1 October 2009

For almost as long as I can remember I have been a political junkie. Political candidates, vote totals, and campaign strategies are to me what players, scores, and game-winning plays are to a football fanatic. I once went so far as to confess to one of my college roommates on Election Night 2000 that “this is my Super Bowl.” Devouring books and articles about politics, watching political events on television, or volunteering for campaigns was not just a hobby for me; it was a way of life. It was a natural high that, as former Vice President Hubert Humphrey once said, the only cure for is embalming fluid.

Then came the election of 2004, or more specifically the post-election period of 2004. I began 2004 as a volunteer on a local Congressional campaign. As a recent college graduate, I had the time and energy to work full time for the campaign. In the summer of 2004, after a grueling primary season, I was hired by the campaign as a Deputy Finance Assistant. It is not an exaggeration to say to say that it was a dream come true. Although certain aspects of the campaign may not have been what I had always dreamed of, I was actually getting paid to work in a profession that I loved. Then, to top it all off, we actually won.

Michael monitors election returns with John Barrow on 2 November 2004 in Athens, Georgia. Photo credit: Joseph Gamble

Michael monitors election returns with John Barrow on 2 November 2004 in Athens, Georgia. Photo credit: Joseph Gamble

But, as with any dream, I had to wake up eventually. My wake up call came about two weeks after the election when the only job I was offered in the Congressman’s office was in an area of the district I had no desire to ever work or, more importantly, live in. I went from the emotional high of winning the first campaign I was actually a full-fledged staff member of (something a political professional may spend years trying to achieve) to the crushing disappointment of being offered, at least in my opinion, an unacceptable position. Words like frustrated, disappointed, and disillusioned do not begin to accurately express my feelings in the days and weeks that followed.

Eventually I got over it. However, my dream of making a career out of working on political campaigns was put on hold, maybe permanently. I moved onto other interests and other career opportunities, but still the unfulfilled quest for a career in politics gnawed at me from time to time. It might be a program on television or a podcast or an interesting article, like an alcoholic drawn to liquor I couldn’t just end my passion for politics. But like all junkies I paid a price for my addiction. At some point while reading the article or listening to the podcast the great ‘What Ifs’ began to nag me. What if I’d pushed harder for a better position after the campaign ended? What if I’d just sucked it up and took the position offered to me? What if I’d moved onto another campaign in the 2006 election cycle?

I tried to put the ‘What Ifs’ out of my mind. I kept politics at arm’s length through the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, two cycles I should have enthusiastically participated in because of the success my party enjoyed, at least on the national level. But I didn’t. I sat on the sidelines. No, more like just sat at home and watched it on television and read about it on the Internet.  For some reason I could not balance my passion for politics with my resentment/disillusionment/pissed off-ness from 2004.

So, it came as a bit of a surprise when I actually wanted to read Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson’s book The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election. This is just the type of book I would have once done anything to avoid because of the lingering ambivalence I had towards politics after 2004. I’m glad I read it. I’m glad not because it is the greatest book I have ever read about politics or any other subject. I’m glad because, for the first time since 2004, I was able to sit down and read a work solely about politics without the raw, conflicted emotions I once had about politics. To be sure, the authors of this book did not write it to be a self-help book or a cathartic experience for the reader. But in a way, it has been for me. I read The Battle for America 2008 with the same enthusiasm and interest in politics I once read books like Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes or Jules Witcover’s Marathon: The Pursuit of the Presidency 1972-1976.

I may never have the career in campaign politics I once thought I would have. The time I spent as an intern for Governor Barnes in Atlanta, then for Senator Miller in Washington, D.C., and culminating with my work on John Barrow’s congressional campaign in 2004 may be the sum of my political career. For once though, I actually feel OK with that. The timing of this introspective experience may just be coincidental. Maybe I would have gone through this reflective process without reading The Battle for America 2008, but I doubt it. Reading that book gave me the opportunity to get lost in the world of politics without feelings of disappointment or frustration. For the first time in a long time I felt like the junkie I used to be.


An open letter to former Governor Roy Barnes

1 April 2009

31 March 2009

The Barnes Law Group, LLC
31 Atlanta Street
Marietta, Georgia 30060-1977

Dear Governor Barnes:

I would like to encourage you to seek another term as governor of Georgia in 2010. Now, more than ever, the state of Georgia needs a tested and experienced person like you as Governor. Your experience as a Governor and a state legislator are invaluable during these trying times for our state. As a summer intern in your office in 2001, I saw firsthand how your efforts in state education reform and health care reform made a difference in Georgia. Likewise, your tax cuts on family farms and your Georgia sales tax holiday were enormously successful. Your effort to change the Georgia state flag, while controversial, has proven to be the right decision. You were able to accomplish in four years what most Governors only dream of accomplishing in eight years.

