Lost in Space?

“NASA has no clear objectives," former astronaut Rick Searfoss told San Diego Union-Tribune science and technology writer Gary Robbins before the launch of the final Space Shuttle mission on July 8. "I’m left scratching my head over what they’re doing.”

It's a sad time for NASA and the American space-exploration effort, which once inspired us but now is adrift. As Gary wrote in a piece about the end of the shuttle program: "American astronauts were expected to have traveled far from Earth by now, either on trips back to the moon, out to an asteroid or maybe even to Mars. The explorers would have been sent on their way by the space shuttle program, a decades-long stepping stone to the cosmos.

"But ... scientists and historians say none of those goals have been met. There’s also no clear successor to the shuttle, or a specific timetable for sending humans beyond low-earth-orbit.

"With Atlantis on the pad, ready for takeoff, NASA faces lowered expectations, tight budgets, uncertainty and apathy..."

You can read Gary's full story at this link: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/jul/02/space-shuttle-era-ending-many-unmet-goals/

We chatted with Gary this week when he stopped in at the Notebook during a vacation week here in Maine, where he grew up. We talked about the space program, the role of science in everything around us, his memorable meetings with E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould and that other nutty professor, Jerry Lewis, and much more. We hope to edit some of it into a Naturalist's Notebook Earth News video, the first of many.

If you like science—especially if you live in Southern California—you might want to check out Gary's blog, his Twitter feed or his Science Quest page on Facebook.

An Unusual Perpective [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE_USPTmYXM]

Answer to the Last Puzzler: If Granny Smith gives Mac one apple, they will have the same number of apples. If Mac gives Granny one, Granny will have twice as many as Mac has. How many apples does each have? Answer: Granny has seven apples and Mac has five.

Today's Puzzler: Match the state with its state bird: 1) Iowa 2) Virginia 3) Vermont 4) New Mexico

a) Hermit thrush b) Greater roadrunner c) Northern cardinal d) American goldfinch

Notebook News: I overheard two visitors at the Notebook reading aloud together the other day from one of our books, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. If you've never tried a poem written for two people, come pick up the book—it's a fun, almost musical experience...A boy from New Hampshire set the Notebook record for playing our seven-foot-tall stand-up board game on the history of farming, completing three full games (and part of a fourth) while his mom and siblings browsed and his dad tried (unsuccessfully) to solve one of our fiendish Blacksmith Puzzles...Margaret Krug has arrived in Maine from New York to give her drawing workshop this Saturday—a few spaces are still available....Kathy Coe's three-times-a-week children's art workshops begin next Monday, July 18. Each will be a 90-minute workshop that (to allow schedule flexibility) kids can take anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays and Thursday, or between 1 and 4 p.m. on Tuesdays...Earth News, the kid-reporter program, officially starts at the Notebook on Wednesday, July 20 from 10 a.m. to noon....We heard from a reliable source that Jane Goodall herself was going to be looking at photographs of The Naturalist's Notebook's primate display this week on her computer...Thanks to all of you who have joined us on Facebook as well as the blog!