Personal Confession: I am (still) a NASA Fanboy

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This past week, NASA showed us very detailed photos from the surface of Mars from InSight, part of a substantial mission to better understand the mysterious red planet.

In the agency’s own words:

“NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is a science-driven, technology-enabled study of Mars as a planetary system in order to understand:

  • the formation and early evolution of Mars as a planet
  • the history of geological and climate processes that have shaped Mars through time
  • the potential for Mars to have hosted life (its “biological potential”)
  • the future exploration of Mars by humans, and
  • how Mars compares to and contrasts with Earth.”

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All that is good and important, of course, but I’m going to be honest here. Even if we didn’t receive immediately valuable data from these missions into space, I’d still be squealing with delight. I love watching rockets take off. I love seeing pictures from space. I love seeing people float around in weightlessness, and have since I was a kid.

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Back in the 1960s, you might remember, NASA was in high gear. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. I was absolutely glued to our little black-and-white TV watching every second I could. Like a lot of kids my age, I dreamed of donning the silvery flight suit of astronauts and blasting off into the starry dark.

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And when Apollo 11 took off for its rendezvous with the moon, well, I could hardly contain myself. I am likely one of many. According to NASA: “An estimated 530 million people watched Armstrong’s televised image and heard his voice describe the event as he took “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969.”

- UNDATED FILE PHOTO - Apollo 11 astronauts (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edward "Buzz A..

It’s hard, maybe even impossible, to describe to people not then alive what watching that event was like. To me, after many years and many missions, it was a glorious accomplishment but by no means did I think it would be the last. Just like the twelve-year-old fanboy I was, I envisioned continued space exploration going on forever. New missions. New technology. The solar system. The sun. Other suns and other worlds. An infinite pathway to the stars.

Not so much, as it turned out. You know, other priorities. Most people got bored with the repetitiveness of space missions and their relentless efficiency. A few more trips to the moon. All started to look the same. Once you’ve seen it, well, you know.

For me, missions like our exploration of Mars are thoroughly exciting. For the science, sure. But also because my fanboy self just loves to relive the time in 1969 when I and almost the entire world watched the absolute coolness of space exploration.

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Yes, Again

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People have told me I’ve said enough about guns and the pain they cause in our country, that I have made my point and I should move on to more pleasant and useful matters. The truth is, I have written about gun violence so many times over the last several years because it’s an issue I feel passionately about, it is one that has touched me personally, and one that continues to touch me professionally. You can read some of my prior pieces here, here, here,  here and here. 

Turns out, there is no ‘enough’ with guns. There is no measured rationality. It is an emotional thing for Americans. Here, the gun is more than a gun. It is more even than a phallic symbol, as Dr. Freud might have observed. The gun is our nationally-worshiped idol, as historian Garry Wills suggested here.

The adolescent revolutionary wet-dream fantasies of the  ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ crowd, the Oath Keepers, white supremacist militias and other wannabe Rambos keep feeding our national obsession and growing our civilian national arsenal.

Responding last week to increasingly urgent calls for the meaningful reform of gun regulation by the healthcare community, itself in response to yet another mass shooting, the National Rifle Association (NRA), just the latest in a long line of organizations which make their livelihoods from the misery of others, a diabolically effective lobbying organization for arms manufacturers, told emergency and trauma doctors: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” [emphasis added]

“Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f— highway.”
– Dr. Judy Melinek, San Francisco forensic pathologist

Doctors, many of whom have very deep experience with the business end of the whole gun-worship thing, were having none of it. Thousands took to social media (with the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane) to post their experiences and photos of their masks, gowns, shoes and floors, blood-splashed from victims of gun violence.

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Here’s what I’ve personally seen in the past year:

  • The victims of mass shootings at a UPS delivery facility, YouTube headquarters, a high school and a local barber shop;
  • Countless shooting victims of lower-profile incidents;
  • Their blood, everywhere;
  • Their frightened, angry and grieving families;
  • Our doctors telling brand new widows that our staff did all we could but that their spouses died anyway;
  • Those widows, along with their children and extended family members screaming with anguish;
  • Our nurses desperately looking to colleagues for emotional support after too many hours of too much death;
  • A 13 year-old kid, who was sitting next to his dad when he was shot, shaking with fear and anxiety, refusing to leave his dad’s side even when he needed to go into the CT scanner;
  • A high school student sitting by himself in our emergency department, having just heard that his classmate and friend had been shot dead, saying over and over through sobs, “What am I going to tell my sister? What am I going to tell my sister?”
  • Our social workers trying to help families, insane with grief, through the first hours after a loved one has died.

And as we Americans purchase ever more guns, call for ever more people to be armed, supposedly for self-protection, arrange ever more gun-friendly playdates with neighboring militias, as mercenary spokespeople like Ann Coulter and Dana Loesch continue to purposefully inflame their audiences, the bloodthirsty maw that is this country looks for its next victims.

Stop writing about guns? Fat chance.

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