July 28, 1957 Broken Arrow

Since 1950, there have been 32 Broken Arrow incidents.  As of this date, six nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered.

At one time, the C-124 was the world’s largest military transport aircraft.  Weighing in at 175,000lbs with a wingspan of 175ft, four 3,500 horsepower Pratt & Whitney propeller engines drive the air frame along at a stately cruising speed of 246 mph.  Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft called the aircraft “Globemaster”.  Airmen called the plane “Old Shaky”.

c124c_pettersen

The Air Force C-124 Globemaster transport left its base in Delaware on July 28, 1957, on a routine flight to Europe. On board were a crew of seven, three nuclear bombs, and one nuclear core. The flight would routinely have taken 10-12 hours.  This trip was destined to be anything but routine.Mk6

Exactly what went wrong remains a mystery, due to the sensitive nature of the cargo. Two engines had to be shut down shortly into the mission, and the aircraft turned back.  The nearest suitable airfield was the Naval Air Station in Atlantic City, but that was too far. Even at maximum RPMs, the best the remaining two engines could do was slow the massive aircraft’s descent into the sea.

sans_titre11An emergency landing on open ocean is not an option with such a large aircraft.  It would have broken up on impact with the probable loss of all hands.   Descending rapidly, the crew would have jettisoned everything they could lay hands on, to reduce weight.  Non-essential equipment would have gone first, then excess fuel, but it wasn’t enough.  With only 2,500ft and losing altitude, there was no choice left but to jettison those atomic bombs.

At 3,000lbs apiece, two of the three bombs were enough to do the job, and the C-124 made it safely to Atlantic City.  What became of those two atomic bombs remains a mystery.  Most likely, they lie at the bottom of the ocean, 100 miles off New Jersey.

The United States Department of Defense has a term for accidents involving nuclear weapons, warheads or components, which do not involve the immediate risk of nuclear war.  Such incidents are called “Broken Arrows”.Image2

Broken Arrows include accidental or unexplained nuclear or non-nuclear detonation of an atomic weapon, the loss of such a weapon with or without its carrying vehicle, and the release of nuclear radiation resulting in public hazard, whether actual or potential.

Since 1950, there have been 32 Broken Arrow incidents.  As of this date, six nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered.

If you’re interested, a handy “Nuclear Folly Locator” appears at the link below, based on Rudolph Herzog’s “A Short History of Nuclear Folly”.  It makes for some very comforting reading.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1gYCdyVCF3mhfJwX4c5xdBnc-Y8Q&usp=sharing

 July 16, 1999 Bluetooth

“Bluetooth” came from 10th century Viking King Haraldr “Blátǫnn” (Bluetooth) Gormsson (old Norse), best remembered for uniting the warring tribes and factions of what is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

In 1998, the “Bluetooth Special Interest Group” (SIG) was formed from five companies, to design, implement and manage a method of making electronic devices “talk” to one another, wirelessly.

The name comes from 10th century Viking King Haraldr “Blátǫnn” (“Bluetooth”) Gormsson (old Norse), best remembered for uniting the warring tribes and factions of what is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

BluetoothLE

The first full release of the “Bluetooth” wireless standard was released on this day in 1999, defining a low-cost, low power consumption protocol for “uniting” electronic devices from different manufacturers into a single secure connection.

Dr. Jaap Haartsen, who invented Bluetooth while working at the Stockholm, Sweden offices of the LM Ericsson Company, likens the communication protocol to an 80 lane highway on which two cars are required to stay in the same lane. The trick is to get them to change lanes simultaneously, no matter what the other traffic is doing around them.

bluetoothAs of 2016, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group includes 36,000 member companies, managing a complex network of patents and technology to wirelessly connect as many as seven at a time, among tens of millions of Bluetooth compatible devices.

As for the Bluetooth logo, that’s a “bind-rune”, a ligature of the Viking-age runes for “Hagall” (H) and “Berkanan” (B).  Harald Bluetooth.

June 21, 1633  Flipping History the Bird

The Inquisition forced Galileo to “abjure, curse and detest” his Copernican heliocentric views, returning him to his villa in 1634 to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Planet Earth exists at the center of the solar system, the sun and other celestial bodies revolving around it.    That was the “geocentric” model of the solar system, the common understanding during the Renaissance.  In the 15th century, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a radically new model.  Copernicus described a “heliocentric” model of the universe, placing the sun at the center, with the earth and other bodies revolving around the sun.

Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus

Copernicus resisted the publication of his ideas until the end of his life, fearing that they would offend the religious Interests of the time.  Legend has it that he was presented with an advance copy of his “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) as he awakened on his death bed from a stroke induced coma.  He took one look at his book, closed his eyes, and never opened them again.

The Italian physicist, mathematician, and astronomer Galileo Galilei, came along about a hundred years later.  Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, and “the Father of Modern Science”.  His improvements to the telescope and resulting astronomical observations supported Copernicus’ heliocentric view.  They also brought him to the attention of the Roman Inquisition.

Galileo_facing_the_Roman_Inquisition
Galileo faces the Roman Inquisition

Biblical references such as, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” (Psalm 104:5) and “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5) became the basis for religious objections to the heliocentric view.  Galileo was brought before  inquisitor Vincenzo Maculani for trial in 1633.   The astronomer backpedaled before the inquisition, testifying in his fourth deposition of June 21, 1633, that “I do not hold this opinion of Copernicus, and I have not held it after being ordered by injunction to abandon it.  For the rest, here I am in your hands; do as you please”.

The Inquisition forced Galileo to “abjure, curse, & detest” his Copernican heliocentric views, returning him to his villa in 1634 to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Galileo died on January 8, 1642, wishing to be buried in the main body of the Basilica of Santa Croce, next to the tombs of his father and ancestors.  His final wishes were denied at the time, though they would be honored 95 years later.  Galileo Galilei was re-interred in the basilica, in 1737.

Often, atmospheric conditions in these burial vaults lead to a natural mummification of the corpse. Sometimes they look almost lifelike. When it came to the saints, believers took this to be proof of the incorruptibility of these individuals, and small body parts were taken as holy relics.

Galileo's finger
Galileo’s finger

The custom was quite old when Galileo was reinterred in 1737. Galileo is not now and never was a Saint of the Catholic church, though it’s possible the condition of his body made him appear thus “incorruptible”.  Anton Francesco Gori removed the thumb, index and middle fingers on March 12, 1737, an act which would have been very much in keeping with the customs of the times. The digits with which Galileo wrote down his theories of the cosmos.  The digits with which he adjusted his telescope.

Be that as it may, the middle finger from Galileo’s right hand is on exhibit at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy, to this day.  The only human fragment in a museum otherwise devoted to scientific instruments.

There is symbolism there, if only I could put my finger on it.

May 28, 585 BC Battle of the Eclipse

This wasn’t the first recorded solar eclipse, just the first to have been predicted beforehand.

On this day in 585BC, ancient precursors of the Iranian and Turkish people squared off for battle, along the banks of the River Halys in modern Turkey. They were the Medes and the Lydians. They had been fighting one another for more than 15 years.

A total eclipse of the sun occurred sometime during the battle, causing both Kings and both armies to immediately cease fighting and lay down their weapons.

Solar Eclipse

The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus had predicted the eclipse in a year when the Medians and the Lydians were at war. It’s possible to calculate the date with precision because you can run the “solar clock” backwards as well as forward, and May 28 became one of the cardinal dates from which other dates in antiquity are calculated.

This wasn’t the first recorded solar eclipse, just the first to have been predicted beforehand. Two Chinese astrologers had lost their heads for failing to predict one, back in the 22nd or 23rd century BC. Clay tablets from Babylon record an eclipse in Ugarit in 1375 BC. Other records report solar eclipses which “turned day into night” in 1063 and 763 BC.

Eclipse of ThalesPredicting a solar eclipse isn’t the same as predicting a lunar eclipse; the calculations are far more difficult. When the moon passes through the shadow of the sun, the event can be seen by half of the planet, the total eclipse phase lasting over an hour. In a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon occupies only a narrow path, and the total eclipse phase is only about 7½ minutes at any given place.

The method Thales used to make his prediction is unknown, and there is no record of the ancient Greeks predicting any further eclipses. It’s possible that he borrowed his prediction from Egyptian astrologers, using their techniques of land measurement (geo metry in Greek), later codified by Euclid and loved by 8th graders the world over.

Be that as it may, for the first time in history a full eclipse of the sun had been predicted beforehand.  The Battle of Halys marked the first time in history, that a war was ended when day turned to night.  Aylattes, King of Lydia, and Cyaxares, King of the Medes, put down their weapons and declared a truce, and their soldiers followed suit.  The kings of Cilicia and Babylon helped negotiate a more permanent treaty.  Alyattes’ daughter Aryenis married Cyaxares’ son Astyages to seal the bargain, and the Halys River, now known as the River Kızılırmak, was agreed to be the border between the two peoples.

