Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Lunations by Garrett Mostowski - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Lunations: Poems, Garrett Mostowski. Wipf and Stock; 71 pages, 2023.

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Wendell Berry asked that his readers speak his Sabbath poems to the trees. I wonder if Garrett Mostowski envisions Lunations read out loud to the moon, his muse. Whenever and wherever this collection is read, I recommend an atmosphere for quiet concentration.

Mostowski is a poet’s poet. He gives attention to the craft of a poem, employing literary devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and diction (choice of words). He cites a number of classical and modern poets, meaning he is well-versed and generous with naming his influences. That is refreshing.

Many poems are in free-verse form and use creative line breaks, spacing and structure. There are also prose poems, including two separate series envisioned as a captain’s journal and comments “overheard onboard.” He writes a haibun and several haikus. To give an idea of the range of topics, my favorite poem is a moving reflection about the relationship between father and son in the context of riding bikes.

Lunations, however, is aptly named. Many poems ruminate on that silent orb in the night sky. The moon’s many phases serve as a metaphor for the unpredictability, struggle and occasional delight of life. Poems about the moon are grounded in Mostowski’s earthly life, especially his intimate relationships. Though this is his first poetry collection, Mostowski avoids the rookie mistake of trying to say too much at once.

Like the moon’s surface, many of these poems are concealed with intentional ambiguity. Readers will have to work to interpret meaning. While a parish pastor, Mostowski rarely references Christianity. Like the shadow of the moon, he leaves readers to imagine the contours of their own faith.

The mark of this book is that such a reader’s effort is rewarded. Mostowski invites us to live into the paradox: we are moved in our daily lives by higher forces, if only we stop and look up. Slow down and notice. In “captain’s journal: final transmission,” Mostowski writes, “Here’s why I’m slow: … It is because I am away, / but still here with you, / just observing / everything / in my / time/ with space.”

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights, 2023. Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books. 304 pages. $28 U.S. hardback. 978-1-953232-83-8.

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

The other day, I saw a birch tree and immediately thought of its bark as “curling like pages of old books.” Reading Ross Gay will put his words in your head.

The Book of (More) Delights is the sequel to the author’s best-seller. He practiced the habit of writing about one thing that delighted him each day for an entire year. He calls them essayettes. They read to me like a hybrid between a journal entry and prose poem.

At one of his readings, I heard Gay claim that he is a “simile guy” and his latest book of prose bears this playful poetic touch. For instance, sweet potatoes are nestled under the ground “like a fluffle of bunnies.” This is delightful. Also, his description of a friend’s laugh as “like a gravelly hot air balloon … sometimes like a tire popping.”

When Gay happens upon a squirrel face first in a front porch Halloween pumpkin — “that plump butt, those long-footed rear legs, and that tail, buoyant, flamboyant” — he memorably describes the creature as devouring a seed “like me eating a little pizza.” Delight!

When reading these essayettes, I often found myself humming the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.” A gift to be simple, a gift to be free. In Gay’s words, “There are so many simple pleasures, simple delights, and maybe the goal, the practice, is to be delighted especially by them, the simplest of things.”

But despite what a reader might think, Gay protests that he is not “some kind of sage of delight.” He also reflects upon “un-delights” such as the Macy’s Day Parade as “a miserable advertisement for global corporate dominion.” He compiles a litany of un-delights: “being the descendent of people who were treated as property; having been driven from your land; having had your neighborhood razed for a highway or industrial park; having had the top of the mountain where you live blown off; having been disbelieved, or brutalized, in a medical setting …” Gay goes on.

The paradox about this book of delights is that Gay returns again and again to the topic of death. Anyone who has ever visited someone in Hospice will deeply resonate with the chapter “At the Door.” When Gay’s grandmother dies, he eulogizes her, in part, by delighting at the recollection of the unique way that she said his name. His writing brought tears to my eyes. Might that, too, be a delight?

Just as another of his essay collections, Inciting Joy, made clear that joy is not the absence of sorrow, reading Gay helps me realize that simple delight is found among complex realities, including struggles. He refers to a “completely unspeakable difficult time” when “the awful … was really rattling around in my mind like a maraca.” (Note another delightful simile!) Gay then describes a simple spoon, but it occasions this reflection on a profound friendship: “no small balm … to have a friend pointing out, too, what is not only un-awful, but truly beautiful, the truly beautiful human-made, the human made beautiful…”

The short chapters of this book can be read quickly. I tried to slow down and savor the words, which I suspect is also a way to look for delight in my life. This book has taught me that curiosity is a close cousin to delight. And reminds me of the deep, abiding delight to contribute to the delight of others: “It is … some delight when a kind who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again.”

