Davidson College Class of ’82, Tom Marshburn, NASA, ISS, @AstroMarshburn, public art, Jaume Plensa!: It was a GREAT DAY TO BE A CLASS OF ’82 WILDCAT … Thanks, Tom (and Ann & Grace). We walked the campus. Love the new sculpture (which looks a bit like Tom in his spacesuit loaded into the Soyuz rocket!)*
Then we gathered for a reception and dinner at Carol Quillen, President of the College.
We then ambled down to Duke Performance Hall where Tom spoke for about an hour. Tom was great.
John and I with Davidson’s own Big Bang Theory cast! — with Tom Marshburn and others.
And here’s a summary of his talk …
The fact that people a hundred years ago could figure out the laws of physics, how things move, without seeing it, is really amazing,” Marshburn said.
Marshburn described an experiment one of his fellow astronauts conducted during his spare time, in which granules of salt loose in an air-filled plastic bag began to clump together, something that could never be seen on Earth. This discovery was important to the way physicists theorize the formation of the universe.
“We understood how basketball-sized objects could come together to form planets, but we didn’t understand how particles could come together to form basketball-sized objects,” Marshburn explained.
Other experiments conducted on the space station have important real-world application here on Earth. One such experiment looked at capillary action, the process by which water flows through narrow spaces without the assistance of outside forces. What astronauts on the ISS learned about capillary action is currently being used to develop a handheld device that could conduct simple blood tests that currently require an entire medical laboratory.
“The reason why fluid engineers and physicists were doing the experiment was because it would be nice to have fuel tanks in space that don’t need pumps,” Marshburn said. “It turned out there were engineers on the ground that figured out that fluids in space act like very tiny amounts of fluid, microliters of fluid, [act] on the ground … That’s one of my favorite [experiments] because the medical application is so clear. A spaceflight need translated into a solution for NASA, but also for a medical purpose on Earth.”
While he’s unsure if his future holds a second sojourn aboard the ISS, Marshburn said that the most beautiful thing he saw in space was looking at the Earth and knowing it was his home.
“Looking at the planet Earth, the thing that jumps out at everyone first is the Bahamas, the emerald greens and blues. But over time as I looked at the Earth, I began to fall in love with the Earth again. And you learn to recognize places … and after that, my favorite place to look at was my home.”
*(updated 9.26.13 @ 10;00PM) John Syme writes the best Davidson College stories and now I’m thinking that sculpture at the beginning really does look like Tom 🙂 …
At the end of his presentation, when Marshburn’s PowerPoint relinquished the screen to his computer’s desktop, the juxtaposition of astronaut and regular guy came into focus: next to desktop folders marked “Cosmonauts” and “Award Debriefs” were others marked “Invest and Retire” and that old, familiar standby, “Files I Never Use.”
And in the “Launch Pad Tunes” folder? U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day,” Joe Satriani’s “Summer Song” and Muse, maybe a little “Uprising”?….
He also regaled us with the story of the “party of the century,” held in the JJ House that year, a costume party with the theme of dressing up as your repressed desire. Already as a 20-year-old, though, he knew his own desire to be an astronaut, and showed up wrapped in tin foil and sporting a borrowed motorcycle helmet….
via Daybook Davidson.
**(updated 9.27.13 @ 9:00AM) One friend spotted the picture of the sculpture and recognized it as a Jaume Plensa. It is indeed a Jaume Plensa!