Last week, former astronaut Nicole Stott turned up at a Bradenton library summer camp to talk with a gaggle of kids about her adventures in orbit, which included two space shuttle voyages and a place in the record books for being the first person to do a watercolor painting in zero gravity. She also delivered the first tweet from space, in 2009.
Not surprisingly, after also having spent three months aboard the International Space Station, constructed and maintained by 15 partner nations, Stott was also big on cooperation and teamwork, which obviously went over well with parents and teachers. And although climate change was not one of her talking points, at least one of her older listeners couldn’t help but infer its presence.
Stott didn’t mention this part, but a few years ago, she was featured in a short documentary about the Overview Effect, a term coined by philosopher and author Frank White after interviewing astronauts who experienced epiphanies while viewing Earth from afar. Many came home with an altered world view which turned some of them into one-planet evangelicals for unity and conservation.
Pressed about it after her presentation, Stott described in detail that spellbinding vision. She said whenever she paused in front of a window, she had to set the alarm on her watch to remind her to get back to work because she would lose track of time.
“It was the closest thing to meditation that I could think of,” she said. “There’s this kind of transcendent thing that happens when you’re absorbed in this view of the planet, where everything around you sort of goes away and you’re sucked up into the vortex of whatever it is you’re looking at out there. And it wasn’t just me, it affected the whole crew.”
Professionally circumspect even after having retired from NASA in 2015, Stott felt compelled to clarify her contention that the only border that really mattered was “this thin blue line of atmosphere that cocoons us all.” She didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea: “It doesn’t mean we have to be all one country, it doesn’t mean we have to give up our cultural differences. We just need to understand that the interconnectivity and the survival of all of us depends on how we manage the life support system that Earth provides us.”
De Void then pointed out how the early presidential debates have finally identified climate change as a major issue; yet, America’s space policy has yet to be discussed in the current cycle, and not at all during the 2016 campaign. I wondered how Stott might bring those two elements together. She suggested interjecting astronauts’ voices into the discussion, and maybe even shifting the emphasis. “The reality is, we don’t need to save the planet,” she said. “We need to save ourselves – what greater common mission can we have than that?”
De Void then asked about mobilizing whatever resources were available, including research on the apparently green technology driving UFOs. Who, exactly, should be in charge of the research, the military or the civilian sector? The question caught her off guard. Despite the massive coverage devoted to The Great Taboo over the past year and a half (thank you for this media roundup link, Giuliano Marinkovic!) Stott said she hadn’t kept up with it, nor had she seen the three popular Navy F-18 videos released by the Pentagon in 2017. But what she said moments later went to the heart of the welcome reporting underway by the boys over at the War Zone website.
Last week, reporter Brett Tingley announced the discovery of some very weird patent applications on file by the Navy. The USN is claiming to have scored revolutionary breakthroughs in room-temperature superconductivity and electromagnetism. The result, insists the Navy, is an “operable” hybrid vehicle with off-the-charts speed and maneuverability, capable of performing anywhere, from aerospace to submarine environments, just like, well … you know. And while the patents have so far been rejected, the Navy’s chief technology officer and its legal counsel have responded by vouching forcefully for the hardware.
Just as compelling, however, are sources who criticize the application language as “an intimidating river of mumbo-jumbo” reflective of the “nonsense” that “seems an especially hardy perennial in hierarchical, closed and secretive organizations.” Previous reporting by the War Zone also indicated the Navy played the China card in its application, arguing Beijing was “investing significantly” in harnessing game-changer technology that sounds suspiciously similar to UFOs. Tingley’s most recent piece speculates the Navy filing could be a ruse to get China to waste more money on impossible projects — or that “maybe the Chinese competition claim is just a placeholder for the unknown.”
Yup — life on Earth looks a lot less complicated from 250 miles up. For all of her professed distance from the UFO issue, a civilian engineer who spent seven hours on a spacewalk to retrieve the shuttle’s exterior payload nevertheless voiced reservations about at least one potential element of the controversy.
“You know what I’ll be really upset about? It’s less about the alien kinda thing than it is if we have a space transportation system that can be getting us to and from space routinely and safely and flying us all around with people in it,” Nicole Stott said. “And we’re not sharing it with NASA and the (space) community? That’s the thing that would really bother me — to find out that could be going on for all these years and we’re just stifling it.”
Maybe it’s time for astronauts to start keeping an eye on the store, too.