Space, the final frontier

bg36I’ve been reading a juvenile fiction novel called Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

life which tells the story of a teenage girl living in the aftermath of a devastating asteroid hit to the moon.  The moon is pushed out of orbit and the effects on the earth below are widespread.  The character Miranda tells of the struggle to live in such a world where there is little sunlight, fires, flooding, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and most of all, very little hope.  While the premise might seem almost impossible, people have been fascinated by the idea of the Earth being uninhabitable at some point and what we’d do next.  Of course, we haven’t quite mastered the goal of being able to live on another planet, but people will always be interested in outer space and the idea of space travel for the average person.

When I came across  the Spaceport America website, I wonder really how many people are seriously going to consider space travel once it becomes a commercial endeavor.  Spaceport America is the first and largest company to begin promoting commercial flights to space.  Not surprising, it is located in Roswell,  New Mexico, the famed landing site of a UFO in 1947 and the home of further space exploration from that point on.  New Mexico is considered ideal for a space program of this sort due to the large, open space, dry weather and government support.  Aside from the Roswell incident, White Sands, New Mexico was for many years the home of a landing strip for the NASA space shuttles, and it now regularly hosts the X Prize Cup annual space flight exhibition.

And of course, we’ve all seen Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team promoting space flight for the average person.  (You can see more of Virgin Galactic here.) You can see all about the flights here and also book your ticket, which will run you a cool $200,000 (but you only need to give a deposit of $20,000 right now!).

Would you pay that much just for a short trip above the earth?

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Do you read them?

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This weekend, I finished a fabulous book by writer Chris Jones called “Too Far From Home : A Story of Life and Death in Space”.  It tells the tale of astronauts left up on the International Space Station after the Columbia explosion and all that transpired before and after that event.  I always enjoy reading books about space and this one didn’t fail to impress me.  Not only was there fascinating insight into the NASA space program and the International Space Station itself, but Jones really got into the lives of the astronauts involved.

Part way through the book, I flipped to the back cover to read about the author, something which I do with each book I open.  When we catalog a book, often we need to read about the author to find out where they are from. In our library, we add little maple leaf stickers to the sides of the books that are written by Canadian authors so that they are easily identified.  But usually, I’ll read all the details about the author as I find sometimes, you can gain real insight into why a person has written this book.  Many times, you’ll look at an author differently once you find out about their lives, and in this case, I was quite surprised.

Chris Jones is a Canadian author, and even more surprising, he lives just a few kilometers away in Ottawa, Canada.  Now, I found this surprising because I had just assumed that a book about the American Space Program would be written by an American author, but of course, it really doesn’t mean it had to be.  Write what you know, is the old adage given to authors, and Jones knows about space, so it doesn’t matter what part of the planet he is from.

Often, when I go into schools to talk to children about the various reading programs we hold throughout the year, I’ll tell them to read about the author at the back of the book. I’m sure that this is something not many people think to do, but really, the little blurbs that are written (I presume, by the authors themselves) are usually quite entertaining and full of wonderful information.  Sometimes, they pertain to the book itself as a book about dogs might include a note from the author about his or her own dogs at home.  Or sometimes, they are just a fascinating little piece of information, like children’s author Jon Scieszka who mentioned in one book flap that his surname rhymes with “fresca”, which I thought was useful as well as funny.

Before the last page, Jones included a few pages of acknowledgments, which I usually don’t read as I find them too much just a list of names, but this was just as informative as the book itself.  He told the tale of writing this book, along with the fact that his wife is a librarian at a branch of the Ottawa Public Library and she and her co-workers provided him with a variety of books to read in preparation for writing this book.  (Jones also stated that he wrote the last few pages of the book by the bedside of his very pregnant wife in the maternity ward at Ottawa’s General Hospital. I wonder if he flew down the street to the Alta Vista branch of the library to pick up something to read while waiting……..)

Do you read the book flap notes about an author when you read books?  You might find something just as interesting there as in the book itself.  Try it….


Is it raining on Mars today, too?

