"NASA to Earthlings. Come in Earthlings."
Updated: Jul 10, 2019
Did you know NASA is teaching us all how to be good Earthlings?
It might not be their intention to teach us all how to be good Earthlings, but when a girl like me, who sees life lessons everywhere she happens to be, gets invited to watch a launch at Kennedy Space Center, a blog post like this is inevitable.
Let me explain ...
After 8 applications, I was finally selected to attend a launch at Kennedy Space Center by the NASA Social people. Its a fun program where NASA selects a small group of people (about 40) to attend a launch as well as have some behind the scenes experiences to share on social media. "NASA Social program includes both special in-person events and social media credentials for individuals who share the news in a significant way." (NASA Social page)
It's super cool and I was beyond excited to have finally been chosen.
The launch I was selected to watch was called the Orion Ascent Abort Test 2.
"Abort test?" You ask?
Yes, abort test. Lots of people have been asking me what that means.
NASA has always taken the safety of the astronauts very seriously. Tragically, there have still been some fatalities. Therefore, it is imperative that this abort test take place because NASA needed to test the Launch Abort System (LAS). The LAS "is a rocket-powered tower on top of the crew module built to very quickly get astronauts safely away from their launch vehicle if there is a problem during ascent."
So basically, we watched a rocket launch and then there was a practice abort which meant we watched the capsule (which will one day carry live astronauts) separate from the rocket and plummet into the ocean.
Here are some photos:
It was a small rocket compared to most that are launched at Kennedy Space Center. It didn't need to be big for this test, but it did need to be powerful and this little guy was just that. At 7 am on the morning of July 2nd, 2019, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launched into the sky going 800 mph and reaching 31,000 ft within 55 seconds.
I saw the launch from this distance (3.7 miles away) and I must admit that tears came to my eyes immediately. It was a powerful, beautiful sight and I thought of all of the people who had put years into this project and how they must be feeling. The launch was very emotional for me.
Once the powerful little SLS had been soaring for 55 seconds, four smaller launch-abort engines attached around the top of the rocket tower, were signaled to do their thing. Those rockets immediately fired adding 400,000 lbs. of additional thrust and accelerating the Orion capsule to about 1,000 mph, to get it quickly away from the SLS.
Once the Orion capsule reached 45,000 ft, steering rockets fired that were created to flip the Orion to a proper descent orientation.
After all of the rockets had done their job, they jettisoned away from the capsule and the capsule was left to fall into the ocean.
The test was a success! The Orion capsule was separated from the rocket quickly and succinctly and in the event there had been an actual explosion, lives would have been saved. It is important to note that when the actual Orion capsule is in use, with astronauts aboard, parachutes will be attached to the capsule to slow down its descent should the LAS be engaged. The parachutes have already been tested and so it was unnecessary to add them to this test.
"Yay! That's great!" I hear you say
But then you ask, "What does that have to do with being a good Earthling?"
I'll tell you:
1. Mistakes WILL happen.
This was a launch to test what will happen if a mistake is made. That is in simple terms and I'm not sure NASA would agree with that word "mistake", but for the every day Earthling, I'm gonna use that word. We live in a pass/fail, right/wrong society. We either get it right, or we get it wrong, especially in school and since I am a teacher, that is my focus.
This mentality has created a fear of mistakes and can cause us to want to avoid, or deny mistakes at all costs. The truth is that this is absolutely unrealistic because, are you ready for this (?) ... we ALL make mistakes. TRUTH!!
What if, instead of trying to avoid mistakes, and create a fear of mistakes, we follow NASA's example and accept the fact that it's not an IF, it is a WHEN and we just start adding the inevitable mistakes into the equation of everything? What if we tested those mistakes and learned from them and went back to the drawing board and tested again, and again, and again?
NASA has always followed this plan, yet there have still been tragedies where human lives have been lost. It has been heart wrenching to watch and experience and think about.
What has NASA done every time? After rockets exploded, calculations were wrong, plans did not go as hoped, and even after precious lives were lost?
NASA has tried again.
Guess what? They made mistakes again, and they tried again and they will keep following that pattern because that's what truly intelligent and courageous people do.
Earthlings, NASA is teaching us that we WILL make mistakes and we need to KEEP MOVING FORWARD. (Apparently Walt Disney shares the same philosophy!)
2. Be Prepared.
Okay, you get the "We all make mistakes and we should learn from them" philosophy right?
But, what if there actually are some mistakes that we want to avoid and we hope with all of our hearts that certain mistakes will not happen?
I'm right there with ya. You are thinking about the kind of mistakes that made it necessary for NASA to develop a Launch Abort System ... right?
Some mistakes in space exploration can cost lives. Some mistakes in day to day life can cost lives, or pain of some kind or another. As much as we can learn, it is nice to actually avoid some mistakes and so NASA's message here is "Be prepared!"
Astronaut Nick Hague, who is currently on board the International Space Station, posted this tweet on Twitter the day of the Orion Ascent Abort Test 2:
On Oct. 11th, 2018, Nick Hague was on his way to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz rocket. A few minutes after liftoff, however, a deformed sensor meant the LAS system was engaged and the two astronauts aboard were jettisoned away from the exploding rocket to safety. Read and watch full coverage here.
