The Bedford Talk: Journey from Bedford, Indiana to ‘Bold They Rise’


I had the opportunity to give a Bold They Rise talk recently in the community where I spent the bulk of my print journalism career. It was important to me to go back there and offer a book talk because my time there was very instrumental in me ending up working on Bold They Rise and I wanted to go back and tell them that.

So I titled my talk “From Here to There” and filled in the missing 11-year timeline from the time I left the community and the newspaper in 2003 until now.

The highlight was bringing with me their hometown astronaut Charlie Walker. His missions are included in Bold They Rise, so it was a privilege and an honor to do this talk with him.

So my talk started with this picture of Charlie Walker on the space shuttle in 1984.

charlie walker 84

I told the people that while Charlie was doing this, I was doing this.

heather 84

In 1984 I was 4 years old and more into Minnie Mouse than I was astronauts and space.

It was important that people “get” that yes, I grew up in Huntsville, Ala., the Rocket City and home to Space Camp and Wernher von Braun and NASA, but I didn’t learn to appreciate space exploration because of that upbringing. If anything that upbringing caused me to take astronauts and space travel for granted.

It wasn’t until I moved to southern Indiana, to Lawrence County Indiana specifically, that I saw how the rest of the world viewed space. Three astronauts hail from this little southern Indiana community — more than any other county in the U.S. — and the people there are very proud of that. Their pride made its way into the newsroom where I worked as the paper covered space-related news and kept up with the comings and going of these space heroes and their legacies.

Writing about space-related things gave me a hearty set of clippings with which, upon my return to Huntsville,  I used to apply for a writing position at NASA.

I think those clips made a difference in my getting the job. My Bold They Rise co-author says they didn’t — he should know, he made the hiring recommendation — however I might not have even applied had I not felt that I had dappled enough in space writing to be able to do the job.

So in my talk, I told the audience that I went from here, my old Times-mail mug shot

tm mug

to here

nasa mug

my semi-official NASA mug shot; this photo accompanied a blog I wrote for NASA during my time there.

I briefly told stories of getting to do this, a reduced gravity flight

heather flying

and this, attending Space Camp,

heather space camp

and then writing Bold They Rise.

It was important to me that the people of Bedford, Mitchell and Lawrence County know that their community played a role in this book, and I wanted to bring it to them and share the book and its story as it relates to them.

After that I introduced Charlie who told his own “from here to there” stories about growing up in Bedford with his fellow “rocket boys” friends and his journey from Bedford to Purdue to McDonnell Douglas and to space as NASA’s first payload specialist astronaut.

walker rocket boys

We’re all travelers, traveling from here to there, we just don’t know always know where “there” is until we get there.

This is a story of what it’s like for something to come full circle, because that’s exactly what happened. Extremely grateful I got to go back and finish the loop.

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Take Time to Look Out the Window


Astronaut Doug Wheelock gave a presentation at work this week about his time on the International Space Station and as the station’s commander. He was a great story teller and had all kinds of humorous stories. But the thing that stood out most was his one regret. His only regret was the three or four days that he got too busy and forgot to look out the window.

His advice that he had just told the current ISS crew prior to his presentation was “don’t let a day go by that you don’t look out the window.”

The view of Earth from space must be spectacular and breath-taking. The images certainly are; I can only imagine how much better it is in 3D. Wouldn’t you just love to lounge there like astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the above photo (taken by Doug Wheelock) literally watching the world go by? It would be a struggle, I imagine, to keep the astronauts from doing that all the time because it would so enjoyable.

During the research and writing of Bold They Rise (the space shuttle book David and I wrote, due out next year) and in present-day astronaut interviews, astronaut after astronaut name both viewing and photographing Earth as a favorite space pastime.

But like here, life up there is busy too. Work, meals, exercise, housekeeping, downtime, and so on. Wheelock said on the handful of days he didn’t look out at Earth he worked all day and when he went to bed realized “I didn’t even look out the window today.”

What struck me is — don’t we do the same down here? Sometimes the view of Earth is pretty spectacular from right where we are. We don’t have to be in space to appreciate it. But we miss it all because we just go to work, go about our business, and go to bed.

Great advice, Doug. To astronauts on Earthlings alike.

Sports In Space Game


I don’t blog about NASA or space stuff all that much — don’t want to mix business and pleasure — but this new game by the Challenger Center is worth sharing. You play football — throw, catch or block — on Earth, the moon, Mars and the space station, taking into account the different levels of gravity on each surface when you choose how much force to use. It’s made for kids, but there’s nothing that says big kids can’t play too.

sportsinspace

For the want of a nail …


My junior high and high school Bible teacher used to recite this rhyme to us.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The meaning behind it — that the littlest things can affect such bigger things — hits me all the time! I think in some ways it’s a blame game, a way to take the responsibility off of ourselves and blame it on something else, in this case a nail.

I was reminded of this poem once again when I read this passage from “Some Trust In Chariots,” a book I am reading about the space shuttle Challenger incident. It is written by Gene Thomas who was launch director at the time. To set the scene, in the book Thomas has just written about the two days before Challenger launched and how and why launches were scrubbed on those days.

“I realized that had these two fateful incidents never occurred, the entire Challenger catastrophe might also never have happened. That fateful January 28, 1986 may have been avoided had we not gotten an incorrect weather prediction on Sunday, January 26. Challenger may never have occurred had we not experienced the failure of a two-bit hatch tool on Monday, January 27. Had we been able to launch under the conditions of either of those scrubbed opportunities, Challenger’s crew may have been spared. Surely the ‘O’ rings would have sealed properly under warmer conditions and America would be relishing the lessons of a teacher in space rather than mourning seven dead heroes. What a major part every event in history seems to play. Each minute detail must be in place to lead to a significantly historic event.”

This idea of how seemingly small details can have such large impacts is a topic I’m working on for another blog post. But I couldn’t let the opportunity pass of sharing a real-life example of something that I think deserves a lot of thought. Stay tuned ….

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands


I love this first sentence from an article in this week’s paper, headlined “Solar system is dented, not round, space probes show.

“When viewed from the rest of the galaxy, the edge of our solar system appears slightly dented as if a giant hand is pushing one edge of it inward, far-traveling NASA probes reveal.”

Later in the article they quote a NASA scientist.

“We used to assume that it’s all symmetric and simple,” said Leonard Burlaga, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “It’s literally like a hand pushing.

Reminds me of the song we all learned as a kids, “He’s got the whole world, in His hands.”