Friday, September 23, 2011

Down Around Our Heads (update)

I was driving through the post-Rapture landscape of western Kansas yesterday along a two-lane blacktop, scarcely another truck passing me for mile upon mile beneath an unblemished sky, lost in the comforting miasma of my own profound thoughts, when off in the blue middle distance beyond my bug-soiled windscreen something brilliant incandesced into the far horizon like a P-51 into a grandstand, trailing an instantaneous silver wake. It flashed and was gone in an instant - an enormous meteor, the Second Coming, a manifestation of the Evil One - I had no clue what I'd just seen. I'd never heard of a meteor sighted in broad daylight but I couldn't think what else it could plausibly be. I like to think I might have been the only person in the world to have seen it. It was brilliant, hot and instantaneous.

No, not like that.

In fact, meteors in broad daylight are occasionally reported, although as this site chronicles daytime sightings in Texas and Kentucky, I would normally be inclined to remain skeptical since the cognoscenti all insist the Rapture will come to Texas first. Then Kentucky, probably.

Jesus: The Tortilla ("Jesus, the tortilla!")

But I saw something on the Kansas horizon yesterday and it seems that the only plausible explanation could be a meteorite. Well, it seemed yesterday the only plausible explanation - until I spotted this headline in the New York Times (my daily paper, as you may have surmised): "Falling Satellite Could Land in U.S."

Even Miguel can put dos y dos together.  Apparently, even after NASA lost most of its funding there are still six tons of malfunctioning NASA hardware loose inside the earth's orbit and on their way down - "Falling Satellite Could End Where It Began, NASA Says," reads the sub-head inside the Times site, proffering a textbook example of retributive justice if ever there were a fair exchange of eyeballs. "Where it began" would be presumably somewhere in Florida. I could probably live with the horrible consequences of that. NASA officials expect "re-entry" late today or early tomorrow. "Re-entry" is another way of saying that "At least 26 pieces, the largest 330 pounds, are expected to survive the plunge and land along a path 500 miles long."

Let's be honest - none of us has a clue as to what the hell is going on in outer space. We have no idea how many people are floating around up there "manning" some contraption or other.

(Has digital images of you in Under Armour.)

We have no idea how many Chinese or American or Pakistani or Iranian space launches have sailed off over our unsuspecting heads, manufactured to less than exacting standards by impoverished workers unprotected by OSHA labor standards under conditions the EPA could never sanction, a payload waiting only to plummet into your basement and destroy your crop of hydroponic medical marijuana ("No! - it's organic arugula.")

 Iranian space probe

Not to mention private companies sending their own junk into space. The Times report concludes that "About one satellite five metric tons or larger re-enters the atmosphere every year. For example, on a test flight of its Falcon 9 rocket (see photo) in June 2010, the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation placed the second stage and a prototype capsule into orbit. That object . . . came crashing back to Earth two and a half weeks later without causing a media ripple." 

Corporate returns

Public indifference to a rain of potentially lethal metal on our heads is disturbing. But what other response makes sense under the circumstances? The prospect invites the same sort of fatalism one might expect on learning that the stock exchange has just eaten your retirement fund or the FBI has been intercepting your cell phone calls or you got a computer virus from downloading porn or the Koch Brothers will be mining coal in your back yard. What can you do but shrug, turn up your collar, and mutter self-referentially, "Poor bastard." Not a long term solution, to be sure.

For my own part, I couldn't care less. I've been too busy watching the Republican candidates in foro, debating the finer policy points of the End Time. Some days, the Rapture just can't come soon enough. The Long Term Solution, I like to call it.

"Back from Outer Space"

Update 10/22/2011:  from The Daily Beast 

German Telescope Will Fall to Earth

Didn't we just do this? A two-ton German space telescope will crash back to earth today or tomorrow, but scientists can't determine where it will land. The satellite, launched in 1990, will likely break up into 30 or so pieces as it goes through the atmosphere. The largest single piece, the telescope's mirror, is heat resistant and weighs about 1.7 tons. It comes just weeks after NASA's six-ton UARS satellite crashed back to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean. NASA was unable to predict where UARS would land, but the odds of it hitting a populated area were infinitesimal.

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