Category Archives: Space

Students’ Achievement

Last year, a group of my students won a competition hosted by the Intrepid Museum. As a result, the experiment designed by those students will be launched to space in July for a 6-week stay aboard the International Space Station. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we are attempting to raise funds so we can go to the rocket launch. More information can be found by visiting tinyurl.com/PSIS30-space .

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30 for 30 #5: Space Camp

If you’ve known me long enough, then you know that I love all things related to NASA. This love began when I was a child. As a young boy, my life-long goal was to be an astronaut. I read books about outer space; I watched movies about astronauts; my treehouse was a space shuttle at various times; I had NASA posters in my room. My love for outer space permeated everything.

Knowing that this was a huge passion for me, my parents arranged for me to attend Space Camp at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. I was in 6th grade at the time and was completely dedicated to pursuing a career as an astronaut. Needless to day, it was a big deal for me to go to Space Camp for a week.

And what a week it was! We had simulated missions, we toured the museum, we slept in a “habitat module” (which is a fancy Space Camp term for “dorms”), we launched model rockets, we watched videos of the Space Shuttle, and we learned all about the history of space flight. I could not have been more excited!

So, why did this passion not turn into a career? To make a long story short, it came down to eyesight. Being born in the Top Gun era (which is my favorite movie), and knowing that some of my favorite astronauts were also Naval aviators (e.g. Jim Lovell), my desire was to join the Navy and then NASA. But, my eyesight is pretty bad, and I realized at some point that such a goal would probably be unattainable. So, I left the ideas of space flight behind, which did end up working very well, as I can look back and see how God has used every experience to bring me to the point where I am now, and that I am 100% satisfied with His plan for my life. This is something that I will pursue in another post…

Nevertheless, as I began teaching science in Brooklyn, this passion for space began to develop once again. I began using NASA-inspired materials for lessons. I showed my students videos of NASA launches and interviews with astronauts. I even took them to a local Challenger center to simulate a mission to Mars.

Then, a great opportunity arose – I applied to a program that sponsored educators to attend Space Academy for Educators and was accepted. I was able to fly to Huntsville and spend a week reliving one of my favorite times from my childhood. Upon arrival I was assigned to work with a group of educators from around the country, Australia, and Canada. We simulated missions, launched rockets, built heat shields, toured the museum, watched movies, and became good friends. (Sounds familiar, huh?) Plus, I was able to learn about so many resources which I have been able to use in my classroom. It was a great week and seriously impacted my teaching.

Just like Space Camp ignited a passion in a 6th grade boy to pursue science, it ignited a passion in an educator to inspire his students.

My passion for Space continues. I still enjoy reading astronaut biographies. Click HERE to see my favorites. I still enjoy watching NASA videos, the best of which is the Discovery Channel miniseries When We Left Earth. And, I’m able to inspire my students and others through my work as a teacher and an official Space Camp Ambassador.

One day, I plan to return again, but this time to drop off my own kids. I’d love for them to have the same experience and be inspired to enjoy science in such a practical way.

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30 for 30

In a few weeks, I will be celebrating a personal milestone: I will turn 30. In order to celebrate the day as well as the last 30 years, I have decided to take some time to reflect upon some of my most fond memories from my life. Therefore, over the next few weeks, I plan to write 30 posts, each detailing a favorite memory, event, or milestone.

I do want to add some clarification for the few people who may take the time to read about my memories. These posts will not be chronological nor will I be giving one per year. Furthermore, they will not appear in any certain order so that more importance be placed on one memory over another; it has been difficult enough to select only 30 events. Finally, I will be omitting some events that are simply “too obvious” to include in my list. If you know me well enough, then you are already aware of the love I have for Jesus, my wife, and my kids. So, rather than writing a post about the day I was wed, or the day my kids were born, or the day I met Jesus and decided to follow Him, I will be writing about memories that have included these individuals or have been inspired by them.

