Launchpad, Day 1
This was followed by lunch, and then by a presentation on the teaching of science by Jim Verley – which was prefaced by the showing of a short film, “A private universe”, in which “…graduates, staff and alumni” of Harvard University were asked what caused the seasons or the phases of the moon and came up with things that were… frightening. The depth of ignorance – and most particularly by an actual *professor* clad in scarlet doctoral robes, bless his brass balls – was staggering. And this is the place that’s educating our future scientists, our future leaders. Eeeep. (Just so as not to get swelled heads, however, we were invited to look at some of our own misconceptions and private-universe theories and we weren’t entirely immune to goofs, ourselves. But this was a gathering of people whose backgrounds ranged from theatre to anthropology to physiology to linguistics – none of us were active professionals in the field – and goofs aside the depth of knowledge and understanding of astronomical matters in that room was astounding. Perhaps we ought to go and offer our services for a semester at Harvard…)
A short break, and then we were given a guided tour of our own back yard, the Solar System, by Jerry Oltion. From the volcanoes of Io to Mons Olympus to Saturn’s rings to the potential liquid oceans of possibly organic or pre-organic goo under Europa’s ice to poor demoted Pluto, the time just flew by and the afternoon vanished.
Several of us returned to the residence and the rest repaired to a downtown Laramie eatery called Sweet Melissa’s (my husband will be inordinately pleased to hear it was a vegetarian restaurant and I had a spinach lasagna…) and then came back for Bad Movie Night – or what was supposed to be Bad Movie Night but we were pretty thinned out by this time and elected, instead, to watch a Twilight ZOne adaptation of Clarke’s “The Star” (they changed the ending, the bastards, which changed the story completely…) and then another Twilight Zone episode called “The Cold Equations”, based on a well-known story still discussed and talked about decades after its initial appareance on the world stage. And after that it was simply time to flake out.
Launchpad day 2 – sense of wonder engaged, captain…
The Solar System appears to have dustbunnies. For some reason that idea makes me smile.
The maths cowed me a little, and I was kind of relieved when at least one other participant wanted to know whom she could call if her novels ever needed such calculations to be done. But we did end with a cool little exercise – watching the “Blue Danube” sequence from “2001” and then calculating the G-force on the space station from the formulae just presented to us. We discovered that the space station had pretty much Moon gravity, and then had to go back and double check whether the denizens of the station “moon-walked” along the corridors (which they didn’t) – and then we walked back to the residence hall and relaxed for a short while until they came to pick us up for the party at Mike Brotherton’s place at 7:30 PM. At some point during the evening a couple of us went outside to stare at the perfect, clear night sky… with the Milky Way etched across it in all its glory, the first time I’ve actually seen it in something like twenty years, and then… and then… we had shooting stars. Streaking across the heavens. Leaving no trace but a memory in the heart.
I stood and stared up at the sky and nearly wept at the beauty of it all, at the pale star shadows of our galaxy’s arm hanging across the heavens, at the bright star that might have been Saturn or Jupiter, at the Big Dipper, at the star that must have been Polaris.
And my mind was fed, my heart was full, my soul was overflowing with these glimpses into beauty and power.
Good night, wherever you are. I am happy.