Lunch With Capt. Gene Cernan

Houston Christian’s invited guest to campus today was Capt. Gene Cernan, who was a part of three trips to space; he was also the last person to walk on the moon. I greatly admire his courage and spirit towards his mission and the space program. Though he did not delve much into politics during his talk, he made it very clear that he is not an Obama fan. His primary concern is found in the lack there of initiative to move the space program forward. I must confess that I know little about this topic. Further, I am not versed in the “true” merits of space travel. However, I enjoyed his general message to our students, which focused on courage and taking risks. Mr. Cernan and I would agree on many things, but I suspect we look at the decade of the 1960s from differing points of view. He admitted that it was JFK and the 60s that brought about a transformation in America’s race to space, but in an indirect fashion, was critical of the turbulence that defined the period. I, on the other hand, believe that the 1960s was the most important and significant decade of the 20th century. I did enjoy visiting with him during the post-talk luncheon.

One thing that Cernan stated, which I do agree with him on, is that of NASA’s budget. Congress allocate NASA less that one penny per person. This is problematic in that NASA does so much when it comes to engineering and air travel. Most people look at NASA as being a mere space travel entity, but that is not the case; I do think that NASA needs to educate the public more on its role.

On the 50th anniversary of manned space flight and the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch, Houstonian, Capt. Gene Cernan will speak to his grandson’s school-wide leadership assembly at Houston Christian High School tomorrow, April 12th. Capt. Cernan’s talk is part of Houston Christian High School’s “Passport to Lead” program.

Where:      Houston Christian High School, Pampell Family Chapel
When:       Tuesday, April 12th
10 a.m. assembly, followed by student Q&A
Who:        During his 20 years as a Naval aviator, including 13 years with NASA, Capt. Eugene A. Cernan left his mark on history with three historic missions in space as the pilot of Gemini IX, the lunar module pilot of Apollo X, and the commander of Apollo XVII.  After flying to the moon not once, but twice, he also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last man to have left his footprints on the lunar surface. Among his numerous honors, the most significant are the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal with Star, induction into the U.S. Space Hall of Fame, enshrinement into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Naval Aviation’s Hall of Honor and the International Aerospace Hall of Fame.

Mr. Cernan’s Talk

A few faculty members and students join Cernan for lunch

Picture Credit: S. Livingston’s twitter

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13 thoughts on “Lunch With Capt. Gene Cernan

  1. What a treat that must have been. I’ve noticed that astronauts–particularly the ones of the old breed–will kick any President in the shins that doesn’t do right by the space program. 🙂

    Houston and Tulsa can cry on each others’ shoulders for missing out on getting one of the four decommissioned Space Shuttles today. There were some rumblings that Tulsa had a shot at Enterprise because the ship shares some history there, but no luck.

    It was a mortal lock that the Smithsonian was getting one (Discovery). Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Atlantis, LA’s California Science Center (Endeavour), and New York (the never-went-to-space Enterprise) were the other winning sites.

    • Yesterday was a significant day in space history, 50th anniversary of the manned space flight, and 30th anniversary of the first shuttle blast (STS-1). It was significant also because NASA chief Charles Bolden announced that the last orbiter would not be located as a museum piece in Houston, but instead NYC. It seems this came down to a “political” decision and seems odd in light of Houston’s strong case: the Space Shuttle Program has been located here at JSC since its inception, the astronauts live and train here, and all the shuttle missions have been controlled from our Houston’s Mission Control Center. Your thoughts on the “political” angle from the perspective of the current administration?

  2. Matt S

    I did no know about this: “Houston and Tulsa can cry on each others’ shoulders for missing out on getting one of the four decommissioned Space Shuttles today.”

    I think the problem is that of message. He failed to mention much of the 1960s response to space travel was a response to the Soviets. He have moved forward in space expansion via an international station, but it does not appear that other nations are creating the competition that the Soviets once did.

  3. Lame that the northeast got two shuttles. The Enterprise should have either gone to Houston (based on history) or a central state for geographic access for more Americans.

    Great point about competition spurring space exploration (or lack thereof). Another factor is that once the newness wears off, the public is no longer as interested in the later missions, be it the Apollo or Shuttle programs. The next generation spacecraft will capture the public’s imagination…and then they’ll ignore that too.