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Anne Whitehouse poetry book Steady - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Anne Whitehouse, Steady. 2023. Loveland, OH. Dos Madres Press. 206 pages. $22 U.S. paperback. 978-1-953232-83-8

Though the title poem in Anne Whitehouse’s collection is offered near the end of the book. I couldn’t help but turn to it first. “Steady” is an elegant, if simple poem of three stanzas with four lines in each. Lovely, I thought, then returned to the beginning of the book.
Whitehouse’s book has four sections, each titled for the first poem: “Morning Swim,” “Signs,” “An Art Story,” and “Blue.” Readers begin this journey with “Morning Swim,” a short poem that dives deeply into paradox: “What seems like silence / Is full of sound.” Other poems in this section often deal with water and death, perhaps another paradox (if one thinks of water as the necessity of life). The last line of “Morning Swim” references “endless waters,” which are suggestive of mystery and transcendence, that are simultaneously (paradoxically) “cold, healing, and bitter.”

Such complexity is further explored in the second section. This opening poem, “Signs,” suggests the COVID-19 pandemic (“The enemy is the invisible virus”) and other poems have temporal markers as well, suggesting the poet wants to ground us in the particular. In addition, I observe titles make direct reference to literary giants, Auden and Dante, and one epigraph cites Psalm 23. Though famous people and texts suggest grandiose topics, many of these poems center on quotidian subjects (a necktie, a book case) and everyday people. The idea seems to be that such ordinary people and things point (or signify) greater truths and realities: “a celebration of imaginary / over the mundane.”

The third section of Steady is longer than the previous two sections combined. These poems alternate between first- and third-person narratives of the lives of Ruth Asawa, Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller, Iris Origo, Imogen Cunningham, and Frida Kahlo, whose picture is the book’s cover. Whitehouse writes a kind of historical poetry, obviously well-versed with the lives of her subjects. Yet in another “celebration of the imaginary,” she blends the artists’ own quotes with her own imaginative leaps about how they might have thought and felt.

I was struck that the lives of the artists highlighted in the third section of this book are anything but “steady”—they have health crises, accidents, infidelities, pain, and triumphs. I went back to the title poem, “Steady,” and its profundity became clear: “Another form of steadiness / is simply not to fall … change happens to us all.”

If the third section shows this kind of steadiness in the lives of famous people, then the fourth section reads as if Whitehouse has applied and played with lessons of perseverance and paradox in her own life. This short, final section is filled with simple delights, which remind me of poet Ross Gay. From Gay, I learned the insight that the prefix de- can entail an absence—“de-light” could mean the removal of light. This apophatic approach characterizes much of the poetry of this section. My absolute favorite, “Bridge Over the Nosterkill,” describes glimpsing a beloved person “out of the corner of my eye,” but instead of interrupting this person’s singing, “I listen without seeming to.”

After reading and re-reading the entirety of this elegant collection, I deeply appreciate the delight and power of Whitehouse’s poetry. Steady is rarely preachy or didactic. Profound, paradoxical truth about the “change (that) happens to us all” is communicated through subtle observation—the sidelong look and overhearing of “Bridge Over the Nosterkill” may be likened to the “slant truth” that Dickinson described.

The final poem, “Late Summer, Block Island,” includes a blessing that comes from the “beloved haunts of my essential solitude.” Whitehouse is clear-eyed about the difficulties of life, including suffering and grief, yet finds a reverence and awe worthy of sharing.

- Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the author of seven books, including Tigers, Mice & Strawberries: Poems.

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Space Races by Anne Whitehouse


Every American in my baby boomer generation knows about Cape Canaveral. The early years of manned flights into space coincided with my first years of elementary school. Each rocket launch was eagerly anticipated. On the morning of the launch, our normal classroom routine was interrupted. We sat at our desks, while a portable black-and-white television was wheeled into our classroom on a cart, and its cord was connected to an outlet. First came static, and the teacher fiddled with the rabbit ears antennae, until the picture was resolved just in time for us to see the blast-off. Swiftly, the rocket ascended, trailing enormous plumes of fire and smoke. In a second, it had disappeared.

