Updated: Rosetta Still Speaks–Not From Egypt’s Eternal Sands but in a Voice “Thro’ Vast Immensity can Pierce”

It's Just One Boring Day After Another. Photo Courtesy Zazzle.com, UK

I don’t know about you, but my life most weeks is pretty routine.  Even though I work in a setting where no two days are the same, in some respects (I never know which patients I’ll be seeing or what their issues will be) my schedule is predictable, Monday through Friday, with a night of being on-call every other week (One thing is certain, here.  If you get called in the night, it’s never good!  Chaplains don’t get called for the happy stuff at night—that’s just a given.  And with our large service area and being a Trauma II hospital, it’s a rare night I don’t get called).

With that in mind, I look to other sources to provide the unique, the unexpected, the stunning, the beautiful, the historic.  What takes my breath away? Beauty where there should only be the drab.  Inspiration from the simplest of the simple where there should only be plainness.  And historic perspectives never glimpsed by the human eye.

Lagerfeld (TM) Rose Blossom. Photo: David Waggoner

We’ve gotten used to the magnitude of the beauty of the galaxy from photos by the Hubble Space Telescope, or the Twin Keck’s on Mauna Kea’s lofty peak, or composites made possible by the digitization of multiple pictures of the same object taken in various light spectra by different space and earth-based observatories.  The robotic

Cassini Huygens Titan Montage. Photo: NASA/JPL/ESA

probe expeditions to the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, such as Galileo and Cassini, respectively, not to mention the earlier Voyagers, have so completely revised our understanding of those miniature solar systems that astronomy textbooks written even five years ago are hopelessly out of date.  In a century Mars has gone from a planet believed to have a struggling civilization, to a dusty, dead, rocky world with no potential, back to a world of potential and interesting; the search for life in space has zeroed in on it as prime suspect #1.  The discovery and confirmation of water ice, just inches below

Mars 27Aug03 at Opposition by HST. Photo: HST/NASA

its surface is reigniting the global interest to send a human crew to investigate, even though the political and economic chaos rippling around the makes the realization of that dream tenuous at best.  Saturn’s moon Titan has now been to be discovered to be so earthlike, although its rains, and rivers and oceans are of methane that astronomers are stunned and rewriting what a planet is and what an active environment can be every few months.  I could go on and on.

Rosetta Stone, 196 BCE, Disc. 1799 in Egypt. Photo: British Museum, London

The picture below fits into the category of “Historic Views Never Seen Before by Human Eyes”.  The photographer is the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Space Probe launched in 2004 whose ultimate destination is the comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which it is scheduled to reach in 2014.  Like a miniature Casinni-Huygens, Rosetta will launch a probe, the Philae Lander to the surface of the comet and gather data to be radioed back to Earth.  So it has a way to go, but is on track to make its target date.  Rosetta’s trajectory is a gravity-assisted boost cycle, circling the Sun and planetary flybys to increase its speed and set it up for its ultimate goal.

Along the way, Rosetta has encountered several asteroids, the most recent being 21 Lutetia.  This is the last asteroidal encounter before the probe is put into deep space hibernation as it flies toward the comet.

Rosetta Spacecraft Probe. Image Courtesy: ESA

Just released is one of those stunning photos, historic in that no human eye has ever seen 21 Lutetia other than as a dim dot of light, but in the distance is the grand dame of the Solar System, Saturn.  The black of space punctuated by a small asteroid—a piece of the earliest solar system—in the foreground and in the distance—massive Saturn, millions of miles distant but still unmistakable with its signature rings.  The asteroid photo, taken from a distance of  22,300 miles, shows it is approximately 81 miles on its long axis.  Such stark beauty of the very small and the massive opposite in their juxtaposition against the eternal night of deep space takes my breath away!

21 Lutetia Asteroid from 36,000 km by Rosetta with Saturn in Background. Photo: ESA

I end with these prescient verses written nearly 300 years ago by a man who could only imagine in the most rudimentary fashion the reality of deep space, but ended up describing it with a beauty in word, expressing an amazingly close reality of what we know today:

Of man, what see we but his station here,

From which to reason, or to which refer?

Thro’ worlds unnumber’d tho’ the God be known,

‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own.

