Richard Gordon Comes to Glasgow

By Les Ogilvie

On November 14th 1969, Richard Gordon became one of only twenty four human beings who have ever flown to the moon.  On 17th October this year, Captain Gordon will be in Glasgow to take part in two special public events.

Captan Richard F. Gordon first visited space as part of the Gemini 11 mission in September 1966.  Gordon and his colleague, Pete Conrad, travelled in the early Gemini spacecraft to an eventual altitude of 1,369km in a scientific mission to test some of the ideas and principles that would be necessary for NASA to achieve a lunar landing.  During the mission, Gordon and Conrad carried out a number of experiments.  The first experiment involved docking the gemini spacecraft with a second orbiter - the Agena Target Vehicle.  This was carried out succesfully and the attachment of the two vehicles allowed the astronauts to generate a small amount of artifical gravity by spinning the two spacecraft around eachother.  The mission also tested the feasibility of video imaging in space, photographs were taken of atmospheric and cosmological phenomena, and biological experiments on the response of blood and fungi to weightlessness and cosmic radiation were carried out.

In November 1969, Gordon returned to space.  Again with his Gemini colleague Pete Gordon, but this time also with ex-fighter pilot Alan Bean, who had never flown in space before.  This was the Apollo 12 mission.  NASA’s second mission to land on the moon.  Captain Gordon was the mission’s command module pilot.

During take-off (in a rainstorm), the Saturn V rocket was struck twice by lightning and knocked out numerous of the vehicle’s control systems.  In spite of this, the rocket’s flight was unhindered.  However, mission control became concerned that the strikes may have disabled the parachute mechanisms that would be used in the re-entry of the command module, rendering this part of the operation unsurvivable.  The astronauts were not informed of this concern as there was no way to identify and fix the problem even if it had been the case.

Apollo 12 landed on the Ocean of Storms on the moon on November 19th 1969 at 6.54am (UTC), with Gordon still in orbit, alone, around Earth’s satellite.   The time spent on the moon itself was not free of disaster, as Alan Bean accidentally destroyed a key video camera that would send live pictures back to Earth and later left several rolls of film on the lunar surface, which (presumably) remain there to this day.

On November 28th, 1969, the command module returned to Earth.  The parachutes that had been the cause of so much concern deployed successfully, and all three astronauts arrived in the remote pacific ocean safe and well.

Richard Gordon will be in Glasgow in a special, one-off, series of events brought to Scotland by the educational organisation Walk With Destiny. The day’s first event will take place in Blackfriar’s pub on Bell Street in the Merchant City. This will be an unmissable question and answer session where you will have the opportunity to talk directly to Captain Gordon in the intimate surroundings of the Blackfriar’s function suite. For those who may be hungry and thirsty, the pub also does a fine range of real ales and an excellent bar-lunch menu. This event begins at 11am and tickets can be purchased through Walk With Destiny’s website for £30.

In the evening, Richard will be delivering a lecture at Glasgow Caledonian university. Captain Gordon will discuss his time with NASA, his missions to space, as well as his thoughts on the future of space travel. Although this will be a more formal “lecture” than the intimate Q&A session in Blackfriar’s, there will still be the opportunity to ask questions, and you will be able to meet Captain Gordon after the talk, when he will be happy to chat and to sign any autographs. This event is priced at £30 and begins at 7.30pm in Glasgow Caledonian university.

More details at Walk With Destiny.

New Book by Paul Braterman, Out Now!

By Les Ogilvie

This week sees the release of “From Stars to Stalagmites”, the first popular science book by Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and occasional 21st Floor contributor Paul S. Braterman. In the book, Professor Braterman seeks to explain the history of chemistry - not just as a reflection on chemistry as a science, but also as a description of the chemical history of the universe. Along the way he will tackle subjects ranging from the formation of stars, through the chemistry of warfare, to the uncertainty of the quantum world. As anyone who has read Paul’s articles here at the 21st Floor will no doubt realise, this promises to be an excellent, informative, knowledgable and highly readable work.

We will provide a review of the book as soon as possible, but in the meantime here is some of the praise the book has already received:

“This highly readable book does an excellent job of explaining scientific concepts in plain language, and brilliantly connects social history with scientific history and concepts. Strongly recommended for readers of all backgrounds.”

Oscar Liu
Senior Principal Scientist, Merck

“It’s a terrific read and the idea of intertwining the facts of chemistry with the history and personalities of the scientists who discovered it works brilliantly.”

John Wiltshire
Systems Engineer
Nelson Gold Medallist for Creativity

“Your writings are a wonderful compilation of chemistry, history, and human endeavors. The chapter on Haber was superb! … This text is something that every chemist should read!”

Prof Diana Mason
Regional Director and Associated Chemistry Teachers of Texas
University of North Texas

“Getting to know of atoms and molecules and their motions was not easy — Braterman pulls us into the story of the people who got us that hard-won knowledge. A superb combination of history and scientific explanation!”

Roald Hoffmann
Nobel Laureate Chemist and Writer

“Using an historical approach, From Stars to Stalagmites teaches about science in an engaging and fun manner that should appeal to interested lay readers and professionals alike.”

Richard Hirsh
Professor of History of Technology
Virginia Tech

The book is available to order now from publishers Word Scientific and is also available to order at Amazon.

Bite Sized Bad Argument

By Les Ogilvie

Unfortunately (for me…possibly not for our readers!), I no longer get the time to contribute to the 21st Floor quite as much as I’d like.  However, I just had to swing by and drop this one for you.

The hilariously mis-titled “Evolution News” presents the worst argument for creationism since Comfort’s Banana! Behold!

"How come future events can be anticipated when they haven’t even happened yet? Therefore, God."

Seriously, if you take the plunge and read the article, steel your brain for at least 400megaDerps of stupid.

The gist of the argument, for those not brave enough to expose themselves to its full potency, is this: the future hasn’t happened yet, therefore it cannot influence the present.  It follows that any success of a present attempt to anticipate future events is difficult to explain.  Yet, we (and other primates) can make decent attempts at anticipating future events.  Thus there must be an unknown way for the future to influence the present; so, similarly, it must be credible that there is an unknown way for a supernatural God to influence a natural universe.

I don’t really need to insult your intelligence by picking that one apart. I’ll just leave it open for comments…