Our state needs you as Governor again. One has to look no further than the recent push to let Georgia Power begin charging customers for the construction of nuclear reactors or the repeal of the corporate income tax by the State Senate as evidence of just how appalling things have become in Georgia since you left office. Never have the priorities of the Governor’s Office and the state legislature been so skewed in favor of a powerful few.

I respectfully ask that you give this decision serious thought and consideration. The political climate in 2010 will be much different than the political climate of 2002. President Obama and former Commissioner Jim Martin‘s near victories in Georgia in 2008 prove that Georgia is not the solid Republican stronghold that some would have us believe it is. Georgia needs you as Governor. With you as Governor we can begin to recover from the travesties that have occurred in our state over the past eight years.

Respectfully yours,

Michael Chapman

In The Shadow Of The Rockets

18 February 2009

Last weekend Mike and I paid a visit to the United State Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. We stayed at the Huntsville Marriott and had a spectacular view of the rockets at the Space and Rocket Center from our balcony. Our hotel room was so close that we were literally in the shadow of the rockets. While I have visited the center many times before, I have never been inside the new Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The 68,200-square-foot Davidson Center houses the visitor ticketing area, a 350-seat auditorium, rocket engines, a mock-up of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Mobile Quarantine Facility, the massive Saturn V rocket, artwork, and numerous other spaceflight exhibits.

For those who have never visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, it is well worth the time and effort to visit it. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center does an excellent job of showcasing America’s space and rocket heritage. The center’s Rocket Park features legendary rockets like the Atlas, Hercules, Juno II, Jupiter C, and Saturn I. In addition, the park also houses a prototype of the General Motors-built Lunar Mission Development Vehicle, a Skylab Training mock-up, and a full-size vertical replica of a Saturn V rocket. Inside, the museum is chockfull of artifacts and exhibits including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsule trainers, a Russian Mir Space Station mock-up, rocket engines, and the Apollo 16 command module Casper.

Saturn V rocket at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration

Saturn V rocket at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.

The highlight of our visit was the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The center did a remarkable job of restoring both the Mobile Quarantine Facility and the Saturn V rocket. Entering the center and gazing up at the Saturn V’s mighty F-1 engines was breathtaking to say the least. The size of the Saturn V never ceases to amaze me. It is easy to see why historians often regard the Saturn V as America’s greatest peacetime engineering achievement. When we were not enjoying the sight of the Saturn V rocket, we enjoyed the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) mock-up. The MQF was discovered in the woods of western Alabama in 2007 and brought to the center for restoration. This particular MQF was used by the Apollo 12 astronauts in 1969 after they returned from the Moon. The Orion CEV mock-up was a complete surprise. Before visiting the Davidson Center I had never seen an Orion CEV (mock-up or otherwise) in person. A side panel of the mock-up had been removed so visitors could look inside the prototype. I felt like a kid in a candy store window as I gawked at the interior of the Orion CEV mock-up. Seeing the Orion CEV made me want to be an astronaut more than ever.

Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle mock-up

Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle mock-up.

I have visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center many times but I must admit this visit was by far the best. The newly refurbished Saturn V was truly a sight to behold. The men and women who devoted their time and resources to restoring the mighty  rocket are to be commended for their work. All of the exhibits, both new and old were a joy to experience. I cannot wait to visit again soon.

Moon Machines

14 January 2009

In the summer of 2008, I had the pleasure of watching a documentary on the Science Channel entitled “Moon Machines“. The program focused on the various elements used to take humans to the Moon between 1968 and 1972 during Project Apollo. Divided into multiple episodes, the documentary examined the Saturn V rocket, the Apollo Guidance Computer, the Apollo Command Module, the Lunar Module, the Lunar Rover, and the astronauts’ Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) suits. Using archival footage and interviews with the men and women who worked on Project Apollo, each episode was chockfull of details and information.

My favorite episode of “Moon Machines” dealt with the Apollo Guidance Computer. At the outset of Project Apollo, computers were still in their infancy. Entrusting computers with the lives of three humans thousands of miles from Earth was a big leap of faith in the early 1960s. Based in part on research conducted by MIT professor David Mindell, the episode examines how a select group of scientists and engineers created a sophisticated and reliable guidance and navigation system along with a computer with newly written programs. With computer software not yet invented and computer memory minuscule compared to today’s technology, the challenge of navigating a 500,000 mile round trip from the Earth to the Moon was intimidating to say the least.

The episode focusing on the Saturn V rocket is an incredibly engrossing one. The massive Moon rocket was developed by two very different yet very enthusiastic groups who shared an intense desire to explore space: World War II German rocket scientists and a new generation of young engineers from across the United States. In the 1960s, with the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union more intense than ever, engineers and scientists developed an unprecedented 363-foot-tall rocket with more than one million working parts that produced 7.5 million pounds of thrust. The Saturn V rocket was an achievement of engineering genius.

