Tag Archives: Space

While There is Life, There is Hope

We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?

Science is the search for answers. Each field takes an in-depth look at what comprises it and how it all connects. Mathematics works with numbers and their relation to each other through patterns and structures. Chemistry observes the process by which compounds change at a chemical level and how these reactions occur. My studies focused on Biology, and brought me to a pursuit of understanding how living things are made, survive, and reproduce, and how they are all related to one another and can trace their origin back to a single point.

In Biology, this latter statement refers to all living things sharing a common ancestor and evolving into the diverse Tree of Life from it, but in Theoretical Physics it can apply to all of what we know and can observe in the universe (and beyond!) originating from one beginning from which everything was jam packed into a dense singularity and then exploded out into the expanding universe we live in. We know this now as the Big Bang, and a critical component of this theory – a mathematical equation that everything sprouted from a spacetime singularity – was proposed and put forth by one of the greatest minds to grace this Earth.

Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England on January 8, 1942. As a young student, he was recognized by his peers as highly intelligent and called “Einstein”, a fitting nickname for the man who would become renowned for being the first to craft a theory that would bring together Einstein’s famous general relativity with quantum mechanics (which old Albert despised). With Roger Penrose, a pioneer on black hole study, Hawking applied the same mechanics of the formation of black holes to the universe as a whole and the pair later worked (with others) to provide mathematical evidence of this. Hawking went on to contribute much to cosmology, the study of the universe, especially the beginning, growth, and end, an incredible achievement for anyone, but amazing considering his early diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hawking was quickly confined to a wheelchair, and eventually lost his ability to speak, but thanks to technological advancements, and the exceptional support of his family (big shout out to first wife, Jane) Hawking was able to continue to work and communicate his results with others. He became famous for his robotic-sounding speech generating device (SGD) that allowed him to speak without the use of his own voice. Indeed, as the world took notice of Hawking and his work, his SGD voice was his true voice to the world. While the vocal tone itself will still exist, it is a tremendous shame that we will not hear Dr. Hawking’s voice any longer.

Following the extraordinary man’s death at 76, Cambridge University, where he made career, first as a student, and later as a professor and researcher, made this memorial video for him:

Hawking was widely regarded as one of the most intellectual men of all time, and frequently was called the smartest man in the world, and for good reason. As a theoretical physicist, his study of black holes and cosmology (much of which was made freely available recently by the American Physical Society) was groundbreaking. However, it was his talent for simplifying complex theoretical physics, and helping those of us who don’t know a quasar from a quantum better understand black holes. His globally famous book, A Brief History of Time, was a landmark work of science writing and offered the greatest fellow minds of cosmology and laymen alike a look at the universe we all share. I highly recommend it, though I warn that while it does more easily explain black holes and how the universe works, it is still a lot to wrap your brain around. Good thing that Hawking is an excellent teacher.

The radiation emitted by black holes was proposed by Hawking and named “Hawking radiation” in honor of his discovery of it.

Hawking’s humor and wit made him relatable despite his insanely higher intelligence, and this helps in his writing in books like A Brief History of Time, as well as the numerous scientific shows he hosted. Not to mention, it also helped to put him on the pop culture map when he portrayed himself (or at least a hilarious version of himself) on shows like Star Trek: The Next GenerationThe Simpsons, and Futurama. He also was a great interview guest, with my favorite appearance on Last Week Tonight. And of course, Hawking’s life and romance with Jane was the subject of the terrific film The Theory of Everything, for which Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing the phenomenal physicist.

Hawking’s aptitude for presenting heavy information in a light manner inspired others to share his findings, including his daughter, Lucy.

Many scientists that followed him, have also made the most of his findings and skill for explaining  them to the everyman.

He lived quite a life, and will be sorely missed by many, but whenever life gets you down,… well, I’ll let the masters explain what to do:

Thanks for reading and watching. In the words of Stephen Hawking, “Remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet.”





