Many of my readers will be happy to know that I have again found employment in the Seismic Industry – as much out of friendship as of appreciation that I will not be complaining about being unemployed. I will be somewhere in Oklahoma for a few weeks A project in Texas is penciled in for later. The client has rules about posting photos and project information, so I am intentionally vague. If you are also in Seismic, you can guess who the client is. The company may have such rules and so they will be referred to as “the Company”. The photo below is not related to the project or the Company. (As far as I know, the project does not extend to the sky). This is an example of “Sundogs” which is a pair of bright spots of refracted sunlight that illuminate a cloud layer. This is fairly rare and I have seen it maybe 5 times in as many decades.
A rainbow, by comparison, is both reflected and refracted and appears in the sky opposite of the sun.
Below (left) in my Personal Protective equipment. (Yes, I will trim the beard soon)
My job is driving the fuel truck. Fortunately for me, haz-mat drivers are in demand just now. I don’t have a lot of spare time, so stay tuned!
any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.
I am now “on the Yard” at company headquarters. I have dropped my trailer and been assigned another truck. This one is a real mystery. A Kenworth T680 built in November, 2013. It looks almost new, drives and shifts smoothly and is “clean as a whistle”. The odometer reads 35,000 miles. And that would seem impossible.
This truck has been “on the fleet” for two and a half years and should have at least five or six times that mileage. The Peterbilt is just about that old and it has 385,000 miles. While I am lucky to have such a low mileage vehicle, I can’t help but wonder what the story is behind this machine. One thing that is completely out of place in this story is the condition of the forward drive axle. Its tires are nearly at the legal minimum for tread depth, while its brother’s tires to the rear are almost new. I have requested that these tires (the baldies, that is) be replaced.
I pull up the Kenworth “across the bow” of the Peterbilt to transfer the refrigerator first and then all my other possessions. It can’t stay there long, but I don’t need long. Next I swap the Peterbilt out of the “good” parking spot and put the Kenworth into same. I drove the Peterbilt over by the garage where I would turn in the keys in the morning. Then, I collapsed in the Kenworth because what I just described was a lot of work. Fortunately, the Kenworth has a working Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) that keeps the cabin habitable through the hot Dallas evening.
Above: 2014 model Kenworth T680 – 12946. Note the windshield shade with cool-looking beach scene. It reflects the heat , yes. But more importantly, it marks my truck so I can find it later. Please see “Tractor Row” below for explanation.
Above: “Tractor Row” The one with the cool-looking beach scene in the windshield is mine.
Above: The Kenworth has a desk that does not look like a piece of plywood.
Above: Purgatory’s Backside. The small building in the foreground has the driver’s lounge where trucker stereotypes are preserved by drivers leaving their empty soda bottles and pizza cartons strewn across the tables and floors while the trash cans in the room remain empty.
In the morning, I have lots to do before I am allowed to leave the Yard. These activities include safety lectures and dealing with “compliance” (recordkeeping to comply with federal regulations on driving time – it’s complicated). Then I need my Driver Manager’s approval and that of “Central Clearance” – they check all my registrations and paperwork. I cannot get my truck out the gate without all these items ticked off the list. And those tires I requested apparently are still being manufactured and will be shipped out by mule train sometime next week.
Fact is, I don’t have a load, yet anyway, so there is nowhere to go. And, it does not matter anyway because all the people who can provide “approval” for my departure have gone home at noon, today, Saturday. They will not return until Monday when dozens of other drivers – trapped in Purgatory with me – will compete to get their clearance. So, another two days (minimum) of no income. This has become a recurring theme in the “high-paying-job-as-a-professional-truck-driver”.
I have been instructed to report to the “Yard” in Dallas and turn in my truck. It has apparently been sold. I asked how long it might take to get a new truck. The answer was “Depends”. I should have replied, “No, Fruit of the Loom – briefs” but my comedic reflexes are slow these days.
