Making history: Me on the cover of SI Swimsuit!

Scott DeSmit

(Note: Scott DeSmit is on vacation. This ran in 2005):

You can’t ignore a puffball.

There it is, sitting there on the ground just waiting to be stomped.

If it’s too early in the puffball season and the ball is fish-belly white, well, we use a stick to poke and prod it.

Or maybe we stab it like a marshmallow and fling it against a tree just to hear and see it splat.

Puffballs are best, though, when they are dead.

A nice fat one with a thin, brown, crusty layer of dead skin is perfect and usually hard to come by.

But, boy, when we find one, it’s stompin’ time. We raise our foot high, look around to see if we have any spectators, then proceed to smash the fungus to smithereens. It is best with a crowd.

We do it just to see that beautiful burst of brownish cloud rise up and then fall silently to our shoes.

It’s a wonderful thing and I, for one, still can’t resist stomping a puffball when I’m fortunate enough to find one.

Which somehow brings me to NASA.

On July 4 NASA sent a $340 million sneaker into a giant puffball in space just “to see what would happen.”

Really. It was all over the news, though few believed it, since NASA, we know, is famous for doctoring photographs and making up stories about pint-sized aliens with phasers.

Anyway, what supposedly happened, with supposedly “great success,” is that NASA sent a wine barrel-sized craft into an ancient comet the size of Manhattan.

And its Hubble Space Telescope, another figment of someone’s imagination, took a series of photographs of the great event. The photographs revealed a fuzzy dot that grew four times brighter 15 minutes after the collision. A cloud of dust flew outward at 500 mph.

“This is pretty dramatic,” said Paul Feldman, professor of astronomy and physics at Johns Hopkins University.

Other observers noted “color changes in the plume,” and “a bright flash of light.”

Those dramatic observations came from the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Really. I swear that’s what it’s called, the Very Large Telescope, as opposed to the Very Small Telescope I have gathering cosmic dust in my basement.

This is serious stuff that will impact our lives for generations and may reveal, well, it won’t reveal anything actually.

It was just a fun way for space geeks to spend the Fourth of July at our expense.

Now the Space Shuttle is heading back to orbit. Maybe.

First, a little piece of plastic that was taped to a window fell and damaged some thermal tiles.

Damage to similar tiles led to the explosion of Columbia in 2003, an explosion that killed seven people. So they obviously fretted a little, fixed the tiles and were ready for liftoff Wednesday.

With a few hours to go the shuttle’s gas gauge broke. Happens to my cars all the time.

So they postponed liftoff “temporarily.” Maybe. Perhaps the emergency brake cable will freeze up and they’ll have to postpone it again. Or maybe it’ll be a rod or a piston or a clogged carb.

Whatever the case, it’s a vast waste of money and time. What’s the purpose of this shuttle mission? To test new techniques for inspecting and repairing cracks and holes similar to the damage done to Columbia, which blew up.

Can’t they do that on the ground? Can’t they find something more interesting to do in space than blast a hole in a comet that is 80 million miles away from earth in the vague hopes of studying dust?

Can’t they find alien beings?

That’s what I want. I want Hubble photographs of aliens.

That I would pay for.

Instead they give us foggy photos of cosmic dust.

I can get that stomping on puffballs.

Scott DeSmit is a general assignment reporter for The Daily News. He can be reached at desmitmail@yahoo.com.

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