baby sister, Mapenzi. All I’ve seen of her is photographs and one video.

The zoo has cameras throughout with online feeds, which seem to be down this morning, so I can’t even tell you how I went to the zoo virtually.

When I lived on the northwest side of Tucson, I made lots of trips to Tohono Chul Park at this time of year. They have several different gardens, as well as one area which is off the beaten track where, when the park is crowded, you can get away from other people.

That statement made me smile. A year ago, I would have been looking to enjoy the quiet. Right now, I’d love to be part of a throng of people enjoying the flowers. Sadly, that’s not possible. But they’ve posted pretty pictures of what’s blooming.

Last year, I joined the Tucson Botanical Gardens, because that’s closer to me now. This beautiful place was once someone’s home, and when you walk around it, you’ll find little signs describing what some parts of it were. The herb garden behind the house is one of my favorite places.

They’re live-streaming the butterfly garden. It’s hardly the same as being there. As a desert person, the first thing you notice when you enter the greenhouse is how humid it is! It feels like being wrapped in a blanket of moist air. You hear the sound of running water from the several pools they’ve set up among the plants. And it’s not unusual for a butterfly to zip past your face if you stand still.

The Fourth Avenue Street Fair went virtual, too, but since there was no actual street fair, that was just another online shopping site. I didn’t go.

They’ve only just started to loosen the stay-home order. It will probably be months before all the parks and museums are open. So I guess I’ll just have to wait until the Fall to visit some of my favorite places again.

Note: All photos are from ones I took in prior years.
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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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