State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

rockets

by Damian

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 They proceed to turn the center into a second grade theme park full of rides, screaming kids and outdated computer games.

Star Wars is the current theme. A friend of ours mentioned they used to feature dinosaurs so may be this is an improvement of sorts. Blaster Maze, Mirror Maze, Count Doku's Sky Bike, climbing wall, food court - how can a real historic Mission Control Room compete with that.As a theme park the place is a claustrophobic disorganized failure. The company apparently abhors technology and organization of any kind. They cannot even figure out what time it is. Grandmotherly looking lady gently asks everyone to leave the movie theatre and come back later in spite of the fact that the movie is starting in less than 2 minutes. Confusion and stampede ensues.

In order to board a touring tram you are asked to wait in line for as long as an hour. Then you are forced to pose for a picture that is peddled to you once you come back. Knowing well that we don't buy overpriced analog photos we try to skip the slightly humiliating experience only to be told the pictures are taken out of security concerns.

Dazed and confused kids and their bored parents might be excused to think that the entire space exploration is yet another outdated ride. It's actually not that difficult to spend a better part of day here without any contact whatsoever with real, as opposed to Hollywood, space technology.

If you dare to dig deeper and actually venture into museum part of the attraction you may glean something interesting. Rocket park contains the Saturn V rocket that took us to the Moon: a feat we are too technically challenged to repeat in near future. Starship gallery is full of little known tidbits of data on such space programs as Mercury and Gemini. But as like any other museum this one is set up to celebrate the past and offers little in term of any vision of the future. In the hall where Saturn V is displayed one part of the exposition describes efforts to protect it as if it was an artifact from a long gone era. The future does not look good. The shuttle has its last 2 missioned scheduled. Another technical capability gone.

After a while I start to think the whole place is a fitting metaphor for our space endeavors. We had couple of joy rides, visited the the nearest rock, enjoyed microgravity, collected 381.7 kg (841.5 lb) stones, gave the public zip locks and velcro, and determined the whole thing is best left to entertain kids. If we can only close NASA and save paltry 0.5% of the federal budget that it currently costs us we may even have enough to build a decent theme park.

germans

We expected a lot of things of Texas: cowboy boots, Stetson hats, big cities, oil rigs, huge ranches. But we didn't expect Germans. We knew they settled in Pennsylvania. But it looks like they got here as well. Texas is a big state - bigger than any European country unless you count Turkey or Russia. We did of course expect Spanish. They came here first via colonies in Mexico. Later Americans started arriving through freshly purchased Louisiana. After a brief stint as an independent republic, Texas joined the Union in 1845, only to secede and join CSA 15 years later. After Civil War a new wave of immigrants from Europe started arriving and Germans were among them.

photography

There are people who believe taking photos steals small pieces of their souls. And there are museums that contend taking pictures devalues works of art that they own. There might be good reasons to restrict photo snapping. Sometimes you just want to look at something without the risk of tipping over a crouching photographer, or maybe you want to concentrate for a while without constant noise of cameras. By the way: many point-and-shoots nowadays do not really have to make all that noise but surprisingly few models let you configure a silent mode. And even if they do most people do not bother opting for annoying clicks, beeps and recorded shutter sounds.