Monday, January 23, 2006

Horizons, Old and New

My own horizons seem to be bounded mostly by technology and family, so I'm pleased when they come together, and last week when my third-grader's class talked a lot about the New Horizons taking off for Pluto, she seems to have spoken up about her daddy's baby brother, the rocket scientist...

ROGER MYERS is Director, Systems and Technology Development Department, Aerojet - Redmond. Dr. Myers leads development, qualification, and first-article flight production efforts in electric and chemical propulsion technologies and systems. ...... Pluto New Horizons ...

I guess it's geeky stuff, not exactly what the dramatic photos are all about, though the mission overview (PDF) does mention "Propulsion system (used for pointing, course corrections, and KBO targeting) includes 16 hydrazine thrusters", and NASA's press kit (PDF) does mention "Prop./Aerojet" somewhere down on the organization tree, on page 40.

I don't want to ask her exactly what she said about thruster development, but it's likely that she understood fairly well. You see, last week she also watched Captain Picard on a DVD of the Enterprise: Next Generation series as he shut down the main engines and used low-energy "thrusters" for delicate maneuvers, even using a gravitational field to gain velocity with a slingshot effect. And she already had a pretty fair notion of distances because she knows that if we put the Sun on our driveway, and Mercury four steps away, then Venus will be seven steps from the Sun, Earth will be ten, Mars will be 16....and so on, with Pluto most of the way to the coffee shop, each a little less than double the one before -- Bode's law.

She does have a tendency to stop and think where she wants the Vulcan, Klingon &c planets to be. And the conversation veers -- she has heard, and probably remembers in fragments, that her uncle's middle name is Metcalfe, and that her grandfather (Phil Myers, like her uncle Phil) had a grandfather (Tom Myers) whose grandfather Thomas Metcalfe was in the war of 1812 at Fort McHenry while the rocket's red glare meant something else entirely, and that this grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was the one who made up the grace that Daddy likes to say at least on Thanksgiving: "Bless this food, for that use, for which Thou hast intended it. Bless the hands that prepared it; qualify us for life; prepare us for death; Heaven crown us Thine; Amen." Daddys are peculiar that way. And then I start talking about the letters that g-g-...uncle Edgar Metcalfe wrote from Australia --- as an inventor who went broke on borrowed money before the Civil War and was shanghaied aboard the whaling barque Draco and jumped ship on the other side of the world and we do have cousins over yonder, so she's probably a little bit confused. I'll show her the letters someday, but I don't like to unfold them. But it's all about technology, and about the family Bible where Thomas Metcalfe's birth seems to be recorded with Medcalf/Metcalf and other spellings all on the same page, and about the "Metcalfe clock", a wooden clock that my grandfather had from the 1790s when metal was apparently hard to come by. (And I remember being shocked when Gramps repaired it with epoxy, but I wanted it, and he told me that I couldn't have it because it should go to the kid named Metcalfe, but Roger never got it. I suppose he gave it to a Maryland historical society instead.)

Pluto: most of the way to the coffee shop. (And by the time New Horizons gets there, her age will be more than doubled.)


Blogger liza myers said...

It is amazing how you connect the past and the future with such personal detail without getting soggy. I love this blog- Why don't you have a way to subscribe so that we will know when you update?

2:14 PM  

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