Kyoto (Part Four)

To Recap: In May, 2012 I went to Asia on the “Three-Countries-Three-Weeks-Three-Kids” tour. The first stop on this once-in-a-lifetime trip was Shanghai, followed by several days in Seoul. Now I was footloose and fancy-free (i.e., lost a lot) in Kyoto, Japan. I found one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve ever seen and I’m going to continue to bombard you with share dozens of pictures from there with you for the next few weeks.

Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. Remember, you can click on any photos to get larger versions.

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Leaving behind the Fushimi Inari temples at the base of the mountain, we start to climb the mountain. I didn’t ever find it to be a particularly strenuous or steep climb, nor is it miles and miles to the top. But there will be places where you’re huffing and puffing a bit, especially if you’re toting a backpack full of cameras. (Ahem…)

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Here for the first time you can see the rows upon rows of vermilion torii gates that line the paths up the mountain.

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While they’re all initially painted the bright vermilion color that’s associated with Inari Okami, they fade in the weather and are repainted at different times, leaving an endless variety of colors from near-white, to pink, to red, to bright orange.

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The paths split and wind around the hill, only to re-split, re-connect, and split yet again. It’s not so much a maze as it is a chance to tour the mountain using dozens, if not hundreds, of different routes.

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Yet another junction, a chance for you to choose your path forward. (Very zen! Probably the wrong religion.) I didn’t see any signs or markers indicating which path was which, at least not in English, so if you’re going to be obsessive about going on every route or something, you may have a problem.

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There are many, many interesting perspectives. As you can see, many of the posts on the torii gates have Japanese inscriptions on them. I believe they’re prayers or the names of ancestors or sponsors, but I could be wrong.

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Looking back at the same torii gates, I noticed there aren’t any inscriptions on the other side. I’m sure there’s a reason or significance, but I don’t know what it is.

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Then I found a side path that looked quite different, heading off into a glade. The torii gate here is not painted (but is still beautiful) and at least at first there’s just the one large on at the entrance.

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Inside the shrine in the glade, there are a few vermilion gates. For the first time I saw small family shrines. I was told that the shrines are built and maintained by families for their ancestors, but it’s not clear if they actually contain ashes as a Western graveyard would, or if the shrines are just ceremonial memorial sites.

Next time we’ll look more at the small family shrines here (they seem to be different in many ways from the shrines higher up the mountain) and get some fantastic views of the torii gates from outside.

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Filed under Photography, Religion, Travel

A More Personal Anniversary

Following all of the 45ths and 20ths and 3rds that get me all fired up about our space program, today’s the 13th anniversary of a more personal event. Thirteen years ago today, the Long-Suffering Fiance decided to take the leap and became the Long-Suffering Wife.

Last year I mentioned some of the festivities of the day and posted a few pictures. What’s struck me this year is some of the tiny, almost trivial things that stick with you from a day like that and become family lore, familiar touchstones for a couple to refer to. Things like going out with my son, shopping for black socks. The way the heels of her shoes were sinking into the grass as she walked down the aisle.

One of our ongoing jokes (at least, I think it’s a joke, we seem to all be laughing, right, dear?) is how our wedding anniversary is the day after the moon landing anniversary and it’s a good thing, otherwise I would never remember our wedding anniversary. I don’t know if it’s quite that bad, but there may be some basis in truth to the theory.

Things have changed quite a bit in thirteen years, as it will for anything, any group, any family, or any couple. But we’re still hanging in there, still a “cute couple,” still in love.

We’ll stick together, kid, we’re going places together!

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And we’ll have the collection of silly, grinning selfies to prove it!



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Tonight, What If EVERYBODY…

July 20th

If you’ve read more than one or two of my rants here, you know what it’s the anniversary (45th) of. Last year I described where I was on that momentous day. Earlier this month I talked about why I love NASA so much, despite some of the recent political and bureaucratic decisions that have frustrated me.

I don’t know if the social media universe (Twitter, FaceBook, and so on) are actually making a big deal of the anniversary or if it’s just my timelines/feed/slice that is. Since I follow a lot of NASA, space, science, and science fiction folks, there very well could be a huge selection effect going on here.

