In kindergarten, at Carleton Elementary in Detroit, Mrs. Boyce told us the nine planets one day, starting with Mercury. It was 1966. When she got to Pluto, she said how remote and cold and icy it was. Mysterious, dark, and desolate. Like the lost plays of Sophocles, now ashes, well, now dust, from the fire at the Great Library of Alexandria, the pride of the Hellenistic Age that ended forever with the defeat of Cleopatra and Antony at Actium in 31 B. C.
I was fascinated and fell in love with Pluto much like I have fallen in love with girls when I was a kid and women as a man. The next morning or not much longer, at any rate, as I played on the sidewalk in front of my house on Marne Street in Detroit before the afternoon session of kindergarten in Room 104, I daydreamed that I was the King of Pluto. I liked the daydream — being the King of Pluto appealed to me. I had a super power, too; I could freeze people. I think I made Kim my queen. Hi, Kim, wherever you are. I will always love you. I miss you.
Years later, when I was being documented on a High 8 camera by sheila franklin for her yet-to-be-named documentary about me and my art, I told her about my daydream and lifelong love of Pluto; and, after filming was done, she finally decided to name the documentary “the king of pluto.” sheila liked small caps for her name and stuff. It was her fourth and last one. sheila won an Award of Excellence at the 2004 Berkeley Video and Film Festival for “the king of pluto,” too! She died last year on October 14th.
She and I saw Pluto through a telescope up by Cadillac in 2005 or so once in the dark skies at Caberfae Peaks ski lodge. My eyes were real good back then. Now my sight is kind of blurry as I fight off Type 2. I’m sipping unsweetened ice tea right now.
When I heard a mission to Pluto was in the works back in 1989 or so, I wrote then-President George H. W. Bush, asking him to support the mission. He never wrote me back.
I voted for Clinton in ’92 and asked him to support the then-in-the-works Pluto Express mission. I got an autopen-signed letter back from the White House, saying my letter had been forwarded to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. A few weeks later or so, they sent me an info packet about the proposed mission. Then Clinton killed it. I guess he fostered no love for Pluto.
Then, George W. Bush was elected by, okay, ah, became President. I’d been meaning to write to him about the brand-spanking-new New Horizons mission to Pluto I had read about online; but then I was invited to an event he was attending in Portland, Oregon when I was the Republican nominee for state representative in District 48. The $1,000 a plate fundraiser for Senator Gordon Smith was only $250 for me since I was on the ballot.
It took me a few weeks to realize the obvious; but it finally dawned on me I had to ask Bush to support the newly-proposed mission to Pluto. New Horizons.
The day of the event in late August of 2002, I parked at the Lloyd Center, forgetting to roll my windows up, but locking my car. I took the light rail to Downtown Portland and encountered a scene out of Blade Runner, all while dressed up in my suit and tie with a brand-new off-yellow dress shirt from Van Heusen that I still have – ink stain and all…. Police in full riot gear. Large dark hazmat detectors that must’ve been from the FBI or NSA, and a large group of Eugene anarchists, one of whom confronted me and asked, “Who are you?” I gave him my card, revealing on it that I was the GOP nominee for District 48. He held it up to his eyes for a moment, and then called over his cohorts to help him in his confrontation with me; I quickly sidestepped him and made my way to the rendezvous point to get into the Hilton. I’d been called the day before with the lowdown; and it came in handy at that moment. I was pretty flustered. But anything for Pluto, lol.
As soon as I entered the Portland Hilton, I had to walk through a full body scanner. It probably made me radioactive. I walked up the stairs to the second floor where the reception was and ordered a Myers Dark Rum and coke with a twist of lime and ate some damn good little meatballs. They were about half the size of a golf ball. Sort of like, well, exactly like, how Charon is half the size of Pluto, but with sauce.
Luckily, I spoke with one of Bush’s staff and told him my plan to speak to him about Pluto, handing him my card, as well. He was cool with it and told me I’d better get up by the crimson felt rope asap if I wanted to be able to speak to Bush. I set down my unfinished drink and hurried to the rope. I didn’t want Bush to smell booze on my breath or slur my words. It was an open bar; so I could always have a few more afterward.
Before too long, the reception room was brimming with well-dressed people who’d forked over a grand to hear Bush bang the drums for a war in Iraq. It was obvious that he was planting that seed. He had a serious case of Iraq on the brain. But Pluto was on my mind.
After his speech, Bush made his way towards me along the velvet rope. I was towards the other end, by his escape door. I had to wait for him as he signed autograph after autograph for his doting admirers. I was armed to the teeth with repartee. He would not escape without me planting Pluto in his mind.
Finally, he got to me and we shook hands; foregoing an autograph, I said to him, “I hope you’ll support the mission to Pluto.” He looked at me real funny, like I was a nutjob; but I kept going, undeterred – our hands purposely still clasped like Soyuz and Columbia, “We should be the first to every planet.” Then, I let go, and watched him like a lab rat just injected with an experimental food coloring. He stammered, “Pluto?” Looking at me dazed, confused, and off-kilter.
