Sunday, November 30, 2003

Miguel José Serra:

The fires in California recently were brought home when my son said over the telephone that the smoke was very thick, and that he was going to spend the night in a hotel because he was being evacuated. The Otay fire was within 5 miles of his house when it was finally contained. He and I have gone up to Julian several times, not only for pies, but mostly for the "Candy Mine" in the local drugstore which has all kinds of hard-to-find candies (Sen-Sen, anyone?). It's a cute set-up at the back of the store like and old adit with several side passages full of buckets of candy. I was glad to hear that the old section of Julian was saved.

There is a nice satellite photo from the Scripps Institute Visualization Center of the smoke plumes from fires in Alta and Baja California here. Many of the agencies that fight fires have coordinated data and put it on the web for both their own use in firefighting and for public viewing through the Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination system, GeoMAC. You can pull up fire active and historical fire perimeters on zoomable maps at this site.

Seeing yet another series of fires reminded me that this is part of a natural cycle there, and of the series of New Yorker articles that ended up as the book "Assembling California" by John McPhee. I remember reading there that because the natural vegetation in California is suited to arid environments, it tends to have extremely waxy smoke when it burns. During a fire, this smoke permeates the ground, and leaves a waxy deposit covering the soil particles within a few inches of the surface. Come the rainy season, the flow that would usually soak into the ground cannot get in because of the wax, and it simply sheets off the burnt mountainsides and into the canyons. And into the culverts. And into the houses. And away with the roads. So I am predicting that with such a bad burn season, if there are substantial rains, we will see a lot of bad flooding as well this year, especially up in the mountains.

Part of what I do at work is to help fund labs that look at tree rings. Dendrochronology can often be used to determine fire frequency. Without knowing how often fires like this occur, we can't tell if they are getting worse. It's all part of the debate concerning stopping fires in the first place -- there's fairly good evidence that the decades long campaign by Smokey the Bear to stop fires at all costs was actually counterproductive, since it left even more flammable material for the next opportunity, which was then harder to fight. There's a balance between forest growth and fire, and we simply jumped in before knowing much about the cycle.

MultiProxy Paleofire Database

 Friday, November 28, 2003

Ponzi clouds:

I work occasionally with a group at NASA that is trying to develop a protocol so that school kids can submit scientifically accurate data on condensation trails left by jet aircraft at high altitude, or contrails.

They have a web-page in progress that gives some idea of what the kids will have to identify. What kind of cloud is it? How wide is it? How long does it last?

This is part of a program that tries to identify clouds in general through volunteer observations. Since it is suspected that contrails have a role to play in cloud formation and therefore regulation of climate, contrail observation is important. There's a fairly good explanation here.

In the commercial flight-free days following the September 11 attacks, it was actually possible to detect a temperature difference over the United States from the lack of contrails. (ScienceNews magazine article, and ARAM X technical abstract.)

Here are some great animations of the hourly density for air traffic above Flight Level 250 on September 3, 2001 vs. the same for traffic above FL250 on September 11, 2001.

Of course, there are other theories about contrails. Many people believe that they are the result of a secret government program to spray chemicals on its citizens. You can begin that web-surfing oddyssey here or here.

'Nuff said.

 Thursday, November 27, 2003


This past Thanksgiving we were kindly invited to our neighbour's house to share the traditional meal. The family has two daughters, aged 10 and 14 (I think). The younger of the two busily entertained other young guests during the afternoon/evening, but the older of the two was busily engaged in Instant Messaging on AOL.

This brought home something I have been thinking about for a while. A lot of gadgetry is sold as "helping you remain connected," when in fact what it really does is pull you away from your immediate surroundings. People engaged in intense cellular conversations or engrossed in MP3s are often not paying attention to their surroundings. They are enveloped in their own technological, portable, electronic aura.

I am always amazed when I see people together, and one of them has headphones on, or is glued to their cellphone. Even on what is obviously a date. This kind of behaviour, even if it is considered 'acceptable' by the people involved, has to have some sort of subtle psychological impact on relationships. Certainly, it makes the "you're not listening to me" argument very strong, and that's not a good place to start with someone...

And this is not just a recent phenomenon. I suspect that radio was the end of many backyard fence conversations, and that television spelled the end of America's front porch.

I hope electronic messaging is not the end of family conversations.

 Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Guglielmo, can you hear me now?:

About a month ago, before my wireless phone frenzy, I had previously ventured into the world of wireless telecommunications, in the hopes of being able to talk to somebody. Anybody.

This time it was walkie-talkies. I bought a set of FRS/GMRS units, with a 7-mile range capability on 22 channels, with 38 privacy codes. Headsets and all. The plan was to use these while cycling, hiking or skiing in West Virginia, on the road, and simply between home and the grocery store about 2 miles away. The fact that we would not be paying on a per-call basis for communications with these units was a plus. "....Honey, can you get a half-dozen eggs, too? Oh yes, and we are all out of Red Man chaw. I need a couple of tins...."

Then I made my first mistake. I read the instructions. Tucked away in the fine print, there was a little note stating that to operate radios in the GMRS bands, an FCC licence was required. And they were nice enough to give the URL for the FCC website. Which was where I found out that a fee of $70 is required for each family using these units, good for five years. After a cumbersome amount of registering for ID numbers and passwords etc., I put in my application, hesitating some. Hmm. The up-front costs were mounting. I was irked that the packaging hadn't mentioned any of this.

Then I made my second mistake. We tried to use the units. They didn't seem to transmit very well at all beyond about 300 yards. I tried them line-of-sight, too. Perhaps those particular units were bad, but by this point I was fed up. Back to the store they went. No Family/General Mobile Radio Services for us.

Now I just have to find out how to retract the licence application before the door gets broken down at 3 AM by FCC jackboots looking for illegal walkie-talkies... but I can't imagine enforcement is an issue, since the vast majority of consumers will never even bother with a GMRS licence, if they are even aware of the requirement.

And that's when my frenzy really took off, with the idea of looking at cell-phone-based walkie-talkies. Which is what all this really is anyway - being able to live out my childhood fantasies of having really good walkie-talkies. ...gosh, childhood dreams are hard to shake.

Mobile phone portability update: yes, my calls take a lot longer to go through now. I get a disconcerting silent gap in my calls before they finally connect.

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!... Hello? Can somebody tell me why my cell phone doesn't work?"

 Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Qibla quibble:

As today is the actual Eid al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan, and I am a forward-thinking sort of fellow, I wondered how muslims will determine the direction towards Mecca (the Qibla) when they are on the Moon or Mars.

What did muslim astronauts and cosmonauts do when they were on Salyut/Mir or the Shuttle? In the case of an orbiting platform, Qibla can change substantially within the time of prayer.

In my minds eye I have a lazy-susan-like prayer platform that would maintain proper Qibla at all times. You would just have to be careful if your ground track took you close to Mecca, because a near-180° change in Qibla could take place in a few seconds, leading to severe disorientation or even injury...

 Monday, November 24, 2003

AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon...:

Fool that I am, I switched cellular providers on the first possible day, before the portability system was truly tested. I was probably one of the early requests in the system, having waited at the dealer's door for opening time.

The plan
Dump old provider (whose service area apparently has a polynya in my neighbourhood...), switch number to new provider (whose signal is quite strong at home), and get an additional phone for my wife. All at the lowest price possible.

The reality
10:00H - begin the process, verifying old provider, porting number from my old phone to new phone #1. Generate new assigned number for new phone #2. Generate contract. Oh-oh. Number on contract for unit #1 is not the ported number, but another new assigned number.
10:10H - service person realizes there are no "back" buttons on the service screens, and they cannot start from scratch because a record already exists for my old number.
10:15H - call central customer support. On hold.
10:30H - On hold.
11:00H - get a human operator, begin from scratch. Explain situation. Go through steps, only to realize service did not understand explanation. Start again.
11:20H - Call dropped. Start from scratch.
You get the picture.

I left the store and came back later, finally leaving with our phones at 16:00H. And yes, I did yield to techno-lust, and we have phones with colour, cameras etc. etc. -- "bling-bling" services I will undoubtedly cancel within a month or two as useless, having realized that I cannot keep up with fad mavens like, say, Paris Hilton. Sigh.

Ages ago, one of my friends sent me a message on my first phone capable of e-mail that I never erased because it made me laugh so hard: "Hang up and drive, you yuppy scum!"

Right now, if I want a new phone, the incentive structure pushes me right into the arms of a new provider. Upgrading equipment with my old provider was more expensive than getting a whole new contract. Now, with number portability, there's even less reason to stay with a provider. The business model of exclusive attention to capturing one- to two-year contracts is a sure sign of an immature market, and one that has yet to fully saturate. Of course, a 400% increase in sales in one year is another sign.