All this preparation for what passed in an instant. Then it was time for us to return to our scheduled lessons. Yet, during the day, my mind would drift to thoughts of the astronauts hurled into outer space and circling the earth. I was a physically fearful child, and the thought of being shot in a rocket at enormous speed past the earth into the unknown filled me with dread. At the same time, I felt excited and intensely curious. What would it feel like to be weightless? How would you sleep? Eat and drink? Pee and poop? What would it be like to look back at our earth, as if it were another planet?

Children of my generation lived vicariously through the astronauts. They represented better versions of ourselves—in superior shape and health, with agile minds to match their agile bodies. They received the best training our country could provide. They were universally admired. For children living in Florida, like my cousin who grew up in Daytona, the connection was closer. As an elementary school child, she also watched rocket launches on television, “and then we’d all run outside just in time to see the rocket over our heads.”

This January, I felt the same thrill watching the simultaneous launch of two SpaceX rockets outside our rented condo on Cocoa Beach, near Cape Canaveral. Rocket launches remain one of the area’s most popular attractions, and an hour before the launches, Jetty Park was packed, as well as the roads leading into it and lining the causeway. We were lucky we could just step outside our condo for the show. What was unusual about the launch we saw was that it was a double launch, the purpose of which, one of the locals told me, was “top-secret military.” This is how the SpaceX website described it: “On Sunday January 15 at 5:56 pm ET, the Falcon Heavy launched the USSF-67 mission to a geosynchronous Earth orbit from Launch /complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the second launch landing of these Falcon Heavy side boosters which previously supported USSF-44.”[1]

We looked north up the beach, beyond the low structures of the Cocoa Beach pier, and beyond it, we spotted the flares of two bursting fires climbing higher and higher in the twilit sky, leaving behind billowing trails of smoke. It was a beautiful sight. The flares burned bright yellow, tinged with iridescent green, and the clouds of smoke unfurled in huge spirals as they dissipated into the atmosphere. When I looked up, I could see the boosters uncoupling. Most astonishing was the rockets’ return, ten minutes later, after they’d discharged their mysterious payloads, right back to the launch pad. How did they land so precisely, from such terrific speeds? The show was brief, from launch to return less than half an hour accompanied by sonic booms, and it filled us with awe.

A few days later, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, where the rocket launch occurred. The United States space industry complex began operations on Merritt Island in 1950, when the government established a missile testing range on the land it owned surrounding the Cape Canaveral lighthouse. In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began to launch satellites at the site. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced plans to place a man on the moon before the end of the decade. To achieve this goal, the federal government acquired 140,000 acres of land north and west of the Cape on Merritt Island in 1963, where support facilities for the launch complex were established. That year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into an Interagency Agreement with NASA to manage all lands within the Kennedy Space Center that are not currently being used for NASA KSC operations. These lands, known today as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and wildlife.

The Visitor Complex of the Kennedy Space Center is privately operated by Delaware North Companies and welcomes visitors from all over the world with a variety of exhibits about the space program accompanied by blaring, piped-in music. The Heroes and Legends exhibits are designed to appeal to emotion. Their message, cited by a number of astronauts in video interviews, is that “nothing is impossible.” They present a hagiography of the astronauts, interspersed with videos of children expressing their own aspirations. The space program is portrayed as a quest for greater knowledge, mastery, and expansion—in short, as an idealistic venture.

That was the same message being conveyed in my childhood. But back then there was another message as well. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union threatened to break out into real war. The advent of the space race elevated the struggle between the two superpowers representing opposing ideologies and economies. The threat of war was sublimated into a higher, non-lethal quest: which of the two countries would succeed in achieving manned space flights and landing a man on the moon? In 1959, the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 on a robotic mission became the first human-made object to reach the moon. Ten years later, the United States’ Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon, and Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon’s surface. The United States won that competition, and twenty years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

At the Kennedy Space Center, the struggle concerning the United States and the Soviet Union is underplayed in favor of a message of cooperation between nations symbolized by the establishment of the International Space Station in 2000, a shared program between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan. The exhibits lead the visitors through a Rocket Garden of actual rockets that were built for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs and never deployed, along with two replicas. I was struck by the rockets’ smallness. Models of the first two-men and three-men capsules reveal that there was not much more space than in an airplane economy seat. Space travel, particularly in those early flights, was a claustrophobic experience. Astronauts got their first views of the universe’s vastness cooped up in very small spaces.