His life was saved because the Soyuz was prepared with a Launch Abort System.
They were prepared.
It was sad, but they were safe.
Nick and his crew-mate, Alexey Ovchinin, joined by Christina Koch, did eventually make it to the ISS on March 14th, 2019. Read and watch full coverage here.
After reading Nick's Twitter message the day of the Orion Abort Test, I realized that to the 4 astronauts who will one day be in the actual Orion Capsule, and to their family members, that abort test was, perhaps, the most important test of all.
A Launch Abort System is like a seatbelt, a spare tire, or an insurance policy. A Launch Abort System is like food storage, or an emergency preparedness kit, or a savings account. A Launch Abort System is like a backup battery pack, eating a healthy diet, or packing a change of clothes in the diaper bag for a mess-prone toddler.
You get the idea.
When you are prepared, you won't fear ... as much.
Listen up Earthlings, NASA is saying loud and clear, "Be prepared!"
3. Have a Launch Abort System for your words and actions.
I know the first two points I made are not hard to get from a NASA Abort Test. This third one is kind of a stretch, but stick with me, this one might actually help you through mistakes more and prepare you for accidents more than the other two (I know from experience - not the good kind, the sad, "What was I thinking?!" kind).
As I wrote above, the SLS rocket went up to 31,000 feet in 55 seconds.
Dumb things have come out of my mouth at an even faster speed.
Have you had that experience too? I am willing to bet we all have, and if you haven't yet, you will.
If a rocket blows up and an LAS needs to be engaged, lives are saved, a planned space mission is ruined, but lives are saved.
If we do not have an abort system to govern our words and actions, a ruined space mission might sound nice compared to what could be destroyed by our thoughtlessness.
One of my all time favorite movie quotes is said in Disney's 2015 live-action version of "Cinderella". Watch:
Did you catch it?
Ella's mother says to her,
"Ella, my darling, I want to tell you a secret, a great secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer. You must remember this: have courage and be kind. You have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body, and it has power, more than you know ... and magic, truly. Have courage and be kind."
A rocket is a powerful, powerful thing. There is not an emergency break. Once a rocket has launched, the only thing that will stop the rocket is an explosion and so there must be an abort system in place to save the lives of those on board if necessary.
Our words and actions are possibly even more powerful than a rocket. Stopping words and actions that may potentially damage another heart or life will require an incredibly strong Launch Abort System, but it can be done. It's probably easier, however, to not let them launch in the first place. That will take what Ella's mother told her is the great secret, have courage and be kind. It truly is a magical combination.
If you have had an experience in which you did not use your LAS to stop yourself from saying or doing something that caused someone else to feel pain, I know how you feel. With all of your heart you wish you could go back and stop yourself. You remember that moment just before the words came out of your mouth and you wonder why you weren't thinking clearly and your heart hurts thinking of the pain your friend felt.
All you can do is apologize, learn and move forward and LEARN (Oh, did I already say that?) and work to develop a more reliable Launch Abort System to guard your words and actions. Remember what it felt like to be you in that situation and when someone else doesn't engage their LAS and they end up saying or doing something that hurts you, remember what it felt like to be on the other end. Remember, have courage and be kind. (This is, of course, not referring to abusive situations.)
Earthlings, NASA is teaching us how to be good Earthlings!
I loved my experience with the NASA Social group. It was a dream come true to tour different facilities behind the scenes at Kennedy Space Center and watch the Orion Ascent Abort Test 2 with my own two eyes instead of on a screen AND also to meet great people who share my love of NASA and space. There is much still to record about my experience - scientific things that are probably more in line with what NASA would like me to write. What I have written here, however, was in my heart today and begging to be set free. There is so much more to be learned in the world around us than what we see right in front of us.
One more thing ...
I am older than 40 and I still want to be an astronaut and there is a little part of my heart that firmly believes it can still happen. Do you want to know why I want to be an astronaut? I'll tell you.
Because I want to go out into space and gaze at this big, beautiful, blue ball that we all live on with my own two eyes.
Sure, I'd like to join the crew of the Starship Enterprise and boldly go where no one has gone before, but I'd eventually want to come home because Earth is my favorite. We have yet to discover a planet as amazing as our own.
The three lessons that I have mentioned above can make our lives here upon this beautiful planet so much more enjoyable. We are all in this together. When astronauts go out into space and see the earth as one great whole, they are never the same. Perhaps we need to start arranging for more of us to have that experience. (I think its already in the works! I'll get in that line!)
"NASA to Earthlings. Come in Earthlings."
1. Mistakes WILL happen.
2. Be prepared.
3. Have a Launch Abort System for your words and actions.
Watch the live coverage of the Orion Ascent Abort Test 2 - just know that as cool as this is on video, watching it in person was AMAZING!
If you want to know more about NASA Socials, and apply for your own experience, watch this video or visit this link. You don't get to go if you don't apply!