The last time I was issued a truck, I expected a worst case scenario. Specifically, since I had driven and was familiar with Kenworths and Freightliners in training, that I would be issued a Peterbilt. Good instincts, as it turns out. The clutch gave me trouble from the start, with what is called “clutch chatter”. Not severe and the only other Peterbilt I had driven (only for a half hour or so) had the same problem. In any case, the clutch was a body-builder tool and I was soon walking with a limp because of all the excess muscle in my left leg. Not a big problem, until it was a big problem.
The last episode of mechanical adversity cost me ten days of poverty. The company pays an insulting $25 per day for breakdowns after the first two days. The company wanted to nickel-and-dime the hotel. I would have to call and get authorization every day. We tried that on check-in and they refused the company card so I covered the hotel with my own credit card and expensed it back to avoid looking like a deadbeat every afternoon. They have at least reimbursed me for that. They tend to treat drivers as people with no financial means whatsoever. That is probably appropriate considering the level of remuneration.
One wonders what delays are in store for the next truck.
Above is the Peterbilt in question as we “sit in a door” in Garland, Texas. The “lumpers” unload for hours while the driver kills time…taking photos, say. This receiver was mercifully quick and I left no more than three hours after arrival. From here I go to the “Yard”…Company Headquarters. There, to put the old mare out to pasture (tractors are female and trailers, male by virtue of their “connecting equipment”).
After the delivery at Clarksville, I headed for the closest truck stop on I-40, to wait for a new load assignment. This was another of those “pocket” stations where parking for 20 rigs is jammed in behind the fuel island. Both that parking and the surrounding streets were full, so I looked up rest stops and found one on I 40, not far away, with “Room at the Inn”.In a Homer Simpson moment I realized I had not sent my “Empty at Destination” message. No load assignment will happen before that. Once that was done, the message came within seconds – obviously set up in advance. My load picks up in Waldron, Arkansas. This place was about an hour and a half away, down US-23, a winding, up-and-down two-lane blacktop with no shoulders. It would make a great motorcycle trip. It makes a big-truck trip where paying attention is a survival trait.
Frozen chicken is the new cargo. It started out looking like a 24
hour ordeal of drop the empty trailer one morning and hook a loaded
trailer the next. I had all day to drop, but why wait? I got in the
gate before 8 AM and found the office with some guidance from a helpful
employee. These guys all wear warm, long-sleeve jumpsuits, steel-toe
boots and carry mittens. They keep the warehouse cold since this is
frozen chicken they load.
The guys in shipping told me to back into door #4. Apparently this
would be a live load! So, I don’t ask questions, I just get to the
truck and look for the door. It is in an inside corner, with a trailer
parked sideways on the approach, a really big tank, a dumpster and a
trash compactor in front. About 45 minutes were needed to get this one
done. I got some pictures, but photography is not allowed in the plant,
so don’t tell anyone.
In this view, doors one, two and three are to the left, door five to
the right – all occupied with dropped trailers. That dumpster on the
right comes in to the story later.
Plan A:Pulling in from stage right, (figure one) until the tank was looming in the windshield, backing the trailer in while folding the drivers-side of the tractor into the trailer. That backed the trailer into yellow post at the corner.
Above: Plan B was to pull over in front of the trailers, (stage left in figure 2) (PRIME inc., etcetera) and back around the parked trailer (whose taillights you see) into the door. To quote Chico Marx, “Dat’s a-no good, too”. Plan C: Drive out and to the left and find a place to swap ends with the entire rig. Where? – Back in beside the last visible trailer (there is a sign there that says, “Don’t even think of parking here. ” Who’s parking?) Then pull past taillight trailer and the trailers (no tractors) in doors one, two and three, swing wide and put the tractor in the space between the compactor and the dumpster, seen in the previous photo. Then reverse into door #4. That worked.
September 14, 2016 7 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Williams, AZ
While waiting (and not long) for the load to be put on board, I
worked on the trip plan. If I can get a couple of hundred miles behind
me it will take the distance off of the final run to delivery, in three
days’ time. The problem is not drive time, but all the waiting at
first receiver, then shipper has again worn down the 14 hours and I must
get on the road asap/
My trip plan is only roughed out when the loading is finished and so I
submit Oklahoma City as the target for the day and promise the Driver
Manager (DM) that I’ll finish the plan later. It is a matter of driving
as far as practical and finding a place to stop for ten hours (A “Ten”).
