December 14, 2012

The Space Age has inspired us all

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor,
Writing from Montreal

His first year in office, 1961, was not developing into the auspicious start that President John F. Kennedy had hoped for after eking out a close victory over Richard M. Nixon in the U.S. election of November 1960.

In mid-1961, the disastrously, unsuccessful Bay of Pigs military invasion of Cuba by U.S. - backed expatriates of that island nation embarrassed the Kennedy administration.

To make matters worse for the young president, who was just weeks short of his 44th birthday, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin become the first human in space when he orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961.

Kennedy needed a dramatic gesture to restore his nation’s bravado and confidence. He found the perfect occasion in an address to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961 when he announced that America planned to become the first nation in the world to land a man safely on the Moon before the end of the decade. America kept that promise when astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander of Apollo 11, hopped down onto the Moon’s surface with fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969.

In those early days of manned space flight, Daphne Lavers was a young girl growing up in Alberta, but it didn’t take her long to catch the “space race” bug, which led to a career starting in the 1980s as a science and technology writer. You should know that Daphne’s idea of “fun” is a tour of the top floors of the 1,815-foot-high CN Tower, which house television and frequency modulation transmitters, microwave radio antennas and power transformers for Toronto-area broadcasters, including the CBC. A high-tech visit juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Toronto skyline and Lake Ontario is, in Daphne’s words, “very cool.”

She is an expert in all matters technical, having written for cable television and electronics trade magazines where she tracked developments in satellite technology, including the promise of high definition television in the mid-80s, long before anyone in the public had heard of it. In 2002, she published a reference book titled Tech Talk for Canadians, which defines hundreds of scientific and technical terms. (She hopes to update the book when she can find the time.)

Daphne was editing a small, Toronto-based, electronics trade magazine that covered the satellite, radio, television and electronics industries when the Challenger space shuttle exploded on January 28, 1986, 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members.

During every shuttle launch, the office television set was on: that morning, everything stopped, she recalled. “Work became impossible and everyone left early. That day changed everything; catastrophes in space no longer involved simply inanimate satellites and orbiting research spacecraft.”

Following Challenger, there were several malfunctions onboard various satellites and it became clear, even to those not in the space science fields, that space was getting crowded and that it was only a matter of time before space debris became a serious problem.

A little more than a decade after the Challenger disaster, Daphne married Rod C. Tennyson, one of the leading space debris scientists in Canada and an accredited NASA experimenter. She covered ground-breaking research that he and his colleagues did in the 1990s at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. At that time, Daphne was Communications Officer for the Institute for Space and Terrestrial Science, a research centre based in Toronto which reported on scientific research and experiments.

So who could be better qualified to write now about the threat posed to life on Earth and in space by orbiting junk? Daphne has done a masterful job of researching the history of the space debris problem dating back to the early 1970s, just a few years after Neil Armstrong uttered these prophetic words upon stepping onto the Moon: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Her story brings us up to the present, and projects into the future as to possible solutions being considered by space scientists.

With her extensive knowledge, history and connections with the space community, Daphne was even able to provide an informed initial analysis of a recent development: the unanticipated launch of a North Korean rocket on December 12, 2012.

To complement Daphne’s in-depth reporting on the serious issue of space junk, we have posted 20 photos and 12 illustrations, many of them spectacular, among which we are proud to present one of NASA scientist Donald Kessler drawn by world renowned space illustrator Pat Rawlings.

Pat, who resides in Dripping Springs, Texas, a small community of less then 2,000 located 21 miles west of Austin, has been creating space illustrations, many of them for NASA, for 30 years. In fact, his beautiful artwork, depicting the excitement and drama of outer space, has earned him the reputation of being NASA’s “storyboarder”.

The secret of his success is to be a visual storyteller, Pat said in an interview published in Fast Company magazine in December 2012. “If you look through my artwork, I try as much as possible to make the pictures look like they’re one climatic part out of a movie.”

Pat’s entire interview can be read at:

More examples of his artwork can be found on his website:

While on the subject of space junk artwork, I’d be remiss not to give a callout to Art Director Rodney Hall, who is himself an accomplished illustrator. Rodney was so enthused with the subject matter that he volunteered to do a major illustration depicting a space junk scene, which we have posted as the first graphic at the top of Daphne’s story. Here’s a hint: the illustration is an imaginative depiction of a 1950 Dodge V-series pickup truck in the context of space.

We hope our readers will be as enthused to peruse Daphne’s 7,235-word story with 20 photos and 12 illustrations, [see below] as we are in bringing it to you as the first science story on our ad-free journalism site. Given Daphne’s expertise, experience and enthusiasm, it likely won’t be the last science story she writes for you!

[See teaser below]

Published: DECEMBER 2012
Space junk collisions threaten our way of life with catastrophe

Writing from Toronto

A massive, three-dimensional debris cloud encircles our Earth, posing a danger to everything in orbit, including satellites, the Global Positioning System and astronauts. Future launches involving space travel are jeopardized by the risk of collisions, which are happening with greater frequency. Join us on a journey stretching back four decades, explaining how the problem grew so dire and how space scientists are now dealing with this threat to human life, which includes the unexpected launch of a rogue rocket by North Korea on December 12, 2012.

7,235 Words | 20 Photos | 12 Illustrations

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