He, who thro’ vast immensity can pierce,

See worlds on worlds compose one universe,

Observe how system into system runs,

What other planets circle other suns,

What vary’d being peoples every star,

May tell why heav’n has made us as we are.

by Alexander Pope, OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN WITH RESPECT TO THE UNIVERSE, from The Essay on  Man, Epistle 1. 1732

21-Lutetia Close Up: An Update

The European Space Agency has released another image of 21-Lutetia taken by Rosetta at a distance (astronomically speaking) of only 1965 miles.  That’s approximately the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Indianapolis, non-stop.  Or, if you live East of the Mississippi, from Washington, D.C. to Phoenix, Arizona.

Asteroid 21 Lutetia from 1965 miles (3162 km) by Rosetta Spacecraft. Image: ESA

From Astronomy.com:

The July 10 flyby was a spectacular success with Rosetta performing faultlessly. Closest approach took place at a distance of 1,965 miles (3,162 kilometers).

The images show that Lutetia is heavily cratered, having suffered many impacts during its 4.5 billion years of existence. As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view. The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 81 miles (130 km).

The pictures come from Rosetta’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) instrument, which combines a wide-angle and a narrow-angle camera. At closest approach, details down to a scale of 200 feet (60 meters) can be seen over the entire surface of Lutetia.

A Tale of Two Planets

"No one would have believed..." Photo: JPL/NASA

 

A Tale of Two Stories

My dear readers might expect the opening lines of a post bearing the title with such an obvious play on the most-published original English story in the world to follow the path of Dickens’ immortal words.  In this case, however, I ask your indulgence to open with the words of another world-famous piece of literature, known for its dramatic presentation, but far fewer have ever read its introductory sentence:   

NO one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.   

These words written in 1898 by the equally immortal English author, H.G. Wells, open his universally known War of the Worlds. I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that like many, if not most contemporary Americans, I know Wells’ story through its radio and cinematic productions, but have never read the book.  I had to look up a copy of the text on-line, because unlike Dickens’ opening salvo in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”, Wells opens his   

War of the Worlds, 1st Edition, 1898. Image: Public Domain

 

at a much more subtle and cerebral level, “No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched…”  Watched by whom?  Martians: perhaps the first modern depiction of alien life prescient of the field of astrobiology.  Amazingly, many would have believed it; millions did.  Mars was the planet of fanciful speculation, with good reason.  But I will return to that later.  Nevertheless, the universe was still a relatively small and cozy place.  Science, as we know it today, was a toddler awkwardly running to and fro, counting and building things.   

Yet a revolution was brewing, pushed by industry through the 1700s and 1800s, astonishing breakthroughs on how to build things big, how to make an inconceivable jump from the strength and power of humans and beasts to the harnessing of natural elements into machines with the power of a thousand beasts and ten thousand laborers.  That however was prelude, for another force was being created and directed, a force that would not only create power but carry information.   

Though this revolution grew, another vortex formed like a gathering tropical storm, from an unexpected province, not over the consequences of the growing industries that were rapidly building on each step of the toddling sciences, but from the increasing rotation of the storm creating winds and havoc–its target–the very ground and the life that lived upon it:  Geology.  Biology.  Evolution.  The age of the earth.  The origin of life.  Bones, now stone, dug from the ground.  Ocean shells on mountain peaks.  That confluence of the science of the human mind and the science of the divine mind created a cyclone that like the Great Red spot on far distant Jupiter’s gaseous oceanic atmosphere, has now raged for over a century and a half.   

As the turmoil over the origin of the world and life raged across the world, something much more quiet and solitary was happening after dark.  For 300 years, since a Dutch oculist placed two pieces of curved glass into a tube and realized it could magnify the image at a distance, and soon after an upstart Italian mathematics professor pointed it at the sky, a select group of men, (almost always supported by women, from a sister who was devoted to her brother’s work, to a room filled with highly educated astronomers, but denied access to the telescopes even as these instruments were growing in sophistication), began counting what they saw in the sky.  What they saw amazed them.  Very slowly it began to dawn upon them that these views of the heavens were going to change the universe in ways so profound that the debate over evolution or divine creation would pale almost to insignificance.  Now, if they could just figure out why.   