I soon see that OKC is out of reach and I have looked up the exit
numbers of the truck stops and rest areas. A rest area near Henryetta
wins the stop and, now committed, I see as I pull in a sign that says
“No Facilities”. OK, it does beat the Ad Hoc
Truck Stop (#1) since I knew it was there before arriving. At Three
PM, mine is the only truck parked. By the time I roll at Two AM, there
are a few dozen, but it is a big area, since there is no room taken up
by restrooms, water fountains or vending machines.
We have established that the best plan is to start in the “wee, small
hours” between midnight and four AM. By the time my day is done, the
parking at truck stops and rest areas are mostly vacant. This works
well, but sometimes clashes with afternoon delivery appointments.
Below is a photo of a sandstone formation at a rest area somewhere in
New Mexico. I know at least a few of my readers have a Geology
background. So, would one or the other please enlighten me as to how
these rocks were weathered like this?
Above: Cubbyholes in the sandstone.
The second leg is to Albuquerque where I am directed to fuel up, but
that is out of reach and Santa Rosa, New Mexico fits the bill for a
Ten A few hours out I begin noticing the outside rear tire on the
trailer looks a little flat. That is the furthest from the driver and
it is supported by the other tire, so it’s hard to say. But, I pull
into the tire check lane and the Loves’ tire tech checks the pressure
with a set of eighteen hoses that attach to all the tires at once.
Meanwhile, I put in just more than 50 gallons (qualifying for a shower
credit) because the annoying red light and a dashboard message that
won’t let me see my digital speedometer tell me that fuel is low.
Sure enough, that tire is at 29 pounds (should be 100). Without the
other tire in the dual, it would be flat as a pancake. I wind up “in
the shop”. The trailer is, anyway. The tractor is outside the shop and
far from the work zone where the tech is finding the leak, so it’s just
one more parking place to me. The usual truck stop routine is in force –
eat, shower and sleep. By the time the first two are done, the tech
shows me the nail my tire picked up and I sign off and move the truck to
normal parking (still with lots of vacancies) and sleep.
I did fuel up in Albuquerque .before dawn and there was a beautiful
overlook of the city on the way out of the depot. I tried to grab a
couple of picture at the stop light, but both came out blurred. I will
look for another photography solution. (Anybody with Go-Pro camera
experience? Please let me hear from you). I was short-clocked by the 8
day rules to only 9 hours and change today (14th) and only
made Williams, AZ instead of Kingman, which was the target. I can still
make the final on time, but it will be a three hour trip that morning
instead of a half hour hop. It pays to stay flexible and put the fat in
the schedule at the end of the trip.
I passed the “divide” of Arizona at 7337 feet of altitude and wind
picked up during the day. Williams is West of Flagstaff and on the
turn-off to the Grand Canyon. This is a good example of the fallacy of
the “see America” aspect of this job. With the Grand Canyon mere miles
away, I saw the truck stop. The sky was tinted red with dust at sunset
and the temperature was 48° F in the morning (September 15, 1 AM,
September 15, 2016 5 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Tulare, California
At the border, there is an inspection station. They are more
concerned with what I am carrying, not its weight. I hand over the Bill
of Lading (BOL) and tell the guy, it’s frozen chicken. He says, “I
know you guys carry either that that or frozen beef. I tell him
(briefly) about the frozen fish. I don’t bring up bananas, since it
might occur to him to look for fruit flies. There is an old joke that
goes, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”. He
wishes me a safe trip and I am back on the highway.
California is a ten percent pay cut, since the speed limit is
everywhere 55 Mile per hour. Not to worry, though because I can make up
for it by driving more hours. The cars can all go 70 still and they
probably curse us in our trucks when there is no passing lane. Hey,
they voted for the dufusses who made the speed limit!