In a video interview, Alan Shepard, who became the first American to orbit the earth in 1961, recollected his sense of awe at his first glimpse of the earth from space. This astonishing sight inspired him to wonder why human beings on this small planet keep on attacking one another. Astronauts that followed Shepard have echoed his thoughts. Yet these lofty sentiments, so often repeated, have not led to any lasting changes in human behavior nor altered our impulses towards destruction.

From its beginnings, the space program was not primarily an idealistic quest for greater knowledge. It originated with the military, and military purposes and defense applications have remained paramount throughout its history. Nevertheless, this history, which is crucial to understanding the space program in its entirety, goes mostly unmentioned at the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex. For every Hubble or James Webb telescope bearing glimpses of interplanetary and interstellar worlds, there are other devices beaming back at us, used by nations to spy on each other. There would be no space program without its military necessity and justification.

On the bus ride from the Main Visitor Complex to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, visitors pass the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This building is visible from miles away, looming over the marshes, wetlands, mangroves, and inlets of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The VAB, its attendant facilities, and the launch pads along the shore are the functioning heart of the Kennedy Space Center, and they are off limits to the public. Launch Pad 39A, where the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets blasted off, has a storied history. From here in July 1969, Apollo 11 sent its three-man crew to the moon, realizing President Kennedy’s goal expressed in his Rice University speech in 1962 of landing a man on the moon within the decade.

Yet it seemed it might not happen, at least not within President Kennedy’s time frame. The space program’s defining disaster of that decade was the training session fire that broke out in the Apollo 1 command module in January 1967, one month before its anticipated launch at the Kennedy Space Center. The three astronauts were trapped inside and quickly asphyxiated. The ignition source of the fire was determined to be electrical, and the fire spread rapidly due to combustible nylon material and the high-pressure pure oxygen cabin atmosphere. Rescue was prevented by the plug door hatch, which could not be opened against the internal pressure of the cabin. The astronauts had previously complained about the lack of safety standards, the shoddiness of the capsule’s construction, especially the wiring, and the possibility of fire. That this preventable tragedy occurred on the ground seemed especially terrible. Manned space flights were suspended for twenty months, while NASA identified and corrected hazards.

If Apollo 1 was the nadir, Apollo 11, just two-and-a-half years later, was the zenith. Yet it was a near failure. The margin of error came down to 17 seconds of fuel. The quick-wittedness and considerable skills of all three astronauts—Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong—as well as the essential role played by NASA’s Mission Control on the ground in Houston led to the space program’s most resounding success. That story is briefly told in a video presentation at the Kennedy Space Center. For those seeking a more in-depth exploration, I recommend Dr. Kevin Fong’s podcast, Thirteen Minutes to the Moon. It expanded my knowledge of the program and its young scientists and engineers, whose average age was 27. The moon landing was one of those rare unifying moments that brought people around the world together. In those years after the moon landing, the astronauts spoke of visiting country after country and hearing people exult, “We did it!” Not “you Americans did it,” but “we, the human race, we did it.”

Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the moon; the last, Apollo 17, in 1972. In all, twelve astronauts walked on the moon. Only Apollo 13 was a failure whose success consisted in narrowly avoiding a catastrophic loss of human life. Its planned moon landing was prevented by an oxygen tank explosion, crippling the command space module. The crew barely returned to Earth safely by using the lunar module as a lifeboat on the return journey.

The Apollo missions collected 842 pounds of lunar rock and soil, which were found to be far older than rocks on earth, ranging from 3.2 to 4.6 billion years, leading to the hypothesis that the moon was created from the impact of the earth with another planetary body. The space program’s next step was to reduce waste by building a reusable space shuttle with recoverable rocket boosters. After nearly ten years in development, the space shuttle Columbia, known as STS-1 (for Space Transportation System), was launched in April 1981. Manned by a crew of two astronauts, the Columbia took off like a rocket and landed like an airplane. It spent 54.5 hours in flight on its maiden voyage, orbiting the earth 36 times. Approximately 31,000 protective silicon tiles were installed to protect it from the heat of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The space shuttle changed the way we go into space.