There’s a Car, Man, Waiting in the Sky

The White Stripes sang the line, “Maybe Tesla does the Astro” on their first album in one of their most fun songs. Who knew they were prophetic? Jack White may be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to rock and roll, but even he in all his musical mastery probably never envisioned someone launching a goddamned car into the cosmos. The one rock musician that I could see conceiving such a fantastically ridiculous premise is the immortal David Bowie, whose music was appropriately played for six hours as Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster rocketed out off the Earth’s atmosphere with the also Ziggy Stardust-inspired Starman at the helm.

In case you mis- who am I kidding? Everyone has heard of the Falcon Heavy launch from last week by now. You’ve probably even seen the launch already. And why not? It was amazing! To recap quickly anyway, last Tuesday, February 6, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., more commonly called SpaceX, launched the most powerful and one of the largest rockets ever built: the Falcon Heavy. This model of rocket was built to venture to Mars and beyond and promises to be the precursor to manned missions to the Red Planet and deep space. While NASA will stick with the Orion spacecraft for the first manned missions to Mars, the success of last week’s Falcon Heavy launch is huge for a few big reasons.

First, Falcon Heavy rockets proved that they can propel large payloads into orbit, which will be a helpful application for deep space probes and for future colonies on Mars. Second, the boosters are built to be reusable and return to Earth – as they did in spectacular synchronized fashion (the center booster’s reentry descent rockets did not all ignite and it crashed into the nearby ocean).

Finally, this was all done by a private company. If more bajillionaires like Musk seek to contribute to the field of space exploration and aid government organizations like NASA, imagine what strides in science can be made!

If you have not already, watch the amazing launch on SpaceX’s YouTube channel here. And don’t miss the live cam of  Starman and Musk’s personal car, the literal dummy payload of the Falcon Heavy test. We can feel the collective excitement inherent in all observers of a massively powerful rocket taking off. Seeing these enormous objects of engineering genius ignite and rise is incredibly inspiring for working toward space exploration. I want us to go bravely forth into the unknown and learn what mysteries await us, but first I’m going to run around in circles in my yard for a little bit because I’m so wound up watching those boosters land in perfect synchronization!

Unquestionably, the man of the moment and beyond is Musk. Whatever spotlight was pointed at South Korea for winter sports festivities has been shifted to the stars. People of all ages are taking notice of the excitement caused by this rocket launch, like this preschool class who made a model of the solar system.

If there was any question before, there is none now: Elon Musk is the epitome of eccentric. Garnering comparisons to the likes of Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, and Willy Wonka, Elon Musk seems to be an crazy character pulled from fiction. Eat your heart out, Mark Cuban. You have a TV show and a basketball team? Musk just shot a car into space!

Even his company’s name is a mondegreen innuendo. Not sure what I’m talking about? Say SpaceX out loud. Yeah. He did that on purpose. We should not be surprised though, as he’s done it before. Look no further than the one-character names of Tesla’s first three car models: S, 3, X. Flip that 3 around and you’ve got yourself an “E” and another immature, tongue-in-cheek global company name. But who cares?! He’s eccentric! as Dennis Hopper’s Howard Payne said in Speed after stealing miliions of dollars, “Poor people are crazy; I’m eccentric.” Musk, a self-made rich person thanks to his self-taught and formal education in computer programming and engineering, certainly fulfills the role of kooky with a scientifically-centered altruistic intent. His main mission is to help lay down a foundation for humanity to continue to survive off of far into the future, with the great goals of mitigating climate change and establishing settlements on Mars. Needless to say, I like this guy.  Mr. Musk, I’m onboard with your goals, and I immensely appreciate that you are seeking to make this world better while preparing for life on the next one all the while making sex jokes in your companies and products.

Thanks for reading and watching! If you want to send me any questions, comments, or suggestions, then pass them along to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Keep looking to the stars and pursuing your dreams, no matter how absurd they may seem because right now there is a sportscar hurtling toward the asteroid belt!

Happy (Same Day/Same Year) Birthday Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin!