(For the record, looking at Twitter’s worldwide, US, and Los Angeles trends, the two I see trending across the board are James Garner’s death and “Happy National Ice Cream Day”, but there’s no sign of anything related to NASA or Apollo 11. FaceBook shows Gaza, James Garner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the Open Championship, and Buzz Aldrin all trending. Finally, even if we do have to go to the “See More” button to find something.)

Within my social media feeds it’s about 75/25 between the, “Wow, wasn’t that fantastic & here’s where I was & it changed my life” comments and the, “WTF happened, why aren’t we living on the moon & walking around on Mars & heading toward the outer planets & mining asteroids & & & & &…” comments.

Jim Wright’s essay is spectacular (as they all are) and highly recommended. The best comment I’ve seen there (“Stonekettle Station,” John Scalzi’s “Whatever,” and Chuck Wendig’s “terribleminds” are the only three places where I dare to read the comments) is attributed to Andy Borowitz and says, “1969: America winning space race with the Russians. 2014: America keeping up with the Kardashians.” That’s far more true than I’m happy with.

But we can and should remember well what was accomplished on July 20, 1969, if for no other reason than to inspire us to yet again redouble our efforts to take the next small steps and giant leaps ahead. And it’s about time (literally) to do that.

It’s 13:00 PDT here in Los Angeles right now. Forty-five years ago, at 13:18 PT, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. At 17:56 PT, the first moonwalk began.

This evening, starting at 19:39 PDT (22:39 PDT) NASA-TV will show that original moonwalk telecast will be shown in its entirety just as it did forty-five years ago. Your cable or satellite company does (or should!) carry NASA-TV, or you can watch it here online.

At the conclusion of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” he asks the rhetorical question about what would happen if  one person a day, two people a day, three people a day, or fifty people a day would go to their draft board singing “Alice’s Restaurant.” Would they see it as a movement, or more bluntly, would any of the powers-that-be know or care?”

I don’t know if the Nielsen ratings system and software are even aware of NASA-TV’s existence. But I wonder…

Tonight, what if EVERYBODY watched the Apollo 11 replay? What if tonight, instead of getting two to three million viewers each, “60 Minutes,” “Big Brother,” “Rising Star,” “American Ninja Warrior,” and “The Simpsons” each got a few thousand viewers at most, while ten or twenty million televisions were tuned to NASA-TV all night watching a forty-five year old rerun?

Would that get anyone’s attention come tomorrow morning? Would that keep anyone’s attention through the next news cycle, or through the next election?

Wouldn’t it be really bitchin’ to find out?

I understand that it won’t happen tonight. But the fiftieth anniversary is five years away. That will be more of an attention getter than the forty-fifth anniversaryWith a little bit of planning and some grass-roots activism…

Spread the word. 1,827 days to go.


Filed under Moral Outrage, Politics, Space

On The Riverbank

Don’t know if they’re “art”, but they were interesting and pretty pictures when I took them and I still like them when I stumbled back across them today. That’s as good of a definition of “art” as any other I’ve seen.

Taken during a rest stop on a 2008 white-water rafting trip in Colorado.




Especially this one. I like the textures and the way the few bits of bright yellow stand out with all of the dull grays, off whites, and muddy browns. (Adjectives for the win!!)

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Evil Joey Chan

I’m more of a “dog person” than a “cat person,” which is not to say that I don’t enjoy a warm, purring ball of fluff in my lap on a cold evening. But given the choice, I would (and will in the future) have a dog (or two) but no cats. For now however, I “inherited” my daughter’s cat when she went off to college, so Joey Chan is “mine.”

The Long-Suffering Wife is mildly allergic to cats, so the two of them have long since reached an uneasy truce. The only time they’re supposed to have any real interaction is when I’m gone and Ronnie has to feed Joey for a day or two. Joey seems to be forgetting this as she’s gotten older and more senile (Joey, not Ronnie) and she will occasionally try to hop up onto Ronnie’s lap for petting and snuggles. Much hilarity has been known to occur during such events.