That definition mentions in passing that Boron is made by exploding stars. It is a little appreciated fact (except by Astronomy Degree holders – Guilty, Your Honor) that all elements except Hydrogen (and -according to some – a small quantity of Helium , with a trace of Lithium) are manufactured by Nuclear Fusion. So, a great deal of what makes up your body was once inside a Star, somewhat like the Sun. Boron requires Stars that explode and fortunately for us, our Sun is too small for that. So, Boron comes from other Stars or bombardment of cosmic rays – which is even weirder when you know where cosmic rays come from:
You may remember the Brand Name “Twenty Mule Team Borax” which is
mentioned in the above link. However, unless you are Cretaceous, like
myself, you won’t remember the 1950’s television series “Death Valley
Days” that was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Products and hosted by a
very young actor in Western costume. His name was Ronald Reagan. More
digression – but this time locally influenced.
I had called this truck stop from Arkansas two days ago, to ask if
they could order replacements for my windshield wiper blades. I had no
luck finding the right parts in truck stops over many states. The guy
assured me they were in stock and I found them there. As planned, I
continued for three more hours to get here to Tulare. This sets me up
for a three hour drive to the Final in the morning. I had some time
left and could have driven to a rest stop 24 miles further on, but the
prospect of a shower was too much to pass up. Upon arriving, I realized
that the last Loves shower credit – the one I earned in Santa Rosa – I
had used up in Williams. I still had “clock” and could have continued
to the rest area. But, it could be closed or over-crowded and that
would force me back here anyway. That scenario would have cost me an
hour of drive time tomorrow (due to the eight-day problem) so I
stayed. I know I promised to lay off the “drive clock” subject, but it
keeps cropping up in the day-to-day events.
September 16, 2016, 7:20 AM PDT, Winco Distribution Center, Modesto, California
So far, I like this place. They give you a map and directions and
send you to pull-through (i.e., easy) parking to await your
appointment. Then off to a door and walk your papers into the office. I
have called the local Walmart Supercenter (about 5 miles away) and
received permission to park while shopping. After that, I will go to a
nearby Pilot (16 miles – where I have 5 shower credits) and take a 34
hour break which will reset my 70 hour 8 day situation. That should
stop this running short on drive time. I’m hoping this will set me up
for a long trip, but there are no guarantees.
11:11 AM PDT
I have now completed all my paperwork for this trip, save the Lumper
receipt which they will bring me when I am released. I’ve also cleaned
up my email inbox, replied to some messages and written this bit of
prose for y’all. The door light has been green for over an hour and
still I have no clearance after three hours and 11 minutes from my
appointment (for which I was timely). Can you guess if “detention pay”
is in force with this receiver?
August 4, 2016 – Canton, Texas (Transplanted from WordPress page)
Despite the massive incompetence that passes for management in the Walmart distribution center in Johnstown in upstate New York, the gate guards and receiving staff were most polite and helpful. It just goes to show you that places are often remembered for their least admirable details. Another New York example of that phenomenon is their Arrogant Senator, the lower case chuck schumer.
When finally it came, it had been a “live” unloading, which means
that I hung around while they unloaded the trailer I had brought.
First, they assign you a door and hand you a pager. You are then
expected to back the trailer into the door and wait for the cargo to be
unloaded. There is a mechanical arm that grabs the bumper of your
trailer, in addition to wheel chocks and the trailer brakes that prevent
you from moving while the forklifts run in and out the trailer carrying
pallets of meat. These precautions were not apparently enough to
assuage the misgivings of Safety, so we are required to disconnect the
tractor from the trailer and a receiving foremen locks out the trailer
air hose connector as well. The subject of airbrakes could make an
entire post and I’ll put that on the list.
Besides all that, there is a red light flashing by the door, visible
in your driver-side mirror that prohibits you from moving anything.
When the light turns green, we ain’t done yet! You have to wait until
the pager explodes with flashing blue neon lights and go to the
receiving window to get the paperwork. All this may take four or five
hours. Some shippers and receivers have no concern whatsoever for the
fact that drivers are paid by the mile and sitting in a door is a zero
By contrast, the next load I delivered was to Golden State Foods in
Garner, NC. There, I was admitted within 10 minutes of arrival. I had
only to back the trailer into a cargo door (no need even to open the
trailer doors), disconnect from (drop) that trailer and hook up to the
trailer in the next door…and leave. The whole thing took less than an
hour. See, New York?