War of the Worlds Title Page, 1st Edition, 1898. Photo: Public Domain

 

In the three decades that followed Wells’ words, Science matured at staggering rate, accomplishing more in those thirty years than perhaps had been achieved in the previous thirty centuries.  It is difficult to describe in words the sheer magnitude of the transformation of reality itself.  The universe was not small, it was huge beyond comprehension.  It was not young but old, so old that nothing in the cherished scriptures of three of the world’s greatest religions gave the slightest hint of that age.  And that included an ancient age of the very Earth itself.   

That was only the beginning of the stunning revelations.  As the discoveries of science accelerated through the Twentieth Century, Edwin Hubble in 1929 proved the Milky Way galaxy was but one island universe among, not thousands, but billions, and they were not suspended motionless in the cosmic void, but were moving, and moving at speeds unimaginable previously to any human in history.  Away from each other. Which led to only one other even more stunning conclusion: There had been a beginning.  But what that beginning looked like was so close to being beyond human comprehension that nearly a century later, millions of people still cannot bring themselves to accept it.   

It would make no difference though to those who stepped into the staggering reality of the universe.  Within that one stupendous century powered flight was invented and human technology leapfrogged from aircraft barely able to climb into the air, to a machine of such great power and thrust, that humans broke the gravitational bonds of Earth.  A scant 40 years after Hubble discovered the true nature of the universe, two humans would step upon the surface of Earth’s moon.   

By the end of the 20th Century, these two stories, one by Dickens and the other by H.G. Wells still command the literary attention of the world.  At the same time, the two stories of reality, one guided by a devotion to a divinely inspired word, and the other guided by an inspired effort of humans to describe in words what they observed still have not found a way to comfortable accommodate each other, although growing numbers are searching for that integrative spark of the fusion of the two.  It is among these seekers that the tale of two planets becomes a revelatory event, a new genesis, indisputable in its truth and its impact.   

A Tale of Two Planets

Earth and Mars to Scale. Photo: JPL/NASA

 

When H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds in 1898, the photos above did not, could not, exist.  What Wells had at his disposal were maps such as this drawing by the Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877:   

Mars Map by Schiaparelli, 1877. One of the first attempts to map the Martian surface. Originally published in "Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (German encyclopaedia), 1888." Photo: Public Domain

 

A century later, through the combined efforts of NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) satellites orbiting the Red Planet, using sophisticated imaging equipment, the true topography of Mars has been revealed:   

Mars Composite Topography Map of the Surface. Photo: JPL/NASA/ESA

 

The story, however, is a tale of two planets.  In similar fashion, Earth-orbiting satellites have also mapped the topography of our own blue planet:   

Earth Composite Topographic Map. Image: GFSC/NASA

 

One of the most interesting facts about Mars and Earth is that Mars has almost the same amount of land area as Earth.  The difference is that Earth’s oceans cover about 71% of the planet.  Land accounts for 148.94 million square kilometers  on Earth.  Mars has 144.80 square kilometers of land.  Where, then is the water?  That’s a question that has been relentlessly pursued since, well, Schiaparelli labeled surface details on his map “canale”, which was inaccurately translated into English as “canals” rather than “channels.”  Earth-based telescopes could see that the north and south poles of the planet had what appeared to be ice-caps, which grew and shrunk with the seasons (which are about twice as long as Earth’s due to Mar’s orbit being about 80 million km on average farther from the Sun).  But was it enough to have once given Mars vital oceans?  Those hopes were dashed (though prematurely) when in 1964 NASA’s Mariner 4, the first space probe to make it to Mars sent back pictures of a dry, dead, world.  Still, the prospect of a once wetter Mars remained tantalizing.  Over the course of the next half century as more robotic missions were flung toward this enigmatic world, the possibility of water, in great quantities continued to lurk just under the surface.   

The breakthrough finally came in the first decade of the 21st Century, as ever-increasingly sophisticated space probes, some in orbit, some as landers, photographed, radar-probed, scratched the soil, traversed the surface testing thousands of samples of rock and soil.  The chemical hints of water were everywhere, but the proof seemingly nowhere.  Schiaparelli’s channels were there, as were volcanoes of a height that stunned planetary scientists.  Mars bears the scar of the largest canyon known in the solar system, Valles Marineris, as wide as the continental United States, deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon on a scale so massive as to make the great rift in the Earth look like a scratch by comparison.  Ice on the poles was confirmed, too, although the amount of carbon dioxide ice “dry ice” mixed with the water is substantial.  Still, the volume of water seemed too small, even accounting for evaporation and sublimation (liquid turning from ice to gas without going through a fluid state).   