Both household critters, Joey the cat and Jessie the dog, are getting on in years. Neither is as spry as they used to be and they both sleep about twenty-three hours a day. (Since they used to sleep twenty-two hours a day it’s not much of a change.) We’ve noticed that both are exhibiting odd behavior. Jessie has started sleeping in places she’s never slept before, i.e., right next to my side of the bed, which makes it interesting when I get up in the dark and have to remember she’s there and try not to step on her. Jessie’s also doing that “digging through the carpet” thing that dogs sometimes do before they lie down. Another thing that she’s never done before, and another thing that’s a real joy at 3:00 AM.

Joey on the other hand is showing her senility in other ways. As the joke goes, she’s forgotten to be aloof. Where for years I was tolerated only because I was the “food guy,” now I’m the number one source of attention and petting and scratching. I don’t remember her ever wanting any attention or petting at all from anyone when she was younger.

The other thing she’s doing is taking over my office chair the instant I get out of it and then refusing to get up when I come back.

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Doesn’t she look innocent? “Who, me?” “Is this YOUR chair?” “I was just keeping it warm for you!”

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“No, that doesn’t mean that I’m giving it back. Go away.”

In the past when she did this there was an easy solution. Now it no longer works at all and she actually seems to enjoy it:

Good thing that she’s cute. And that she gives me an excuse to post “emergency cat pictures” at the end of a week where the world’s had a tough time.

Be cool out there, folks. The world’s a better place when we stop acting like assholes, and that goes double for international leaders. (You know who you are!) Do unto others and all of that.

Let’s put the “peace” back in “Peace out.”

Peace out.




Filed under Cats, Critters, Dogs, Photography

Flash Fiction: Amusement

After the absence of an “official” Flash Fiction Challenge last week (which left me to revisit an earlier Challenge on my own, just because) this week we’re back to normal. Our new Flash Fiction Challenge is to write 2,000 words using a list of items given to us at random by the @YouAreCarrying Twitter bot. Send a tweet of simply the word “inventory” to @YouAreCarrying and it will tweet back a list of items you are carrying as if you were a character in an old Infocomm text adventure game.

You remember these, right? “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.” That sort of thing, so…

Adventuring we go! As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.


I spun around as the sound of movement in the bushes behind me sent my pulse racing. There was nothing there, but just to be sure, I took my big stick and poked it into the shrubs again and again. Something loped off across the plaza on the other side, but I didn’t get a good look at it.

(Are you scared?)

I was tired, hot, thirsty, and hungry, a quadruple threat. I didn’t know where I was, how I got there, or how to get out. I just knew that I had to find Her, wherever She might be and whatever might be trying to keep us apart.

(Why do you seek Me?)

Walking around the end of the row of shrubs I could see a food court of some kind on the far side of the plaza to my left. Despite my hunger and thirst, I did not trust what I saw there. To my right the path wound up around the side of a hill and out of sight. Ahead of me, in the shade of a large tree, was a large billboard with a map.

(Where are you going?)

I approached the billboard. There was a red “You Are Here” icon, but it was jumping all around the map at random. From a faint, faded memory I recognized some of the building icons in one corner. Holding up the piece of paper I had found, I could see where the icons printed there matched, right down to the unfamiliar kanji written next to them. When the bouncing icon went into the matching corner of the billboard, a small icon also showed up on my paper, only to disappear when the billboard icon jumped to someplace not shown on my paper.

(Why are you here?)

Off in the distance to the right came another roar. There was a growing rumble, building to a crescendo of mechanical clanking and high-pitched screaming, quickly fading away. After it had gone I could briefly hear faint singing, beautiful and fulfilling, as if the sky itself was celebrating some joyous event. I had been hearing those sounds or something like them coming from different directions ever since I got here.

(When was that?)