In its 30-year existence, the space shuttle program operated 135 space missions. All but two flights returned safely. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing its crew of seven astronauts. Seventeen years later, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up on its return to earth after 17 days in space, killing all seven astronauts on board. As with Apollo 1, these two disasters prompted NASA’s intense soul-searching and detailed investigations of what went wrong. Photo evidence revealed that a fault in one of the Challenger’s solid booster rockets led to its fatal failure. With the Columbia, damaged heat resistant tiles failed to protect the shuttle upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. NASA made many changes in equipment and protocols to improve the safety of its operations. Today all of the launches at the Space Center are closely tracked and photographed, and the resulting footage is carefully studied by teams of engineers and experts seeking to discover any problematic evidence.

Daniel Tani, an engineer and retired NASA astronaut, believes that most astronauts are thinking of their predecessors when they go into space. “If you are a mountain climber scaling Mt. Everest, you will be aware of the places where previous climbers met with accidents. The two hardest feats in all of rocket science are starting and stopping. Going into full throttle up, I thought of that moment when we lost the Challenger, and on re-entry, when we hit Mach 19, I thought of the moment when we lost the Columbia. Maybe every astronaut thinks of these moments and feels an intense relief to get past them,”[2] he confessed in Dr. Kevin Fong’s excellent documentary, The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Program, about the last flight of STS-135, the space shuttle Atlantis in 2011.

Today visitors to the Kennedy Space Center can see the actual Atlantis rotated 43.21 degrees with payload doors open and Canadarm extended, as if just undocked from the International Space Station. For a successful mission, millions of things must go right. Dr. Fong’s film is a surprisingly emotional document. He was granted close access to the astronauts and ground crew during their preparations and simulations. He was at the launch pad when the Atlantis blasted off for the last time, and he was on the tarmac filming the landing. Atlantis’s pilots trained rigorously in an especially adapted Gulfstream 2 business jet adapted to have the same flying qualities as the space shuttle. Each pilot had to complete 1,000 practice missions before operating the shuttle. The flight deck of the training aircraft was modified so that it was identical to the Atlantis.

The space shuttle was designed to travel at hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere. Its short wings meant that when it came down, it sank like a stone, descending at an angle seven times greater than a commercial jet, with the engines in reverse working to push the plane backwards, and the landing gear deployed at 30,000 feet. Chris Ferguson, who completed 1,400 practice runs before he piloted the Atlantis on its final flight, told Fong, “The first time I went up in a training session, and the pilot showed me the tiny strip of runway under my left arm, I said, ‘There’s no way we can land on that.’ He said, ‘I’m going to show you.’ And he did. You come downhill really fast, but it works.”

Fong accompanied Ferguson and his co-astronaut Doug Hurley on a practice run where they rapidly ascended 28,000 feet and even more rapidly descended, roaring, with the engines blasting in reverse. Just short of the runway, not ten feet from the ground, the plane, which seemed in free fall, pulled up, leveled off and began to ascend. It was an astonishing feat, like the dive of a falcon. Fong filmed himself in the plane with Ferguson, as they went down and then up again and down.

We’re falling 28,000 feet per minute [commented Fong]. I’m looking straight down at the ground. I feel the dead weight and the powerlessness of the   shuttle. It feels like we’re falling out of the sky. We’ve come down 16,000 feet by the time we are lined up with the runway, dropping out of the sky like a stone. A few feet from the ground, we pull up and soar back into the sky. Up we go again, and back down. It’s an incredible ride, the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life – 28,000 to zero, 28,000 to zero, up and back for ten times in an hour and a half. 

When Ferguson landed the Atlantis on her final flight, he came down as lightly as a feather.

On the launch pad before the final take-off, Fong observed, “It’s peaceful up there, and you’re 200 feet in the air off the coast. There’s some sunshine, the breeze in your hair, and then you see you’re standing next to a hydrogen bomb. And if you’re the astronaut, you’re about to get into that machine and leave the earth at 17,000 miles per hour.”

Former astronaut and NASA engineer Daniel Tani recalled, “On launch morning, I got out of the Astrovan, and I stood here and thought how incredible it is that humans could put something so complicated together. Steam was coming from it. It was like a beast awakening, and I had an awareness that this machine, now sleeping in its protective metal cocoon, was going to come alive very soon.” After he was an astronaut, Tani worked in Mission Control. During the space shuttle program, he was asked if the flights ever came to seem routine. He replied, “Putting human beings in that explosion that is going underneath them to get them into orbit is amazing and not even close to being routine. We conduct training scenarios where things go wrong, so we can learn from them. We have very difficult simulations.”

