Friday, February 1, 2013

Ten for seven and one for seventeen

It's hard to believe that it's now a decade
An excerpt from the card my daughter drew and left at the makeshift memorial in front of JSC: sad faces holding hands.  I kept a scan so she could remember that day when she was grown. 

We arrived at the JSC memorial to place this card, a white woman clutching a brown toddler, the quintessential family faces of multi-cultural Houston, and we were unexpectedly swarmed by major news organizations.  Out of respect, we answered their questions, but then I left the TV turned off when we got back home.  This plan of mine to preserve for my daughter the solemnity of the event backfired when she arrived at her day care the following Monday morning only to be told that everyone had seen her on TV.  But neither of us have ever seen any footage. 
The approximately one-mile stretch of NASA Road 1 (or NASA Parkway, if you're a name-convert, which we are not) adjacent to Johnson Space Center on its due south side has an unusual characteristic:  the scoring of the concrete for traction and drainage purposes resulted in particularly pronounced vibrational tones (am I using the correct terms?). 

Basically, the pavement "sings" as you drive over it, alternating rhythmically between two different but surprisingly-coordinated harmonic frequencies, with the actual pair of relative notes produced depending on the absolute speed of your vehicle.  It's not uncommon for Houston's concrete roadways to produce a tire-singing effect like this, but this particular stretch is unique with respect to both the amplitude and the musical quality of the complementary frequencies that are generated. 

As my daughter was growing up, I would frequently tell her that the unusually clear singing sounds we hear in that location are the angel voices of the seventeen astronauts who were tragically killed during the Apollo and Shuttle missions (although depending on how the count is made, the program-wide totals are actually higher). 

I have always wondered whether this pavement effect was intentional or not, because it's so distinctive.  Or maybe if not intentional, was there a subconscious mind-state that prompted the paving contractors to form it that way without even being consciously aware of what they were doing?

"That high road will be paved, in part, in blood and tears" is a quote attributed to Houston space writer Mark Whittington

Blood, tears, and an unexpected chorus of harmonies. 

...of Earth to touch the face of God. 
And they sang their praises accordingly. 

Whittington also made reference to Rudyard Kipling's "The Song of the Dead".

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