    While it is true that NASA does way more than fly space birds and those efforts should be included in any budgeting pitch, I think the public (and astronauts) would agree that NASA without spaceships is like NASCAR without cars. What would be a clear goal worth funding? A return to the moon? A moon base? Mars? A non-launchpad ship? Did Captain Cernan mention his thoughts on this?

  4. I just read an article where it was pointed out that while NASA has been a driving force in space flight, the modern reality is that commercial space flight is already gearing up. Perhaps the orbital tasks can be handed off to private enterprises and let NASA use the budget it has to focus on deeper space projects.

    • I do not see that happening Matt S; I do know folks here in Houston are not too happy about seeing those shuttle pieces go other places but here. One thing I failed to note is that of Mars. I wonder if we can really learn anything by exploring it? Ok, that is a dumb point. Let me restate. I wish NASA would say what they think we might learn. I realize that is hard to do when you have never been there. But, they must have some thoughts.

  5. Carson, quite honestly with Mars, we just don’t know. Some believe there might be life. We just don’t know. However, when we get there (I say when not if because we can, we should have since the 70s, and we will hopefully on the backs of commercial spaceflight before the end of the 2020s) there are possible breakthroughs in biology (if there is other life, how can we apply that here), engineering (what are we using there that we can on Earth), and politics if we decide to colonize.

    Also, on note of the budget, most of the money that has been allocated to NASA goes into private spaceflight. Quite honestly, they will do more. They have the drive. They have the capital. And a lot of companies such as SpaceX and Texas based Armadillo Aerospace have goals to get Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) by 2020. Honestly, America lost its desire to go to space shortly after Apollo 11. Apollo 13 until the explosion was not broadcast on primetime because it was “routine”. Since then, NASA has been an entity without a firm goal. Look at how Bush claimed we will be on the Mars then the Moon by 2012 and Obama wants us to be landing on an asteroid by 2020. We’ve had the technology and capital to go to Mars since the 1970s, we lacked the push and desire.

  6. Carson, I grew up during the space race. Can recall when Sputnik circled the earth and the response it evoked. A few years later when I was much older, fifth grade that is, Alan Shepherd became our first man in space. It was exciting. My teacher, Mr. Fair, was excited and it rubbed off on us. I was 18 when we landed on the moon. For me it was never a question of rationale. It was something humankind was meant to do. The biggest surprise is that we’ve not been back in so long. It occurred to me that it is similar to you doing a marathon. I don’t think you can directly connect that activity to practical and financial things. It has all kinds of benefit for you, health, well-being etc., but those were not the driving factors, I’m guessing. Whatever it is that impelled you to conquer the marathon is same thing that should lead humankind to Mars and beyond. I think.

  7. It’s 1908, in a small town in North Carolina. Robert pulls up to his friend’s house in a Model T and says, “Jump in, Fred. Let’s go eat lunch at this new restaurant in Bigtown.” Bigtown is 20 miles away, and under normal circumstances would take almost 2 hours to get there by horse & carriage. In the Model T, they can get there in 30 minutes. This is an amazing feat for the time, and well worth the effort.

    It’s 2011 in a small town in North Carolina. Robert pulls up to his friend’s house in a Cadillac Escalade and says, “Jump in, Fred. Let’s go eat at this new restaurant that opened in Seattle.” Despite the vast improvement in automotive technology, the time it would take to drive to Seattle is hardly worth the effort for just a meal.

    The moon was close and attainable. Mars is attainable, but to travel that far just for a landing is difficult to justify or get as excited about. Folks are more sophisticated now, and it’s hard to get pumped up for a planetary landing that involves rocks and gas. I’m not suggesting it should not be attempted, just that there are reasons why humans are more interested in tech that involves their personal lives right now than space tech. If NASA came out with a cool new ship for a Mars mission (particularly with an easier fuel solution), perhaps the imagination would be stoked.

    Interesting: A crew of six might require 3 million pounds of supplies to get to Mars and back. A Shuttles could lift 50,000 pounds…so that is a LOT of trips just to get the luggage in the trunk of an orbiting space vessel. That is about 60 Shuttle trips, and the Shuttle program made about 90 launches in its entire history. A trip to Mars would be a formidable, exciting, and expensive challenge…but would it be much ado about going for lunch in Seattle?

  8. Historically humans have wanted to explore the most inhospitable regions possible. The Artic, the Antarctic, making a sea voyage across the Atlantic, exploring the Louisiana Purchase. Now let’s look at the ones that were successful.

