Cassini’s Final Breath in Poetry

Waiting for the Last Wave

“Cassini Significant Events Email – Friday, Sept. 15 (DOY 258)
…As Saturn set in the western California sky, the DSN stations in Australia locked onto the spacecraft’s signal as Saturn rose above their eastern horizon…”

We wait on echoes
from the near past
the spearing death cry
from the just silenced mouth
the quintessential sitting
watching and waiting
generations mourn in synced frequencies
higher and lower together
we are all precious
fleeting folk

“…as Cassini continued to faithfully follow the commands it had received months before…”

Is the echo part of the life
still alive
last cry like a geyser spraying
up and out

“…Data continued to flow, and every bit of telemetry was captured at the Australian DSN stations…”

In silence, we watch each other
eyesight embraces eyesight
hands pass a jar of peanuts
fingers kiss fingers
ears watch for the living wave
ready to capture

“…As it tumbled out of control, within minutes Cassini had come apart, melted, and vaporized into its host planet.”

The last echo dying gives us permission
to cry.

Poet’s Note:

For NASA’s complete email text, see the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s weekly Significant Events email, 9/13/17 ­ 9/19/17.

For more Cassini-inspired poetry, try Poetry for the Grand Finale.

Saturn on the rocks

“She climbs slowly, precisely, / With unwasted grace.”

–Kenneth Rexroth, “On What Planet”

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Saturn, Rhea and Mimas by Elisabetta Bonora, Savona, Italy, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/E. Bonora

On the Poetry Foundation’s website can be found wonderful poems like the myriad moons of Saturn. And in at least a couple of those poems, the planet Saturn becomes a principal character. Such is Kenneth Rexroth’s beautiful poem, “On What Planet.” The poem is not about Saturn, but about adventure-seeking rock climbers. Short and sweet, and with a delightful audio performance by the poet, this one is a gem. Check it out.

On What Planet

Note the “Amateur Images” logo on the above picture. This image also deserves a couple of minutes of your time. Let the video and web analyst herself explain the journey this vista took from Cassini’s camera, to her computer, to ours.

Saturn, Rhea and Mimas by Elisabetta Bonora

The Cassini spacecraft ends its two-decade mission on the morning of September 15th. It will have been one of the great flagship missions of space exploration. For more information, visit NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit.

To stay in the poetry vein, try Papery Cassini Farewell.

Mother, Son, and Saturn

“He loves the buoyant, frictionless / plate / his father has in focus.”

–Stefanie Marlis, “Saturn”

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Cassini’s first color composite of Saturn, the moon Titan visible at upper-left, imaged from 177 million miles away in October of 2002, Credit: NASA/JPL/Southwest Research Institute

As we get ready to say goodbye to the Cassini spacecraft, I hope you’ll take this chance to read an example of Saturn embedded in our culture, as well as our individual psyches. Stefanie Marlis’s poem, quoted above, is a wonderful and pointed glimpse into the matriarchal mind, in relation to an imperfect but precious and promising child. Saturn makes a crucial appearance at the end. Short poem. Quite accessible. Give it a try:

Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft ends its two-decade mission on the morning of September 15th. It will have been one of the great flagship missions of space exploration. For more information, visit NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit.

To stay in the poetry vein, try Papery Cassini Farewell.

Readying for the goodbye kiss

When you make one final flyby of Titan, before disintegrating in Saturn’s clouds, you experience a gravitational nudge which scientists call “the goodbye kiss.” If you experience this kiss, your name must be Cassini. And you must be nearing the morning of September 15, 2017–the last day of your life.

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Artist’s depiction of the Cassini space probe descending into Saturn’s atmosphere, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in 2012, I thought it might be the greatest space achievement to occur in my life. I supposed, this is my generation’s Apollo 11 moment. However, as the end of the Cassini mission approaches, I realize its finale may be the most meaningful, albeit bittersweet, moment of my space-enthusiast life.

Cassini’s two-decade mission has spanned my adulthood years. I plan to do some poetry blogging here in the coming days to process that fact. Hopefully the output will be enjoyable for any who stop by Lit for Space. Bottom line, I need to savor this finale. I’m even taking the day off work on September 15th and plan to be glued to NASA TV that morning.

I strongly urge readers to take special note of this grand mission’s passing. For the public, at an absolute minimum, Cassini has provided some of the most awe-inspiring imagery of our solar system. The scientific data collected has made and will continue to make entire careers for some of the world’s brightest scholars. Indeed, Cassini’s success makes us a little less ignorant of the universe in which we struggle to survive.

To explore Cassini’s mission, try this starting point: NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit. Here is a brief yet epic video dramatization of what is about to happen.

 

Eagle vs. Armadillo in NASA Rhetoric

“…we can’t keep living off Apollo’s bounty. Currently, the hair of a scientist can turn gray waiting to get their first experiment on the shuttle, let alone the necessary follow-up research.”

—Daniel S. Goldin, NASA Administrator

Yesterday I went digging for speeches by former NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. And these days digging is what you must do to find archival material on nasa.gov, especially bookish things like administrator speeches. I dug, dug, dug, like an armadillo you might say.

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Daniel S. Goldin, Image Credit: NASA

I wound up at the out-of-the-way, but highly useful, NASA NTRS webpage (NASA Technical Reports Server). They dished me up an interesting speech Mr. Goldin gave at the Space Station Utilization Conference held in Huntsville, Alabama on August 4, 1992. He spoke about Space Station Freedom, the conceptual precursor to our International Space Station.