On the other hand, uptake for these new data services has apparently been slow - I would bet that it is really a zero-sum situation, or "churn" as the industry puts it, with as many customers leaving a provider as joining. New mobile data services are not attracting as many new customers as expected, and the number portability will change the playing field substantially. Perhaps what we are seeing is a change in the source of growth for the cellular market: the number of "brand new" users is leveling off, and people are either adding additional lines, or replacing land lines with wireless ones. The elephant in the room here is VOIP, or voice-over-internet-protocol, which I suspect will play a huge role in a very short time. Several telephony providers (including some cellular service providers) already use the internet to route their traffic.

Technically, a call from a ported number phone is quite a bit more complicated - there are several extra transactions that need to take place before the initiating and recipient switches in the system are correctly coded & routed, and the call is completed.

And this is only the actual calling part of the system - the billing and customer support segments all had to be changed, too. I fully expect my calls will take longer to connect. I expect I will get 'service unavailable' more frequently. I probably will not have good 9-1-1 service. But it will get better.

Divorcing MDN from MIN was difficult. As expected.

 Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Saros & Sothis:

The Moon was again looking extraordinarily three-dimensional this morning, bulging out over the slowly brightening Eastern skyline. Having the lunar eclipse during last full moon on the 9th makes it likely that there is a solar eclipse this weekend, but we may not be facing in the right direction when it occurs.

Sure enough, we are not. Not even close. As you can see, the lunar shadow will gently brush over Earth's powdered bottom (and no, that's not a reference to Michael Jackson).

Those who were lucky enough to see the lunar eclipse of November 9 may have noticed that the Moon never quite reached a completely even shade of red across its face. Here's a blurry photo I took fairly close to the moment of greatest eclipse:

The moon was never evenly lit because the center of Earth's shadow passed above the Moon, as seen here:

Why is the Moon red during an eclipse? you ask. You don't? Well, let me tell you anyway: because the sky is blue. Lunar eclipses and the sky both have the colours they do for the same reason.

I realized this after someone asked me the "why is the sky blue" question, and I flippantly answered "because all the red is folded into the sunset and sunrise around the edge of the Earth." After a moment's reflection I realized that it was actually true.

The crescent Moon also reminded me that we are approaching the Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan and fasting. The Islamic (Hijri) calendar is not fixed, like the Gregorian. The precise beginning of each month depends on a human physically sighting the first lunar crescent after a full moon. These two factors (human sighting and first crescent), make for a curious situation - it is very possible for different parts of the muslim world to be using different dates on the same day, since the Moon is not visible at the same time from everywhere, and local weather will influence 'first sighting.' If you had really bad weather, the month could stretch out for weeks! Attempts to standardize the calendar have been made many times, but never to full satisfaction. You can see some of that debate here.

Another widely unknown fact about the Islamic calendar is that it is only 354 days long (12 lunar months) - therefore it slowly shifts with respect to the Christian calendar. What is obvious is that a great deal of scientific effort goes into calculating the probable calendars for the Islamic world. Why then, having such extraordinary mathematical talent so early in mankind's history, did they settle on this system? Because that was the interpretation of the Koran: Sura 9 verses 36-37, and Sura 2 verse 189. There are 12 months. They are determined by the Moon. No more, no less. And that was that.

There is a great discussion of calendars here, where I also learned that even though the month and day counts have hiccupped several times as we adjusted the calendar (e.g. 2 September 1752 was followed by 14 September 1752 for the Julian to Gregorian switch in the United Kindgom and colonies), the seven day cycle of the week (Monday, Tuesday, ... etc.) has not been broken since at least 1400 BC, and possibly far before that.

 Saturday, November 15, 2003

Sadovskiy, Kolyako & Tsybin:

Fifteen years ago today, the Soviet space shuttle "Buran" was launched from Baikonur on an Energiya booster. Derided at the time for being a copy of the U.S. Space Shuttle, the actual technical accomplishments of this flight have been glossed over. The similarities in aerodynamic design disappear once you look at the details.

