"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

For a Good Time, Google "Stunning" and "Massachusetts"

Putting aside all of the political and social ramifications, today was a great day for the word “stun”--more especially for its transitive verb and adjective forms: “stuns” and “stunning.” Let’s take a moment to celebrate this great word. Please note, emphasis has been added.

The linguistic celebration really started last night, with headlines like this one from from PBS.org
Brown Stuns Democrats With Projected Victory in Mass. Senate Race

From Boston.com
In stunning upset, Brown captures US Senate in Mass.
(The above headline also contains no less than two puns, perhaps unintended. There’s the Catholic word play on Mass and the even catchier play on en masse. Methinks the Editor intended the latter pun and is still grinning with semantical glee.)

From CNN.com
Democrats point fingers after stunning loss

From NYTimes.com
G.O.P. Senate Victory Stuns Democrats

From NPR.org
GOP Candidate Stuns Democrat In Massachusetts

From RasmussenReports.com
Brown Wins Stunning Victory in Massachusetts

From NewsRealBlog.com
Scott Brown delivers stunning upset victory in Massachusetts

From GoUpState.com
Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts stuns Democrats

From MyNorthwest.com
Stunning upset in Massachusetts - could it happen here?
(Incidentally, this headline is from this morning...after the results were in.)

From GlobalTV.com
Massachusetts voters hand Obama stunning rebuke

From PoliticsDaily.com
Scott Brown Stuns Martha Coakley in Massachusetts Senate Upset

From MassLive.com
Conservatives react to Scott Brown's stunning victory in Massachusetts Senate race
(Includes a picture of a blonde woman throwing her head back and gazing Heavenward in ecstasy)

From EnterpriseNews.com
Brown takes Kennedy's Senate seat in stunning upset over Democrat Coakley

And finally, as far away as Ireland there seems to be a lack of better, or even other, evocative options
From Finfacts.com
Republican takes Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts - - a stunning rebuke for Obama and Democrats

Well, that was just a sample. “STUNNING” I know. And now, let us have a moment of silence for the apparently extinct thesaurus.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

And the next Cosmic Idol Winner is...

In 1982, legendary writer Arthur C. Clarke envisioned, quite realistically, the year 2010. He pictured our best explorers traveling to the moons of Jupiter and discovering life beneath the surface of the icy moon Europa. 28 years ago, with the USA and USSR competing to build the best space technology, such a 2010 was possible. Tragically, the Cold War ended and...wait, that came out wrong. Uh...short version, the Cold War ended and funding for space exploration shrank to discovery-stifling levels.

Now the real year 2010 has arrived. Though human missions to the outer planets are still far in the future, there are plenty of practical ventures for space enthusiasts to get excited about--and bug Congress to fund. In particular, NASA just announced three new competing mission proposals. Before you tune out, allow me to explain that to this geek, NASA's press release read like the transcript to a late-season episode of American Idol.

During 2010, three university research teams will receive $3 million each to refine their mission plans and convince NASA they deserve the grand prize: a 2018 rocket launch to visit another celestial body. As a reminder, a previous winner, called New Horizons, is currently speeding toward Pluto. Expect cool pictures in 2015. Now, who will be America's next Cosmic Idol?

Perhaps it will be a nifty mission named "SAGE": a probe designed to explore the volatile atmosphere and surface of the planet Venus. Venus has been something of a scorned mistress ever since ruddy Mars proved more life-like. Perhaps it's time to give this stormy goddess another look.

However, the next pioneering voyage may go by the name "OSIRIS-REX" This robotic probe would land on an asteroid and return samples to Earth. This is the mission I want to win. And for the right reason. My dinosaur-crazed nephew worries about another asteroid hitting the Earth. I think he'd like this mission too. Still, the effort it must have taken to coin a 9-letter acronym gives me pause. Is the principle investigator of OSIRIS-REX one of those Carl Sagan wannabes prone to wasting precious time/dollars dancing with the devil in the details? C'mon, a sample return mission to an asteroid is automatically cool. Did you really have to name it Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer?

Finally, contender number three goes by the name "MoonRise". This no-nonsense, acronym-free mission would involve a moonshot, a robotic retrieval of two pounds of lunar rock, and return of said samples for study on Earth. Though it might elicit the least pop-culture fanfare, this mission would be a great way to cap off the International Lunar Decade. (Did you know we are currently in a Lunar Decade? The Planetary Society does. Kudos to them!)

Well, if you've made it through this space-related blog, you deserve a treat. So I reward you with the most awesome International Space Station photo of 2009. If it fails to wow you, then I guess you don't think it's cool to stare down the mouth of an erupting volcano from 250 miles up. Happy New Year and Ad Astra!

Image Credit: NASA

UPDATE 5/25/11: NASA chooses winner for next New Frontiers Mission

To find out who it is, and how The Planetary Society will play a role, click here.