Week 6: Week of the Titans

Share This:

Friday, July 12, 2013


Caleb Heath

It’s been a busier week than usual. On Wednesday, we went to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I didn’t foresee sitting in on an address by the NASA Administrator (which is apparently the position of head honcho).

The king of Camelot once said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard . . .”

I like this sentiment. It’s one of the reasons I returned to study physics, why I do other things too. I don’t think it’s an uncommon motivation, or it shouldn’t be. That’s how we’ll put a human being on the surface of an asteroid, and someday, on the red sands of Mars. Those first footprints will not be sacrosanct. Unlike the lunar surface, the surface of Mars has its own weather. It is alive; it breathes. The flag we plant will not need wires to hold it open. It will flap as it is supposed to.

I wish that sight, the sight of a human flag waving in alien winds, was inevitable. It is not. It is dependent on our will, our effort, to make it so.

I’ve seen at least two record-holders in the past few days (probably more, though I only know of these for sure). One was at NASA, the other at NIST. The latter actually has a link to the former.

At NASA we saw the world’s largest clean room, which makes an operating room look like a gas station bathroom. That’s where they’re going to assemble the James Webb Telescope. I never realized the size of the Hubble until I saw one of the prototypes in the National Air and Space Museum. Then I learned the James Webb will be bigger than that: a marvel of engineering, requiring the invention of nearly a dozen new technologies along the way. It will apparently lift-off from French Guyana in 2018.

Nicole, Jamie, and I went to NIST yesterday to demo SOCK activities at the Middle School Teacher’s Institute. (Interestingly, I think security at NIST is more thorough than at Goddard. Don’t mess with the Department of Commerce.) Nicole has already been on-site for the past weeks, but it was my first time meeting the teachers; it was inspiring to meet so many excellent educators.

 Please don't feed the aerospace engineers." We tried out the measuring activity, the one with the ropes and uneven sticks, and that went just as well as it did at Tuckahoe. The theremins also made their public debut. Despite a few stumbles, it was well received by the teachers, who thanked us for coming.
























We elected to stay a little longer and accompany the teachers on some tours. Jamie and Nicole went to see the ballistics testing facility, while I decided to go with another group that went to see the million-pound deadweight machine. That is the second-record holder, the largest such machine in the world, built for NASA and the needs of the Saturn V.

It’s amazing what we can do, if we only try.

Caleb Heath