You are hereby invited to ditch my blog and read the three-page speech in its entirety:

Goldin Speech on Space Station Freedom

In a culture where all NASA speeches exist in the shadow of that one President Kennedy gave (you know the one), it’s understandable this address ended up tucked away in an archive. After all, it promotes a Reagan Era space station that was never actually built. Yet, with impassioned tone, Goldin’s speech effectively lays out the rationale for putting a continuously inhabited laboratory in Low Earth Orbit.

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Artist concept image of Space Station Freedom by Tom Buzbee, Image Credit: NASA

On a literary level, I most enjoyed mulling over Goldin’s use of an animal kingdom analogy, which he borrowed from NASA Scientist Rick Chappell. The analogy contrasts a soaring eagle with a scurrying armadillo. In short, when it comes to research and exploration we need to be like an eagle, not an armadillo. Why? Goldin and Chappell portray the high-soaring eagle as having a wise long-range mindset. The burrowing armadillo, however, only cares about finding its next meal.

Zoologists may be better equipped to weigh the merits of denigrating armadillos simply because they cannot fly. I believe there is both engineering and literary merit in honoring critters who are good on the ground. Still, Americans have long loved their eagle mascot for good reasons. Any metaphor which clarifies the wisdom of keen vision and long-term, broad-perspective thinking has merit.

Now, if only for the fun of it, here are a few words in favor of the armadillo. In recent decades both Hollywood and the aerospace industry have given this creature nods. Google “Armageddon Armadillo” and “Armadillo Aerospace” to see this animal’s rocky road to iconic status. While you’re at it, for a chuckle do an image search on the “pink fairy armadillo.” Now there’s a cute little armored critter for you!

Getting back to Goldin’s speech, we can look at today’s International Space Station and see the remarkable achievement of continual human presence in space. The day-to-day research and public-private partnerships Goldin envisioned in 1992 have come to fruition. But, in a quest for clever analogies, we could also look at the hardworking occupants of the ISS as they tunnel through the station’s interior, or scurry about the exterior wearing protective layers. We can observe them busily engaged in domicile maintenance and resupply missions. Do they seem more like eagles or armadillos?

Farewell to Charles Bolden: NASA Administrator

He saw me! Administrator Bolden noticed me!

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NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden speaking at the Newseum in 2015, flanked by a model of the Hubble Space Telescope, Image Credit: Jake Christensen

Okay, I was a bit star struck. The above encounter involved me shuffling along the front of the stage in jeans and a NASA t-shirt as Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, looked over his speech prior to a televised press conference. The encounter took place shortly before a 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Hubble Space Telescope, held at the Newseum in downtown Washington D.C. I attended as part of a NASA Social.

Full disclosure: I passed in front of the small stage by myself. I am 6′ 1″, chubby, and had a big NASA “meatball” logo on my chest; the man had no choice but to notice me. Furthermore I was sheepish and failed to say hello or even nod. But still, for a moment, the leader of our nation’s space program took note of me.

That was April 23, 2015. On January 20th of this year, Bolden resigned as NASA’s Administrator. He will be missed at the helm.

Portrait of Charles Bolden, NASA
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

From my perspective, Administrator Bolden oversaw an era of robotic space exploration that may be called a golden age. As an astronaut, he played a firsthand role in deploying and maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope. As Administrator he oversaw some of our greatest missions: Cassini (Saturn), Curiosity (Mars), and New Horizons (Pluto). My “golden age” assertion comes by way of the incredible joy and sense of adventure I have experienced as a space enthusiast in recent years.

In honor of Major General Bolden, here are a couple of quotes from an address he gave in 2012 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Notwithstanding his own considerable accomplishments at NASA and in the Marines, Bolden expressed awe standing at the same podium once used by Dr. King. Bolden’s profound remarks note a unity of purpose while contrasting King’s non-violent work with his own military service. The full speech, only a few pages, is well worth the read:

Charles F. Bolden’s Remarks, 44th Annual MLK Commerative Service

“Modern man has brought this whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. … We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

—Martin Luther King, 1964, quoted by Charles Bolden

“I am proud to serve a President and a country that have given NASA the mandate and the resources to honor Dr. King’s dream by reaching new heights and revealing the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

—Charles Bolden

Here is a previous post about Administrator Bolden’s Senate Confirmation remarks:

Crisis, Thy Name is Muse

‘Hidden Figures’ reach the silver screen

For those of us always craving the next Apollo 13, The Martian, or The Right Stuff, January of 2017 brings us Hidden Figures. This historical drama (with heartfelt comedy and thrilling action mixed in) tells the story of women who helped NASA send humans into space. Here is the official trailer:

Though Hidden Figures begs comparisons like the ones I made above, as I watched it I kept thinking of The Three Musketeers. This isn’t a swashbuckling action film. The lead characters wield math and management skills in lieu of rapiers. Nevertheless, Hidden Figures depicts a heroic trio navigating the realms of power, intrigue, and ambition.

Actors Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe depict three of the African American women who broke through race and gender barriers during the early days of NASA. They do so as walking, talking, calculating computers. Like the Three Musketeers, and many of the actors who’ve portrayed them, they bring confidence, gravitas, and zeal to their excellent performances. At the end of the opening weekend matinee I attended, people clapped (including me).

Hidden Figures safely earns a family-friendly PG rating, but manages to bring all the intensity of the subject material. It does so via tasteful, briskly-paced storytelling whose ultimate feel is inspirational. I highly recommend seeing this film.