Month: July 2011

Petra’s Al Khazneh in LEGO

Cross-posted from The Brothers Brick.

One of my dearest memories of the summer in 1994 that I spent working on an archaeological dig in Jordan was a weekend trip to Petra. We arrived from Amman late in the evening, but several of my fellow archaeology students couldn’t wait until morning to see the amazing structures carved from the sandstone 2000 years ago, so we snuck across wadi after wadi, avoiding the main paths. Once past the guard posts, we walked through the narrow gorge known as al-Siq — pitch black at night — until the passage opened in front of us to reveal Al Kazhneh, lit only by starlight.

ArzLan built his LEGO version of the Treasury for the Hong Kong Animation Festival, and features Indiana Jones in his Last Crusade visit to this UNESCO Heritage site.

Al Khazneh


They stand black against the white bluffs
     rising beyond the river, monuments
          to miracles we performed
in their deep blue pools. Atoms flashed
     apart. Wonders appeared
          over cities in a distant land.

Their purpose complete, we encase them
     in stone. If you follow this road
          due north, you’ll find
the old school facing the water. Tumbleweeds
     flit by its empty windows like neutrons
          dancing toward their new life.

Wind and soldiers have taken the wood
     from homes left behind
          to make way for all this science.
Submarines rust in pits.
     The salmon don’t run. There are no
          signs to explain what this place means.

That shimmer you feel on the wind,
     the way the ground sometimes shudders —
          the power we achieved
in those black buildings hangs in the air
     and lingers in the soil. Out there on the horizon,
          they will remain when all of us are gone.

Read about the experience that created this poem in “Stuck in a Hanford reactor building elevator.”


For my 12th birthday in 1986, my grandmother sent me a card covered in people doing grown-up jobs — fireman, policeman, doctor, teacher, and astronaut. Inside, the card informed me that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. A few short months after the Challenger disaster, Grammie had crossed off the astronaut and written, “Except this one.”

Despite all that the Shuttle has accomplished in the intervening 25 years, America’s relationship with the space program has never been the same, and human space flight at NASA has merely hobbled along — at least compared to the giant leaps taken in the 60’s and early 70’s. I may still believe that our 43rd president was the worst in our history, but one thing he did right was to set NASA’s sights beyond low earth orbit again, to the Moon and Mars.

The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on its final mission today marks the beginning of a strange gap in America’s history of human space flight.

The Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is still under development, as are the commercial launch vehicles designed to take astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. Until these new systems come online, NASA astronauts must hitch rides aboard spacecraft built and launched by other countries. Perhaps we’re witnessing the birth of a new, more cooperative era, but it feels strange that NASA is no longer self-reliant.