April 14, 1958 Laika

The day before the launch sequence, Vladimir Yazdovsky took her home to play with his kids. “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he explained. “She had so little time left to live.”

At the dawn of the space age, no one knew whether the human body could survive conditions of rocket launch and space flight. The US Space program experimented with a variety of primate species between 1948 and 1961, including rhesus monkeys, crab-eating macaques, squirrel monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, and chimpanzees.

Baker
“Miss Baker”

On May 28, 1959, a squirrel monkey named “Miss Baker” became the first of the US space program, to survive the stresses of spaceflight and related medical procedures.  A rhesus monkey called “Miss Able” survived the mission as well, but died four days later as the result of a reaction to anesthesia.

Soviet engineers experimented with dogs on a number of orbital and sub-orbital flights, to determine the feasibility of human space flight.  The Soviet Union launched missions with positions for at least 57 dogs in the fifties and early sixties, though the actual number is smaller.  Some flew more than once.

Laika
Laika

Most survived.  As with the early US program, those who did not often died as the result of equipment malfunction.  The first animal to be sent into orbit, was a different story.

Three dogs were plucked from the streets of Moscow and trained for the purpose.  “Laika” was an 11lb mutt, possibly a terrier-husky cross.  In Russian, the word means “Barker”.  Laika was chosen due to her small size and calm disposition.  One scientist wrote, “Laika was quiet and charming.”

First, were the long periods of close confinement, meant to replicate the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2. Then came the centrifuge, the highly nutritional but thoroughly unappetizing gel she was meant to eat in space, and then the probes and electrodes that monitored her vital signs.

sputnik-2-launched-a-month-later-and-carried-the-first-living-animal-a-dog-named-laika-into-space
Sputnik 2, Pre-Launch Propaganda

The day before the launch sequence, Vladimir Yazdovsky took her home to play with his kids.  “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he explained. “She had so little time left to live.”

Laika was placed inside the capsule for three days, tightly harnessed in a way that onlyLaika and capsule allowed her to stand, sit and lie down.  Finally, it was November 3, 1957.  Launch day.  One of the technicians “kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight”.

Sensors showed her heart rate to be 103 beats/minute at time of launch, spiking to 240 during acceleration. She ate some of her food in the early stages, but remained stressed and agitated. The thermal control system malfunctioned shortly into the flight, the temperature inside the capsule rising to 104°, Fahrenheit.  Five to seven hours into the flight, there were no further signs of life.

There were official hints about Laika parachuting safely to earth, and then tales of a painless and humane, euthanasia.  Soviet propaganda portrayed “the first traveler in the cosmos”,  heroic images printed on posters, stamps and matchbook covers.   Soviet authorities concealed Laika’s true cause of death and how long it took her to die.  That information would not be divulged , until 2002.

Mach2Sputnik2In the beginning, the US News media focused on the politics of the launch.  It was all about the “Space Race”, and the Soviet Union running up the score. First had been the unoccupied Sputnik 1, now Sputnik 2 had put the first living creature into space.  The more smartass specimens among the American media, called the launch “Muttnik”.

Sputnik 2 became controversial, as animal lovers began to question the ethics of sending a dog to certain death in space. In the UK, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received protests before Radio Moscow was finished with their launch broadcast.  The National Canine Defense League called on dog owners to observe a minute’s silence.

Protesters gathered with their dogs in front of the UN building, to express their outrage.  In the Soviet Union, political dissent was squelched, as always. Of all Soviet bloc nations, it was probably Poland who went farthest out on that limb, when the scientific periodical Kto, Kiedy, Dlaczego (“Who, When, Why”), reported Laika’s death as “regrettable”.  “Undoubtedly a great loss for science”.Atomic_Robo_Last_Stop_Sputnik_Poster2

Sputnik 2 and its passenger left the vacuum of space on April 14, 1958, burning up in the outer atmosphere.

It was not until 1998 and the collapse of the Soviet tower of lies, that Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists who had trained the dog, was free to speak his mind. “Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us”, he said, “We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it.  We shouldn’t have done it…We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog”.

Afterward

belka-strelka-2As a dog lover, I feel the need to add a more upbeat postscript, to this thoroughly depressing story.

“Belka” and “Strelka” spent a day in space aboard Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960, and returned safely to Earth.  The first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive.

