Utter Failure And Ignominious End

Poor Phobos-Grunt!  Saddled with the worst space mission name ever — one that evokes images of sweaty, cursing, truss-wearing longshoremen, rather than the lofty aspirations of space exploration — it soon will cease to be.

Scientists say Phobos-Grunt will hit Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday.  The star-crossed probe is expected to explode and break into little pieces that burn up on re-entry.  Scientists are confident that the chances are vanishingly small that any remaining bits of junk could injure any unsuspecting human going about his business.

How can scientists be confident about anything when it comes to Phobos-Grunt?  It has been the biggest space exploration flop in years.  After liftoff, it never performed as designed and didn’t even make it to its intended Earth orbit, much less to Mars.  Given that record of utter and ignominious failure, why do we think Phobos-Grunt will go gently into that good night?  Isn’t it more likely that Phobos-Grunt will, consistent with its dismal name and even more disastrous record, do something that will cement its reputation as the greatest space fiasco in history — like plow into a bus of sightseeing nuns or knock off Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore?

Say, are there any planned meetings of world leaders on Sunday?

Worst Space Mission Name Ever

Worst Space Mission Name Ever (II)

Mount Rushmore’s 70th

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the completion of work on Mount Rushmore.  From start to finish, the blasting and shaping of the colossal heads of four American presidents took 14 years to complete and cost less than $1 million.

Mount Rushmore was the dream of one man, Doane Robinson, and became the obsession of its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  They determined that the huge heads should be carved into Mount Rushmore, and they obtained the support of President Calvin Coolidge and key members of Congress who helped make their dream a reality.  They were capable of envisioning a memorial blasted into the face of a mountain and then figuring out how it could be done safely.  (No one was killed during the construction, despite frequent use of dynamite and other explosives.)

The result is a classically American monument, a testament to American ingenuity and the product of people who dreamed big, bold dreams.  But Mount Rushmore is more than an engineering feat, it is an artistic achievement as well.  Americans who visit Mount Rushmore feels a sense of pride in the accomplishment and a patriotic stirring at the depiction of the four Presidents.  If you’ve visited Mount Rushmore, you’ll know what I mean.

Vacation Time: The Western Swing (Part III)

On the road into the Crazy Horse Memorial

We awoke to a brilliant blue sky and warm temperatures and then, stoked by a hearty breakfast, took a short drive to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is still under construction and has been under construction for years.  We also visited it on the Webner family trip west in the 1960s, and it has made some progress since then, but not as much as you would think in nearly 40 years.  The Crazy Horse Memorial is much larger than Mt. Rushmore, and the kids actually thought it was more memorable than Mt. Rushmore.   Walking around the grounds of the Crazy Horse Memorial, you realize that, in a profound way, it sends its own special message about out country’s treatment of native Americans.  Why should it take decades to complete a monument to native Americans?  (Note to Congress:  if you are going to pass another stimulus package — God forbid! — we could do worse than contribute whatever funds are needed to complete the Crazy Horse Memorial.)

Kish and Richard at Custer National Park

After visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial it seemed like a good idea to get out into the countryside on a beautiful day and get some exercise.  We therefore visited the nearby Custer National Park, which is an enormous, largely ignored tract set squarely in southwestern South Dakota.  The Park has many different trails, and we selected one at random.  Almost immediately, we came upon an enormous, fly-blown pile of droppings.  At that point, Kish decided to stay back with the car, and the boys and I struck out over the prairie.  The trail wound through woodland and a skittish prairie dog community, past streams and rock faces, and during the entire walk we did not see another human being.

At one point, however, we did see, up ahead on the trail, what appeared to be a very large, very dead animal.  We quickly decided that the better part of valor would be to bypass that area, so we scrambled up a hillside and back down again a safe distance past the remains.  Still later in the walk the trail took us past a solitary, munching buffalo, which also caused us to loop around while keeping a wary eye on the shaggy beast.  When we finally got back to the car we felt like we had gotten a good taste of the real, unadorned West.

Our day ended with dinner and a stay at the Bullock Hotel in Deadwood.  Deadwood, of course, is one of the evocative names of the Old West, and Kish and I were big fans of the excellent HBO series of the same name.  I’m sorry to say that Deadwood was a real disappointment for us.  Sure, you can see where Wild Bill Hickok supposedly was shot, and the Bullock Hotel itself is an interesting bit of Americana.  For the most part, however, Deadwood seems like a sad mass of cheesy gambling establishments and tawdry bars.

Vacation Time:  The Western Swing (Part II)

Vacation Time:  The Western Swing (Part I)