* take nothing for granted    
Unless otherwise indicated all photos © Richard McKie 2005 - 2021

Who is Online

We have 76 guests and one member online

Article Index

Houston Texas

 

We had booked a hotel downtown in Houston but were soon seeing images of flooding on TV with small boats paddling about the area. Enquiries to the hotel initially went unanswered - presumably they were underwater.   So deciding caution was the better part of valour we booked another hotel on high ground nearer the NASA Space Centre where we were to spend at least a day and where we could self-park the car, driving into town to the museums and so on.  We arrived quite early and decided on a quick trip out to the Space Centre.  They already had our details and we got in free as VIPs, having paid on-line from Australia for the full Level Nine Tour two days later.

In addition to various pieces of hardware, including the Space Shuttle Independence atop a Boeing 747, and related visual displays there are several theatres in which movies reveal various aspects of the US space program.  

 

Shuttle Shuttle
Shuttle Shuttle

In remembrance of the mostly very successful NASA Space Shuttle Program

 

Later we would drive into town to check out the hotel we might have stayed in only to find everything looking like nothing had happened.  There were a few skips in the street further down but were these unusual?  Indeed except for a blown over roadside advertising billboard on the way in, damage seemed non-existent.  To be fair, most of the flooding had been on the other side of the city to us.  Downtown the response to President Trump's 'most expensive hurricane damage ever' had obviously been instantaneously effective, like the sticker we saw on a car in the car park: "Trump has made America Great Again"

As it turned out there would have been little point in staying downtown. Houston is the fourth most populous city in the US after Chicago but it has only a third of the population density and less than half that of LA. Thus the city is huge and spread out and a car is the only way to get about quickly from one district to another.  The shopping outlets and museums are in their own widely separated districts and unless on business there is little to see in the business district except the usual high rise office towers.  So we used the car and drove many miles to shopping malls; places to eat or get food; and museums.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has one of the best collections of fossilised life forms I've ever seen.  And it's very well presented, within the generally accepted time frame of four billion years.  In other words it's the same scientifically established view that you would see in a similar museum in New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris or Berlin or Melbourne or Sydney.  Yet over forty percent of the entire US population believes in Creationism with by far the majority of these believers in the southern states. Of the remainder the majority believe that God guided evolution's hand to bring about mankind.  Schools in Louisiana and Tennessee and some schools in Florida and Texas still teach this nonsense as an 'alternative' point of view to modern evolutionary theory.  So they know that out in the street well over half the population believe that all this is heresy. 

I particularly liked a very beautiful Foucault pendulum that demonstrates unequivocally to doubters, if such there remain, that the Earth is rotating every 24 hours and the sun is therefore relatively stationary.  The related graphic says 'Reality Check'.  It might well describe the entire museum.

 


Foucault pendulum - Houston Museum of Natural Science - Click on this picture to see more
 

Thus there is a huge divide in America between two cultures. One is highly educated, knowledgeable and sceptical while the other, often in the majority, is poorly educated and superstitious; marginally literate and numerate; ignorant of even the most basic facts of existence; and ready to believe in nonsense.  If only the second culture could somehow become educated enough to be introduced to their own nation's excellent museums.

Perhaps the Space Program can cross the cultural divide.  The NASA public exhibition is very accessible but perhaps seen by many less knowledgeable as yet another amusement park.  Then there's the full Level 9 Tour that illustrates and celebrates, for those with a real interest, current and on-going programs involving international cooperation in space, both government funded and private.

 


The NASA Houston
 International Space Station Control Room showing the ISS live - Click on this picture to see more
 

Photographs in the album above include the International Space Station mock-up, used for training Astronauts / Cosmonauts. There are two Soyuz capsules like the one shown. One is the capsule the last three came in on top of a Russian Soyuz-FG rocket, the other is a spare so that the other three can escape the ISS if there's a problem.  Thus the maximum ISS crew is six - presently 3 Americans; 2 Russians and an Italian.  You don't get told this unless you take the 'Level 9' tour.