    In an effort to find a Northwest Passage, the British Navy spends millions to explore the Artic. More precisely 300 tonnes displaced by two ships, and 127 men. The supplies included: provisions and fuel, fine china, silver, copies of “Punch” and dress uniform with brass buttons. Basically, the Navy was prepared. This expedition set sail on May 19, 1845. After June 25 of that year, the 127 man crew was lost. Similar fates were met by other such expeditions between 1848 and 1859. Roald Amundsen was one of the few who survived. How? Not by packing more, but packing less, living off what was already good and beneficial in the native environment, and staying small.

    What I’m getting at is that when people hear “space exploration”, they naturally gravitate to massive ships carry obscene amounts of cargo with large crews. Quite frankly, that’s wasteful and unnecessary. Since 1990, Robert Zubrin has been pushing for a plan he calls “Mars Direct”. Basically, one Ares V style mission would go to Mars carrying a single 45 tonne, unmanned payload. The Earth Return Vehicle (ERV). That mission will have only enough fuel to get the ERV to Mars. Once on Mars, using a simple chemical reaction will generate all the fuel for the flight home.

    After about 1 1/2 years on Martian soil, humans are sent on a course to Mars. This mission will carry the habitation module and crew of four. After a 1/2 year flight, the crew will arrive on Mars where they will spend about 500 days on the surface exploring. The extra time means that less fuel will be consumed on the way back compared to a 30 day “quick mission” that forces bad burns to catch up to Earth.
    After that, another 1/2 a year flight from Mars back to Earth in the ERV and mission complete. The hab capsule is left including a greenhouse, scientific instruments, and a startup for the refueling process for the next mission. And the cycle repeats. Another hab unit would be sent shortly after crew one left for Mars. Two launches a year during peak time. 3 years of flight and study on Mars. The price tab? $20 billion startup for all the vehicles and $2 billion per mission after.

    As you see that 3 million lbs. isn’t needed. The crew can live simply, well, and safely on much left with a little thought. Beyond that, the Apollo missions jumpstarted the American science and technology industries in the 1960s, pumping $70 million dollars (adjusted for inflation) into these industries. The moon was there and we could reach it quick. Mars is there and if we don’t go for frilly missions that will pack everything and the kitchen sink, in orbit refueling, Moon base launches, and little time on Mars once there, there is no reason to not go, and not go now.

  9. Good stuff, James! Here’s what is crazy: based on the Direct Mars plan, we pretty much have the earth-to-space rocket tech we need for that mission. So what does Congress do in the recently passed 2011 budget? They tell NASA to spend “not less than $3 billion” on a new heavy-launch/new space vehicle.

    Now, NASA did not say, “Hey, we need a pile of dough to make a new rocket system.” In fact, NASA might be a little irritated at being told what to do by a group of politicians that don’t know what they are talking about. Apparently, elected officials are getting an earful from nervous companies that make rocket/shuttle parts. If NASA curtails launching things into orbit, these companies could lose a lot of business. By saying to spend “not less” than $3 billion on a ship, it prevents NASA from redirecting the money to other projects.

    I don’t know that it is practical, but the competitive side of me wants to stay on pace or ahead of China and Russia when it comes to space exploration. My only quibble is if NASA sees a better way to go but they are stuck building stuff that slows them down. There are economics and jobs to be considered, but the pace of technology is going to require adaptation. I’d rather see a clear request (Arnold impersonation from Total Recall: “Get your ass to Mars.”) and let NASA figure out where best to put the resources to make it happen, ship or no ship.

  10. And that is why I have very little faith in NASA currently. Which is sad. I wanted to be an astronaut for NASA since I was in 3rd grade. Unfortunately, it is a government beauracracy that is so wrapped in red tape to actually do something productive.

    Cue SpaceX. They already have had a successfull launch of the Dragon capsule on top of the Falcon 9 rocket. Their current project, slated to be ready to go by 2014, is the Falcon 9 Heavy. Two of these will have the same tonnage as a single Saturn V. The price tag for one is $80- 125 million. Basically a fraction of the price of a single Moon mission. We have the tech. We will soon have the rocket. NASA has already promised $37 million to SpaceX to complete it. We have an organization that will get us there. We need a crew basically to get us to Mars by 2020.

  11. Pingback: More on the Shuttle Program | The Professor

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