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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

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
 

 

 

 

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Travel

The United Kingdom

 

In May and Early June 2013 we again spent some time in the UK on our way to Russia. First stop London. On the surface London seems quite like Australia. Walking about the streets; buying meals; travelling on public transport; staying in hotels; watching TV; going to a play; visiting friends; shopping; going to the movies in London seems mundane compared to travel to most other countries.  Signs are in English; most people speak a version of our language, depending on their region of origin. Electricity is the same and we drive on the same side or the street.  Bott Wendy and I have lived in London in previous lives, so it's like another home.

But look as you might, nowhere in Australia is really like London.

Read more: The United Kingdom

Fiction, Recollections & News

Outcomes for girls and boys

 

 

A Radio National discussion (May 29 2015) stated that statistically girls outperform boys academically and referenced research suggesting that this has something to do with working parents:

Provocative new research suggests that the outcomes for girls and boys can be different when parents go back to work, in particular mothers.

The big question is WHY?

 

Read more: Outcomes for girls and boys

Opinions and Philosophy

Medical fun and games

 

 

 

 

We all die of something.

After 70 it's less likely to be as a result of risky behaviour or suicide and more likely to be heart disease followed by a stroke or cancer. Unfortunately as we age, like a horse in a race coming up from behind, dementia begins to take a larger toll and pulmonary disease sees off many of the remainder. Heart failure is probably the least troublesome choice, if you had one, or suicide.

In 2020 COVID-19 has become a significant killer overseas but in Australia less than a thousand died and the risk from influenza, pneumonia and lower respiratory conditions had also fallen as there was less respiratory infection due to pandemic precautions and increased influenza immunisation. So overall, in Australia in 2020, deaths were below the annual norm.  Yet 2021 will bring a new story and we've already had a new COVID-19 hotspot closing borders again right before Christmas*.

So what will kill me?

Some years back, in October 2016, at the age of 71, my aorta began to show it's age and I dropped into the repair shop where a new heart valve - a pericardial bio-prosthesis - was fitted. See The Meaning of Death elsewhere on this website. This has reduced my chances of heart failure so now I need to fear cancer; and later, dementia.  

More fun and games.

Read more: Medical fun and games

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