This weekend in Carleton Place was lovely! We spent last week under cloudy skies with rain appearing almost every day, but Saturday and Sunday gave us glorious sunshine and warmer weather. Weather seems to be a hot topic here in our area, with several of our own staff consistently concerned with the goings-on over at The Franktown Radar.

This weekend marked an impressive accomplishment on Mars though, as the Phoenix Mars Lander arrived safely on the surface of the red planet. And one of the more exciting tools that sits atop the lander is the LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging instrument that was built by the Canadian Space agency and will be used to detect the weather and cloud cover that is going on directly above the lander.

Mars

The LIDAR sends a laser into the sky to measure distance. This is the first laser ever on any other planet in the universe (as far as we know), and it will shoot directly up from the lander to see if it will “hit” anything above, such as cloud cover. It measures the time delay between the transmission of a laser pulse and the detection of the reflected signal. It can also detect ice particles in clouds or other moisture to understand what is going on in the Mars atmosphere. The Canadian Space Agency website says that “the instruments will measure pressure and temperature, assessing local climate patterns as well as dust, clouds and fog in the lower atmosphere.”

Illustration of the Phoenix Mars lander

This is not the first time that Canada has provided some interesting equipment used in space exploration. Although we do not launch landers or space vehicles of our own, the Canadian Space Agency is often involved with NASA to provide new technology. The Canadarm first went into space in 1981 and was attached to a space shuttle and used to carry out tasks that could not be done by an astronaut alone. The Canadarm 2 was launched in 2001 and is attached to the International Space Station. If you want to read more about these particular pieces of equipment, you can check out the Canadian Space Agency link above, or you can find more information here:

http://canadaonline.about.com/od/canadaspace/a/canadarm2.htm

We have lots of books about space located in our library, and more information about the Canadarm available as well. Remember….you can find general space books under the call number…..629.4

One Small Step….

When I was a child, I remember going to the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa with my family one summer. One of the exhibits was a space module used in NASA’s space program. I can’t remember if this particular module was used to land on the moon, or if it was just an example of the ones used, but I remember standing and looking at the smooth surface of the metal and the tiny window and wondering how this oddly shaped object took people to the moon. As a child, I really had no concept of how long it took to get to the moon or how difficult it had been for humans to get there. But I knew that this was an important piece of our history as people. Someone had actually been up to that large, white circle in the night sky.

I recently saw a wonderful documentary by Discovery Films called “In the Shadow of the Moon”, and was completely enthralled by the gorgeous digitally enhanced films from the first lunar landings. This is a film presented by Ron Howard, who also brought the world the amazing film “Apollo 13” and produced the miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon”, and he brings his immense love of the space program to this documentary as well.

The video in this movie is amazing….things you’ve probably never seen before, and the interviews with the remaining astronauts who were involved with the Apollo missions are wonderful and charming. I wanted to know more!

I have always been interested in space, and although I wasn’t even alive when the first moon landing took place, ask anyone who was and they’ll be able to tell you where they were when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those first steps. The feeling from this film was a world coming together to experience something bigger than ourselves, something that was amazing and positive and life-affirming. We can’t really say that about any event since in the history of the world. The only things that have brought us all together as people, and not as separate races or countries or species, have been things of destruction—-terrorism, natural disasters and genocide. What have we done lately as a planet that is so positive? If you have any ideas, let me know.

You can actually rent this movie, of course, but I see that it is also available for the most part if you go to YouTube and type in the title. However, if you’d like a little more information, we have some great books in the library aimed at kids or adults.

How about:

Space Pioneers : Astronauts, by Richard Spilsbury, where you can learn interesting facts about the astronauts themselves. In fact, did you know that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong actually came to Canada before their space mission and practiced walking around the edges of the mines in Sudbury, Ontario in order to simulate walking on the craters of the moon?

And DK Online Space Travel by Ian Graham has some great links for kids to research the space programs and other space related links online.

If you are looking for something in the adult section:

America in Space : NASA’s First Fifty Years by Steven J. Dick is also a great resource.

There are some fun links online that might provide more information as well.

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/

http://www.nasa.gov/