I’ve never been much of a blogger; honestly, I feel that my time is better spent on other things. However, as I think about the mark I want to leave on this Earth, especially on my children, I think there is benefit in spending the time to document my life to share with my loved ones. I hope that you enjoy reading my stories and reminiscing with me.

Just for fun, here’s a preview of what’s to come:

Alf, Pat Dye, Mjaka, Mentone, Chi Chi, RA, 11-02, Fury, Diamond, and more…

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Excellent Tour of the International Space Station

Here is a video of Suni Williams giving a tour of the ISS:

via NASA Television

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A Visit to Huntsville

During my February break, I had the opportunity to visit the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL with my brother, Stephen. Although I had just been there in June, it was good to return and see the new Von Braun exhibit and see the museum again. The USSRC is a great asset to the state of Alabama and our nation. It’s very inspiring to walk it halls and see its exhibits, especially the Saturn V rocket in the Davidson Center.

Stephen with the SSME

From the Von Braun Exhibit

Stephen with the Space Shuttle

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Setting Goals and Achieving Them

In a time when NASA seems to have ambiguous goals, a lack of funding, and a President without a clear space focus, I wanted to provide an example of clear goals. Below is the text from JFK’s speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962. In this speech, he not only reminds the American of the lofty goal of putting a man on the moon, but he also indicates the innovations and benefits that will result from this pursuit. Any emphasis (bold) has been added by me.

America needs a clear space focus. The benefits are endless – the country can be unified, our technology will improve, industry will be revitalized, and students everywhere will be inspired to pursue degrees and careers in STEM areas. 

Here’s the speech (taken from http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm – 3.15.12)

– – – –

President Pitzer, Mr. Vice President, Governor, Congressman Thomas, Senator Wiley, and Congressman Miller, Mr. Webb, Mr. Bell, scientists, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate your president having made me an honorary visiting professor, and I will assure you that my first lecture will be very brief.

I am delighted to be here, and I’m particularly delighted to be here on this occasion.

We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.

Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation’s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.

No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.

Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.

This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.

William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man’s history. We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket, many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn, generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor. We have seen the site where the F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined, will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.

Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were “made in the United States of America” and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.

The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the the 40-yard lines.

Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.

We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public.

To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.

The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.

And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year–a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority–even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.

But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.

I’m the one who is doing all the work, so we just want you to stay cool for a minute. [laughter]

However, I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job. And this will be done in the decade of the sixties. It may be done while some of you are still here at school at this college and university. It will be done during the term of office of some of the people who sit here on this platform. But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.

I am delighted that this university is playing a part in putting a man on the moon as part of a great national effort of the United States of America.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Thank you.

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We Are the Explorers

New video from NASA featuring the voice of Optimus Prime:

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The Quest for Unification

Recently, I have been spending some time watching the PBS NOVA special, The Elegant Universe narrated by Columbia physicist, Brian Greene. This series looks to explain the quest by physicists to formulate a single theory that unifies quantum mechanics and general relativity. In other words, they are seeking a grand unification theory (GUT) or a theory of everything (TOE). This is an important quest to many contemporary physicists because their field is currently split into various camps, those that study the small (quantum mechanics) and those that study the large (general relativity), because the way planets and galaxies behave is very different from the way that subatomic particles do, and in many respects, the theories describing both are contradictory.

As a result, some scientists have begun to work on a unifying theory known as “string theory” which states that all matter and energy is made of tiny bits of energy (known as strings) which vibrate at different rates, thus causing different effects, much like a single violin string can cause different notes. [on a side note, you may have heard of this theory if you are familiar with the infamous TV physicist, Sheldon Cooper]

I must say that it is extremely interesting to consider what string theorists propose – that there exists one, single theory that can unify all of physics and explain the universe. However, I propose that what science is seeking (unification), those of us who are Christ-followers already know.