Rey’s the Stakes

Friday marks the return of the space fantasy that captivates our wonder better than any other film has managed, and for good reasons. Star Wars is its own universe beyond the galaxy within the films. Few forms of fiction have been dived into as much, and even fewer have had the marketable success that Star Wars can boast. The sound, visual and practical effects are amazing. Even today, with James Cameron-tech churning out new waves of impressively realistic computer imaging, the original Star Wars trilogy’s effects are the mastermark of quality in cinema. However, the most endearing aspect of the Star Wars films is the characters. Their interactions, their ideals in the daunting shadow of adversity, their growth and development (or devolution) over time – we keep coming back to that galaxy far, far away because of the people and wookies and droids we know and love and the new faces they form bonds with. Each trilogy has a central character that the story circles around through whom we experience the worlds around them. For the original trilogy this is Luke, and no matter how much George tries to convince everyone that he prequels did this with Anakin, it’s Obi-Wan who truly fulfills the role. This time around the fate of everyone and everything is still linked to those two, but is firmly dependent upon the actions of the most mysterious character we have experienced in the series to date: Rey.

As Rey goes, so goes the series. From the narrative standpoint, her decisions and struggle to find her place in the dark and light will shape the course of the story. From the fan standpoint, her development as a vulnerable character with some mysteries uncovered through soul-searching and battle is necessary to keep us riding along. Will she keep crushing all obstacles in her path? In the long run hopefully, but for right now ideally we will see some of the First Order striking back (in an original way).

One thing is for sure, and that is that we need to see more from each character without getting too much about them, lest the the conclusive film in the trilogy lack this. From the trailers it seems that the likes of Finn, Phasma, and Kylo Ren will be delved into deeper, but what about our favorite scavenger? Will we learn who she is? Perhaps the daughter of Luke Skywalker who was saved by Kylo Ren during his assault on Luke’s Jedi Temple; or maybe a granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi from a secret lover of his; or maybe a clone genetically modified from Emperor Palpatine… or she could be a regular resident of Jakku.

Whomever she is, Rey’s study of the Force and her own inner self will determine the direction of the journey we take this time around. I for one, can’t wait!

Thanks for reading! If you see the movie, please keep your Last Jedi excitement to yourself among friends, family, and coworkers until they have also watched it and you have something common to discuss.

Merry Star Wars,



Sex, Beer Pong, and Xenomorphs: Monday Musings on How Fincher’s Failure is Superior to Scott’s (Recent Commercial) Success

Have you ever noticed how beer pong and xenomorphs have a lot in common?

I was at a friend’s party yesterday and was for the first time in my life one of the more experienced beer pong players in the room. This is not to imply that I am good, but simply that I have played more often than some of my other friends in attendance last night. While explaining the rules to one of our rookie pals, the host explained how when the ball rolls around the rim of a cup she, as a woman, can blow into the cup to attempt to remove it, while he, as a man, must finger it out with a flick. I elaborated this with a comparison that he, being a fellow movie buff – and one of the few I have met who is more experienced in that than myself – would understand. I explained that beer pong, like the Alien franchise, is rife with sexual themes, and that the blowing and fingering are drinking game counterparts to oral sex and digital penetration. It may not be as subtle or artistic in beer pong as it is in Alien, but sex is symbolized in both.

But I didn’t come here to talk about beer pong. I mean, sure I could regale you with the tale of how I won a round of four-on-four civil war when I was the lone man against three others, yet that is probably not what you want to read about. Unless maybe… no? Okay, I’ll move on to the main event for today. Yes, instead of a focus on the finer points of beer pong from me, I offer to you an excellent video essay on the Alien movies from someone else. In particular, the video I have included is the latest in a series from the YouTube channel The Long Take where main man Rafael breaks down Alien 3 (I’m not doing the “cubed” notation thing). Previously, he analyzed the first two films in the series, but this recently released review is unique in that it covers the film that marked the point where the franchise started to falter.

