Early birds in the states of Montana, South Dakota, Missouri and Mississippi and those driving to work in the cities of St. Louis, MO, Memphis, TN and Columbus, GA may catch a glimpse of the descending craft as it prepares for landing at the Kennedy Space Center, ETA 8:48a.m.Viewers in continental U.S. will be able to see Discovery as a blazing fireball in the dawn sky on first reentry over Northern California, Oregon, Washington and BC, and then, when daylight progresses, as a bright high-altitude object, as the craft heads east. Those who may not be sure of what they are seeing will hear a double sonic boom about a minute after the shuttle passes overhead.
Discovery’s appearance in the skies over continental USA is unusual, to say the least.
NASA is normally super-cautious, not only to schedule reentry on a trajectory over ocean (south Pacific or Atlantic) – to avoid potential conflict with commercial air traffic or the complication of an accident over such an important landmass – but also does not issue a specific schedule beforehand – for ‘security reasons’.
In the case of tomorrow’s landing, another issue has complicated NASA’s plans: the volcanic cloud emanating from Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. Because the eastern hemisphere is affected by dust and volcanic ash in the atmosphere resulting in the grounding of all European airlines, the shuttle’s choices were drastically reduced.
It is perhaps our present crazy world’s greatest irony that tomorrow, when the whole continent of Europe has not a single aircraft in the skies, except for patrolling military Tornadoes or light prop craft which can fly below radar, United States air traffic controllers will be overworked as they reroute planes so as not to provoke a chance encounter with the spacegoing shuttle on her way home.
Air travel all over northern Europe has been disrupted, with flights grounded or diverted due to the risk of engine damage from sucking in particles of ash from the volcanic cloud. Even the usually noisy skies of helicopter traffic to and from North Sea Oil fields are silent.And what of Eyjafjallajökull?
What series of convoluted circumstances caused her to erupt just when airlines the world over were pulling in their horns in response to global recession, cutting frills and flying fripperies to an absolute minimum?
Eyjafjallajökull is merely responding to a ripple in the mid-Atlantic ridge.
Iceland can’t help it: her island kingdom sits astride a large tectonic anomaly, where two plates meet, and – rather like Hawaii – has confounded scientists for centuries in their ability to ride the volcanic storms and still maintain buoyancy as islands. Icelanders have benefited in cleverly channeling underground heat from natural hot springs to provide comfort – even luxury – to every home, but, like Hawaiians, their tiny population (300,000, about the same as a medium-size British city) is not unaware of the fragility of their situation.
Eyjafjallajökull has erupted five times since human settlement in the ninth century and its most recent eruption has been going since March 20th this year, but it is only in the last week that ash from this eruption has reached the stratosphere of its continental neighbour.
And Europe is freaking out.
In terms of aviation, when almost all transport is presently airborne – people, freight, goods and services – it is understandable that Eyjafjallajökull’s blasting through its surface glacier and spewing dust and ash into the airlanes should cause concern. Health and safety have become buzzwords in industry: the natural reaction for air traffic regulators was to close everything down. So soon after Easter, when many were starting to enjoy the prospect of spring following a very hard winter, holiday travel numbers were high and planes fully booked.
Those airplanes are now dead in the water.
And, with no change in the foreseeable future, Europeans are stranded in remote locations worldwide, unable to get back home; British-based airlines may not take off and US-based airline traffic may not land in Europe.
Europe – the northern portion of it, certainly – is like a plague zone.
They’ve always said character comes to the rescue when crisis descends or hard times rule. And the other thing they say: Necessity is the Mother of Invention.
During the hard snows and frosts of winter – that in northern Scotland and pockets of Europe lasted until spring equinox – Britain went through a series of threats from companies in conflict with employment unions – with aviation and transportation strikes imminent – until intervention by a well-meaning Icelandic volcano moved the goalposts.
Suddenly, within the last week, other means of transportation – bus, taxi, train, ferry, tube, metro, hot air balloon, microlite, bicycle – have reared their heads again and a dumbed-down population re-creates, starts to think outside the box, begins to invent.
In early ‘seventies ‘3-day-week’ Great Britain, share-a-ride became an everyday occurrence, nobody drove a car without at least two other passengers, public transport was in full use and the struggling population again became aware of their parents’ post-war attitude of ‘conserving’ energy. It is possible that the present crisis may bring about a similar respect for alternative means to get from A to B, and consequently even more respect for the entity which caused the hiccup in the first place: Mother Earth.
Many of us have blogged over last winter about impending changes the Earth may put us through: for most of us those earth-changes were remote: reports from Haiti, Chile, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey. But changes are starting to happen closer to home (Home being the First World).The First World has not traditionally reacted well to being threatened by Nature. It has acted (particularly over the last two generations – fifty years) as if nature were subservient to Man. It has turned a blind eye to decimated rain forests, depleted habitat for endangered species, global poverty, substandard housing and polluted drinking water in those ‘other’ worlds. It’s not accustomed to having its toys taken away and told to go home.
With the grounding of aircraft run by some of the world’s most elite flying operations, those ‘toys’ are getting a shakedown. And Big Business doesn’t like it.
Already on shaky ground over fears of recession, many airlines are already in debt or about to seek bail from world governments. Now governments themselves are questioning whether there are funds in the coffers to cover planetary transportation meldown. Big Business has traditionally used London, Paris, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Amsterdam as staging posts in its hops between hemispheres. Suddenly their wind-up toys aren’t working. No immediate replacement in sight, they’re having to think of ways around the situation.Fortunately, continental Europe has remarkably efficient waterways, rail links, passenger liners, trains and autobahns. Every one of them has suddenly become remarkably important as an artery of communication in an atmospherically-deprived world. But if Icelandic ash continues to spew forth it will take some really revolutionary thinking for Big Business to survive. Seven million passenger-journeys have been cancelled in a few days. There’s talk right now of losses in the millions – Emirates Airlines calculating 25 million dollars per day in lost revenue, British Airways losing one million pounds every hour. Pretty soon those losses will be billions and thereafter . . . if Eyjafjallajökull doesn’t let up – or worse, if her neighboring volcanoes on the Ridge join in – figures will be incalculable. ‘Business’ as a concept will have no meaning.
None of us wants the approach to ‘End Times‘ to come suddenly. But there have been warnings; we have had clues; our history is littered with references to ‘preparing’ for when those ‘decline and fall’ times will come. So should we be surprised when the Earth herself is the instigator?
It is a well-known phenomenon that spacecraft engineers, pilots and scientists, on their return to Earth after a space mission, express feeling ‘transformed, changed, uplifted’ and ‘born-again’ by their experience outside Earth’s atmosphere. From liftoff as hardened scientists, electrical engineers, they return as philosophers, enlightened spirits.
It might be seen by some that Discovery’s reentry to Earth coinciding with the Earth’s growling northern latitudes indicate a sign of impending doom; for others it may signal the onset of liberation from earthly institutions which were beginning to cripple creativity; a top-heavy bureaucratic mechanism that smothers the budding creative spark.
Heaven knows, now is the time for creativity to surface and be recognized: time for the toys to come alive and play for real: our future and our future home – the planet Earth – depend on it.
©2010 Marian Youngblood
Marian Youngblood is the author of a prescient novel (in the light of this week’s events) ‘SHASTA: Critical Mass‘ which relates volcanic earth changes to Man’s ability to rise above his own beginnings and become superconscious human. Her book is entered in James Twyman’s contest to find the ‘next spiritual author’. Press this LINK if you would like to read an excerpt and vote for her entry. Round One (voting round) of the competition ends on May 3rd.