Amusing the Muse

Well, I’ve been home nearly 3 days, and I feel the way a bird looks to me when it hits a window. A bit dazed and waiting for my experiences to settle. On the plane home, I read Jim Bell’s new book The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission. While the Voyager probes get the spotlight, there is some information on the Pioneers as well. In his book, Bell quotes John Casani, Voyager‘s Project Manager, saying, “Don’t anthropomorphize the spacecraft. They don’t like it” (20). This tongue-in-cheek comment speaks to the challenge of keeping our inherent emotional impulses at bay when we try to speak precisely about non-human things or non-human animals, whether it is probes or birds hitting windows. Bell also provides terrific links to other resources. Here’s one related to the section of Bell’s book where he quotes Casani, an article written by Melissa Rice about the “cuteness” factor of the Mars Rover. For me, the Rover may be cute, but the Pioneer 10 is beautiful.

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Day 11 – Heading Home

Well, this is it, at least the fly by portions of my trip. We head home today. Tomorrow I start analyzing the data I collected. 🙂 Over the next few months I will be posting stories, poems, works-in-progress and news on the manuscript. Everyone we met has been so helpful and generous. I hope I can return that favor with work that does the Pioneer 10 and all the people who have worked on it proud.

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Thank you Sharon Norquest and the Smithsonian!

Oh my, today exceeded my wildest expectations and then some. Not only was the Pioneer 10 prototype even more beautiful than I’d already believed, but its conservator Sharon Norquest was an equally beautiful inspiration. She generously gave us a morning of her time, allowing us to study the probe close up, to take photographs and audio recordings, and to share with us her insights in regard to her conservation work and to what brought her here. Her exceeding attention and care along with her imaginative perspectives was worth the trip alone. And the Pioneer 10 model – what a glittering, amazing thing. I’m not yet sure what I’m allowed to post online, so for now, a picture from the public viewing site of Sharon at work on the probe. Thank you Sharon and the Smithsonian for this incredible opportunity. More to follow once I’ve got my bearings:

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The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was a short hike from where the metro bus dropped us off. It is a grand place, and a Sunday jam packed with people. First thing I saw was where the Pioneer 10 model was supposed to be hanging from the ceiling along with these other historic crafts:

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And here is the exhibit of the probes, currently closed to the public. I am so glad I knew this in advance!

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We watched two IMAX movies, and the 3-D movie that takes viewers through the galaxy using images from the Hubble telescope was breathtaking. The stars in their cocoons, the beautiful spiral galaxies, the nebulae clouds, made me want to travel through them forever. Though, eventually, one would reach complete darkness, and then I know my zen-like feeling would disappear.

The Smithsonian has a gift shop that is three stories! On the third floor, in a corner featuring books and memorabilia of early space exploration, I found this – a framed stamp of Pioneer 11. That is as close as I have gotten on this trip to finding a souvenir dedicated to these probes. So I bought it.

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What does the model of the Pioneer 10 and the spire of the White House have in common?

They are both being restored.

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Oh, Pioneer 10, you could have been a pop can, a pie plate, a foil hot dog wrapper dropped in a puddle of water in front of the White House.

Tomorrow the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and the Pioneer 10 model!

On Our Way to the Smithsonian

A sunny day, but the wind chill factor was definitely there. We took the metro bus into Washington, DC. The suburbs and freeways soon became a bumper to bumper four lane highway, and just as we finished crossing the Potomac River with a view of the White House and the Washington Tower, our exit was blocked by a police car. After a fairly long chat with the policeman, the bus driver got back in and said, “Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Do me a favor. Close your eyes,” and did an excellent u-turn just after an underpass, getting us to our bus stop with ease:

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