I had been making turns to keep away from the roaring sounds, but that obviously wasn’t getting me anywhere. I turned to the right and started climbing the hill. I was quickly out of the shade and into the open sunlight. The air was still with only a tiny breeze, a bit sticky and humid, starting to get warm. The hill was bigger and steeper than it had appeared and soon I was breathing hard and sweating. I pulled the piece of ripped fabric from my back pocket and wiped my face.

(Why are you carrying a piece of a towel?)

As the hill rose I could finally see something of the area around me, for all the good it did. Everything outside of the immediate vicinity was blurred and indistinct, robbed of detail, reduced to mere shapes and colors. There were large, multi-colored structures stretching up into the sky in all directions. Glimpses of movement appeared and vanished on the structures, but no matter how I tried to watch them and follow their paths I couldn’t make any sense of them. My universe had been hidden from me behind warped and imperfect lenses. I thought I might have lost my glasses; when I tried to touch my face I couldn’t tell if I was wearing them or not.

(Are you sure you even wear glasses?)

The roaring and screaming sound came again, louder this time, from somewhere on the hill above me. Almost immediately it came again, slightly different, from down the hill behind me, and again, again different, from down the hill in front of me. I couldn’t hear any words in the screaming, just a chorus of shrill shrieks. With each pass of noise again came the accompanying wordless, voiceless songs of promise and hope.

(What do they know that you need to learn?)

At the point where my path reached its highest point on the hill I could see a crossroads. The road I was on ran straight ahead down to the trees on the other side, while a steep set of steps went down the hill to the right. Up the hill to the left was a steep, rocky footpath fading into weeds and scraggly scrub pines. Next to the intersection was a mailbox. When I got near, I saw something or someone run up and put something in it, before vanishing down the stairs leading down the hill to the right.

(Who or what is out there with you?)

I approached the mailbox and reached to open it. A feeling of impending doom came over me and I snatched my hand back. The source of the fear was unclear, but it got worse as I came closer to the mailbox. It was déjà vu, as if I had been here before and done this repeatedly in the past, even though I couldn’t remember any details. I took three quick steps back.

(What are you afraid of?)

After thinking about the problem, I pulled the nasty knife out of the sheath on my belt. Using pieces of my shoelaces I attached it to the end of the big stick, making a crude spear. Feeling more confident yet still cautious, I used the tip of the nasty knife to pull open the mailbox door. As soon as the door fell open I rammed the spear into the mailbox with all of my strength.

(Do you think you’re clever now?)

The knife stuck into something which began to writhe and struggle inside the mailbox. I held onto the big stick for dear life, leaning my weight into the attack. Soon the thrashing began to subside and a thick, yellow fluid ran out of the mailbox. Gradually the unseen grip on the knife was released, while a large cloud of purple smoke spewed out of the mailbox door and flew away on the slight breeze. There were indistinct and threatening forms in the smoke but I kept upwind and clear of them.

(What have you done now?)

Holding the makeshift spear at the ready, I peered cautiously into the mailbox. All that could be seen there was an envelope. The earlier dread had disappeared, replaced by anxious anticipation. After looking around to make sure I was still alone and safe, I reached in and took the envelope, opened it, and pulled out the single sheet of paper it held.

(Do you really want to know what it says?)

On the paper, in printed block letters, was a cryptic message. “TO STAY SAFE, GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM. TO BE STRONG, GO DOWN THE STEPS TO THE RIGHT. TO BE LOVED, CONTINUE ON AHEAD. DO NOT GO UPHILL TO THE LEFT FOR YOU DO NOT YET DESERVE THAT PATH.” As I read it, the words faded and the paper turned to dust, following the purple smoke onto the rising winds.

(Can you choose wisely?)

I wanted to be angry, to scream into the sky and vent all of my frustrations, to throw a huge temper tantrum. I didn’t know if I was playing a game and I didn’t know what the rules might be, but this was completely unfair. I wanted to be safe, loved, and strong altogether. It was cruel to make me choose one over the others. There had to be a way to get it all and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I found it.

(Who told you that life was fair and why did you believe them?)

