NaPoWriMo ’15 #25: Analog Days


As I download
the latest terrabyte
of images from
one of our robotic
fleet of explorers

As I kick off
the latest batch job
which in ten minutes
will find a thousand needles
of relevant ratios
in a hundred thousand haystacks
of hyperspectral scans.

I remember the days
of analog planetary science.
Of Hasselblads, and vidicons
of large format photos
where you pick the contrast
and live with saturation
and blackouts that a different stretch
might have revealed
but only at the cost
of some other key finding.
Of planimeters and tracing paper
stereo viewers and darkrooms.
The hands-on, drafting table
compass, protractor, slide-rule
(and then LED calculator)
era of planetary exploration.

Today we can repeat in minutes
the work of entire theses
of the Mariner era.
Entire careers of peering at the
earliest peaks at our neighboring worlds.
And go farther still.
And I wonder what we will
be able to accomplish
when perhaps our digital assistants
will be more clever than we.

NaPoWriMo ’15, #24: Farsiders Alone

Van de Graaff craters, lunar farside, Apollo 17

Van de Graaff craters, lunar farside, Apollo 17

There’s a list of eighteen
many of us know well.
All of them saw
the far side of the moon
twelve of them walked the surface
six orbited ’round
keeping watch, keeping ready
waiting to go home.

Six pilots
who never landed
are largely unsung
for one particular accomplishment
we should remember.

While their partners set foot
on the first soil not of earth
Collins, Gordon, Roosa,
Worden, Mattingly, Evans
each on their own
in total isolation
were the farthest any solo human
has ever been from home.

They were also
for a few moments each orbit
the most isolated
human beings
in the universe.
The farthest of the farsiders

Alone in a CM
a lunar diameter
from their crew mates
Almost 400,000 miles
from anyone else,
no one in the world
before or since
has ever been more alone.

If I had one question
to ask any of them
if they’d had a moment to pause
and think about it
what that felt like.

NaPoWriMo ’15, #23: Collect Them All

Inspired by an Evening at Pisco with fellow Astropoets.


Twenty-four years ago
give or take
I counted every
single crater
on the planet Venus.

If you’ve ever been
a hole-counter yourself
you might wince
or cringe
at the magnitude
of such a job.

But if you know
that planet
in particular
Below the clouds
there are only one thousand
or so pocks to count
give or take.

A tractable number
for a grad student
eager to map Terra incognito
or rather Cytheria.

And I was one of the first
to do it and hold my list
as the standard in debate
on identities and origins
and statistics and meanings.

It was satisfying
to have a complete list.
To know you’ve got that
data set’s number.

And then, weeks ago
I saw a new count
A handful of craters
newly cataloged
where my maps had been

And so I had to begin again.
But hey.
It’s only a thousand
give or take.

NaPoWriMo ’15, #22: I Work in the Future


My officemate told me
he had to go to Hawaii
for an observing run.
Nothing new, nothing weird.
Until I saw him the next day
when I came in to work.
I asked him what was up
he said he couldn’t hear me
he was on the mountain, working.
I looked over his shoulder
and saw him viewing the sky
and commanding a telescope
8000 miles away
searching for atmospheres
from umpteen light years farther still.
I shook my head.
Like I should be surprised.
I have a share in a pet robot
that fetches visions of a furnace planet
at our beck and call.
We may be looking for stories
of the present, or near and far past,
But we work in the Future.

(This story is embellished, but essentially true.)

NaPoWriMo ’15, #21: Orion


My Orion of childhood holds a sword and shield
and though I’ve seen myriad different visions and versions
my image of him hasn’t changed.
He was my first constellation.
I learned him same time as Big Dipper.
Before Cassiopeia, Taurus, Scorpius, Draco,
most of which I have to learn again
almost from scratch
each time I look up and get lost.
But Orion I never lose.
It’s not even that his stars are so distinct
though they are.
It’s that more than any other picture in the sky
I can see the hunter himself in the stars.

NaPoWriMo ’15, #20: The Hazards of Being Earth

I’ve been called upon by a team on which I worked to represent a proposal to my department in a “Space Swifty” series of presentations. The subject matter is defined, but the details and method were wide open. This being the month it is, I decided to do mine in verse. In particular, limericks. The presentation has 11 of them with a cute (say I) slide show, but I can only release a small bit outside the work audience. After seeing the one, you’ll probably all be grateful.


The planet we live on spins ’round
the star to which we are bound
sometimes it gets shocked
and occasionally pocked
by large space rocks hitting the ground.