Starliners and COVID and Olympics, Oh My

Today’s column was originally supposed to be about either a successful, or unsuccessful launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule.

For those unfamiliar with the Starliner, it is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) which serves to shuttle astronauts back and forth between earth and low earth orbit.

The other player in the CCP game, SpX, has already flown an uncrewed, and three crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS), with a fourth crewed mission slated for September.

To date, Boeing has attempted one uncrewed mission, which did not really check all of the intended boxes.

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit and making it to the ISS back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida and I was forced to find a new topic to write about.
Photo R. Anderson

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit, and making it to the ISS and back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida with no real plan for when it will try to launch again atop a United Space Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket.

The fact that Boeing has yet to “light this candle” shows that failure to launch is more than just the title of a Matthew McConaughey movie, which led me to the need to come up with a Plan B column.

As someone who grew up near the Space Coast of Florida, I know that launch slips are a common occurrence. Space travel is hard. From weather, to tight launch windows, there are myriad things that can cause a launch to slip even without mis-configured hardware.

So, in hindsight I should have known better then to put all of my column eggs in the “Boeing will launch before Friday” basket.

I should have known better. Shame on me for believing.

Of course, the obvious fallback column topic would be to write about the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, while focusing specifically on states that are spelled “Texas” and “Florida.”

Those two states have governors who have issued mandates banning mandates on things like mask wearing and generally acting like adults in the middle of a health crisis despite having a third of all new COVID-19 cases popping up within their borders.

In the typical “oh look at that shiny thing over there” playbook the governors of Florida and Texas would have you believe that the rise in cases is due to illegal immigrants and not lax guidelines and low vaccination rates among the citizens of those states.

To be clear, illegal immigrants are not responsible for all of the COVID-19 cases in Florida and Texas, but they make a convenient foil for the reality avoiding governors to point to.

In the area around the Gigaplex, the County Judge recently raised the COVID-19 threat level to the highest level on the map while urging all unvaccinated people to either get vaccinated, or stay home.

Of course, thanks to the aforementioned mandate outlawing mandates, the County Judge and other local officials are unable to decree that people wear masks, or do any of the other common sense steps that science says can stop the spread of a disease.

Hospitals in both Florida and Texas are running out of room to treat patients. In some cases, patients are being flown hundreds of miles away to get treatment since the local hospitals are full.

No, I am not going to write about those two governors and people like them who choose to stick their heads in the sand, or play the fiddle while proverbial Rome burns around them.

I am also not going to write about the closing ceremonies of the Pandemic Games in Tokyo. While some athletes achieved great feats in medal winning performances, one could argue that the greatest feat that the athletes should focus on is getting out of Tokyo without catching COVID-19.

By insisting on going through with the games in the middle of a pandemic the International Olympic Committee (IOC) showed their true motivations while making it clear that the show will go on no matter what.

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake, or for that matter even a sharknado in order to make sure they still made a profit.
Photo R. Anderson

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake or for that matter even a Sharknado.

After all, they need to make their millions of dollars at all costs.

To be clear, this is not a column about rockets stuck on the ground due to erroneous valve positions, or governors putting their citizens at undue risk as a result of questionable policy positions aimed at appeasing a very small minority of voters, or athletes competing in a world ravaged by a highly contagious variant to a disease that the world has battled for 18 months.

There will be other days to write about those things and more.

No, today’s column is all about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

I have several Mr. Rogers themed t-shirts in my wardrobe. However, my favorite by far is this mashup of the X-Files and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Photo R. Anderson

When I was growing up, I loved watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on my local PBS station. I can still remember many of the episodes, and have been known to hum a song or two from the show from time to time.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when the Neighborhood Trolley traveled to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, to visit Purple Panda, King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat and the rest of the puppets and live action characters that inhabited the wondrous land of dreams and endless possibilities.

As much as I wished I could stay in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, there was always that moment when the trolley would reappear and someone would say, “Oh hi, Trolley. Is it time to go back to reality now?”

Unfortunately, too many people seem stuck in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe unable, or unwilling to face the current realities of the world.

One of Mr. Rogers’ more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The news is indeed failed with scary and sometimes unbelievable things. Thankfully there are still helpers trying to make it right. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of agents of destruction and mayhem tying the hands of the helpers.

Of course, there is a Mr. Rogers quote addressing that as well.

“Did you ever hear loud, scary sounds on television? Well, some television programs are loud and scary, with people shooting and hitting other people. You know, you can do something about that. When you see scary television, you can turn it off. And when you do turn it off, that will show that you’re the strongest of them all. It takes a very strong person to be able to turn off scary TV. Mmm-hmm. That’s one of the ways you’ll be able to tell that you’re really growing.”

Throughout his life, Fred Roger aka Mr. Rogers offered advice and comfort to children of all ages. One of his more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Photo R. Anderson

While I am sure Mr. Rogers was not directly addressing partisan divides and anti-science talking heads when he said these words, they sure seem to fit, and the principle applies.

Don’t give oxygen to the nonsense. Instead, follow actual facts over politicized fiction and mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children.

When you see someone on television, or the internet, spewing lies and conspiracies, turn them off.

Were he still alive today, one has to wonder what Mr. Rogers would think of the world of COVID-19 deniers enacting mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children and corrupt Olympic officials taking a virus be damned approach to protecting their profits.

Mr. Rogers famously testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication on May 1, 1969, to defend public television from budget cuts. Something tells me that if he were alive today Mr. Rogers would be testifying to Congress and anyone else who would listen about the need to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.

I, and millions of other people, learned a lot from Mr. Rogers. For that I am truly grateful. Unfortunately, too many others stayed in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and became puppets performing for an audience of one.

I guess today’s column was about rockets, ill-conceived mandates putting children at risk, and international conglomerates putting profit over people after all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to change into a red knit cardigan sweater.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

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