Reflections on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – 1826 – Sue

It is New Year’s Eve. Sue had come over to check on us. She does gardening and I have been trying to do gardening. Sometime she will come over to share some of the things that she grows. And sometimes when I have something that has grown, I will give her some too. (I always have rosemary, oregano, basil, and cilantro).

Sue is a long time friend of ours. Her son, Chris, and our son, Chris are in the same grade. And they had hung out a lot for the math competitions. But Sue’s Chris had gone to Klein Oak to be in the IB program and our Chris went to Klein Cain which was a new school but would be the school that all the non-IB kids would go to from our neighborhood.

Did you know that NASA was sending people to the moon in 2024?
“Don’t know, just hear it from you.”

Do you know the last time that we sent people to the moon?
“1972…my gosh… why did we stop?”
It cost a lot. People felt like we achieved the goal of beating the Russians and showing of our power. And there really were not any other reasons that the American people were convinced to go.

China’s space program. I told Sue about China’s mission that was planned for 2020 to go to the moon, collect some lunar samples, and return that to the earth. This mission has happened and was completely successful.
New York Times: China Brings Moon Rocks to Earth, and a New Era of Competition to Space
Washington Post: China moon mission returns to Earth, vaulting nation into ranks of space powers
National Geographic: China’s new moon mission returns the first lunar samples since 1976 China’s Chang’e 5 moon samples are headed to the lab

Also, in 2019, China had more launches than any other country. China (34) had the most launches, and with the inclusion of RocketLabs (6), the US (21 + 6) came in second, followed by Russia (25).

China launched a rover to Mars in 2020.
China launches ambitious Tianwen-1 Mars rover mission
China chooses landing site for its Tianwen-1 Mars rover

BBC: China’s Tianwen-1 Mars rover rockets away from Earth
Nature: China’s successful launch of Mars mission seals global era in deep-space exploration
Spaceflight Now: China’s Mars-bound probe returns self-portrait from deep space

“Did NASA’s funding get cut?”
NASA’s funding has had a slight increase, basically just keeping up with inflation:

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Breakdown of NASA’s budget and how it was distributed from 2010 to 2020

But it not just “how much money we spend on NASA” but “HOW” we spend that money.

NASA gets more value out of the Commercial Re-Supply (CRS) which pays companies to deliver so many kilograms of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) which pays to deliver astronauts to the ISS, and the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programs than it does from its historic cost plus contractors which pays contractors for their work. And when you pay companies for services and results, you tend to get services and results. When you pay companies for work and effort without holding them accountable to delivering results, well, expect to be paying a lot for work and effort. And don’t plan on seeing the results. (There are a lot of good engineers that work at these government contracting companies that want to make something happen, but the business people that run them are laser focused on quarterly profits and risk reduction. And that means dragging things out. Adding layer of layer of overhead.)

What do you think about the first woman going to the moon?
“Woman can do everything that man does.”

“What is the final purpose. Since we spend huge money on the research we must have some significant result.”
The why question is important. It is right to expect to get something out of it. And what we want to get out of it is laying the foundation for expanding humanity and the economy to be beyond earth. Space mining needs to become a thing. Space power generation needs to become a thing. Space tourism should happen. And space colonization and habitation should be the future of humanity. But we get so tied up in our world down here, we forget that we don’t only live on a speck in the universe, but we live on a speck compared to a speck. The idea of humanity expanding into space needs to be something that becomes a part of our psyche.

Humans were meant to travel and use all the resources in the universe for the advancement of knowledge. We can and should go forth into the solar system.

Reflections on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – 1827 – Komal

Komal is a family friend. Her children and our children know each other. Her son Vivek created the High School Astronaut website. Sunil, her husband, is a great friend of ours as well.

It was great to get to talk to Komal about our return to the moon. She said she did not know about it until I had asked her for the interview. And I think it is still the case that most people that do not have a hobby or profession of space know about it.

Reflections on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – 1828 – Maggie

Today is my birthday. A year ago it was also my birthday. I have an amazingly supportive family. A year ago we met up at Valley Ranch Bar-b-q. Maggie, my sister, had gotten me some space figurines. One of them was of the Saturn V rocket which took us to the moon the first time. I was thinking that Maggie would be the perfect person to interview.