The decision to avoid solid rocket boosters and cryogenic engine technology used on the U.S. Shuttle led to the development of the Energiya booster, capable of putting 88,000kg into low Earth orbit, and 22,000kg to geosynchronous orbit (in comparison, Ariane-V can lift 18,000kg to LEO and 6,800kg to geosynchronous; the Shuttle can lift 24,400kg to LEO, 5,900kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit; and the Saturn-V got 118,000kg to LEO, 47,000kg to translunar trajectory).

This configuration allowed Buran to actually have a larger payload capacity than the Shuttle (30,000kg vs. 25,000kg), despite its smaller physical orbiter size (105,000kg vs. 123,000kg).

The launch was carried out despite a 4°C temperature, with snow flurries and 72km/hr winds (appropriately, since 'Buran' means blizzard in Russian). Control was maintained through radio link with several Gorizont, Luch and Molniya comsats and tracking ships (interestingly, one of the ships off Chile was named the "Marshall Nedelin"...). Two orbits later, the spacecraft landed on complete auto pilot, less than 2m off the runway center-line at Baikonur, even after battling a 65km/hr crosswind at 30 degrees off-runway. Five tiles were lost on re-entry (I actually have one of the replacement tiles sitting on my desk!). Exhaustive pre-flight testing with many scale versions and six full size mockups contributed to this first orbital test's success.

Buran on final approach, and on roll-out:

All above photos (c) NPO Molniya

Here is a link to a short MPEG (5.1Mb) video of the Buran on final approach shot by Igor Volk, head of the Buran Cosmonaut team, from the MiG-25 chase plane seen above.

Technical accomplishments aside, the logistical, economic and political requirements necessary to carry out this mission doomed it to failure within the Soviet system. In fact, it is probable that the vast investment in the Energiya and Buran programs themselves contributed to the implosion of the Soviet system ($20 billion rubles in Buran alone). The Energiya only ever flew twice. One other Energiya launch had been carried out previous to Buran, but the payload, the military "battle station" Polyus malfunctioned, and never reached orbit.

Buran was to have flown in December of 1994 to Mir and delivered another module, but the entire Energiya/Buranprogram was cancelled by Boris Yeltsin on June 30, 1993. It didn't help that one of the 1991 coup plotters was the Buran project manager.

In the end, all the Energiyas that had been produced were cannibalized, with their engines used on Zenit and U.S. Atlas vehicles. The Buran flyers were mothballed, and suffered various fates - museums, scrap heaps, and one as part of the amusement section of Gorky park in Moscow. The original idea was to set it up as a space-food restaurant, but it now serves as a slightly dilapidated theatre/vehicle for simulated space rides, as seen below.

Above photos (c) 2000 Jane Skorina

In all, a very Russian ending to the story.

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 Friday, November 14, 2003


Bug-nology update: In April I noted that work was being done by IBEA on creating a completely man-made organism.

The first step has been achieved. IBEA has reconstructed a known gene sequence for a virus from much shorter, commercially available segments. This was done in two weeks, and sequencing of the product showed that the reconstructed version was accurate (which is what makes this different from previous efforts with the polio virus).

Now they know how to do it, but the really tough problem remains. They know how to build a working library, but they still can't read most of the books that are available to put there.

The metaphor that IBEA uses is the "cassette." By determining what the minimum necessary genetic infrastructure is to sustain life, they can make a cassette that can be used to hold tapes with different songs. These songs would contain the task-specific instructions ("eat carbon" or "make methane"). The songs are the genes encoding desired metabolic pathways found in other existing organisms.

We still have to learn what most genes actually do, before we could fully engineer an organism that will actually carry out a desired task, like scrub emissions, clean up spills, produce fuels, sequester carbon, etc.

But we are well on that road.

Fast forward: "Nov. 14, 2023. Nokiocera announced today that it had released a new generation of PCA (polymerase cycle assembly) synthesizers that are completely compatible with the widely-used online genLib databases and NFP-2v11 nanofabrication protocols..."

 Thursday, November 13, 2003

I. P. Volk:

Today's spaceflight news release from NASA mentioned that Foale and Kaleri were participating in a potassium citrate experiment to study kidney stone risk during their space flight.

During my visit to Star City, we spent about half a day hearing about medical experiments carried out on Mir, and one of the discussions touched on this issue. In zero-g, there is little need for bones. So your body gets rid of them, by slowly re-absorbing them. And where do the bones go? Into your urine - and that means through your kidneys, where some of that calcium gets laid down as a kidney stone. Apparently several of the long-term stays on Salyut 7 and Mir involved cases of kidney stones. The interesting/scary part (and one that is often not discussed) is that space travellers never truly recover the original full bone density after returning to Earth. Stay in space long enough, and you can't come back.