Fortunately, the next load was only 37 miles away. Unfortunately,
the appointment to pick up was the next morning at 1 PM. However, they
give themselves until 11 PM to actually come across with the load.
twenty eight hours away in time. You can bet that it will happen within
a half hour of that last deadline. Here at Clayton, NC, they will
waste your time, but they will also give you a place to park and wait,
on site (unlike Walmart, NY). I took that load of meat to Texas in two
full days of travel totaling over 1100 miles. Now I sit in a truck
stop at Canton, Texas for about 18 hours, in order to arrive in Garland,
Texas at the proper time tomorrow. I could have stopped further out,
but then I risk being late for some accident or traffic jam. The
Federal regulations and the company’s speed limits have made this job a
game of “Hurry Up and Wait”.
The First Mate was in Dallas with youngest son for University “camp” and she drove out to see me. We took some photos.
Definition: First Mate – an officer on a ship , second in rank only to the Captain and responsible for the security of both Captain and Vessel.
I am moving posts from the old WordPress site to Goingwalkabout.blog. Please excuse the apparent anachronisms.
August 1, 2016
Several of you have suggested that I need to post more photos and I agree. Now that I am a solo driver, it is difficult for me to take photos while driving. I must keep my eyes on the road and I can snap un-aimed photos out the window – about one in ten are worth looking at. So, mostly I will concentrate on photos while parked. And where better to start than what is outside right now.
Above: The view from the “Captain’s Cabin”.
This is the vista that greets me this morning. I am at a Pilot Truck Stop to the South of Richmond Virginia. My truck is backed into a row of trucks that looks out on to the fuel isles. From left to right, top to bottom: The white truck over there would normally be hustled off by the manager for blocking the Scales. The reason he has not been is just barely visible as a Safety Ribbon indicating that the scales are currently out of order. As I mentioned before, these scales are used by the majority of drivers to check their legality. You might think that shippers would assure this, but you would be mistaken. The driver is alone responsible for legal road weight.
The scale measures weights by the axle (or tandem). The “ticket” received has four numbers that tell the driver all he needs to know. I’ll post a photo of same. The black rectangle at lower left covers my company’s name. We won’t talk about them, yet.
The first weight is the front wheels that steer the truck. Those are allowed to carry 12,000 pounds. The next number is the weight of the drive axles – that is the cluster of eight wheels directly behind the driver that move the truck. They, together, are allowed 34,000 pounds of weight. As you see, I came in exactly on the limit and I’ll be buying a lottery ticket today. The next number is the weight on the trailer wheels and that is also limited to 34,000 pounds. What I did after this was to slide the trailer wheels forward to balance the load, overshooting by a hundred or two. After that, I put some more fuel in the tractor, so the two should be as close to balanced as makes no difference. The last number is the combination total and that may be as much as 80,000 pounds. For reference, a passenger car may weight about 2000 or 3000 pounds. This is the Major Leagues, people!
Back to the view above. The fuel stations each have two diesel pumps because the trucks all have a fuel tank on each side. They are filled simultaneously. It is necessary for me to also pull up about 20 feet after fueling the tractor and fuel the trailer tank that feeds the refrigeration unit. Obviously, that must be independent of the tractor, since these trailers may spend much time alone, waiting for transport. When the place is busy, the trucks line up behind one another and ettiquete demands that when you are through fueling, you pull up and leave room for the next guy before you go in for your receipt and coffee, etc. This has the effect of creating parking across from the fuel bays that has a long, easy backing situation for drivers who do not excel at backing (i.e., your humble narrator).
In the cab, you see (left) the curtain which, with its mate on the right, closes for Captain’s privacy. Then the Driver’s chair (very comfortable) and the steering wheel. Next the instrument panel (I know what almost all of those do). Above that is the satellite communication and navigation unit. This is the source of the computer voice “Jill” who tells me where to go. Below the panel is the transmission shifter (Nine forward gears and two reverse). Right of that is the Captain’s Office. It only looks like a piece of plywood with a laptop on it. I am seated there now, writing this. Both seats have armrests as you see on the Office chair. The plastic bag in the foreground, right is the ship’s bakery, with a loaf of whole wheat bread.
