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Posts Tagged ‘Astronaut

“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss”*…

 

The Christmas Bullet – with unsupported wings intended to flap like a bird’s – is widely regarded as the worst aircraft design in history (US Government)

It’s more than 110 years since mankind first took to the air in a powered aircraft. During that time, certain designs have become lauded for their far-sighted strengths – the Supermarine Spitfire; Douglas DC-3 Dakota; or the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner, to name a few.

But then there are planes like the Christmas Bullet. Designed by Dr William Whitney Christmas, who was described by one aviation historian as the “greatest charlatan to ever see his name associated with an airplane”, this ”revolutionary”prototype biplane fighter had no struts supporting the wings; instead, they were supposed to flap like a bird’s. Both prototypes were destroyed during their first flights – basically, because Christmas’s “breakthrough” design was so incapable of flight that the wings would twist off the airframe at the first opportunity.

Just as many of the world’s most enduring designs share certain characteristics, the history of aviation is littered with disappointing designs. Failures like Christmas’s uniquely unflyable aircraft often overlooked some fairly simple rules…

The Douglas TBD Devastator was a death-trap; it could only release its torpedo flying in a straight line whilst dawdling at 115mph – making it easy to shoot down. (US Navy)

The Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet was the only rocket fighter to enter service; pilots only had three minutes’ worth of fuel and had to glide back to base. (Baku13/Wikimedia)

See additional airborne accidents-waiting-to-happen at “World’s worst planes: The aircraft that failed.”

* Douglas Adams

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As we fuel our fear of flying, we might send soaring birthday greetings to Sally Kristen Ride; she was born on this date in 1951.  Trained as a physicist, Ride became an astronaut after responding to a newspaper ad in 1977; she was the first American woman to orbit the earth when she flew aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983.  (She was preceded into space by two Russian women.)  She remains the youngest American astronaut ever to go to space.

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Written by LW

May 26, 2014 at 1:01 am

Yo-Yos in Space!…

 

From Physics Central’s wonderful series “Science Off the Sphere,” astronaut and chemist Dr. Don Pettit walks the dog– among many other moves made even niftier in the absence of gravity.

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As we float like butterflies, we might send instructive birthday greetings to Maria Montessori; she was born on this date in 1870.  A physician and educator, she developed a philosophy of education which bears her name– and which is in use today in public and private schools throughout the world.

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Written by LW

August 31, 2012 at 1:01 am

They Came from Outer Space!…

source:  NASA, via IEEE Spectrum

For years, scientists have known that satellites and astronauts are vulnerable to “space weather,”  more specifically to  geo-magnetic storms that generate “killer electrons” powerful enough to penetrate shielding, damage spacecraft, and injure spacemen.  But no one has been able to explain just how these nefarious particles are produced… so there’s been no trustworthy ability to predict– and avoid– them.

Now, as IEEE Spectrum and the European Space Agency report, scientists affiliated Los Alamos National Labs and a separate team at the ESA have begun to explain the phenomenon.   The details are referenced in the cited reports; here suffice it to say that the electrons (originating in the Van Allen Belt) are accelerated– to velocities approaching the speed of light– by a combination of Very Low Frequency and (higher amplitude) Ultra Low Frequency electromagnetic waves, themselves excited by the impact of solar storms on the earth’s protective electromagnetic bubble.

And not a moment too soon:  As Philippe Escoubet, an ESA scientist remarks, “These new findings help us to improve the models predicting the radiation environment in which satellites and astronauts operate. With solar activity now ramping up, we expect more of these shocks to impact our magnetosphere over the months and years to come.”

As we re-fit our tin foil helmets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that Stephen Perry patented the rubber band. The milk of the rubber tree had been long used by folks who lived where the trees were native to make shoes, clothes, and “bottles”– which were brought back to England by returning sailors.  In 1820, Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create elastic garters and “belts.”   Perry, who owned a rubber manufacturing company was sufficiently taken with Hancock’s idea to file a patent on the rubber band– the first of which were made from vulcanized rubber.  (They are now commonly made of a combination of rubber and latex.)

rubber bands

(It was also on this date in 1950 that Glenn Seaborg and a team of colleagues at UC Berkeley announced a new element, number 98– Californium– a radioactive element the isotopes of which have important medical and industrial uses, as they are powerful point sources of neutrons.)

It’s true of desk tops and bedrooms too…

Chaos drives the brain…

Have you ever experienced that eerie feeling of a thought popping into your head as if from nowhere, with no clue as to why you had that particular idea at that particular time? You may think that such fleeting thoughts, however random they seem, must be the product of predictable and rational processes. After all, the brain cannot be random, can it? Surely it processes information using ordered, logical operations, like a powerful computer?

Actually, no. In reality, your brain operates on the edge of chaos. Though much of the time it runs in an orderly and stable way, every now and again it suddenly and unpredictably lurches into a blizzard of noise.

<snip…  read the rest of the New Scientist article here>

As we feel an odd but satisfying rush of reassurance, we might recall that it was exactly 40 years ago– at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969– that Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he planted his foot on the surface of the moon for the first time.

The statement prepared for Armstrong was “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”…  but the astronaut accidentally dropped the “a,” from his remark, rendering the phrase a contradiction (as “man” in such use is of course synonymous with “mankind”). Armstrong later said that he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said – although it might actually have been.” (And to his latter point, disputed audio analyses of the tapes of the radio message suggest that Armstrong did include the “a,” but that the limitations of the broadcast masked it…)

Armstrong, about to step onto the moon

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Written by LW

July 21, 2009 at 12:01 am

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