Generally speaking, Alien 3 is not a good movie. It is instead the epitome of a film ruined by studio interference, as well as a testament to the skill of David Fincher, who became so frustrated with Fox Pictures that he practically begged for his name to be removed from the director credit of the first film he was hired to direct! As we know now, things turned out okay for Fincher (can’t wait for that Mindhunter season two!), and while financially xenomorphs still bring home some bacon, the quality of each film that followed Fincher’s (or rather what became of the film he tried to make) has deteriorated. Even with Ridley Scott at the helm of the franchise he masterfully started and made his cinematic name with, the latest round of Alien movies have been pretty sub-par, if not God awful. However, God and awful are major themes that are worth looking at in the movie that we got with Fincher’s first directing effort. Simultaneously, we get to see the promising rise of a (then) young director as the film traces the tragic fall of its protagonist and philosophy. Unfortunately, it resulted in the disappointing fall from grace of an astoundingly promising franchise that had hit so well with its first two efforts as so few have. Nevertheless, there is much done right with Alien 3 and you can learn about it here:


Thanks for reading and watching! I highly recommend The Long Take’s takes on Alien and Aliens too if you’re interested. I also recommend returning here next week for more out of this world fun (it’ll be about anticipation for Star Wars). As always, send me any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com.

11 days to go,



“Let’s Roll”

It’s easy to say, “Never Forget”, and for those of us who witnessed any part of the news coverage or the actual attacks we will never be able to forget the horrors the United States endured on September 11, 2001. There are markers and memorials in the impacted areas in New York City, Arlington County, VA, and Stonycreek Township, PA that commemorate the people who died and the people who helped rescue those lucky enough to escape with their lives, so that everyone born after that date will forever be able to learn about the history of largest terrorist attacks in human history. Today, I would like to highlight a few specific heroes whose efforts 16 years ago helped to save the lives of many others in the hope that this will help us to continue to remember them and their sacrifices and contributions.

First, I want to salute a single individual named Todd Beamer. Beamer was a sales rep for IBM traveling for work from Newark to San Francisco onboard United Airlines Flight 93. United 93 was one of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, 2001, and it appeared to be bound for Washington D.C. after the hijackers turned the plane southeast as they flew near Cleveland. The plane never made it to its target thanks to efforts of Beamer and fellow passengers, including Alan Beaven, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, William Cashman, Jeremy Glick, Linda Gronlund, Rich Guadagno, Lou Nacke, and Honor Elizabeth Waino, as well as flight attendants Sandra Bradshaw and Cee Cee Ross-Lyle. They called their loved ones, prayed together, and then stormed the cockpit.

Their brave efforts to fight back against the terrorists who had killed the pilots led to the United 93 crashing into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Todd led the charge to reclaim the plane, first calling on one of the plane’s seat phones and connecting with Lisa Jefferson, a supervisor at GTE Airfone who spoke with Todd about the situation and the passengers’ plan to retake the plane. She prayed with him and some passengers, then Todd checked with the group, asking if they were ready. When he was given an affirmative response, he said, “Let’s roll.” Sadly, all aboard perished in the crash, but their sacrifice ensured that no one else would suffer from another attack. Todd and the others on United 93 are American heroes and should be forever remembered as such. Thank you to them all.


All of us in the United States also owe a great debt to our northern neighbors who helped to safely redirect the flights that were already in the air after the attacks had begun. The attacks prompted the FAA (the United States Federal Aviation Administration) to ground all flights close down American airspace – the first time in history that such an immense action was taken. This left over 250 planes bound for US airports in the air with nowhere to land. Operation Yellow Ribbon was Canada’s response. Canada took in 255 airplanes at 17 of their airports in cities great and small, and at military bases. Canadian airspace was also shut down for departing flights, except those with emergency and military distinction.

The Canadian government and the airports with diverted planes helped secure lodging and meals for the passengers of each aircraft. The following year, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said,

9/11 will live long in memory as a day of terror and grief. But thanks to the countless acts of kindness and compassion done for those stranded visitors here in Gander and right across Canada it will live forever in memory as a day of comfort and of healing…. You did yourselves proud, ladies and gentlemen, and you did Canada proud.

To the entire nation of Canada, thank you.