Not long ago, one of my Road Trip Interest Group members (you know who you are) asked this question:
“When was the last Ice Age?”
The term “Ice Age” is somewhat ambiguous. Fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are extreme and take place over many periods of time. There have been eras when the Earth was completely devoid of ice. There have been other times when all the Earth’s oceans had completely turned to ice. So, when was the last “Ice Age”?
The most recent time that has been referred to by that name was the “Little Ice Age”(LIA). When exactly that was depends on who you ask. The chart below defines the LIA as being between the years 1400 and 1800 AD. This was a time that saw mountain villages in Europe consumed by glaciers. The “Frost Fairs” on the frozen River Thames in London happened at these times and the story of Hans Brinker, likewise. There is ample evidence of the LIA in art, literature and history. That painting of George Washington un-wisely standing in a rowboat, while his men push big chunks of ice in the Delaware out of the way? LIA, again. Below is a graph of results for last two millenia of proxy derived temperature differences. You see the Little Ice Age as well as what came before.
Timespan: 2000 Years
These are differences in temperatures derived from examination of cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet. Where that zero axis falls depends on how much time is included in the graph. So, these data do not tell us what a thermometer would have said then. But, the historical record tells us that during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) Greenland was occupied by an agricultural civilization where none at that level of technology would be possible in today’s climate. In Alaska there are glaciers that have retreated from the Little Ice Age and uncovered immense tree-stumps still rooted in the ground. There are no such climax forests there today.
They date to about one thousand years ago. So, we know for a fact that the temperatures were warmer then than now. There are some who imagine that this was only the case for the North Atlantic. But, Alaska is not on the Atlantic, is it? And ice cores from Antarctica tell pretty much the same story.
The time before the LIA was much warmer than the climate today. The MWP was, itself just another in a series of warm periods, starting with the Minoan Warm Period and occurring roughly every 1100 years. Below is a graph of oxygen-Isotope proxy temperature anomalies.
Timespan: 11,000 years.
The last “Ice Age” (without the “Little” modifier) is to be seen at the extreme left of the Holocene graph in figure 2. It is more accurately referred to as a “Glaciation” and is a part of a (roughly) one-hundred thousand-year oscillation of extreme cold followed by short periods (10,000 years or less) of warm weather. This cycle is revealed, among other places – in the Vostok and EPICA Ice Core Projects in Antarctica.
Timespan 450,000 years
You see that our current situation is an “Interglacial” age called the Holocene Climate Optimum that comes after the “Ice Age” (Glaciation). The Eemian which came before that Glaciation is another Interglacial in a long series of same, stretching back half a million years – at least. The Holocene appears to be significantly cooler than the previous Interglacials – all of them. (Put that in your “Global Warming” pipe and smoke it! 😉 )
While the future is not yet determined, it looks very much like the Holocene is about over and the next Glaciation is soon to be expected.
But, in all of this, there is still ice at the poles and on mountaintops. The Glaciations seem to be the rule and the “Interglacials”, the exceptions. Could we not say that the entire timespan above was a part of a larger “Grand Ice Age” with only the interglacial times interrupting?
What happens if we widen the time span? Below is a graph of ocean sediment-derived temperatures.
Timespan: Five Million Years.
The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this seafloor sediment “proxy” of temperature. Notice those thousand-century cycles are a recent phenomenon (relatively speaking) and followed a period of 41,000 year cycles. Before that was a much warmer time. There is fossil evidence that those were times when there was little or no ice on Earth at all.
Be warned that they will bring up “Global Warming” even though they can’t point to five-million-year-old Ford Explorers or make any reasonable defense of “Man-made Global Warming”. -Steve
Quote about Antarctica:
“She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”
“These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech. At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.”
The “deep freeze” referred to is when we live now!
WELCOME TO THE GRAND ICE AGE!
It may surprise you to learn that you have been here all along.
I don’t want to say that young people today are spoiled by modern conveniences – mostly because it makes me sound like a stereotypical curmudgeon. But, it is absolutely true and it was true for me as well in those long-ago days when I could be described as “young”. You, too. And our parents, and theirs and so on, ad infinitum. There is only one way to make young people appreciate the technological heritage they have. The progress from a less complex technology to their time has to be described to them by us involuntary immigrants from the past.