I locked and loaded and leaned into his ear, put my hand on his heavily-padded left shoulder and reparteed softly, “You’ll get a lot of Trekkie votes.” I correctly assumed he’d run for re-election in 2004….
Bush took a step back, now back in his groove by the power of my sensational repartee (if I do say so myself), looked into my eyes with a smile on his face, and reparteed himself, “I’m gonna send YOU to Pluto!” He pointed at me just like he was Uncle Sam as he did so. He was quite proud of himself, and I smiled back politely; but, then, thought, wait……, New Horizons is a one-way ride of 9+ years or more just to get to Pluto, so I said in reply, “No, send Johnny Jihad to Pluto!” (That was the name radio show host Michael Savage nicknamed John Walker Lindh aka The American Taliban guy.)
President Bush nodded without looking up at me, hoping to make a clean getaway.
I gave up my front row place after lingering a moment to a grateful lady who was able thusly to get Bush to sign an autograph for her. She even turned around and thanked me before I went and got some more meatballs and another drink. Someone recorded the whole exchange, too, I think; but I’ve never seen it.
A few days later, I emailed Dr. Alan Stern of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, and told him proudly of my advocacy for New Horizons. Three and a half years later, he invited me to a pre-launch party for New Horizons in Cocoa Beach, Florida. I flew into Orlando, rented a blue Mustang, and rode east towards the Space Coast.
That night, I walked over to the party at the Radisson from my room on the other side of the Waffle House at the Motel 6, and looked for Alan. When we finally met, he was cool and even said to me, “We still need someone to light the fuse!” We both laughed inside and smiled like the Cheshire Cat. Clyde Tombaugh’s widow was there, too. She was beset with admirers; so I didn’t bother her. She seemed like a nice lady. The other thing I really remember well is how damn good the hot fudge was! LOL! I still have an Atlas V lapel pin from the party.
The launch was scrubbed for a few days due to cloud cover; but finally, at 2 p.m. sharp on January 19th, 2006, I saw from Port Canaveral the Atlas V rocket soar at a steep angle into the clouds, and fast! At the time, it was the fastest rocket ever to leave Earth’s atmosphere. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
On July 4th, 2015, New Horizons went dark. An anomaly shut down the main computer on board the grand piano-sized spacecraft. Ten days before the highly-anticipated close encounter with Pluto, we almost lost New Horizons and its precious data forever.
But Team New Horizons had programmed the back-up computer to turn on and take over if for any reason the main computer went down for the count. Three interminably long days later, New Horizons was fully functional again, with its main computer back at the helm and not one iota or ion embarrassed. It’d been given dueling functions, and decided to take a timeout to remind Mankind that that’s not cool.
On Bastille Day, July 14th, 2015, New Horizons executed its fly-by commands flawlessly. It took fabulous high resolution b + w and color photos, and even confirmed that Pluto is the largest planet in our solar system past Neptune. Eris may have more mass; but ask Jenna Jameson. Size matters.
Faced with Solomon’s choice after being invited to Mission Control at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland for the fly-by and the Pluto Night baseball game at Nationals Stadium in D.C. three days later between the L.A. Dodgers and the Nationals (sitting with Team NH in the right field terrace), I chose the game. Scheduled to start for the Dodgers was Clayton Kershaw, grandnephew of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto.
I met up with a few premiere Pluto huggers in D. C. and Delaware and even made it to the only Tiki bar in Philadelphia on the road trip.
When I got back to Detroit, I followed up on the data dump with delight. Tombaugh Regio, the great heart of Pluto, has convinced many people who were on the fence that Pluto is indeed a planet.
The Sun is a yellow dwarf star. It is also a star. Dwarf galaxies are also galaxies. Dwarf cashews are also cashews. In fact, most cashews consumed worldwide are dwarf cashews; so put that in your nut bowl! Dwarf rhinoceri are also rhinoceri – as is the Western dwarf possum of Australia a possum!
Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of New Horizons said it this way, “In fact, Pluto, and its cohorts, are planets. They have all the attributes of planets. Let me give you some examples. They have cores. They have geology. They have seasons and atmospheres. They have clouds. They have polar caps in many cases. They have moons. And I can’t think of a single distinguishing characteristic that would set apart Pluto and other things that you’d call a planet, other than its size. So I like to say, a Chihuahua is still a dog.”
Why, then, are dwarf planets not a subcategory of planets? The answer, my friend, is that the IAU (International Astronomical Union) is composed of all-too-human humans. They had it in for Pluto and it had nothing to do with Science. I know all about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. One IAU member even admitted being the victim of a rather insidious shenanigan (the stagnation of his academic career were he to vote to let Pluto retain its planetary status in Prague) on Facebook, where I co-administer the Society of Unapologetic Pluto Huggers, a group of over 1,000 members.
