Tuesday, May 27, 2014

StarLight Festival Wrap Up

A lot of people had a pretty good time at last weekend's StarLight Festival in Big Bear.

I was there telling folks about IDA and light pollution. There were lots of great activities and talks. It was wonderful to meet so many new people and see some old friends again. The weather for the star parties was pretty good and many people got to look at Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and more through a telescope for the very first time and that is always a cool thing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

StarLight Festival in Big Bear!

In just under 10 days the first annual StarLight Festival will take place in Big Bear California. It will be an amazing celebration of astronomy and the night.

I'll be there representing the International Dark-Sky Association and I'll be giving a talk on Saturday at 1 pm. If you are in the area be sure to come on over and check it out. They have an amazing list of events that will be taking place during the Festival that you wont want to miss.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Star Trek: Amok Time

It has been quite sometime since I have covered an episode of classic Star Trek, so let me continue my slow march through the original series with the next episode:
For many people Amok Time ranks as a top ten episode. It kicked off season two, providing the first look at the planet Vulcan and a different side of Mr. Spock.

The first part of the episode shows that something is clearly wrong with Spock. We see him angry, forgetful, and out of control. He rejects some Vulcan soup that Nurse Chapel made for him and then later we see him in his quarters looking a pictures of a little girl.
Yeah, that's creepy.

Spock requests to have shore leave on Vulcan, but the Enterprise can't make it as they have to be at diplomatic function on Altair instead.
When Kirk ask Chekov how late they'll be if they divert to Vulcan to drop Spock off, Chekov reports that Spock already ordered a course change - for Vulcan. When confronted by Kirk, Spock doesn't deny it, but he does not remember giving the order.
The back and forth on the course changes does lead to a few a nice exchanges between Sulu and Chekov, like this one:
Sulu: "How do you figure it, Chekov? First we're going to Vulcan, then we're going to Altair. Then we're headed to Vulcan again, and now we're headed back to Altair."
Checkov: "I think I'm going to get space sick."
Kirk finally gets Spock to be examined by McCoy who later explains to Kirk that Spock will die if they don't get him to Vulcan within a week.
Seriously, what's with the skulls in McCoy's office?

When pressed, Spock finally explains to Kirk what it is all about.
"Well, there's no need to be embarrassed about it, Mister Spock.
It happens to the birds and the bees."
Eventually, Spock explains that there's a bit more to it than that:
"I'd hoped I would be spared this, but the ancient drives are too strong. Eventually, they catch up with us, and we are driven by forces we cannot control to return home and take a wife. Or die."
Kirk decides to violate orders and get Spock to Vulcan. We learn that he is to marry T'Pring. Spock explains that there is a brief ceremony and invites Kirk and McCoy to attend.
Kirk is impressed that T'Pau is the one 'officiating' at Spock's wedding. Actress Celia Lovsky played T'Pau with grace, gravitas and a cool foreign accent.
All seems to be going according to plan until T'Pring issues a challenge to Spock. It seems that he will have to fight for her.
The first surprise is that she chooses Kirk as her challenger. Kirk accepts figuring that Spock isn't in the best of shape right now. As he explains to McCoy, "If I get into any trouble, I'll quit. Spock wins, and honor is satisfied."
The second surprise is that the fight is to the death.

Composer Gerald Fried scored Amok Time creating a musical theme for Spock that would get a lot of traction in future episodes, but his music for the fight between Kirk and Spock is perhaps the most iconic of the entire series. It has shown up in YouTube videos of cats fighting. Jim Carrey mimics it in The Cable Guy. Composer Michael Giacchino even quoted the theme for his score for Star Trek Into Darkness.

You'll find all of Fried's Amok Time score on the wonderful  LA-LA Land Records boxed set release of all the music for the original Star Trek.
Kirk survives the first round of the fight, but the thin air isn't helping him. McCoy gives him a tri-ox shot to help him out, but Spock prevails. Kirk is dead.
Spock asks T'Pring to explain her challenge:
"You have become much known among our people, Spock. Almost a legend. And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend. But by the laws of our people, I could only divorce you by the kal-if-fee. There was also Stonn, who wanted very much to be my consort, and I wanted him. If your Captain were victor, he would not want me, and so I would have Stonn. If you were victor you would free me because I had dared to challenge, and again I would have Stonn. But if you did not free me, it would be the same. For you would be gone, and I would have your name and your property, and Stonn would still be there."
Spock tells Stonn: "She is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true." Indeed it is.
 Spock accepts her logical reply and bids farewell to T'Pau.When she says the now famous, "Live long and prosper" he replys, "I shall do neither. I have killed my captain and my friend." Spock beams back up to the Enterprise to accept his punishment.
Once there we learn that Kirk isn't really dead. McCoy didn't give him a tri-ox compound, it was a neural paralyzer. The day is saved. Spock is saved too - his madness is gone. Kirk is out of hot water as well. Uhrua reports there's a message from Starfleet saying it is okay to divert to Vulcan, so no worries there.

In spite of the convenient wrap up, it is a good episode and well worth watching or re-watching. For some reason the episode is no longer posted online at Star Trek.com, but most of the other episodes are here

Next up is one of my favorites, The Doomsday Machine.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Astronomy Day Moon

Hey, it's National Astronomy Day! To celebrate, here's a shot I took of the Moon this evening:

Canon 3Ti 200mm lens, cropped from the full frame
Of course, the real way to celebrate is to go outside and see it for yourself. There's a bonus too as the Moon is pretty close to Mars tonight. Even better is to go and attend one of the events in the link above.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Photos from Project Mercury

Back in the 1980s I had a co-worker who had some family photos from Project Mercury. I was lucky enough to get copies of some of them. Since I just finished reading a great book (Into That Silent Sea) that recounts the history and stories of the early days of the U.S. and Soviet space programs, this seems like a good time to share the pics.

I don't know the actual dates they were taken, but I think that some people will find them interesting. 
This first shot shows a Mercury capsule being lifted by crane off of a boat. Presumably this was from an early recovery test prior to the first flown spacecraft.
 The second shot shows the same capsule. That's astronaut Gus Grissom squatting down in front of it.
Finally, here's a shot that shows many key people from the program. Coming down the steps at left is astronaut Deke Slayton. Walt Williams, the associate director for Project Mercury is likely next (with his back to the photographer). Visible just over his shoulder is astronaut Gordon Cooper with astronauts Scott Carpenter and John Glenn rounding out the shot.