Saturday, July 18, 2009

One Small Step for a Budget-constrained Governmental Organization... One Giant Leap for Pepsi?

Interesting post by Siemens today:
ethics are negotiated amongst bloggers

It caught my eye scouring the Web this evening after pulling in to Lake Charles, LA after a couple days barnstorming Texas and sleeping in the deserted area south of Austin.

Been thinking about blogging quite a bit lately; thinking about how it now consumes a substantial part of my identity. Thought about it in San Antonio where I was giving a presentation and they somehow managed to merge my given name (the one I use to cash my paycheck) and my pen name (the one that I actually use in daily life) into one strange (to my eyes) amalgamation:
Shelly Wojewodzki

Funny in that that person doesn't exist. Yet he did manage to give a conference preso yesterday after an evening spent sleeping out-of-doors in cactus country.

Guess it's all just a matter of personal identity and public persona. I like to think of my choice of pen name in similar terms to Samuel Clemens' choice to stick with 'Mark Twain' over his previous 'Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass'; I don't think I would have ever gotten far with the pen name I came up with at the age of seven: 'Alexander Lazerstone'. And besides, folks often assume 'Shelly' is a female, so it's occasionally useful as a means of being a fly-on-the-wall before entering into conversations with strangers who are nonetheless expecting me.

Thinking about this identity issue now because the family and I spent the day down at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The site of the Apollo launches and all that. Today actually marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission; it's in all the papers down here.

And so we were excited to go to NASA and check out what kinds of festivities were going on.

As we swung around the looping fence of the complex and passed by the ballfields, it looked like some sort of big party was going on among employees.

Parking the car, I pulled out our e-tickets and we passed by the long lines dropping $25 a pop on admittance. I held the door open for my boys and little girl and they stopped in shock. I turned to see before us a flashing display of oversized images of characters and scenes from Star Wars.

An hour-and-a-half and three mind-numbingly long moon-bounce lines later -- the kids being somewhat sated by a barrage of laser-lights and vinyl -- we finally got in line to do what we'd come for: take a tour of the original Mission Control station.

The sign on the door to the tram depot said that we should expect a heat index of 108 degrees as we waited in line. The constant parade of commercials broadcast on video screens between broadcasts of antique NASA education films suggested that we would be much happier (and perhaps not die of heatstroke) should we just purchase a few cold Pepsi colas (from the vending machines strategically located next to said line). Then our pictures were taken 'for security purposes', but we were assured that we could purchase copies after the tour.

All of this, particularly after the inexplicable Lucasfilm love parade in the main exhibit hall, pointed markedly to a governmental organization both in the throes of financial panic as well as identity crisis.

We all know about the hole so many scientific government organizations wound up in over the last decade. And we have all heard about the identity issues specifically at NASA -- the argument about the future of the Hubble mission comes to mind. But this really brought it all home.

On the 40th anniversary of the day in which the feet which would take a 'giant leap for mankind' on a little moon circling the third planet from this solar system's sun first took the small steps into a waiting Apollo spaceship, the organization which produced that moment was now reduced to obscuring its permanent collection behind an Indiana Jones moon-bounce and hawking Pepsis to thirsty tourists.

Happy anniversary indeed.

Turns out, twenty minutes into our wait in line, all heaven broke loose and Houston got dumped on by a few lakes-full of rain.

We were ushered back indoors, the tram-rides called off for the afternoon.

Mission Command inaccessible.

My wife was about to demand our money back when we found ourselves herded into an adjacent auditorium. Thirty seconds later, the whole family was watching archival footage of each of the Apollo missions, as well as Skylab and the first Shuttle jaunts.

The footage was for the most part grainy and at times jittery.

But it was stunning.

JFK spoke over images of roaring rockets. Cronkite intoned the most incredible of all things in a mixture of newsman professionalism and legitimate disbelief and wonder.

Our kids stared in the same disbelief and wonder at what moved up there on that screen before them.

This is what we'd come for.

Not sci-fi.

Not lines and rides.

Not impulse buying.

Just the thrill of watching rockets and astronauts launch into the impossibility of the moment.

Into what we'd all always thought the mission and identity of the space program was.

My wife noted this evening that it was strange how we'd just watched Cronkite's reaction to the moon landing up there on the big screen in the Space Center's theatre and today upon getting some decent Wi-Fi access we find out he just passed away.

Now there was a guy who understood identity.

Wonder what he'd think of NASA's confused public face these days.

Wonder what Twain would think of the whole business as well; or what Samuel Clemens would think...

After all: who are the ethics of dreams negotiated by?

- posted 11:58PM near Lake Charles, LA.

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