Finally, a nod to astronaut Frank Culbertson, who was Station Commander on the International Space Station and took the title picture as ISS passed over New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. Of the sight of the great smoke plume rising from the tower of the World Trade Center he went on to say,

“It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are.”

Culbertson also wrote a couple of letters in response to learning of the attacks which you can read here. Near the end of the final letter, he expresses hope that their mission can be a beacon of hope and cooperation for future harmony:

I hope the example of cooperation and trust that this spacecraft and all the people in the program demonstrate daily will someday inspire the rest of the world to work the same way. They must!

I know many of us wholeheartedly agree.

Thanks for reading and watching. As we honor our heroes and remember our fallen from 16 years ago, let us continue to do what we can to aid in the efforts to brace and heal in Texas, Florida, the rest of the southeast US, and the Caribbean islands affected by the trio of hurricanes currently impacting America. Good luck to everyone seeking shelter and to all aiming to help them find it.



Wonderful Whitson

Happy Labor Day everyone! Today in the USA we honor American workers with a day off for (most) everyone. On this 2017 edition of the day, I would like to pay special props to an American whose work is literally out of this world.

Peggy Whitson has been logging some major merits in her career as an astronaut for NASA. She recently returned to Earth via Soyuz capsule to Kazakhstan after working the past 288 days aboard the International Space Station. After her most recent stint in space, Peggy owns records for being the first two-time female commander of ISS, the oldest woman in space (57), the most practiced woman to take a stroll in space with 10 space walks, oh, and now she has spent more time in space than any other American. In total over three missions onboard ISS, Whitson has accrued 665 days in orbit, longer than any woman in history. There are a few Russian cosmonauts who have stayed in space longer, including Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin who returned with her.

Whitson is a biochemist who started with NASA in 1989. She has been conducting research on a number of things, perhaps most notably on antibodies in zero-G. She has been awarded numerous medals from NASA, including their Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2006, and even served as Chief Astronaut for a time. Originally hailing from Iowa, she now lives in Houston, Texas where NASA is headquartered. She said that any trouble she may have adjusting back to life with greater gravity is nothing compared to the hardships of those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which includes some of her fellows at Mission Control.

Whitson may no longer venture into the cosmos, but she is still planning on working at NASA on the ground for spaceflight missions, as well as some other projects in the future that may involve a certain red planet.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, then send them my way at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Float on back here next week for more fun.

Shine on you American Space Ninja,



Totality Awesome

Even though I was not within the range of full totality for the total solar eclipse that worked its way over North America last Monday, I still was treated to quite a show as the moon moved almost entirely in the path of the sun to create the unique view of a cookie with a bite taken out of it that I enjoyed staring at through my eclipse glasses for about an hour as the moon progressed across the sunshine. I made the most of my watching experience by posting up in my front yard dressed in a Star Wars shirt that reads “Join the Dark Side” with a dark beer (porters are made for winter to be sure, but Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is quality all year) all the while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think I witnessed the closest moment to totality during “Time”.

For anyone else who was not able to see totality in person due to being out of the path or having overcast skies within it, check out this video that does a great job of explaining the dynamics of total solar eclipses:

I’m excited because the next such eclipse to grace North America will pass directly over Ohio in April of 2024, which means I’m bound to be able to infringe on someone’s hospitality to see it if even I move away somewhere else between now and then. That eclipse will also pass over parts of Mexico and Canada, as well as Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Maine, and slivers of Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Vermont within the United States. Learn more about it on NASA’s site here. It may be seven years away, but it will be here before you know it!

In regards to this most recent eclipse, Google and Cal-Berkeley worked together on a project to compile pictures taken by people within the totality path to make a short video of the view of totality from the US locations that got to see the brilliant glow of the sun’s corona light up the darkening sky. You can watch that video on Eclipse Megamovie here. As it has no sound, I recommend syncing it up with an appropriate song that fits the time pretty nicely:

Thanks for reading and watching! Feel free to send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Orbit back here next week for more fun where everything under the sun is in tune…

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon,