Launchpad Day 2: Sex In Space and Other Interesting Scientific Tidbits

Even though we seem to start late each morning (on Day 2, we did not get started until 10 am!) we pack in full days at Launchpad. Yesterday was a prime example. We got started with lectures at 10 am and we didn’t really finish until after 10 pm. And although lectures started late, my day still began early…

I was up at 5 am and after a shower1 I wrote up the Day 1 blog post, posted this week’s Going Paperless post, and did some fiction writing. All told, I wrote something like 3,700 words in the morning. As we did on Monday, Chez Brenchley, Doug Farren and I hiked over to the student union at 7 am to write. We sat at the same table and all three of us typed away. I stayed until 8:15, when I headed back to the dorm to meet up with a group that was going to breakfast at the Turtle Rock cafe.

The cafe was on the other side of campus and took a leisurely morning walk in that direction. Once there, we found seats out on the patio. The weather was gorgeous and we all sat around eating our breakfasts and posting recursive pictures of ourselves posting pictures to Instagram:

Turtle Rock

Memories of Pacific Rim still lingered fresh on our minds so there was more discussion of the awfulness of that movie2, but mostly we sat, and ate, and chatted, and soaked up the sun. We weren’t too concerned about being late to our first lecture at 10 am because our instructor, Christian Ready, was right there at breakfast with us.

Eventually, we did meander back toward our lecture hall for our first lecture of the day, this one on the electomagnetic spectrum, presented by Andria Schwortz. The lecture covered different types of radiation (light, nuclear radiation, etc.) and involved a handful of Greek letters that seemed unusually difficult to make on my Chromebook. We discussed wave-particle duality, frequency, wavelength, energy, visible light and color, atmospheric windows, false color images (which aren’t really false). It was a crash-course, but it was very interesting and we’d have some practical applications later in the day that would make it easier to understand.

We ate lunch in the cafeteria, all of us sitting at a long table together and chatting about various experiences at conventions and people we’d met. It was a good lunch, and afterwards, we headed to the physical sciences building for our first activity. Here, we learned how to identify a gas from its spectrum. We did it with a continuous spectrum and emission spectra (it was a little more complicated to do absorption spectra). This was a lot of fun and we all really got into it. For those wondering what these spectra look like, here is a continuous spectrum for incandescent light (you can see the spectrum to either side of the light):


I had a blast doing this activity and I think everyone else did as well.

I should mention at this point one usual thing that took place during the day. It seems that at some point, Andy Romine acquired a towel. For a period of several hours, wherever we went on campus, this towel went with him. I know this sounds odd, and very, well, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-esque. And perhaps you don’t believe me. So here is the proof, Andy with his towel:

Andy Romine

After the lab activity we had a short break where several of us went to the Classroom Building to look for something with caffeine to drink, but the cafe there was closed. Eventually, I found a soda machine.

Our afternoon lectures took place in a different classroom in the physical sciences building. The first of these lectures was given by Christian and covered Gravity, Newton, Kepler, Orbits and Einstein. Pretty much the entire history of physics. We discussed motion, acceleration due to gravity, momentum and force, how mass if different than weight, why astronauts are weightless in space, and other cool things like why coronal mass ejections can increase the orbital decay on spacecraft in orbit. Christian packed a lot in to the lecture, but it was a very good one.

Next, Mike Brotherton presented the first in a series of “Science and Science Fiction” lectures, which covered a range of topics that were fascinating. We discussed how cold space is. We discussed what happens to a human exposed to the “cold” vacuum of space. This last was particularly interesting because it is pretty much nothing like what is depicted in the movies. We discussed gravity in space.

And we discussed sex in space, which it seems, officially, has never happened. Officially. Part of the reason might be due to some difficulties. Keep in mind, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. According to one doctor, some of these problems can be overcome by various techniques, some of which include threesomes (like dolphins) or bondage devices (to keep those actions from creating unwanted opposite reactions. Pregnancy can also be very problematic. And, as Liz Argall pointed out, things can get messy in zero gravity very quickly. Even something as simple as washing your hair can create a mess.

After the sex talk, we moved onto other topics, which included things like radiation threats in space and interplanetary travel. At this point we ran out of time. We had to rush over to the cafeteria to get our dinner before it closed. When we finished eating, we headed back to the dorm. We had about 2 hours to kill before our next activity. A bunch of people gathered in the lounge, and we spent those two hours talking ship. It was wonderful.

At about 8 pm, we gathered once again and walked back over to the physical sciences building. This time, we were supposed to meet in the lobby and then head up to the roof to get to use the small telescopes there. We met in the lobby, waited and waited, and finally sent Liz up to the roof to scout things out. I don’t think she came back. Eventually, we all made our way up there. The sky was clear and the breeze was wonderful. The moon was in transit at first quarter. Saturn was visible above the moon, and Venus was visible high above the western horizon.

Laramie Sunset

We checked out our surroundings while waiting for the sky to darken, and waiting for the telescopes to be set up. There were two small telescopes outside. There was also a 16-inch telescope in the observatory next to us. There were a couple of pairs of binoculars, and Mike Brotherton brought along his night vision goggles.

The rest of the evening was like a bunch of kids in a candy store.


We looked at the moon, of course, through the small telescope and through the 16-inch. The latter was trained on the moon’s terminator and the detail was so rich and stark, it looked like an HD photo. The telescopes were also trained on Saturn. You could see Saturn with its rings, and up to four of Saturns’ moon, depending upon which telescope you looked through.

We looked at Venus, we looked at the double-star system Mizar and Alcor in the handle of the Big Dipper. Using Mike’s night-vision goggles, you could see more stars than you ever imagined. They were everywhere you looked in the sky. Much later in the evening, when Cassiopeia had risen, you could see the Andromeda galaxy with the night-vision googles. It was a kind of elongated fuzzy blur, but keep in mind, this galaxy is 2 million light years distant.

We saw the ring nebula and a globular cluster in the big 16-inch telescope. We watched a satellite pass overhead and I even saw a shooting star. It was incredible. And it wasn’t all. Tonight, we are heading to WIRO telescope at the top of this mountain:


Around 10 pm, most of us headed back to the dorm. We grabbed a snack, and chatted for a little while, and then it was off to bed. My room was much cooler last night, and there was a pleasant breeze blowing as I lay down to sleep. I think I was out within seconds of my head touching the pillow.

  1. Dorm showers, man. It’s a small step up from showering at the gym.
  2. Relative awfulness, I suppose.


  1. I’m sorry, I had to stop reading after bondage in space. Oh gosh, the mental images. The laughter. Ohh, what a good morning. 🙂


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