The Grand Canyon is a huge attraction. Literally and - of course - figuratively. It makes various lists of seven wonders of the world. No wonder almost 5 million people a year fulfill a desire to visit. We were in the area and could not resist its pull. The only question was what's the best way to experience it. The scale is overwhelming, playing tricks with one's depth perception. Maybe we should fly over in a helicopter? Catch a glimpse from a commercial jet? From space? Alas, tourists are not allowed on space shuttle and won't be as American space program is drawing to an end. Plus you really need to work on the approach angle to truly appreciate its depth.
After driving through beer free and - despite of that - beguiling lands of Navajo reservation we found Flagstaff. It's a refreshingly normal and unexpectedly liberal town in otherwise birthist and tea partying Arizona. Science has yet to analyze a strong correlation between 'no guns allowed' signs and good coffee and decent food, but to our relief such a connection exists and can be readily tested in Flagstaff.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Alabama is... rockets. Not really. Nonetheless this is where the rockets that took Americans to the Moon were built: Huntsville, Alabama, aptly nicknamed the Rocket City. The team of Dr Wernher von Braun was brought to Huntsville when German scientists and engineers came to US as spoils of World War II. Von Braun made a pact with the devil - two devils in fact: German and American military - to realize his lifelong dream of flying to the Moon. He contributed to production of military rocketry hoping that developing missiles will one day transform into building spacecrafts. Ironically the Soviets, whom von Braun escaped by surrendering to Americans, gave his dreams the necessary push. Having launched the very first Earth satellite - Sputnik 1 - they put America in a frenzy to catch up. And von Braun could finally concentrate on creating a vehicle for manned exploration of space.
I have had it with gold bugs. Historical precedent notwithstanding there is nothing special about gold. Any commodity can serve a role of store of value. I get that people are scared of economy declining but that's no excuse to blow the gold bubble. Haven't we just learned how that story ends? Once society progresses past barter there is a need for money as a medium of exchange. The reason to use gold as money, the only reason really is lack of quick and cheap long distance communication. If you can instantaneously confirm that a person will be able to settle the bill at some point then you can hand them the goods in exchange for a promise. But if you cannot do that you need to collect something that has inherent value. And is small enough that you can easily handle it. And doesn't expire. And isn't easy to forge. And exists in sufficient quantities: not too much, not too little. Enter gold.
I am reading a sci-fi book about Mars. Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson is a trilogy about terraforming Mars and transforming a population of colonists into an independent society. The book resonates deeply with our recent excursions. Hiking the red rocks of Utah parks reminds me of the Martian landscape. When driving a dirt road in a deep canyon with little plant life I feel the environment is as strange and hostile to life as on Mars. I almost expect to find a Mars rover around the corner. The abundant biosphere of our planet turns out to have clear and surprisingly close boundaries.
You might think presenting space travel is attractive and thrilling in itself. Images of the blue planet from the orbit, the famous first words on the Moon, the first docking in space, the first space walk, exploring one of the few remaining frontiers should be enough to hold everybody's attention for couple of hours. NASA Space Center by definition should be one of the most exciting places to visit. But the company that manages Houston's NASA Center does not think it is good enough. They proceed to turn the center into a second grade theme park full of rides, screaming kids and outdated computer games.