Consider Pauls’ Letter to the Colossians:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

The unifying force in the universe is Jesus. He created all things and holds all things together. Without Him, the universe would cease to be. Furthermore, one day, he will “unify” all of humanity under his reign.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

Now, although I do affirm and believe that Jesus is the GUT & TOE for which physicists are looking, I do not think this diminishes their quest for a scientific explanation. It is Jesus who hold the stars in the heavens, and the physical force which he uses is what we call gravity. For all we know, we may eventually see strings at the method by which Jesus holds the universe together.

It is necessary at this point to state that I do not think that science and religion must conflict. However, in some areas, they do. For example, I am not a theistic evolutionist. I affirm that God created, not that organisms evolved by simple chance. But, as I have stated here and in an earlier post, I do see great opportunities for collaboration between my beliefs and modern physics.

It is my great desire and prayer that as we study the universe, we would come to see its complexities as the fingerprints of our creator, and that all who study the heavens would proclaim with the psalmist,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(Psalm 19:1-6 ESV)

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The Musings of a Pastor-Scientist

I like science. In fact, I’ve been trained as a scientist and a science educator. I love learning about the world and universe which surrounds me. As a youth, I gained a passion for outer space, and had a great desire to become an astronaut. Later, I studied at one of the finest universities in this country, Auburn University, and received a degree in Marine Biology and completed a thesis in Freshwater Stream Ecology. Then, I went on to study theology, and eventually became a bivocational church planter working as a science teacher, combining my love for science and theology.

I try to pass this passion along to those around me. My sermons contain science references, and tonight, I took my niece outside to see Venus and Jupiter in the sky. My students are currently reading about rockets and will pretty soon build and launch their own.

Last week, I began watching PBS’s “The Elegant Universe” with Columbia physicist, Brian Greene. This program examines string theory, which is an area of physics which seeks to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity under one, central theory. It truly is amazing to see what one can learn from physics. For example, everything about electricity and magnetism can be summed up by four equations! Amazing!

I am saying this, because in all of my studies as a scientist, one would be led to think that I would be persuaded to lose my belief in God. However, the exact opposite has happened. As I have learned about the elegant universe, the stars, the planets in their orbits, gravity, the speed of light, the interactions of organisms in a freshwater environment, the numerous plants throughout the state of Alabama, the tides, the moon, DNA, RNA, neurons, gravity, motion, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, geology, weather, and more, I have seen more and more of our Creator’s fingerprints in the world around me. I boldly proclaim as the psalmist did, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalms 19:1)

As a pastor, it is not only my duty, but my great pleasure to preach the Glory of God to the church. I want the people who hear me preach to walk away from my sermons, knowing that the Creator of the Universe is truly a great God. I want those same people to begin to desire Him above anything else this world has to offer. If I fail in this, I will fail as a pastor AND a scientist. I must proclaim that which I have seen and I have heard. That’s what good scientists do; they share what they have learned. That’s what good pastors do; they proclaim the Glory of God.

There once lived a brilliant man by the name of Albert Einstein (you may have heard of him). The pastors of his day and time failed to proclaim the Glory of God to him in a way that would lead him to worship his Creator. Charles Misner, one of Einstein’s students, wrote the following:

“The design of the universe is very magnificent and should not be taken for granted. In fact, I believe this is why Einstein had so little use for organized religions, although he struck me as basically a very religious man. Einstein must have looked at what the preacher said about God and felt that they were blaspheming! He had seen more majesty than he had ever imagined in the creation of the universe and felt that the God they were talking about couldn’t have been the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that the churches he had run across did not have proper respect for the Author of the Universe.”

Imagine if Einstein had met a pastor-scientist who truly preached the Glory of God…

May I have the boldness to preach Christ and Him Crucified in a meaningful, contextual way in order that people may be led to worship their Creator.

Look at the stars tonight. Not only did God create them and put them in their places, but he made you as well.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

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Contingency Plan

Here’s what we would have heard if Apollo 11 had been a disaster:

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