I peered down the three paths to see if I could get any further clues about what they held. The afternoon grew warmer and more uncomfortable as my vision remained blurred and indistinct. The thunder, screaming, and singing continued periodically around me, but brought no insight or additional knowledge. Trapped by my uncertainty and indecision, I found myself unable to move.

(Why can’t you have faith in yourself?)

Staring once again at the three roads and contemplating the choices of strength, love, and safety, I finally resolved to pick one at random and move onward. As I started to chant, “Eenee, meeny, miney, moe,” I desperately wished for an alternative to the three paths before me. That’s when I stopped chanting and turned to look at the rocky path leading up the hill. I knew with certainty She was up there somewhere.

(You’re not about to do something foolish, are you?)

At first, anger drove me on. The accusation of being unworthy stung my pride. The assumption of my failure filled me with a desire to confront my adversary and prove them wrong. I began to walk up the hill, the path quickly turning to nothing more than a rabbit trail. Thorns and tumbleweeds closed in from both sides and at times I was forced to hack a path through them with the nasty knife or push them back with the big stick. Progress was slow and sometimes painful. At one point I looked back to see how far I had come from the crossroads, but it had vanished into the warped and distorted distance.

(Why did your ego lead you to turn your back on strength, love, and safety?)

As I climbed, the periodic sounds gradually grew louder and more distinct. The roaring and clanking became more mechanical and less like distant thunder. The shrill screaming started to differentiate into distinct voices, intermixed with laughter. The music that followed kept me moving when the anger and rage began to fade, replacing them with passion.

(Why do you believe you’re worthy when you were told you weren’t?)

Near the crest of the hill the sounds began to be accompanied by visions. Looking up high into the sky above, some of the gigantic colored structures could be seen stretching upward toward the clouds. With each roar and scream I could now see something large moving past at high velocity, sometimes briefly blotting out the sun. The source of the singing was now getting closer, apparently near the ground just ahead.

(Will you accept the consequences of what you’re doing?)

I broke out of the brush into a large open field at the top of the hill. A white house stood at the center. On the porch sat a Woman in a rocking chair. She was neither old nor young, plain nor beautiful, but while She was relaxed and rocking back and forth, an incredible feeling of strength radiated from Her. I walked toward her and then stopped at the bottom of the steps leading up to the porch.

(Now that you have found Me, what do you wish of Me?)

“I am asking You for Your help,” I said. “I do not know where I am or how to go home. You are the singer, but I do not understand Your song. Please tell me who You are.”

(Would you believe Me if I told you I’m a muse, your muse?)

“I don’t know if I can believe or not. Trust and faith are hard for me. But I need Your help. I can’t do it by myself.”

(Why do you think you’re alone? Why do you talk only of your needs? What of Mine?)

“I don’t know what I have that I can give to You. I don’t know what it is You might want or need.”

(Do you value the black pearl necklace you are wearing?)

I fingered the necklace, counting the pearls on the string as if it were a rosary. “Do You want it? I will give it to You if You wish.”

(Do you know what it will cost you? Do you know the pearls are your spirit, your passion, your energy, your life, your soul? Do you still wish to give it to Me?)

Without hesitation, I took off the black pearl necklace. I took one step up onto the porch and placed it on Her lap.

(Very well, I will help you. The dark sounds of the world, the rumblings and the thunder, they will make you aware of the dangers in the world and you will know fear. The shrieks of happiness and laughter will give you the hope and joy to carry on despite the fears. My songs will be there when you listen and have faith, not to give you wisdom, but to let you see the wisdom you already have.)

I nodded and took a deep breath, feeling refreshed and good for the first time in recent memory. I looked at the Muse and saw the strength, love, and safety in Her gaze and Her belief and faith in me. “How do I go home?”

(Use the shiny key in your pocket. It will unlock any door, if you allow it.)

“But I don’t know where the door is.”

(It’s wherever you allow it to be and make it exist. You’re the writer and the creator. Write. Create.)

Behind Her I now noticed the front door, boarded up. I walked over to it and pulled off the two slats crossed like an “X” on the frame. Reaching into my pocket I found the shiny key and inserted it into the lock.