Except for two tiny logos, Russian involvement is not mentioned in the NASA Space Centre seen by the general public and when our party was told that launches and returns are all via a Russian FG rocket and Soyuz capsule there was an audible gasp from some, who are obviously not fans of The Big Bang Theory or 'fruit loops' Howard Wolowitz.

So far, Soyuz has been a lot safer than the Space Shuttle with more than 60 launches without a single fatality.  At one stage NASA was said to stand for: 'need another seven astronauts'.

The new control room (with the purple screen) was showing the ISS live. An Astronaut /Cosmonaut could be seen (in the red shirt) making some adjustments.

The old control room, with the ancient computer terminals, is the one to which Apollo 13 reported: 'Houston we have a problem'.

The very big shed houses a remaining Saturn V rocket of the type used for the Moon landings. It's still the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever operational - an order of magnitude larger than the Soyuz-FG now used to reach the ISS. The stages are separated to show the engines.

Like the other great cities: Chicago, LA and of course New York, Houston has some excellent Museums, in particular the Houston - Museum of Fine Arts that extends over three buildings.  The current exhibition is of Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. There is also a small but interestingly satirical exhibition by Contemporary Persians with works like a painted oil drum and fighter jets cut out of carpets as well as the image below.  I spent several happy hours there and still had more to see.  Most amazing is the quantity of gold artefacts collected from across the globe, most of them by Texas oil billionaires. 

 


Contemporary Persians - deliberately provocative - two fingers holding the fabric of a burqa 
Click on this picture to see more
 

 

 

 


    Have you read this???     -  this content changes with each opening of a menu item


Travel

Hong Kong and Shenzhen China

 

 

 

 

 

Following our Japan trip in May 2017 we all returned to Hong Kong, after which Craig and Sonia headed home and Wendy and I headed to Shenzhen in China. 

I have mentioned both these locations as a result of previous travels.  They form what is effectively a single conurbation divided by the Hong Kong/Mainland border and this line also divides the population economically and in terms of population density.

These days there is a great deal of two way traffic between the two.  It's very easy if one has the appropriate passes; and just a little less so for foreign tourists like us.  Australians don't need a visa to Hong Kong but do need one to go into China unless flying through and stopping at certain locations for less than 72 hours.  Getting a visa requires a visit to the Chinese consulate at home or sitting around in a reception room on the Hong Kong side of the border, for about an hour in a ticket-queue, waiting for a (less expensive) temporary visa to be issued.

With documents in hand it's no more difficult than walking from one metro platform to the next, a five minute walk, interrupted in this case by queues at the immigration desks.  Both metros are world class and very similar, with the metro on the Chinese side a little more modern. It's also considerably less expensive. From here you can also take a very fast train to Guangzhou (see our recent visit there on this website) and from there to other major cities in China. 

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The Greatest Aviation Mystery of All Time

 

 

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was finally called off in the first week of June 2018.

The flight's disappearance on the morning of 8 March 2014 has been described as the greatest aviation mystery of all time, surpassing the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937.  Whether or no it now holds that record, the fruitless four year search for the missing plane is certainly the most costly in aviation history and MH370 has already spawned more conspiracy theories than the assassination of JFK; the disappearance of Australian PM Harold Holt; and the death of the former Princess Diana of Wales; combined.

Read more ...

Opinions and Philosophy

Discovery of the Higgs boson

 

 

Perhaps the most important physics discovery of my lifetime has finally been announced.  I say 'finally' as its existence has been predicted by the 'Standard Model' for a long time and I have already mentioned this possibility/probability in an earlier article on this website (link).

Its confirmation is important to everyone, not just to physicists working in the field of quantum mechanics.  Like the confirmation of the predictions of Einstein's Theory of Relativity we are now confronted with a new model of reality that has moved beyond an esoteric theory to the understanding that this is how the Universe actually is; at least as far as the Standard Model goes.

Read more ...

Terms of Use                                           Copyright