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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Day 8 – Washington, DC

Well, actually we’re in Dulles, Virginia and the cab ride (very expensive!) from the Baltimore, Maryland airport to the hotel near the Dulles airport skirted the city, so all I’ve seen so far is freeways, though I did see the sign to the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center – where the model of the probe resides! The rather barren surroundings will help me stay focused on putting together the notes I’ve made and getting ready to see the probe on Monday. Tomorrow we are off to the Smithsonian and downtown Washington. Looking out the window, it’s clear we’re not at Anthony’s on the Beach anymore. What a difference a few hours’ flight makes.IMG_1835

Day 7 – Day’s Mission Scrapped

We both woke up this morning feeling a bit overteched (I know I was!) and underearthed; in fact, I was starting to feel a bit like the picture Wayne took of me yesterday:

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So we scrapped the tour we had booked at Kennedy Space Center and visited the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge instead. There, we soaked up the sounds of birds, baby alligators, wind, and water. It felt regenerating to use a different kind of telescope/binoculars:

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And here, a baby alligator which makes an “erp, erp” sound.

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Tomorrow, we are off to Washington, DC and the Pioneer 10 model.

Day 6 – Launched!

A bit of morning beach time before our tour of the launch control center at Kennedy Space Center:

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And then to Jazzy Seafood and to Jetty Beach to watch the launch. We got there early, and then, not knowing the exact time, sitting on the rocks near the water, the sky behind the island flared, and I stood up and watched a ball of fire rise and rise until it disappeared into the black, the handle of the big dipper swinging to the right until the light was gone. How lucky to have seen this.

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Spaced Out

It’s been a long day, and I am delirious, but back on earth in our motel room at Cocoa Beach, we are searching ebay for Pioneer 10 artefacts – and I’ve just made Wayne buy “right now” – commemorative postage stamps, a Pioneer 10 plaque keychain, and a mission patch. It’s all on Wayne’s ebay account (I don’t have one), and  I’m also plying for a hand crafted wood desk model …. . “I’ll take it!” I shout. I am an anti-consumerist-Pioneer-10-grief-stricken-wreck …  .

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Launch Pad for Tomorrow

Tomorrow we will see a launch, but it won’t be until late at night. Here it is today, getting itself ready for liftoff:

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You can see it in the middle of the four-stick candelabra (lightning strike diverters). Today I saw a simulation of the launch that went to the moon, and when the rockets fired, the flames and the nuclear-bomb-powered strength of it all took off, and my chair shook with the noise, I felt moved beyond description, and not just at our ambitions, but at the non-limits of our desire to be first, to be in control. It may not be that noble.

Pioneer 10 Souvenirs

One of the most surprising, and probably naive, realizations of this trip is that the Pioneer 10, and  many of the other probes of its time, are, well, passe. I couldn’t find a record or souvenir of them anywhere.

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It was all about the manned missions. I think I can understand why NASA has chosen to make that their focus (aside from the space race … ). I am a lyric poet; I write about my personal experiences of the sensory world. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were as close as any of us may get to knowing what it is like to be on the Moon. But we still, by our own intentions, have manipulated non-human-material objects to travel to places and experience them on our behalf. We sent the Pioneer 10 into interstellar space to help us. And it did. And now, it is on its own. It has nothing to focus on and nothing to orbit.