The Saturn V rocket propelled the Apollo Command Module into space. The Apollo Command Module was unlike any vehicle ever designed. The module had to serve as a fully pressurized vessel giving its three human occupants communication devices, food, navigation equipment, oxygen, power, protection from the vacuum of space, and water for a two-week round trip to the Moon. Construction of the module required immense resourcefulness and tenacity and typifies the indefatigable commitment of all who worked on Project Apollo.

Apollo 16 Command Module. U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Huntsville, Alabama.

Apollo 16 Command Module. U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Huntsville, Alabama.

Once the astronauts were propelled into lunar orbit, they used the Lunar Module to descend to the Moon’s surface. The Lunar Module had nearly impossible demands placed upon it. The module had to be extremely light and also extremely durable, two requirements that were almost unattainable. This episode of Moon Machines showcases the perseverance of the project’s scientists and engineers who built the ungainly machine that took humans to the Moon.

After landing on the Moon, the astronauts then had to egress the Lunar Module. In order to leave the relative safety of the Lunar Module and walk on the Moon, the astronauts had to wear a specially designed  EVA suit. However, designing a suit that was flexible enough to pick up a penny yet durable enough to protect the astronaut from the harsh environment on the lunar surface was no easy task. While on the Moon, the astronaut had to be able to conduct experiments and collect lunar samples while encapsulated in what was essentially a small, personal spacecraft. This episode of Moon Machines documents the arduous task of designing and constructing the Apollo EVA suit, one of the most expensive and most resilient articles of clothing ever made.

While astronauts on Apollo 11, Apollo 12, and Apollo 14 had to traverse the lunar surface on foot, the astronauts of Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 utilized an all-wheel drive Lunar Rover. The story of the Lunar Rover is a fascinating one. Due to budget restrictions, early concepts for lunar roving vehicles and habitation units were scrapped. However, this episode of “Moon Machines” details how a small group of engineers convinced NASA to build the small, yet functional Lunar Rover. The story of the Lunar Rover, like many aspects of Project Apollo, is one of determination in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles.

“Moon Machines” is an exceptional documentary and should be required viewing for anyone interested in human spaceflight. The aspect of the series I find most impressive is its focus on the women and men who designed and built the machines that took humans to the Moon. Most spaceflight documentaries focus almost solely on the astronauts. “Moon Machines” is the first documentary of its kind. Never before have I seen a documentary which gives long overdue recognition to the designers and builders in America’s space program. While the documentary covers a wide-range of topics, it never loses its focus on the men, women, and machines of Project Apollo.

NASA’s “new” rocket

6 January 2009

Last week Demian McLean, a journalist with Bloomberg.com, wrote an article detailing preliminary discussions between NASA and the Obama transition team to use existing rockets to launch Americans into space after the Space Shuttle is retired. In order to avoid the expensive and time consuming recertification program recommended by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in 2003, NASA’s remaining fleet of Space Shuttles, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, are scheduled to be retired in May 2010. The Space Shuttle’s successor, Project Constellation, will not be ready to launch humans into space until 2015 at the earliest. This leaves the United States with, at least, a five year gap between the final Space Shuttle flight and the first crewed flight of Project Constellation. For some, including this author, that is an untenable proposition.

As currently planned, Project Constellation will utilize a newly developed rocket, known as Ares I, to launch a newly designed Crew Exploration Vehicle, known as Orion. The Ares I rocket will use Space Shuttle-derived hardware, namely a five-segment solid rocket booster which will serve as the rocket’s first stage. Like all new systems, especially those designed to fly in space, the Ares rocket has presented challenges to its designers and builders. However, development of the Ares rocket has proceeded at a steady pace.

Unfortunately the progress made by NASA and its contractors has not kept pace with changing international dynamics. With an increasingly unpredictable Russia and a rapidly advancing Chinese space program, the United States may be left without a way to send humans into space at a time when it can least afford it. Thus the idea of using existing rockets has been raised. The two rockets most frequently mentioned are Boeing’s Delta IV and Lockheed-Martin’s Atlas V. Both rockets are currently used to launch commercial, military, and scientific payloads into space. The use of existing rockets to launch humans into space is not a new concept. Between 1961 and 1966, American Astronauts were launched into space atop military rockets never designed to carry human payloads.

An Atlas rocket launches Gordon Cooper into space, 15 May 1963.
An Atlas rocket launches Gordon Cooper into space, 15 May 1963.
An Atlas V rocket launches an unmanned spacecraft to Pluto, 19 January 2006.
An Atlas V rocket launches an unmanned spacecraft to Pluto, 19 January 2006.

