Tuesday, November 18, 2008
One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi
Last night we caught the evening news just in time to hear Atlanta TV anchorwoman Brenda Wood say that the space shuttle Endeavor would be passing over Atlanta about an hour later and would be visible for three minutes. We were instructed to look west, where Jupiter and Venus are the brightest objects in the sky, at 6:54 p.m. to see the spacecraft rising. By 6:57 p.m., the show would be over.
Mrs. RWP and I went out to the patio just in time to see the event, and it was quite impressive, the space shuttle Endeavor shining every bit as brightly as Jupiter and Venus and at the same time moving rapidly across the evening sky. To realize that the craft went all the way from one horizon to the other that quickly just boggles the mind, especially when the mind is mine and usually given to such thoughts as, “Why, at a few minutes before seven in the evening, is the sky already midnight blue?”. Suddenly I’m reminded of a bit of Longfellow’s poetry: “One if by land and two if by sea/And I on the opposite shore will be/Ready to ride and spread the alarm/To every Middlesex village and farm” and also of how dumbstruck Paul Revere would be at today’s space riders.
Vehicles orbiting the earth have become so commonplace that we rarely think twice about them any more. The space shuttle orbits the earth every 90 minutes, traveling at a speed of about 18,000 miles per hour. For the mathematically challenged among you, that translates to 300 miles per minute, or five miles per second. On the surface of the earth, traveling that rapidly would be downright phenomenal. For each second that you count -- here’s where the One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississipi, and so on come in -- you would be an additional five miles away from where your counting started. For example, if you began counting in West Palm Beach, Florida, each succeeding second would find you in Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Pompano Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-sea, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, North Miami Beach. Now that’s traveling. You would arrive at each town nearly as fast as you could say its name. The only way I know of to travel faster is to say, “Beam me up, Scotty” and hope that the Enterprise’s trans-porter has enough dilithium crystals to work properly.
Get out a map and try my little experiment with your own locale. Think about the effect such speeds would have on your morning commute. (Note. Women living on farms are exempted from this exercise as their morning commute consists of walking from the house to the chicken coop in Vonda’s case or from the house to the tractor shed in Jeannelle’s case. My mother was transplanted from suburban Philadelphia to our acreage in rural Texas, and her favorite joke was about the farmer’s wife who went crazy. As the men in white coats were taking her away, they asked her husband, “Do you have any idea what caused her to snap?” and he replied, “Absolutely none. Why, she hasn’t even left the farm for fourteen years.” Thinking about that for a while might be enough to make any of us say, “Beam me up, Scotty.”)
P.S. -- We are leaving on a little trip to Tampa, Florida, in the morning. I probably won’t be writing any more posts until we return.