Jul
17
2009

To the Moon

Apollo 11 liftoff from launch tower camera

Apollo 11 liftoff from launch tower camera

Where were you on July 20, 1969?  I put that question to my friends and family last week and I got a wonderful collection of answers. A common element in all their stories was a small, scratchy (typically borrowed) black & white TV set, with a large group of people, crowded around to watch the flickering images of the first walk on the moon. Breathlessly.

I was 11 years old and a camper in the Feather River Canyon in California, attending a two-week summer camp. Apollo 11 landed at 4:18 pm EDT, so that would have been 1:18, California time, just after lunch.  I remember crowding into a room behind the camp’s dining hall with a hoard of other people, straining to see the small black and white TV screen.  The only broadcast they could receive in that remote location happened to be in Italian (go figure) and so, between the scratchy image and the fact that no one present understood Italian, we had to piece together and narrate what we were seeing.  I can remember the distinct feeling that this was history in the making.  This was something special. And this was something that I would always remember.  

At 10:56 EDT, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and the world watched.  Buzz Aldrin, emerged soon after. Over 2 ½ hours, the two astronauts collected 47 pounds (!) of lunar surface material and re-entered the lunar module.

We Choose the Moon site.

We Choose the Moon site.

Just as the folks at the John F. Kennedy library hoped, their re-creation web site, We Choose The Moon, is tuning Americans into their memories of the historic mission. This is a wonderful site, well worth the visit.  It’s a real-time mission reenactment, tracking the actual mission events (with historic images and footage), just as they happened 40 years ago. You can follow newsroom feeds, monitor the flight path, get updates from mission control (via twitter or from the Mission tracker widget on your web page or social media site).  It’s a very good example of the kind of teaching that can be done with new technology.  My only gripe about it is that they missed the opportunity to make it a 2.0 site by failing to invite people to share their memories and embellish the site with their perspective.  Too bad.

Aldrin's boot.

Aldrin's boot.

After you’ve taken a look at that site, take a look at some of the other, amazing online teaching resources in NASA’s vaults and others – it’s just incredible, what’s available online. NASA has just released newly restored Apollo 11 footage – excerpts really – from the take off, to the landing, and the lift-off back to earth.  You can find it in this New York Times article, along with a hilarious “hoax” video (scroll down to find that one) – and, yes, apparently some people still think that the whole thing was a hoax.  And, in case you wanted to compare, here’s the actual landing footage (pre-restoration).

 

Here’s a QT movie of the mission, put together by NASA.  And the official NASA site on the history of the mission. NASA has also posted the private taped conversations between Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, recorded aboard the command module, Columbia, and the lunar module, Eagle, along with an audio database of other recordings. You can find all kinds of downloadable images, videos and pdfs (from NASA) and here is the Apollo 11 image gallery (some great stuff to be found!). To get a better sense of the lunar landscape, here’s a QTVR image scape of the moon taken by Apollo 17 and first published on anniversary #35 of Apollo 11.  Use your mouse have a look around and around and around. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Apollo 11 site has lots of information on the mission, the crew, the spacecraft, the landing site and some amazing images. Discovery Channel has an impressive archive of videos of the various NASA missions – lots of fun to explore there.  Just for fun, you can pick up a Lunar Module service manual or a space suit replica (for $9,500) on eBay. 

Unfortunately, as we learned from NPR this week, NASA isn’t the best steward of history. Check out this 7.16.09 story explaining how the original tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk probably destroyed during a period when NASA was re-using old magnetic tapes to reuse them for satellite data.   The newly restored video that I mentioned earlier was actually pieced together from a variety of sources, the best of the various broadcast clips.

Earthrise.

Earthrise.

The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s inspirational goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960’s.  But it did so much more for all of us.  It gave us the first images of the Earth, taken from the moon. Images that undeniably changed our perspective on our fragile planet and the need for stewardship. The mission showed us men, closely encased in technology, operating dials, levers and computers to sustain their lives in an inhospitable environment. The mission gave us courage to strive for things that might seem unattainable.  It made us explorers again.

Apr
06
2009

Random Thoughts On A Drive To School

Well, here we go again!

… WINTER STORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM THIS EVENING THROUGH LATE TUESDAY NIGHT…

A WINTER STORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM THIS EVENING THROUGH LATE TUESDAY NIGHT.

STEADY LIGHT SNOW WILL DEVELOP THROUGH MID AFTERNOON WITH HEAVIER ACCUMULATING SNOWS POSSIBLE AFTER DARK. THE MODERATE TO LOCALLY HEAVY LAKE EFFECT SNOWS ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP OVERNIGHT AND CONTINUE INTO TUESDAY NIGHT. ACCUMULATIONS FROM LATE AFTERNOON THROUGH MIDNIGHT MAY BE 3 TO LOCALLY 5 INCHES. IF THE PERSISTENT LAKE EFFECT SNOW BANDS MATERIALIZE FOR TUESDAY AND TUESDAY NIGHT THERE WILL BE ADDITIONAL ACCUMULATIONS THAT WILL PUSH AMOUNTS OVER 6 INCHES. A FEW LOCATIONS IN THE HIGHER TERRAIN OF NORTHEAST OHIO INTO NORTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA COULD SEE SNOW AMOUNTS AROUND A FOOT.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A WINTER STORM WATCH MEANS THAT HEAVY SNOW IS POSSIBLE. IF YOU ARE WITHIN THE WATCH AREA… STAY TUNED TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OR THE LOCAL NEWS MEDIA FOR THE LATEST UPDATES AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS.

