Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Science quest!

"I can always fly in my dreams---but so can anyone".--from a Lisa Debenedictis song

Today I arose at 5:30. I was a man on a mission. I quickly dressed, read my reviews of "Robot Breakfast" (which seem to be turning our split, with quite positive "this is real industrial" admixed with amusingly negative "this is not music", which, in a way, are both true reviews) and then headed to my brother's house. You see, the dawn hours are the perfect time for a launch. I was on a mission. I was ready to lift-off. Houston, all systems were go.

My nephew Mr. A. and I decided to do our long-planned trip together in one marathon day, rather than the leisurely "weekend away--chess tournament on Saturday, activity on Sunday" original format planned. So I picked him up, and we zipped off some 280 miles to the Clear Lake region of Houston, right on the south Texas coast.

We were not idle man of leisure. We were explorers on a quest for knowledge. We had all the amulets, charms, and gold we needed to achieve the high experience levels we
sought. But we needed an actual rite of passage. We needed an experience. We needed luft, and lift-off.

In short, we were headed to the Johnson Space Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to check out Mission Control. Mr. A. slept as I drove, as he apparently had burned the candle at both ends, reconfiguring some elven character from his local dungeon into a less powerful elven character. I did not get all the details, as it sounded as though, like gallstone surgery, the results are more important to know than the play by play.

I listened to Jean Ritchie's folk songs played over dulcimer notings for a while, but then I let the silence fade in as I drove by forests, black-eyed susan flowers, a giant statute of Sam Houston, and more Texas small towns on I-45 than you can shake a stick at even if you have a Texas-sized stick.

When we first arrived near NASA, and were only slightly lost by reason of us being on the right road in the right direction but my not realizing that we were (a form of spell often cast over me when I drive),
my nephew suggested we refresh our hit points with victuals and viands (what is a viand, I wonder?).
We went to King's, a regal place which served Vietnamese and Chinese food. I had a rousing 2 spring rolls, with rice paper chilling my soul into rapture, as well as a wonderful pho tai. My nephew had
broccoli beef, his favorite.

We drove on over to the Johnson Space Center, where we used our "printed by Uncle Bob right from that there internet, paid for and avoiding the wait" tickets to get in. Then we headed over to the Mission Control tram ride. The tram drove us by big rockets, telling us rousing tales of grandeur such as how they don't eat space food sticks and tang anymore, but spaghetti (no doubt a boon to the pasta guild. I personally, by the way, find pasta far less exciting than space food sticks). We sat in the observation area for the old Mission control, which has been restored to Apollo-era decor. I had been in this room before, but had forgotten it until I reflected on it later. I am a really big fan of the space program, and it was so great to learn about this historic room. It was so much smaller than it looks in the movies. It was so government-issue--indeed, many of the 60s buildings at the space center have a "new international style meets Second World Rumanian apartment blocks" styling that is very "paid for by public dollars". Yet amazing things were done there. We snapped pictures of one another by astronaut suits and space devices. I will try to use one as my photo, as the e mail telling me I am "track of the day" on Tuesday mentioned "post a photo!" in a form letter-y kind of way I took to heart. The one photo they took of my nephew and I just before the tram ride (which I mistakenly thought was solely for security, for the unjustifiable reason that the tram folks said so), and then artificially placed in a Johnson Space Center logo setting, showed us to tremendous advantage, with me looking vaguely like a hairless-but-for-head-hair-and-unshaven-chin-spots bear with a baseball cap on, and my nephew looks like "happy, but completely free of any risk of skin cancer through overexposure to the outdoors". But I do not scan, so I will instead use one my nephew took of me.

I liked the space center so much, because it reminds me that people who are ordinary in so many ways made space flight happen by being extraordinary in so many ways. It's one thing to merely dream of flight, but to take the dreams and myths and make them real really impresses and excites me. I gave thanks that I lived to see not only the moon walked, but also the confirmation of planets around other stars.
I hope for so much from science, and sometimes science delivers.

We went through many other exhibits. We each touched the moon rock that they actually let you touch--rubbed smooth as obsidian by the touch of time and 1,000,000 fingers. We simulated weightless on a small ride like a man-size tiny air-hockey pocket. We saw the Gemini capsule, and the Skylab models.

The whole thing was, in a word, wonderful. We spent a handful of hours there--far less than all the tours, far less than all the filmstrips and things to do, but left completely happy and satiated.
I have my NASA baseball cap as a moment of the experience, not to mention my keychain with the picture of Mr. A. and I.

Mr. A. slept on the drive back while I listened to classical music play on the radio. I stopped at Sam Houston National Forest to take a short walk in the rich pine forest with dense understory. Mr. A. elected to stay behind and rest a bit, as road travel and sleep can sometimes lead to more road travel and sleep.

We ate at Corsicana, right down the road from the Main Street bakery, home of most of the nation's fruitcake desserts (but, by contrast, solid, non-fruitcake cooks), at a place called "Sirloin Stockade", which featured buffets for Texas beef, chicken and fish. I had a wonderful baked chicken, while Mr. A. sampled a mildly spicy Texas sausage that reminded him of his late grandmother somehow.

We talked of the perfidies of the second President of the Texas Republic, Lamar, although Mr. A. had an apologia for his conduct I found interesting. We spoke of non-player characters I could role play at his D and D group. We spoke of all sorts of things. When we got to Plano, his home town, we went to Game Wyze, a cool store, to scope out a chess touranment potential locale. Then we realized we had done what we could to defend the Light, and I took him to his waiting father.

Did I drive 9 hours roundtrip for a 3 hour tour? Why, yes, I did. Did I see 100 places I want to visit along the way? Why yes, I did. Did we have a total blast? Why, yes, we did. I have the best nephews and nieces in the world, and I'm glad Mr. A. and I got to spend this time together.

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