But, every three years, they have a General Assembly, in which they can revise their fundamentally-flawed August 2006 definition of a planet. They just had one last month in Honolulu. The next one will be in Vienna in August 2018, then Busan, South Korea in 2021. It’s like triennial and stuff. Always August, but rarely are they august. The overwhelming majority of the IAU membership are astronomers, not planetary scientists. As Dr. Alan Stern, one of the world’s leading planetary scientists, put it, regarding the IAU’s demotion of Pluto recently, and elegantly, “It has all the attributes of a planet. Screw the astronomers! Would you go to a podiatrist for brain surgery? They don’t know what they’re talking about!” Stern added, “You really should listen to planetary scientists that know something about this subject. When we look at an object like Pluto, we don’t know what else to call it.” I’m listening, Alan! Hear! Hear!
Dr. Stern, former Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, is the co-founder and CEO of Uwingu, whose mission is (from their website) “to create new ways for people to personally connect with space exploration and astronomy.” He’s also Chief Scientist at Moon Express, a company that seeks to mine the Moon for rare elements and bring them back to Earth. Additionally, he’s Chief Scientist at World View, a company in Arizona working on taking ordinary people up to near space in a helium balloon as early as late 2016! Yeah, like the stratosphere and stuff where you can see the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth! Lastly, Dr. Stern is Associate Vice President at Southwest Research Institute’s (SwRI) Space Science and Engineering Division. He’s also been selected to receive a 2015 American Ingenuity Award, given by Smithsonian magazine. Pretty cool. When Alan speaks about Pluto being a planet, people should listen.
As an artist, I make art based on my inspirations. I like to read the classics (right now The Aeneid), and they often inspire me with their greatness. I never could understand reading crap when life is so short. I also follow current events; so my range is pretty wide. Listen to your Muse, ya’ll! You only live once!
Since I enjoy making space-themed art sometimes, my art has even extended to the Crab Nebula and beyond!
When I ran for Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney in 2008 and 2012, I caught a little flack from a local political columnist for drawing Plutonians. It only made me want to draw more of them. It’s ironic and utterly hypocritical how the media can jump down the throats of artists and others who love to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, but cries bloody murder when they feel their freedom of the press is being infringed upon.
Running for office has revealed to me a lot of things that’d otherwise remain hidden. It’s critical to keep our elections robust. Without robust elections, our democracy will shrivel up and die. Alexis de Tocqueville said it best in Democracy in America. I enjoy trying to unseat those who feel the rights of others are subordinate to their own ego.
Now that the high res photos of Pluto are coming in hot and heavy, I feel redeemed. For all anyone but Bush knows, my conversation with him may’ve made the difference. At any rate, I’m glad I stepped up to the plate for Pluto. I’m not going to betray my childhood. I loved Pluto then; and I see no reason to stop loving Pluto ever. I forewent a presidential autograph for these amazing photos of Pluto. I got the diameter, too. Sorry, Eris, you pipsqueak!
Now, New Horizons is heading toward the KBO (Kuiper Belt Object) nicknamed PT1 by Team New Horizons, scheduled to arrive on January 1, 2019. It was down to two finalists; and the fainter of the two won out to save fuel for a possible fourth target afterward! (Don’t forget New Horizons got a gravity assist from Jupiter in 2007!) It looks to be around 30 miles long. Some people think it might be similar in composition to Kerberos, the darkest moon of Pluto, named after the three-headed dog of Hell.
NASA still needs to approve an extended mission, and that largely depends on the largess of Congress.
Congress and the President need to realize the importance of an extended mission. There are people starving in India and China and other places, yes; but space exploration is crucial to our survival and our evolution as a species. Maybe China can borrow money from itself to feed its own people?
China, to its credit, has a fledgling space program, and landed its Chang’e 3 spacecraft onto the surface of the Moon on December 14, 2013, complete with a rover named Yuti! Pretty cool!
Meanwhile, India, on its first try (just like me taking the Bar Exam), successfully put into orbit around Mars on September 24, 2014, its Mangalyaan, or Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft. It is exploring Mars while India develops its space exploration capabilities.
Of course, we have to beg Russia to let our astronauts hitch a ride to the ISS, nowadays, too. How pathetic. We are losing ground and space; and, if not for New Horizons, we’d be officially irrelevant, but for Cassini at Saturn. We need to get with the program, the space program. And Earth Science needs to be part of that program. Politics should not come into play when it comes to Science. Those politicians who think it should should be voted out of office to go back under their birthrock.
The argument against funding NASA is weak and short-sighted. People are starving because of overpopulation and poor planning and other factors too myriad to go into here or Haumea. But don’t blame Pluto, or Makemake for that matter!
For more information, visit the Society of Unapologetic Pluto Huggers ( S. U. P. H. ) Facebook page, Laurel’s Pluto Blog, NASA’s New Horizons page, and the Johns Hopkins University’s New Horizons page.