It is APRIL 6TH!!  Half of the schools in our area are on SPRING break!!  I just finished putting up a new Bluebird Trail at the Environmental Learning Center (more on that later.) dsc02740_3We rushed so that they would be up in time for the birds to find their new digs and establish new nesting sites. I just returned from a lunch with a friend where we were discussing and planning an August trip to Belize with a number of other biology teachers.  I’m listening to the FIRST Major League Baseball game as I write this and then I check to see what the weather is supposed to be.  WHAT?!?  A WINTER STORM WATCH?!?   Well, I do live in Northern Ohio, near a large body of unfrozen water (Lake Erie.)  I should expect it.  But late winter or early spring snow storms are always a big surprise and a big disappointment. I thought for awhile and decided I needed to post this blog entry.  It is a recycled entry from one of my own blogs about winter weather and how it can impact the environment and how it can be used to teach about evolution, Darwin and natural selection.  I was going to hold onto it until next January or February when we had a good snowpack in my back yard.  With the above Winter Weather Advisory I decided now would be just as good a time as any.  Please note as you read it, the dates show some of the important biology education events of 2005 when it was first conceived and written.  So here it is—-

bluebird-snow
Sometimes I wish I lived a bit closer to school. As it is, I have a 25 minute drive to school and a 30 minute drive home. Why the difference? Well, going to school I take a pretty direct route via Interstate and main roads (except the day it was really snowing hard and I didn’t make one of the turns because it was difficult to see the road and realized I was lost about ten minutes into the trip. This is a very strange feeling and might be the subject of a later wandering blog.) On my way home I take the back roads. You might think I would be in a hurry to get home, but actually this is a nice time of the day. I drive on a variety of backcountry roads that remind me of my travels through the countryside of rural Vermont. (Those of you that live in rural Vermont might not think that this is so special, but believe me, it is.) The extra 5 minute drive is a small price to pay for a daily Vermont vacation. I also get to “hunt” for biology as I make my way through the country. It is not unusual to see small groupings of whitetail deer, along with any number of soaring and perched red-tail hawks. I also have to watch out for the occasional wild turkey or two. One day two years ago I turned a corner near the Holden Arboretum (one of the largest arboretums in the world,) and saw a field filled with over 50 wild turkeys. Certainly worth 5 minutes out of my day!!

Actually, I think the 25 minute drive is a good thing. On the way to school, it provides me with the time to switch gears, to remember what happened the day before, and to create. We are teachers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but sometimes our thoughts are focused on other things. The drive to school allows me to refocus. Most importantly, it is the time I use to create new stories. I am sure that the reason I have been able to stay in this profession for 32 years is that it has provided me the opportunity to be creative.

On Friday (1/28/05) it was -3 degrees F. on the outside thermometer when I got up and got ready for work. I looked out into my woods and wondered about the wildlife. How did the birds do? How about the rabbits and deer? Just a passing thought. I went out to get my paper and felt the cold. Now I really wondered how the animals were fairing. But the hour was getting late and I needed to get on the road.

The creative part of my drive was about to begin. How could I use the cold temperature in my classes? I have been thinking a lot about evolution over the past few weeks. It HAS been in the news quite a bit (the Dover, PA. schools decided that the students in their biology classes needed to have the district administrators read a short non-science statement regarding evolution at the start of their unit on evolution and natural selection.) But also, I have been putting together some thoughts about how I teach about evolution since Darwin Day is coming and I am speaking at our local natural history museum’s Darwin Day celebration. So naturally, I thought about the effects of our current weather on the survival of the wildlife. Well, what I really thought about on my cold drive in was Darwin’s thoughts after a similar icy blast in Downe. It is told that Darwin saw dozens of dead birds on his own property at Down House (note the town is Downe and the house is Down.) In Chapter Three of The Origin Of Species, Darwin writes that nearly 4/5′s of the birds on his property failed to survive the winter of 1854-1855. Now how can I slip that bit into the students’ inevitable complaints about having school when the temperature was so low????? Simple, I start my class talking about how I decided if it were two degrees colder I was rolling over and pulling up the blanket. (This way I can say it was actually a bit too warm for me this morning.) So that’s what I did, I taught a little about natural selection to a group of sleepy, crabby, cold 9th graders. I got in a little history of science and even a bit of how birds actually do stay warm on such cold nights. As part of the story  I threw in the expression that it was a “three dog night.” Of course I thought they would instantly recognize the expression because of the music group by the same name. You guessed it–I’m showing my age. No one knew either the expression or the band !!! I had to add to the story a bit, but I threw in some biology about body temperature and animal size. I even ventured into thermoregulation and body covering. I finally got around to a dog’s body temperature and the insulating qualities of fur verses feathers verses skin. I could have gone on and on, but the point was made. Animals have evolved strategies to survive the extremes in their environments. Also, if it is -5 degrees I’m rolling over and pulling up the blanket.

See what can come from a 25-minute drive to work!!

So there it is, we are storytellers.  In fact when people ask me what I do for a living I always tell them that I am a storyteller.  I usually tell stories about biology (not always,) but telling stories is what I do.  My job is to get my audience to listen, to enjoy, and to learn from the stories I tell.  Think about your stories.  Where do you get the info for you own stories?  What adventures can you weave into your teaching?  We take classes to get more stories.  We travel to collect topics. We join organizations like NABT to swap stories and acquire new tales of biology.  What stories do you use in your teaching?  Now we have the BioBlog as a forum for swapping and collecting stories from all over the Biology Education World.  After you read this little tale formulated from the latest NE Ohio weather report, think about sharing one of your own bio-stories and add it by posting a Comment below. picture-001_2_24