Strelka later gave birth to six puppies, fathered by “Pushok”, a dog who’d participated in

Charlie, Pushinka
Charlie, (l) and Pushinka, (r)

ground-based space experiments, but never flew.  Nikita Khrushchev gave “Pushinka”, one of the puppies, to President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Pushinka and a Kennedy dog named “Charlie” conducted their own Cold War rapprochement, resulting in four puppies.  Pups that JFK jokingly referred to as “pupniks”.  Pushinka’s descendants are still living, to this day.

kennedy-dog-pushinka-puppies
Pushinka and her “pupniks”, enjoying a moment on the White House lawn

April 11, 1970  Houston, We’ve had a Problem

For four days and nights, the three-man crew lived aboard the cramped, freezing Aquarius, a landing module intended to support a crew of 2 for only 1½ days

Apollo 13 liftoffJack Swigert was supposed to be the backup pilot for the Command Module, (CM), officially joining the Apollo 13 mission only 48 hours earlier, when prime crew member Ken Mattingly was exposed to German measles. Jim Lovell was the world’s most traveled astronaut, a veteran of two Gemini missions and Apollo 8. By launch day, April 11, 1970, Lovell had racked up 572 space flight hours. For Fred Haise, former backup crew member on Apollo 8 and 11, this would be his first spaceflight.

The seventh manned mission in the Apollo space program was intended to be the third moon landing, launching at 13:13 central standard time, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Apollo spacecraft comprised two separate vessels, separated by an airtight hatch. The crew lived in the Command/Service module, called “Odyssey”.  The Landing Module (LM) “Aquarius”, would perform the actual moon landing.

Apollo 13 Schematic

56 hours into the mission and 5½ hours from the Moon’s sphere of gravitational influence, Apollo crew members had just finished a live TV broadcast.  Haise was powering the LM down while Lovell stowed the TV camera.  Mission Control asked Swigert to activate stirring fans in the SM hydrogen and oxygen tank. Two minutes later, the astronauts heard a “loud bang”.

Spacecraft manufacturing and testing had both missed an exposed wire in an oxygen tank.  When Swigert flipped the switch for that routine procedure, a spark set the oxygen tank on fire. Alarm lights lit up all over Odyssey and in Mission Control.  The spacecraft shuddered as one oxygen tank tore itself apart and damaged another.  Power began to fluctuate.  Attitude control thrusters fired, and communications temporarily went dark. The crew could not have known it at the time, but the entire Sector 4 panel had just blown off.apollo-13-damage

The movie takes creative license with Commander James Lovell saying “Houston, we have a problem”.  On board the real Apollo 13 it was Jack Swigert who spoke, saying “Houston, we’ve had a problem”.

205,000 miles into deep space with life support systems shutting down, the Lunar Module became the only means of survival. There was no telling if the explosion had damaged Odyssey’s heat shields, but it didn’t matter. For now, the challenge was to remain, alive.  Haise and Lovell frantically worked to boot up Aquarius, while Swigert shut down systems aboard Odyssey, in order to preserve power for splashdown.

Apollo_13-insigniaThis situation had been suggested during an earlier training simulation, but had been considered unlikely. As it happened, the accident would have been fatal without access to the Lunar Module.

For four days and nights, the three-man crew lived aboard the cramped, freezing Aquarius, a landing module intended to support a crew of 2 for only 1½ days. Heat fell close to freezing and food became inedible, as mission control teams, spacecraft manufacturers and the crew itself worked around the clock to jury rig life support, navigational and propulsion systems.  This “lifeboat” would have to do what it was never intended to do.

Atmospheric re-entry alone, presented almost insurmountable challenges. The earth’s atmosphere is a dense fluid medium. If you reenter at too steep an angle, you may as well be jumping off a high bridge. As it is, the human frame can withstand deceleration forces no higher than 12 Gs, equivalent to 12 individuals identical to yourself, piled on top of you.  Even at that, you’re only going to survive a few minutes, at best.

Apollo_13_Prime_Crew
Left to right: Commander, James A. Lovell Jr., Command Module pilot, John L. Swigert Jr., Lunar Module pilot, Fred W. Haise Jr.

We all know what it is to skip a stone off the surface of a pond.  If you hit the atmosphere at too shallow an angle, the result is identical. There is no coming down a second time. You get one bounce and then nothing but the black void of space.

For four days, most of the country and much of the world held its breath, waiting for the latest update from newspaper and television news.  With communications down, TV commentators used models and illustrations, to describe the unfolding drama.  Onboard Odyssey, power was so low that voice-only transmissions became difficult. Visual communications with Mission Control were as impossible, as the idea that the stranded astronauts could walk home.