While the use of existing rockets originally designed to carry, among other things, DISH Network satellites into space  may seem like a desperate act, it could be necessary. A five year gap in human spaceflight by the United States is not acceptable and should be an embarrassment to all Americans. The United States has a proud history of human exploration in space. Surrendering, for at least five years, the exploration of space to Russia or China is a repugnant thought. Therefore, the incoming Obama administration should consider any and all options for continuing America’s human presence in space. If that means retrofitting existing rockets for human use, so be it. For those, including me, who are not thrilled with the idea of completly scrapping the Ares booster and throwing away the millions of dollars spent to design and build it, the use of existing rockets need not be the death knell for the Ares rocket. Using rockets such as the Atlas V or Delta IV could be a stop-gap measure employed while the Ares rocket is under development. Whatever the Obama administration decides to do, it must done quickly. While automobiles and clothing may be manufactured overseas, the human exploration of space is one venture that cannot be outsourced to the cheapest producer.

Apollo 8

21 December 2008

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the spaceflight of Apollo 8. Launched from pad 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the morning of 21 December 1968, Apollo 8 was a mission of historic firsts. The crew members of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell, Jr., became the first humans to ride aboard the mighty Saturn V rocket. Of even more significance was the historic journey these men embarked upon. Borman, Anders, and Lovell became the first humans to leave the relative safety and security of Planet Earth and voyage to another celestial body thousands of miles away. Never before had human beings traveled so far from home. However, the crew of Apollo 8 had little time to marvel at their historic undertaking; the mission was chock full of objectives. If human beings were ever going to land on the Moon before the end of 1969, the crew had to demonstrate that the Saturn V and the Apollo Command/Service Module could function properly, successfully execute trans-lunar and trans-earth injections, and demonstrate that the spacecraft could navigate using celestial landmarks and Earth-based instructions. In addition, the crew had to take high-resolution photographs of proposed Apollo lunar landing sites and locations of scientific interest as well as demonstrate the reliably of long-range tracking and data relay equipment. Because of the hard work and determination of the Astronauts and the thousands of Earth-based support personnel, all mission objectives were achieved. After orbiting the Moon ten times over twenty hours, the crew fired the Service Propulsion System engine attached to the Service Module and began their journey back to Earth. After traveling nearly 240,000 miles from Planet Earth, Apollo 8 landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on the morning of 27 December 1968. Shortly thereafter the crew and their spacecraft were picked up by the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown.


Forty years after the crew of Apollo 8 returned from the Moon, their mission is regarded by many as the epitome of human space exploration. Embarking on an untried mission of exploration far from home is part of humankind’s need to investigate and discover. While unmanned spacecraft made similar treks from the Earth to the Moon before Borman, Anders, and Lovell, the crew of Apollo 8 brought a human perspective to the mission that could never be obtained with unmanned vehicles. Take, for example, the Earthrise photograph (see above). Widely attributed to Astronaut William Anders, the photograph was taken while Apollo 8 was in orbit around the Moon. The photograph features the Moon in the foreground with the Earth far away in the distance surrounded by the black void of space. From the viewer’s perspective, the Earth appears to rise from the lunar horizon much like the Sun here on Earth in the morning. The photograph is one of the most recognizable symbols of space exploration ever taken and has graced the covers of magazines, books, and even a commemorative U.S. postage stamp. Aside from the breathtaking scene captured in the photograph, its significance is compounded by the fact that it was taken by a human. An unmanned spacecraft could have taken the picture; however, it would not have attained the status of Apollo 8’s Earthrise picture because a human being was there to observe it, to understand its significance, and to document it. The voyage of Apollo 8 is as significant today as it was forty years ago. The manned lunar landings of the 1960s and 1970s and the deep space missions to other planets in the Solar System were made possible because of Apollo 8. The crew of Apollo 8, along with thousands of men and women on Earth who participated in their mission, opened a new chapter in space exploration.

Red Moon Rising

1 December 2008

Red Moon Rising

If you are looking for a concise and approachable examination of humankind’s entry into the Space Age, “Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age” by Matthew Brzezinski is a must-read. Mr. Brzezinski’s book is both engaging and informative. The book reads not like a dull historical analysis, but rather an action-packed thriller. Mr. Brzezinski appears to be that rare author who can take seemingly dry historical facts and weave them into an entertaining narrative. I found Mr. Brzezinski’s analysis of 1950’s media coverage to be particularly interesting. The excitement and fear created by the media of the day is a legacy that is still with us today. It seems that the media was as much of an influence on and creator of public opinion and public perception in the 1950’s as it is today. The author also presented a great deal of behind-the-scenes information I did not know before reading “Red Moon Rising”. For example, I knew very little about Soviet rocket designer Sergei P. Korolev before reading this book. In addition, I had no idea how close the rocket team of Dr. Wernher von Braun came to being shutout of the early American missile program due to interservice rivalry between the Army, Navy, and Air Force. This book is well worth the reader’s time and money.