Perhaps only an early-adopter “Space Nerd” from the middle Twentieth Century could explain the early days of the exploration of the Solar System. That would be Your Humble Narrator and I am stepping up on this occasion to review a Netflick Video about that very subject. I followed the Voyager missions from their launch in 1977 to the flyby of Neptune in 1989 – and beyond.
Before there was Voyager, the outer planets were only vaguely known. In 1977 there had been some probes sent to the outer planets – most notably the Mariner and Pioneer probes, which were not insignificant. But, this documentary is an appreciation of Voyager – the “Game Changer” in Solar System exploration – and its very momentous accomplishments. It was the most ambitious and significant exploration of the Solar System of that time and the facts and images gathered are a fundamental part of planetary science to this day.
Because Jupiter is the largest and nearest – at “only” five times the Earth’s distance (One Astronomical Unit (AU)) from the Sun – it was the best known. Even at that, all that was known was some bands of clouds and a “Great Red Spot”. We knew that Jupiter had four large moons. Your average Astronomy Nerd – like Your Humble Narrator – could drag the telescope out of the Garage and show you the Bands and the Spot and the four moons. He would tell you their names – “Io, Europa, Ganymede and Calisto” – and show you four dots of light surrounding a small dimly striped Jupiter where the Great Red Spot might be barely visible.
The more enthusiastic Nerd will have an even bigger telescope and will almost certainly show you Saturn. He will twist your arm (literally, if necessary) to show you Saturn! That is because Saturn is the stunning little toy in the eyepiece that everybody loves to see. They might look at a picture made by a great observatory and appreciate it, but when they see it in a telescope with their own eye*, it is always a stunning epiphany. Saturn’s largest moon Titan and a few of the smaller ones are visible in a large amateur ‘scope About twenty years ago, I showed my mother Saturn and Titan, Rhea and Tethys. It is a great lumbering 12 inch Dobsonian that has no clock drive to track the planet. I had to constantly re-adjust the aim and then tell Mom, “Okay – look quick!” and duck out of her way. She could glimpse Saturn for a scant few seconds until the Earth’s rotation took it out of view. Then I would step back in to find it again, describe what to look for and where and jump back out of the way. She was fairly impressed when I told her that very few people on Earth – one in many millions, perhaps – have personally looked through a telescope and seen these.
*With very few exceptions, telescopes are “monocular”.
The next two targets of Voyager Uranus and Neptune were – even with the best telescopes of the day – were still not much more than small indistinct discs of light.
I told you all that so I could tell you to see “The Farthest: Voyager in Space” on Netflix.
The Story of Voyager
The story begins with the engineers who built the thing. Things, actually – there were two of them. What they modestly describe is really a miracle of concentrated effort and talent, innovation and adaptation. Those engineers and planetary scientists that participated in the effort are interviewed, but not in any simple question-and-answer format. Rather, their responses are woven into the narrative to make a smoothly-flowing saga.
The tale continues. Once the craft were assembled and packaged on their rockets, they were summarily thrown off their native planet – never to return – in dramatic, suspense-filled launches.
The spacecraft encountered, recorded and sent back to Earth discoveries that, on the one hand confirmed long-held ideas of the nature of the Solar System. On the other hand, they relayed stunning new revelations that nobody – in their wildest dreams – had imagined could exist.
Each planetary encounter at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -and the decisions and the problems – is chronicled and described by the people involved. There is archival video from the encounter operations where you will recognize younger versions of the interviewees. After Neptune, the continuing mission of the probes is described. And all through the narrative, the sounds and pictures of the famous “golden record” (a Human message to the Universe) are heard and displayed.
Doubt me if you must, but this story is a compelling drama, complete with comedy, tragedy, euphoric glory and devastating failure. A well-written, well-produced timeless chronicle of a stunning achievement for all mankind.
This video has become my new “Saturn” moment. I dragged (figuratively, figuratively!) my Wife to see it with me and she was fascinated by what she had never known. I am working on appointments to watch it again with First and Second Sons.