Mars: Valles Marineris with U.S. Map Overlaid. Photo: NASA

 

In 2008, JPL/NASA/University of Arizona in partnership with multiple countries and international companies successfully landed Phoenix at 68.2° North.  Although it was not designed to traverse the martian surface like the wildly successful rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, it had a shovel to scrape through the soil.  On July 31, 2008, in a trench dug no deeper than a child might dig in the sand on a beach, images from Phoenix proved, once and for all that Mars had water:   

Evaporating Ice on Mars, Phoenix Lander, 31 July 2008. Photo: JPL/NASA/Univ of Arizona

 

Ice exposed in the trench on Sol 20 (the designation of a day on Mars), had evaporated/sublimated away on Sol 24.  What if the Red Planet had once been the second Blue Planet?   

Mars with Oceans Current Topography. Image: MOLA & NASA/JPL/MSSS

 

And all this brings us to this photo of an unassuming-looking rock.  Looks, however can be deceiving, for this rock is a meteorite, and it is from all places, Mars.   

ALH84001,0. A Meteorite from Mars. Discovered: Antarctica, 1984, Wt: 1930.9g, Photo: JSC/NASA.

 

Although meteorites confirmed from Mars are extremely rare (only 12 have been verified), the most astonishing possibility as slices of three of these extraterrestrial rocks were subjected to electron microscopy, structures were present that appeared remarkably like microfossils found in earth rocks.   

Possible Fossilized Nanofossil from ALH84001. Photo: NASA

 

And this one from the Nakhla, Egypt Martian meteorite:   

Complex biomorphs appear on another Nakhla chip shown in this scanning electron microscope (SEM) frame. This image contains three basic forms: Broad smooth knife-shaped features, elongated features with rounded endcaps and transverse compartments or dividers, and donut shaped small features, each about 1 micrometer in diameter. One possibility is the donut-shaped features are derived from the compartments present in the elongated features (Wikipedia):   

Mars Meteorite, Nakhla Egypt, Possible Nanolife Markings. SEM Image: David McKay/NASA

 

And, finally, this electron microscope image also from the Nakhla Martian meteorite of a possible nanofossil:   

Martian Meteorite Nakhla, Possible Nanolife Fossil Image. SEM Image: David McKay/NASA

 

Does it not seem oddly paradoxical to recollect H.G. Wells’ opening sentence when he wrote,   

…perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.   

We, the humans of Earth are examining the rocks of Mars, scrutinsing them for “transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water,” even if that drop of water existed billions of years ago.  We know we have found Mars’ water.  Now, are these structures the remnants of life when Mars was the second blue planet?  If that turns out to be the case, the indisputable fact that life existed on both planets, the tale of two planets will require not a new chapter, but whole new book.  For those who cling to the accounts of the Divine Word as given to a one and only act of creation, from which Homo sapiens sapiens is the capstone of the cosmic plan, they will have to grapple, as never before–regardless of the tirades of the past 150 years–with the realization that the Creator they worship is more clever and speaks with words never heard by human ears, not only on our planetary sibling, but throughout a Universe too large to comprehend, but begging us to do so, nonetheless!   

First Photo of Earth Taken from Mars' Surface by Spirit Rover. Photo: NASA

 

This is the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the Moon. It was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit one hour before sunrise on the 63rd martian day, or sol, of its mission. The image is a mosaic of images taken by the rover’s navigation camera showing a broad view of the sky, and an image taken by the rover’s panoramic camera of Earth. The contrast in the panoramic camera image was increased two times to make Earth easier to see.   

The inset shows a combination of four panoramic camera images zoomed in on Earth. The arrow points to Earth. Earth was too faint to be detected in images taken with the panoramic camera’s color filters. Source: NASA.   

Little did H.G. Wells ever imagine that the first Martian to look at Earth would be through robotic eyes sent from Earth.   