Enough of the bone is dissolved that osteoporosis is a demonstrated serious problem for long-duration spaceflight. We could get to Mars, but there would be a high risk of a bone fracture once we were on the surface. Bone can be lost at a rate of up to 1% a month, possibly topping out at about 40 to 60% loss.

"Houston, we have a problem. Fred is crawling around on his hands and knees, holding his ankle. Umm... and now he's on his face in the red dust... oh never mind, he... well, ...dissolved."

The first thing spacefarers find when they get to orbit is the space-sickness issue. I have to admit that I would probably be quite vulnerable -- we did ten parabolic arcs on the Ilyushin 76 (the Russian "Vomit Comet," shown below), and within six arcs I was looking pretty green.

The next day, sitting in the Buran control panel mockup inside the planetarium, the whirling stars made all our inner ears spin, and our ever-present minder, Natasha, fled in a blur. Even a week later, watching a video of a tour of the Space Station on television, with the camera twisting and turning through passageways, I had to turn my head away.

Even veteran space travellers suffer from these vestibular problems. Their incidence is not predictable - hardened combat pilots can get severe bouts, and known sea-sickness sufferers can be immune. Newly adapting crews on the Station often spend a day or two carefully aligning themselves with the writing on the station walls, which is all written in one orientation to help minimize space-sickness problems.

The next thing space travellers encounter is the rearrangement of bodily fluids. We don't realize it, but we perform this cycle each day here on Earth. During the daytime our legs swell and our heads shrink because fluids drain towards the floor. At night, they balance out, to start again the next day. The change isn't really noticeable unless we get it wrong - stand on your head, or sleep on a sloping bed, and you will quickly feel the pressure change (when vertical, the gradient goes from about 200 mmHg at the lowest body point to 60 mmHg at the highest body point).

In space there is no fluid pooling in the legs, so the feeling one gets is one of puffiness. People's faces look puffy for the first few days (the body first equalizes at about 100 mmHg throughout). The brain is very sensitive to partial pressures and fluids, so the body begins to eliminate fluid to lower the pressure. Dehydration is an automatic response to this weightless condition. Most people lose about 20% of their blood volume. Valeri Korzun told me that he didn't urinate for three days after returning to Earth - his body was re-hydrating to be able to tolerate the fluid pooling cycle, and to keep blood pressure high enough in the brain when he stood erect in one-g.

To simulate the pull of gravity, crews have tried lowering the atmospheric pressure around the lower half of the body. Here astronauts Kerwin and Weitz aboard Skylab try the U.S. system, which consisted of a 'canister' with a skirt that sealed around the waist (Lower Body Negative Pressure, LBNP).

The Russians on Mir tried this also, with a set of pants called Chibis, modeled here by Brian Walker:

(anybody remember Nick Park's "The Wrong Trousers"?)

Inefficient record-keeping, poor experiment design, and loss of materials has meant that much of the valuable medical information gained from the Soviet and Russian long-duration programs has unfortunately been lost. Much of the experimentation that was to have been carried out on the ISS is also now in jeopardy due to the reduction in crew. Even before the Columbia accident, the reduced ISS crew level was insufficient for proper protocols in many experiments.

We may be reduced to learning on-the-
fly when we go to Mars. Russian-style.

 Monday, November 10, 2003

Newton's Roots:

A look at some professors and their students.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727)
Roger Cotes 1 (1682 - 1716)
Robert Smith 1, 2 (1689 - 1768)
Anthony Shepherd 1 (1721 - 1796)
Samuel Vince 1, 2 (1749 - 1821)
Robert Woodhouse 1 (1773 - 1827)
George Peacock 1 (1791 - 1858)
Augustus de Morgan 1 (1806 - 1871)
E. J. Routh 1, 2 (1831 - 1907)
Lord Rayleigh 1, 2 (1842 - 1919)
Sir J. J. Thomson 1, 2 (1856 - 1940)
Lord Ernest Rutherford 1, 2 (1871 - 1937)
Sir Edward Crisp Bullard 1, 2, 3 (1907 - 1981)
Robert L. Parker 1 (1942 -
Marcia K. McNutt 1, 2 (1952 -
Paul E. Filmer (1963 -

It's actually not as impressive as it would seem... If you figure that each professor had a minimum of four advisees, then there would be at least 1 billion (4^15) people out there who could trace their 'academic heritage' back to Newton. Even if they advised only 2 students each, you still get 32,000 people. EJ Routh, for example, tutored over six hundred students, including other 'Names of Note in Science' like Bragg and Larmor.