I am glad to have this video to watch today. For today’s celebration we all met in my backyard and we had Valley Ranch BBQ also. It was a great celebration.

Reflections on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – 1829 – Samid

Samid’s family and my family are friends. We attend each other’s celebrations. Samid is the same age as Stephen, my oldest son. Samid had come over to see Stephen while they both were in town from college.

He was just the perfect person to interview. Samid said, “If you go up to people randomly on the street and asked, ‘How would you like for us to go to the moon in 2024?’ they would be excited about it, even if they did not know anything about space.

I can say that after a year of interviewing people (about 80 of which was literally going up to people on the street, in the stores, in the coffee shops, getting off the elevator at the hotel I happened to be in), that most people are excited about the prospect of us going back to the moon. Having humanity out in space pushing further can make us all feel like we are part of something greater. That we are actually making some visible, obvious progress.

How do we measure progress? We can definitely do it economically. Are we making more? Are things cheaper to buy? We can also get a feel from the news stories. Are their protests? Are parades of celebration? We also hear about the global warming, pollution and the like. War or no war? Beggars or everyone with a way to meet their needs in a dignified way? These are all slippery things. And there is no obvious improvements. But to see humanity on the moon when the last time was 1972. That! That is something we can understand and see and point to. And when we start having people routinely going and coming from the moon. Staying there longer times. Sharing with us the stories of the adventure, the risk, the challenges, the boredom, the discovers, the teamwork, the new insights.. “While I was walking on the moon, it occurred to me that….” (I can’t wait to hear the end of that sentence.)

Samid mentioned that in his childhood there would be projects that were something like “If you have a vacation on the moon, what would it be like.” and now with the work by NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others the idea of a holiday on the moon does not seem so remote.

The Economist magazine published an editorial called “Plague Year” and it was pointing out how the lockdowns have caused acceleration of some systemic challenges. Working from home is a proven concept. It works. It saves time. It is not necessary for us to be in the same office. In fact, it is undesirable. Because of the cost of the office. Because of the cost of time. Because of the risk of contagion. We can work remotely, and we can work better. We need the social interactions, but it does not necessary need to be in a central office every day of every week. It could be weekly get togethers or something like that.

Also, the pandemic has people not travelling but wishing more than ever to travel. People not doing the things they were used to, but wanting to do more than ever. “Life is not for hoarding but for living.”

The Economist article looks at parallels between the period of World War 1 and the Spanish Flu and the fact that led to the roaring 20s. And it supposes that we are about to enter another roaring 20s, but this time we have aviation, and space travel, and the internet. World Wide, High speed, low latency internet is about to be a thing and from multiple providers.

Tom Cruise is going to space in 2021. There will be several space tourists over the next couple of year. Virgin Galactic will also be flying people. Hopefully New Shepard will be up and working soon. And Space perspectives will be taking people to the edge of the atmosphere. And SpaceX will develop the Starship. It is happening! which is echoing the

Week in Review and Plans for the Coming Week – December 27, 2020

Accomplishments for the week:
•7 Countdown to the Moon Interviews
•7 Review of last year’s Countdown to the Moon Interviews
•North Houston Space Society – First Elections, First Business meeting; 2020 chapter report draft complete; Monthly outreach meetings Set and Next Business Meeting Set
•Successful Christmas Celebration
•Significant Winter Cleaning
•No Coffee or Tea
•Prepare for arrival of Tonal

Plans for the week
•7 Countdown to the Moon Interviews
•7 Review of last year’s Countdown to the Moon Interviews
•Put Countdown to the Moon on a micro SD Card
•Complete North Houston Space Society Chapter Report
•Market the Jan 9th North Houston Space Society Meeting
•Finish Reading “Notes from underground” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
•Exercise 7 days on the Tonal
•Run 3 days this week (3 miles each) – Less than a 12 minute mile
•No Coffee – No TEA
•Enjoy my last 7 days of vacation!

Reflecting on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – 1830 – Saroj

It was a day that I was not out talking to strangers. I continued to connect with people that I was already interacting with. Saroj is Radha’s grandmother. I had interviewed Radha a couple of days ago.