Turning the key, the door swung open into infinity.

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Twenty & Forty-Five Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today, fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy began slamming into Jupiter.

HST (Shoemaker-Levy vs Jupiter) 2014-07-07

Photo: Hubble Space Telescope

In May the comet had broken up as it neared Jupiter and tidal forces shredded it into twenty-two major pieces that we could see (and probably tens of thousands that were too small for us to see).

HST (Shoemaker-Levy vs Jupiter) 2014-07-21

Photo: Hubble Space Telescope

On July 16, 1994, the first large fragment hit Jupiter’s atmosphere. The enormous amount of energy released left a disturbance in the cloud layers that was several times larger than the Earth.

HST (Shoemaker-Levy vs Jupiter) 2014-07-22

Photo: Hubble Space Telescope

Between July 16th and July 22nd a string of giant impact marks could be seen as the comet fragments impacted and the planet turned beneath them, exposing new impact sites every few hours.

These dark impact storms could be seen for weeks afterward and were easily visible even in small telescopes such as mine. (Yes, I had my telescope out on the sidewalk and shared the views with everyone in the neighborhood.)

Apollo 11 Launch (39961)

Photo: NASA

Even more importantly, forty-five years ago today, on July 16, 1969, three men left Earth on top of  6.2 million pounds of high explosives.

Apollo 11 Launch (KSC-69PC-442)

Photo: NASA

It was indeed a moment that the entire world watched, seconded only by what happened four days later.

Apollo 11 Launch (39526)

Photo: NASA

If you’re on Twitter, I recommend you follow @astVintageSpace as she “live tweets” the Apollo 11 mission. She’s recreating the mission in real time (forty-five years later) as if Twitter had existed in 1969. What’s really important is that she has a lot of really cool information, quotes, and minor events that I had never heard before. (Hindsight = 20/20.)

Photo: NASA

Regardless of why we did it, the fact remains that we did it. Our society and our country would be much better served if we could remember what we can do when we want to and dare to. Maybe then we could dare to do something even more “impossible” and inspiring instead of the bickering and bitching that seems to be tying us in knots these days.

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Photo: NASA

As they left the Earth behind them, only the seventh, eighth, and ninth men to ever do so, they looked back and saw this. (Original, high-resolution NASA photo is here. It would make a wonderful lock page for your tablet or phone. Just sayin’.)

Today, all is not lost. There are six astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, which has been continuously manned for 13 years and 256 days. Early this morning a Cygnus robot cargo craft docked there, bringing up supplies, spare parts, and new science experiments. We have robots (plural!) orbiting and driving around on the surface of Mars. We have the first spacecraft orbiting Mercury, now in its fourth year of doing so. We have the first spacecraft orbiting Saturn, now in its eleventh year in the Saturnian system. We have a second orbiter on its way to Jupiter, and in less than one year we’ll be doing the first flyby of Pluto. The Hubble Space Telescope is going strong and the Webb Space Telescope is getting ready to launch in late 2018. We see the first private spacecraft (unmanned, so far) from Orbital Sciences and SpaceX. Soon we may see private spacecraft taking paying passengers on suborbital flights. There is hope that not too long after that we’ll see private spacecraft taking paying passengers into orbit where they can visit a private space station.

While all of that is wonderful, it’s bittersweet sometimes to think that it’s taken forty-five years from Apollo 11 to get to where we are now. How much further along and how much further outward could we be now if we had just been able to maintain our momentum and drive after winning the race to the moon, instead of gutting the program and changing (some would say “losing”) our focus.

It’s time to put thousands and tens of thousands of people in orbit, not dozens. It’s time to return to the moon, this time to build research stations, then exotic tourist destinations, then cities. It’s time to go to Mars, to stay, to live, to colonize. It’s time to mine the asteroids, send robots to Europa and Ganymede and Callisto and Titan, and make sure that we know we’re protected from any incoming rocks or comets. (What if Shoemaker-Levy had hit the Earth instead of Jupiter? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.)

It’s time. It’s been time for forty-five years now.

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