The best part is that when I learned what these people had done, I realized how gnat-like I am. Yikes.

 Sunday, November 09, 2003

Antheil, Lamarr:

A quick tribute to a co-inventors of the spread spectrum idea. It's Hedy Lamarr's birthday today. I'll let her foundation's website tell the story of this silver screen star and inventor.

Here's the story from George Antheil's son's point of view.

 Friday, November 07, 2003

Minkowski, Mihos:

We are in the midst of a colossal crash. So big we won't ever feel it. So big, we only just noticed it was happening.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is currently crashing into at least two other galaxies: the Canis Major dwarf galaxy and the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. Since they are dwarf galaxies, the Milky Way is 'winning' by eating them up. There are some good illustrations of how the Milky Way is tearing the Canis Major galaxy apart here. This also means that these galaxies are the closest to us.

It turns out that galactic collisions are more common than was once thought. Since galaxies carry a fair bit of mass, it makes sense that a lot of them might be gravitationally bound to each other. And some of them will eventually collide. The interesting part is that stars are so small compared to the galactic scale that actual star-star collisions are probably quite rare, even when the galactic centers pass close to each other, as in the well-known Cartwheel Galaxy, which shows the gravitational shock-wave, or splash made by the collision:

Other collision geometries and times result in many different shapes, as seen in negatives here:

Where the Cartwheel galaxy is the top right. The one that always strikes me is the bottom left, known as the Antennae. The long arms strung out from the centers are billions of stars, ejected from the galaxies - along with any planets and intelligent life they might have. What I wonder about is the psychological impact that that kind of realization must have on a civilization. Can you imagine finding out that you are in the midst of being ejected from your galaxy, and that any possibility of traveling to other stars is getting more and more remote by the second?

The good news for us is that we are still firmly ensconced in our arm of the Milky Way, with time to find a way to travel even to the nearest star. The bad news is that there is a much bigger crash headed our way at 500,000 km/hr. No need to worry just yet, because first contact with the Andromeda Galaxy is about 3 billion years away.

Here (10Mb file!) is a movie of the collision, showing the spectacularly haunting interplay that flings billions of suns into darkness. Including, possibly, our own.

 Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Carnot, Clausius & Thomson:

Hello from Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. I´m here for just under 72 hours. I´m here for two meetings, and to look in on a vulnerability course that I am co-sponsoring with the OAS and the UNDP.

Interesting thing, vulnerability. In the two days of meetings we´ve had so far, there have been over 20 power failures. Now Santo Domingo is quite used to this, and places like this hotel have diesel generators that kick in within a fraction of a second of failure or undervoltage. But the vast majority of the population simply does without power. For hours at a time. They simply have adapted to the condition of an uncertain electric power supply, and they have many alternatives ready for food storage, gas pumping, etc. Life simply goes on.

Now in the North, as we saw with the recent power failures in the U.S., Canada and Italy, the economy is exquisitely sensitive to electric current. Take it away, and most everything grinds to a halt. There are no alternatives ready for the vast majority. This is a case where a higher standard of living has made us more vulnerable.

Somewhere out there, Boltzmann is chuckling at our attempts to make things more efficient.

 Monday, November 03, 2003

Kudryavka Laika:

A quick bark for Laika or "little barker" in Russian, who was launched into space on Sputnik 2 on this day in 1957. The technical feat was that this second sputnik was six times heavier than Sputnik 1, and was less than one month later -- a fact not lost on the U.S. rocket effort.

Here she is:

What is little known is that this launch was done by Korolev as a response to a special request by Khruschev to "do something special for the upcoming anniversary of the Revolution." ...and that there was no way down for the scrappy little Moscow street dog, who lived up to her name, forlornly barking until her oxygen ran out two days later. Sniff.

(A later note: documents released only lately have revealed that Laika died within hours of launch because the cooling system failed. I also found out that she was sealed in the capsule four days before launch! Poor girl.)

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