Saroj was a high school science teacher in Punjab, India. Her favorite area of science is zoology. Her science teacher taught zoology with much enthusiasm and excitement. And like so many people, the impact of a teacher who is excited about his/her subject can not be underestimated. If a teacher knows a lot about a subject and is enthusiastic, and is able to connect with students, then those students will also become excited about that subject.

Saroj asks a question that would be asked by many people over the course of the year of interviews “Why did we stop going to the moon?” And I just thought of a reason that makes sense to me. “We no longer thought it was worth it.”

Why were we going to the moon? The main political driver and the thing that stuck in the minds of the people was to “beat the Russians”. The Russians beat us badly at the beginning of the space race. Who first put a satellite in orbit, the Russians. Who first launched a person to space? The Russians. Who did the first space walk? The Russians. And on and on the list goes.

Going to the moon was to show “Yes, we got a late start. But we can beat you if we choose.”

And so, when we got to the moon that first time, there may have been many people who wondered why we even went of the second time.

But “Beating the Russians” is not the only reason to go. To understand the moon. To explore and develop the resources of the moon. To observe this area of space from an unique perspective. All of these reasons are importan.

If we reduce the reason of going back to the moon to “landing the first woman”, we will miss the point and have the same problem. “We go to the moon to understand and explore. To learn more. To learn what we don’t know. To learn what it can teach us. We go to the moon to develop resources that will help us explore further, more economically. Resources that will help us back on earth. We go to get practice to go further. To Mars. to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. We will send humans throughout the solar system. to the nearby stars, and eventually throughout the galaxy.” These are the reasons we need the emphesize.

Reflecting on Countdown to the Moon a Year ago – 1831- April

I’m a bit nervous going up to people. “Can you help me with my project?” Sounds scammy. “Can I ask you about us returning to the moon?” “I’m documenting people’s views about our return to the moon can I ask you a few questions?” How to start? What do you say in those first few seconds that communicates what the project is about and that people should participate?

This is one of the things I will figure out as part of this project. But on December 26, 2019, my sister Christa and I were going to Coldspring. I can’t remember if I was dropping off James or if I was picking him up. Or if I was just transporting him between Maggie’s place where Christa would also be or what. In any case, Christa and I were going from Houston/Spring to Coldspring, and she can’t go to my dad’s property. There is a long history there. So I dropped her off at the Exxon there in Coldspring, and I would pick her up later. And now that I think about it, James was with us when I dropped off Christa. And he wasn’t when I was picking up Christa. See! If you just think it through, it is possible to figure it out!

While Christa was at the Exxon she met April the attendant that was working there. And Christa suggest I interview her.

Looking back over this interview, this is originally what I had in mind. 1,840 of these types of interactions. But the project has definitely changed a lot and I have some really in depth interviews. Also, if I had stuck strictly to the plan of doing these types of interviews, it could have become exceedingly boring. And I’m not sure I would have been able to make it through the year. The variety in the interviews is definitely helping to keep me going. Some short, some long. Some with people that don’t think about the space programs and some that do. Some with random people, and some with people I already know. It is the variety that is key to keeping the project interesting to me.

April was surprised to learn that it has been 1972 since we went back to the moon. She thinks that space exploration could be good. But she does not think about it that much. She will likely just read about us returning, it will not be a moment to celebrate.

How could I improve this? Think ahead to the questions. What am I going to ask?

Can you say a little about yourself?

“Did you know we were sending people back to the moon in 2024?” – explore the answer

“What do you think about it?” — Explore the answer

“If it were safe and affordable would you go into space?” -explore the answer

that is the general pattern. Though I’d like to toss in the “Do you know the last time we went to the moon?” And “Have you heard about Space Hero?” and “What would you hope that we get out of returning to the moon?” are some regular questions that I would ask.

It is about making incremental, step by step improvements. Each interview I learn a little more, and become a little more confident.

Reflecting on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – Radha – 1832

My family went to go join the Malhotras for Christmas day. Their two daughters, Radha and Anjani are close to the ages of my two sons Stephen and Christopher. We had been hanging out with each other for years. Also, Sandeep’s parents have been friends with Sonia’s parents. So it has been a nice setup.

It was only natural that I would ask one of them for an interview when we went over.

Just remembering back to how much had changed. Only in about 3 months school would be put online because of the pandemic. We had no idea of what would happen in the next few months with lockdowns, concerns of mass death, and the like. I believe the big news item at the time was the impeachment of President Trump.