Terry White designed the shuttle’s thermal protection system in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster: “Upon re-entry into earth’s atmosphere, the shuttle must be able to withstand temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the orbiter, its payload, and the astronauts to get home safely. The polystyrene tiles on the Columbia had a coating like an eggshell. The ones on the later shuttles are so strong that you can hit them against a brick without damaging them. It takes up to two weeks to install one tile. It took two years to install the Atlantis’s 24,000 tiles.”

Each launch is photographed, and the footage is closely inspected by teams of specialists in order to ascertain if there is any damage that needs to be repaired in space. Kenny Allen was NASA’s lead instrumentation specialist in the space shuttle program. “I am in this enclosed area with the best instrumentation in the world,” he told Kevin Fong. At blast off, the sound waves come through walls and go right through my chest, while I’m tracking the duration of the flight with my joystick. Then I go to the computers and look at what we’ve done. The imagery is stunning. We look frame by frame in the minutest of detail. Photographic evidence is crucial. When foam hit the wing of the Columbia, it was seen. We’re here to say if the spacecraft is safe.”

In The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Program, Kevin Fong noted that it took five hours to move the Atlantis with its rocker boosters and tank three miles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to historic Launch Pad 39a. Of the rituals associated with take-off, one of the most cherished came about from the discovery that a 1960s-era rotary wall phone on the bridge of the launch pad still worked, and astronauts are invited to make a last phone call to their loved ones before climbing into the shuttle. Another is the order for a sandwich to be stored under their seats before takeoff and eaten after launch. The most popular choice is peanut butter and jelly.

“One of the drawbacks of the space shuttle program was its complexity,” said Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator who regretfully oversaw the end of the program in 2011. The government sought private partnerships to develop a future space shuttle program that would be technologically superior and simpler in design. Today NASA’s most active partnership is with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, founded in 2002.

Nine years after Atlantis’s final flight, NASA and SpaceX successfully completed its first joint space shuttle mission on the Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020, with a crew of two astronauts.
 A second mission followed on October 5, 2022, manned by an international crew of four, comprised of NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. NASA’s video, Expedition 68--NASA's SpaceX Crew 5 Flight Day 1 Highlights gives viewers extraordinary views of outside and inside the spacecraft as it completes its maneuvers, including docking the Endurance spacecraft to the International Space Station in preparation for the long-duration science mission. In the decade since Atlantis, space suits have evolved into sleek efficient machines that connect directly to the shuttle’s seats with an “umbilical cord,” controlling pressure, cooling, air flow, and communications. The control panel of the spacecraft is now operated by touch screens although there are still auxiliary knobs and buttons as a backup. The ambitious plans of NASA SpaceX include ventures to the moon and Mars in the next few years.

An auxiliary benefit of the space program are the inventions developed for space that have been adapted into everyday use on earth. The list includes satellite navigation, scratch-resistant lenses, cordless dust-buster vacuums, ear thermometers, shoe insoles, invisible braces for teeth, memory foam, fire retardant and heat-resistant clothing used for firefighters, space blankets, shock absorbers for buildings, improved solar cells and water filtration, semiconductor electronics, and others. Even the first computer with silicon integrated circuits was developed for the space program in the 1960s.

The Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by the vast marshlands and undeveloped beaches of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. A thirty-five-mile-long barrier island, Merritt Island, between the Banana and Indian Rivers, is on the Atlantic Flyway, a major bird migration corridor. On the day we drove the wildlife trail, we saw over a hundred species of birds, including thousands of American Coots, the resplendent Purple Gallinule, and the shy Sora. The partnership between the Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center, is unlikely, but it works. The Wildlife Refuge is a refuge for the Space Center, too, and the Space Center is engaged in efforts to ensure that its practices do not harm the wildlife.

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who is also a former astronaut and a Marine Major General, expressed his view that the importance of the space program lies not only in its science and engineering advances. “It changed the way we see the universe,” he observed. “On a clear night, I can look up at the sky and watch the International Space Station fly over.”