   

A Proper Name for a Proper Space Station

NASA and other participating space agencies have decided it’s time to give the International Space Station (ISS) a proper name.  Source: ABC News: I say it’s long overdue.  We humans love to name things.  It is such a deeply innate trait, that as far back in history as we can decipher ancient writings, people, animals, plants and objects are given names.  One clear illustration is in the Book of Genesis: God assigns Adam the task of naming all the things of the earth (Gen 2:19-20).  In fact the importance of this naming is underscored, according to the text, because as God creates the living creatures, He brings them to Adam for naming: “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19, NRSV).

Xin Li, Beijing Planetarium

ISS & Shuttle Endeavor (STS126) Transiting the Moon on 15 Nov 08. Picture Credit: Xin Li, Beijing Planetarium

Here’s my list of suggestions for naming the ISS:

Aristarchus of Samos.  (310- ca. 230 B.C.E).  A Greek mathematician and astronomer, Aristarchus, was the first known person to prove, using logic and geometry, that the solar system is heliocentric: the Earth revolves around the Sun.  It took seventeen hundred years before anyone believed him.  “Aristarchus Station” would be a fitting tribute to all scientists throughout history who let the evidence guide them despite the obvious: the Sun “appears” to move, not the Earth.

Copernicus.  (1473-1543).  Copernicus was a Polish cleric, astronomer, and mathematician.  Like Aristarchus, Copernicus refused to accept the obvious and concluded the Earth orbits the Sun, setting off the modern Scientific Revolution.  However, Copernicus could not bring himself to give up the theory that all orbits had to be perfect circles.  “Copernicus Station” is one of my favorites, not only because of his science, but also as a cleric, he found no conflict between his faith and his astronomy.

Kepler. (1571-1630).  Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician turned astronomer, who was a protege of the flamboyant genius Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), whose obsession with collecting astronomical data, provided Kepler with the data he needed to calculate that planetary orbits were elliptical, not circular. Tycho would be a good suggestion for the ISS, except that he already has a lunar crater named for him: that huge rayed crater at the Moon’s southern extreme that is visible whenever more than half of it is visible from your front yard.  I especially fancy “Kepler Station” because it was his discovery that made calculating the orbit of the ISS possible!

Galileo. (1564-1642).  Galileo Galilei is one of the superstars of Science.  Building on the work of Copernicus and Kepler along with a flash of insight to point the new Dutch invention called the telescope into the night sky, he literally changed the Universe from humanity’s perspective.  He discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter as well as the phases of Venus.  His notoriety, of course, is due to his being convicted of heresy by the Holy See for his belief in the heliocentric solar system.  Actually, Galileo was convicted for refusing to STOP teaching the heliocentric theory, not for believing in it as is often misstated in astronomy texts.  Wade Rowland’s “Galileo’s Mistake” (2001) is a very readable analysis of how Galileo ended up being charged and tried for heresy.  Although Galileo is a superstar, his name already has been given to many spacecraft, so I think it’s time to honor someone else.

Newton. (1643-1727).  Isaac Newton, the English physicist, is another of Astronomy’s superstars.  In fact, his genius simply cannot be underestimated.  His theories of gravity and thermodynamics, the invention of calculus and the “Newtonian” reflecting telescope created a paradigm shift that put the last nails into the Ptolemaic cosmos, and set the stage for Einstein and Relativity, as well as Quantum mechanics.  “Newton Station” would be hard to object to, but, like Galileo, Newton has been honored in many different ways.

Messier. (1730-1817).  Charles Messier was a distinguished French astronomer and comet hunter.  He is credited with discovering no less than thirteen of the Sun-orbiting giant dirty ice balls.  But his legacy is the catalog he put together of “objects” that astronomers should not mistake as comets.  Those 110 objects of the Messier Catalog have become the primer of deep space objects, clusters, nebula, galaxies, and others, for all amateur and professional astronomers for the past two centuries, and will continue to be so into the future.  “Messier Station” would be a most fitting way to honor the man who opened up the variety of objects in the vastness of space.