Radha mentioned that she felt awkward with interviews. I felt like I was feeling awkward doing the interview. And watching the interview there is a bit of awkwardness. Like we are both not sure what we are doing. But one note is that after 1840 interviews, it should be quite natural to talk to people. The key though is not just to go through the motions 1840 times, but rather to try to improve in some way each time.

There is the old adage “practice makes perfect.” But my band director, Leon Steward pointed out that “perfect practice makes perfect.” Practice actually make permanent. If you practice the mistakes, you will make them over and over again.

As I do these interviews, I think it is key to avoid verbal pauses like “ah” and “uh”. And it is key to walk the interviewee through their thought processes in a logical and comfortable way. But also in an efficient way.

Radha would take a vacation to space, but no more than a month. She does not look for space news, but finds it fascinating when she hears about it at our North Houston Space Society meetings.

She really like the talk by the space architect Suzie Bianco who gave a talk a couple years ago. Seeing the vision of what it could look like inspired her more than the technical talks.

Radha had a few suggestions for questions I could ask during my interviews:

  1. When was the last time you thought about space?
  2. What was the last space news you remember?

Radha’s passion at the time was studying the mind and brain. And she would be interested in more talk on how space affects this.

Reflecting on Countdown to the Moon a year ago – 1833 – Julian

My mother-in-law was a Hindi teacher at the Indian School in Bahrain. One of her students was Babish Soni. My wife Sonia is several years younger than him, but remembers him coming over for Hindi tutoring. We have all kept in touch. They live in New Jersey. When Babish was flying through Houston, he had stopped over at our house. And when we went to Philadelphia for the World Chess Open one year, they came over to visit. And then when we drove to Exeter, NH from Houston, we had stopped by their house. And we had visited a few times since.

I believe they were on their way to Panama other place last year and they had a stop over in Houston.

Juliean is Babish’s oldest son and I got to sit down and talk to him about NASA plans to return to the moon.

Several things stood out as I re-watched the video.

Julian was surprised to learn that the last time we went to the moon was 1972. “Wow! That is too long.”

Q: “Do you think we should have a moonbase?”

A: “That would be useless now, maybe later.”

This made me think about our base in antarctica. What do we get from that? And are there parallels with how that developed and a moonbase?

“We need to improve down here before expanding up there.”

Global Warming is a concern. “We need to get gas cars out of here.”

And before dealing with poverty, we should make sure that everyone has food and shelter.

“How do we produce electricity?”
Solar panels is an idea. But what if we put the solar panels in orbit so they have 24×7 sun light. And what if we made the solar panels using the materials on the moon?

He suggested the movie “Mission Mangal”

Mission Mangal is the incredible true story behind India’s mission to Mars. It shows how Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) and Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan) together with a team of brilliant scientists successfully sent a satellite to Mars in their very first attempt, a mammoth feat achieved by no other nation. This is a tale of inspiration which shows how dreams transform into reality with a vision, the courage to pursue it and fulfill it with sheer determination. #MissionMangalTrailer

We talked about fixing local problems and using that to build up to bigger solutions. We talked about Starship and point to point earth travel. That will drive the development and deployment of Starship. And once we have the craft, we will be able to go to orbit and to the moon.

We talked about the CyberTruck unveil. And many other things.

I look forward to seeing where Julian goes and what he does.

Reflecting on my Countdown to the Moon a year ago with Sterling (1834)

A year ago today, Sonia, Stephen, Pooja, and I were downtown. There was a comedy show that Stephen and Pooja wanted to go see. While there I was looking around for someone to interview. There were lots of people to potentially interviewed. But Sterling had come up to ask for a handout. And I thought that since we were already talking he would be a good person to interview.

I was surprised by Sterling’s views. He had some serious points to make that we can all probably agree with.

(Sterling says it was Christmas day, but it was actually a couple of days before.)

He knew we were going to the moon

“Exploration is good to learn, but let it be beneficial.”

“As long as it doesn’t hinder life or stop learning then I am all for it.”

Do you think it will be inspirational?

“Depends on who you are.”

If you could go to the moon would you?


What would you like to see them do on the moon?


“This is what life is about yah, creative questions. Remember that!”