Judy Hooper, the Manager of Crew Quarters where the astronauts are quarantined before launch, traces her career back to STS-1, the first space shuttle flight of the Columbia. “I came on board in 1979,” she recalled. “It was the most exciting thing that you could ever imagine. Everybody you ran into—every engineer, every tech, every astronaut—it didn’t matter where they worked, they would have done it for free. That’s how cool it was.” Her worst moment was the Challenger disaster in 1986. “I was up on the LCC watching it. The families were there. And I remember looking up and—somehow you know. You don't know the minute you realize it because I think you kind of go into shock. It was so sad. They were such a great crew.”

That twinned sense of excitement and danger persists in the space program today. There is perhaps no riskier job than being an astronaut, other than serving in the military in wartime. Astronauts accept the risks they are assuming, but it is harder for their spouses. Yet they consider the human costs worth the benefits. What of the social and economic costs? Is the space program an expression of human indulgence and escapism, or vital, necessary, and important exploration and discovery?

I went to the Kennedy Space Center knowing I would not be able to answer these questions. My visit gave me an opportunity to explore the origins and history of the space program, reflect on its past and current development, and learn more about the efforts of so many dedicated, skilled, intelligent, and fearless people that have resulted in its amazing accomplishments.

Copyright©2023 by Anne Whitehouse. All Rights Reserved.

[1] https://www.spacex.com/launches/mission/?missionId=ussf-67-pl USSF is the acronym for United States Space Force.
[2] Quoted in The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Program, documentary film written and produced by Dr. Kevin Fong with the BBC, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yud9NHi7pQ

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Tribute to Dr. Kathryn Coe


Dr. Mary Kathryn Coe Ph.D., aged 78, passed away on September 19, 2021 in Mesa, Arizona. Kathryn was born at home on November 18, 1942, in Boulder City, NV. Her paternal grandfather, C.H. Ellis, MD, delivered her at home with maternal grandmother Lizzie LouKate Wilson Jackson RN, who assisted. Her father Percy Ellis Coe was working as an engineer on the Boulder Dam project, and her mother, Mary Ernest Jackson Coe, supported his efforts by creating a loving home away from home during war time.  Kathryn grew up in Wellton, AZ as well as in Scottsdale, AZ. Attending both Antelope Union, Camelback and Arcadia High Schools. She was the third generation to study at Arizona State University, where she earned her degree in English, with minors in philosophy and history, in 1965.  

 She married shortly after graduating and they lived overseas and traveled the world. She had two children, Blair and Trentham. Kathryn partook of many adventures, she studied at universities in Colombia, Spain, and Ecuador. She studied Roman horseback riding with the Ecuadorean military and traveled the Amazon River by dugout with her children. She was always up for an adventure. After a divorce, Kathryn returned to the United States with her children to be close to family. Kathryn worked for the Heard Museum, The Arizona Republic, COMPASS, The Arizona Health Department, and Arizona State University. Undaunted as a single parent she pursued her Ph.D. in Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology at Arizona State.  Her thesis was on the importance of Ancestors, from her field research in the lowlands of Ecuador. Kathryn was a professor at the Phoenix College, University of Missouri, Colombia, University of Arizona, and Indianapolis University Purdue University Indianapolis where she mentored many students in Anthropology and Public Health. She published extensively, her CV is 24 pages long, and authored two books, (The Ancestress Hypothesis and another one due in March). She felt that teaching was a sacred contract with her students and devoted as much time to them as she could. She was an exceptional listener. Just before she retired, she met the love of her life, Al Waitz, who cared and loved her as she so richly deserved. She and Al spent their time at home in the foothills of Gold Canyon when they were not traveling more of the world together.  

Kathryn was a quiet yet fierce woman – holding fast to her beliefs, defending those she loved, and always seeking to better herself and those around her. She was an amazing listener and had immeasurable patience. She was full of surprises and had a wide variety of talents. She loved her family and enjoyed her close relationship with her sister, Anne Coe. Her children and grandchildren were her greatest love, and they were extremely fortunate to have her as their mother and grandmother.  

She was preceded in death by her parents, Percy and Mary Coe, and her brother Jack Coe. She is survived by her loving husband, Al Waitz, her sister, Anne Coe, her daughter Blair Coe Schweiger, her son, Trentham Coe, her son-in-law Christoph Schweiger and her grandchildren Samuel Coe, Jacob Coe, and Josef Schweiger as well as by her cousins Judi Adams, Bill Adams, Kim Evangelist, and Dakota Adams. She is also survived by the students she so faithfully served over her years of teaching; they were family too. 

- Testimonial written by Blair Coe Schweiger