Herschel. (1738-1822).  Frederick William Herschel, though German by heritage, lived in England.  His accomplishments, among others, was the discovery of the planet Uranus and several of its moons, and infrared radiation.  An avid astronomer and researcher, he built over 40 telescopes, some of enormous size for the time.  He has been honored in numerous ways.  His sister, Caroline (1750-1848), however, was his life-long assistant and was an accomplished astronomer in her own right, discovering numerous comets, as well as analyzing her brother William’s data.  Perhaps, “Caroline Herschel Station” would be the ideal name for the ISS to honor women’s underrated contribution to astronomy.

Hubble. (1889-1953).  William Hubble discovered that the universe was not the small island of the Milky Way, but vast beyond our imagination.  Our galaxy is but one among billions.  He also discovered that they are moving away from each other, a phenomenon called “Red Shift.”  Hubble’s legacy is secure, not the least of which is the Hubble Space Telescope that visually has opened up that universe and almost daily continues to astonish.  “Hubble Station” is not a bad idea, but, like Galileo, he has been honored on many fronts.

. . . And now, for the 20th Century!

What a mess!  In the past Century, astronomy came into its own as a legitimate field in science, not just a branch of physics (a fact that the Nobel Prize committee has yet to comprehend, but then, they’re using a list from the 19th Century).

Who to suggest?  The problem is the Space Race.  If you choose an American, the Russians will throw a fit.  And vice versa. And now, since the European Space Agency, the Canadians, Japan, the Chinese Space Agency and other nations developing astronaut programs, have succeeded in either tagging along on a United States or Russian spacecraft, or, with the Chinese, developed their own manned launch program, the naming waters become more and more muddy.   The Canadians, with their tremendous partnership in the ISS, also have a legitimate voice.  So, despite the fact the 20th Century stands with distinction in human history with the advent of space flight projects, both manned and robotic, only dreamed about by science fiction writers a in its first four decades, politics and ideology has permanently screwed up the naming process.  Sorry, John.  Sorry, Neil.  Sorry, Yuri and Svetlana.  You’re a victim of your times.

For instance, if one were to suggest that Werner von Braun (1912-1977) be given the honor, since his engineering genius not only got the American space project off the ground, but was a major influence in Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in 1969, his Nazi connections, as well as the Russian’s still nursing a grudge that the Americans got to him before they did at the end of World War II would scuttle the whole thing.

So any individual, or other Cold War name (such as Mir = Peace), just won’t work.  This is a space station and it requires a historically appropriate name.  Of course, some corporate sponsor like Virgin Galactic might agree to put up a whole lot of billions of dollars or euros in exchange for naming it after Sir Richard. “Branson Station”?  Naaah.

MGM Studios, 1968

Rotating Space Station from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Picture Credit: MGM Studios, 1968

So who invented the modern, iconic space station, a great wheel rotating in space, first displayed by Disney in his 1955 animation classic, “Man in Space,”  and later immortalized in Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey?”  The design was a collaboration between astronomer, Willie Ley and space illustrator, Chesley Bonestell, and then developed more fully by von Braun.  Hmm.  There he is again.  Of course, “Clarke Station” wouldn’t be a bad choice!  But I’m afraid, “Ley-Bonestell Station” just lacks the needed pizazz.

So, in the end what are my favorites?  How about Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), who, in my opinion, is the best science fiction writer of all time?  His Foundation series sold millions and introduced several generations around the world to a style of writing that forever moved the genre away from the silliness of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and began to examine the existential question: what really makes us human?  Oh, and by the way, he also invented the concept of the humaniform robot (the film Metropolis, notwithstanding) and created the Three Laws of Robotics.  “Asimov Station” has a very nice ring to it.

I also like Stephen Hawking. (b. 1942).  After all, his genius for cosmology, as well as his unparalleled courage to live with his ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), guarantees his immortality as a scientist in the ranks of Newton and Einstein.  I like “Hawking Station” very much!

I could go on, but there is one iconic figure, known and loved around the world, that though fictional, would be just about perfect:

Lucas Films

Luke Skywalker--Star Wars Hero and Worldwide Icon for Good! Photo Credit: Lucas Films

C’mon, George.  Why not “Skywalker Station”?  What better legacy could you choose than to have your creation be the name of Earth’s first space station?  No chance of it being confused with the Death Star (Saturn’s moon, Mimas, already has that distinction).  And when “Skywalker Station” passes overhead, we can all say, “That’s no moon!  That’s a space station!”

I like it!