The Case for Wonder: A Meditation

Perhaps it had no beginning.  Perhaps, being spacetime itself, it is neither where nor when.  Like the scarlet ribbons of song, it came “I will never know from where.”  Yet here I am, awake in this vast improbability for a nanosecond of cosmic time, a mote of life on a fleck of rock afloat in the … [Read more...]

The Launch of Apollo 11 (from The Dream of spaceflight)

Poised on the launch pad and towering thirty-six stories against the stars, the Apollo-Saturn rocket seemed unearthly in the wash of floodlight, glowing icy silver-white, like the moon above it.  A half-million pilgrims had made their way to the mosquitoed marshlands of Florida's Merritt Island, … [Read more...]

Come Back, Shane! The National Nostalgia

[This appeared in the Southwest Review 98 (No. 1) 2013 and won the McGinnis-Ritchie Prize for best essay of the year] “The Old West is not a certain place in a certain time, it’s a state of mind.  It’s whatever you want it to be.”  … [Read more...]

The Inner Reaches of Outer Space

It had been a dark and bitter year.  The war languished in Vietnam, students rioted around the globe, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, a B-52 crashed carrying four hydrogen bombs, Chicago police battered demonstrators at the Democratic convention, Robert Kennedy … [Read more...]

The Nature of Nostalgia

  “The Atlantic Ocean was really somethin’ in those days.  Yes, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”            ―Burt Lancaster as Lou, an aging ex-underworld figure sitting at a beachfront bar in Atlantic City.          After forty years, I rendezvous in a restaurant with a … [Read more...]

Bid Time Return: Time-Travel Romance on Film and TV

We are indebted to H. G. Wells not only for the notion of voluntary time travel but also for the image by which we conceive it: a sunny, Edwardian gentleman perched on an ornate steam-age contraption that moves through time in much the same manner that a streetcar moves across town.  This linear … [Read more...]

An American Epic: Gordon Moore and the Legacy of Fairchild

In 1939, Sheriff Walter Moore was the only law enforcement west of the mountains on the coast of San Mateo County.  Promoted that year, he moved with his wife, Mira, and three young sons from the small village of Pescadero to the county seat in Redwood City.  “The area was a bunch of small rural … [Read more...]

Carl Sagan: Visionary

Originally written as a memorial speech delivered by Buzz Aldrin, this was subsequently published in the Planetary Society’s Planetary Report, May/June 1997. I can’t think of Carl without seeing that windblown figure strolling on the beach, telling us, over the roar of the breakers, in his emphatic … [Read more...]

In the American Mold: The Founders of Fairchild and the Pioneer Ethos

In his first-hand account of the voyage of the Mayflower, William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, noted that those set on going to America minimized the threat of savages, disease, famine, and the journey itself, believing that “all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great … [Read more...]

RoyRogers

He was born Leonard Franklin Slye in a Cincinnati tenement to a part Choctaw-Indian shoe-factory worker and his wife.  He grew up on a houseboat in Portsmouth, Ohio, and on a farm in rural Duck Run.  In 1930, the Slyes migrated to California in a ’23 Dodge, Grapes of Wrath style.  He drove a truck, … [Read more...]