[FoRK] A Universe With Untold Hundreds of Stars

Stephen D. Williams < sdw at lig.net > on > Wed Mar 22 14:39:52 PST 2006


Posted at 07:47 AM ET, 03/20/2006
A Universe With Untold Hundreds of Stars

[Implausibly, I was the keynote speaker Friday night at the annual 
Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner of the National Space Club, an event 
also known as the Space Prom. Lots of industry, government types, space 
buffs, generals and admirals. I dread public speaking, and sometimes get 
a bit jittery even when I'm just mumbling to myself in the car on the 
way to work. Anyway, there were 2,500 people in attendance, though I 
couldn't see anyone in the audience once they beamed the bright lights 
at the podium. To calm myself, I pretended I was speaking to only 1,750. 
The one thing that kept me from being completely pee-pants terrified was 
the knowledge that any psychological disintegration on stage would make 
the inevitable blog item that much better. Here are a few paragraphs 
from my speaking text. Please add inflections, pauses and gestures, plus 
the occasional quick glance at the NASA administrator to make sure he's 

When I go into my back yard at night, and look into the heavens, I am 
often filled with wonder and awe at the eight or nine stars that are 
visible here in the city. I know that these stars are but a tiny 
smattering of the literally hundreds and hundreds of stars in our 
galaxy. And our galaxy is but one of dozens and dozens of galaxies. The 
numbers are mind-boggling. I want to pause so that everyone can have a 
moment to let his or her mind unboggle.

So here we are, tiny Earthlings, puny in the grand scheme of things, 
feeble, irrelevant, beneath contempt, and truly pathetic in a cosmos 
that is so large as to be, quite frankly, ostentatious. We want to go 
out there. Now, as members of the National Space Club, I know you will 
share with me a kind of frustration about our current situation 
regarding human spaceflight. Here we are, as it were on an island in the 
middle of a vast cosmic sea. We feel almost trapped. We want to build 
some kind of craft that will let us cross that ocean of space. But our 
best plans are often foiled. So it is that the space program is 
simultaneously one of our most noble national endeavors, and also 
strangely like the plot of Gilligan's Island. So much of our space 
strategy boils down to the concept that if we wait long enough, the 
Professor will make a radio out of a coconut.

It is a great treat to be among people who think about space and care 
about space. This does not mean that you are "space cadets." No, you 
graduated. You are scientists, administrators, CEOs, and commanders of 
your own mental starships. You are the kind of people who, were they not 
explicitly banned by DC law, would know how to handle a ray gun.

So you know the possibilities in space as well as the challenges. A 
central problem with space is that, strictly defined, there's no THERE 
there. Space is a great emptiness. If an unprotected human being were 
exposed to the vacuum of space he or she would immediately cramp up 
horribly. Headaches, chills, vertigo. The list goes on. Dandruff. 
Flyaway hair. And thus we must enclose the human in a spacecraft, and 
provide him with a complex array of life support systems, and hope that 
he or she does not mind when most people back on Earth forget he or she 
is up there. It can be lonely out in space. That's a line from Elton 
John, the astronaut....

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Stephen D. Williams 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 20147-4622 AIM: sdw

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