A Gathering of “Space” Rangers

Since today is the 103rd Anniversary of the birth of the National Park Service, and we’re into the Service’s second century, it’s a good time to report on another gathering of Rangers – this time with an eye toward the future, a time when there may indeed be Rangers on other worlds.

In July, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, there was a gathering of  Rangers – “Space Rangers” – at Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This time, an Astronaut, students and teachers would join the Rangers.

Earlier in the year a call came from the Chief of Interpretation and Education – the Chief Naturalist – at Craters of the Moon.  Ted Stout and I chatted for a while.  Then he got to the point:  “What are you doing on July 20th?”  I’d worked with Ted in the National Park Service days, and later done NASA Education work in Idaho, so he suggested I might want to join his celebration at Craters of the Moon.

I have the greatest respect for Ted, so I said”Sure” and began planning.  Granddaughter Megan lives near Ogden, Utah, so it would be a chance for a real summer vacation:  camping in Nevada, being hosted in Idaho by Ted and Rose Stout (Rose is also a National Park Service Ranger), helping with the Apollo 11 celebration, and visiting Megan.

Just as plans were firming up, Ranger Phil Butler, who worked with Ted, Rose, and I in the Park Service and who has a deep interest in space exploration, called and asked to come along.  Phil had his own schedule and wishes, so plans had to be redone.  But soon enough he arrived in Carson City.  We packed, and headed east and north.  We followed the Pony Express Trail/Lincoln Highway and the California Trail/U.S. 40/U.S. 93 into Idaho – a George R. Stewart route.  After a night camping in a hidden gem of a BLM campground – shared with a horde of Mormon Crickets – and an expensive night in Twin Falls, we arrived at Craters of the Moon.

Craters of the Moon played, and plays, an important role in space exploration.  The Apollo Astronauts trained there, learning to be field geologists.  More recently, major NASA Mars and Astrobiology research was done there, operating out of a portable field lab set up in the park.  So Craters of the Moon is the ONLY National Park Service unit to be a member of the NASA Space Grant Consortium.   This excellent short video from Idaho Public Television tells the story.

Ted asked me to present NASA education activities to students from the Idaho Out Of School Network.  Time was limited and there were many students but two volunteers, Solar System Ambassador Natalie MacBeth and Astro Ranger Molly (who does the star parties at the Monument, an international dark sky park) helped out and the activities went well.

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Guest of Honor was Astronaut John Phillips.  Astronaut Phillips traveled in space three times – two Shuttle missions, and a six month expedition on the International Space Station.  He presented a day program in the Visitor Center, a special program for students, and the evening “campfire” program at the park’s outdoor amphitheater.

The evening program started a few minutes late, due to a tech glitch, but thanks to the delay, the program and the Apollo 11 50th Celebration at Craters of the Moon ended in an unforgettable way.

After he’d finished his talk, Astronaut Phillips said,

“Everyone stand up.

“OK.  Turn 180 degrees and look at the sky.

“That bright fast-moving star is the Space Station.”

Applause rocked the rocks of Craters of the Moon as the ISS took a long pass across the southern horizon.

P1080352     Ted Stout and Astronaut Phillips    

P1080350  Rangers Rose, Phil and Ted

Event over, there was a day or two with Ted and Rose and Phil.  Ted took Phil and I on several explorations, and a couple of hikes into the Idaho Mountains.  At night, there were excellent meals and conversation with Rose and Ted and Phil.

Then Phil and I hit the road again.

It’s always good to see Megan.  And she’d brought a remarkable gift – salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the Apollo Command and Service Module and the Lunar Lander.  A perfect gift for Space Ranger Gramps.

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Megan Ashley (Scott), Actress, and Space Ranger Gramps

Back on the road.  Phil and I camped at the BLM campground near Hickison Petroglyphs, where we were soon immersed in a thunderous lightening storm.  The next day, at nearby Spencer Hot Springs  burros and Pronghorns were neighbors.  Pronghorns have been around for 40,000,000 years, and that’s a fact that made me think of the vastness of space and time ahead of us as we enter the Age of Space Exploration.

A perfect end for a Space Ranger journey.

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 All during the trip and at the gatherings, George R. Stewart was in mind.  GRS was the mentor who taught the importance of using the viewpoints of the Ranger and the Astronaut to understand Earth, and he inspired me to become a Ranger.  So, on this,  the 103rd anniversary of the National Park Service’s founding, I tip my Ranger hat to Stewart. … and the others who helped inspire the NASA-NPS program at Craters of the Moon NM, including Chris McKay, Al Harrison, Doug Owen, Ted Stout, Mary Valleau, Garth Hull, Irene Sterling,  and the sturdy crew of Wider Focus.

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In honor of tomorrow’s Rangers – perhaps real Space Rangers – here is a NASA-NPS Space Explorer  book that Ted Stout and his Rangers distribute:

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And what will Rangers do on other worlds?  Perhaps patrol and protect and interpret a site like this one,  as imagined by visionary artist Douglas Shrock – Shrox (who works with NASA’s legendary Astrobiologist Dr. Chris McKay to visualize NASA space concepts):

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Used with the artist’s permission.  (You may want to visit his website to see his other work.) 

Onward into the great OutThere, Rangers.