As Odyssey neared earth, engineers and crew jury-rigged a means of jettisoning the spent Service Module, to create enough separation for safe re-entry.Apollo_13_timeline

One last problem to be solved, was the crew’s final transfer from Lunar Module back to Command Module, prior to re-entry.  With the “reaction control system” dead, University of Toronto engineers had only slide rules and six hours, in which to devise a way to “blow” the LM, by pressurizing the tunnel connecting it with the CM.  Too much pressure might damage the hatch and its seal, too little wouldn’t provide enough separation between the two bodies.  The result of either failure, would have been identical to that of the “shooting stars”, you see at night.

Apollo 13 after it came back to Earth.
Apollo 13 after it came back to Earth.

By this time the Command Module had been in “cold soak” for days.  No one even knew for certain, if the thing would come back to life.

Crashing into the atmosphere at over 24,000mph, the capsule had 14 minutes in which to come to a full stop, splashing down in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. External temperatures on the CM reached 2,691° F, as the kinetic energy of re-entry was converted to heat.

The Apollo 13 mission ended safely with splashdown southeast of American Samoa on April 17, 1970, at 18:07:41 local time.  Exhausted and hungry, the entire crew had lost weight.  Haise had developed a kidney infection.  Total duration was 142 hours, 54 minutes and 41 seconds.

apollo-13-problem

March 11, 1918 Pandemic

Ordinary flu strains prey most heavily on children, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Not this one.

In the world of virology, “Antigenic Drift” describes changes which happen slowly, the random mutation of virus DNA which takes place over months, or years. It’s why we get a new flu vaccine every year, even though there’s already some level of “herd immunity”.

“Antigenic Shift” occurs when two or more DNA strands combine, instantaneously forming a new virus sub-type. Like the dealer at some giant, cosmic poker table, this process may deal us a pair of twos. Occasionally, fate deals us aces & eights. The death hand.flu6

When the “Great War” broke out in 1914, US Armed Forces were small compared with the mobilized forces of European powers. The Selective Service Act, enacted May 18, 1917, authorized the federal government to raise an army for the United States’ entry into WWI. Two months after the American declaration of war against Imperial Germany, a mere 14,000 American soldiers had arrived “over there”. Eleven months later, that number stood at well over a million.

General “Black Jack” Pershing insisted that his forces be well trained before deployment. New recruits poured into training camps by the tens of thousands, while somewhere, some microscopic, chance recombination of surface proteins created a new virus, novel to almost every immune system in the world.

Flu pandemicOn the morning of March 11, 1918, most of the recruits at Fort Riley, Kansas, were turning out for breakfast. Private Albert Gitchell reported to the hospital, complaining of cold-like symptoms of sore throat, fever and headache. By noon, more than 100 more had reported sick with similar symptoms.

Ordinary flu strains prey most heavily on children, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Not this one. This flu would kick off a positive feedback loop between small proteins called cytokines, and white blood cells. This “cytokine storm” resulted in a death rate for 15-34 year olds 20 times higher in 1918, than in previous years. Perversely, it was their young and healthy immune systems that were most likely to kill them.

Physicians described the most viscous pneumonia they had ever seen, death often comingspanish_flu_death_chart-790-x-602.jpg_w=790&h=602 within hours of the first symptoms. There’s a story about four young, healthy women playing bridge well into the night. By morning, three were dead of influenza.

Over the next two years, this strain of flu infected one in every four people in the United States, killing an estimated 675,000 Americans. Eight million died in Spain alone, following an initial outbreak in May. Forever after, the pandemic would be known as the Spanish Flu.

In 1918, children skipped rope to a rhyme:

“I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
and in-flu-enza”.

In the trenches, the flu cut down combatants on every side. “Operation Michael”, the final, no holds barred German offensive that would determine the outcome of the war, launched from the Hindenburg line in March. Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote in August that “poor provisions, heavy losses, and the deepening influenza have deeply depressed the spirits of men in the 3rd Infantry Division”.

Some sources indicate that as many as half of the Americans killed in WWI, died of the flu.
The parades and parties following the cease fire in November threw gasoline on the fire. The end of war was a complete disaster from a public health standpoint. Millions more contracted the flu and thousands more died. President Wilson himself fell ill, while participating in 1919 treaty negotiations in Versailles.

1918-spanishfluAround the planet, the Spanish flu infected 500 million people. A third of the population of the entire world, at that time. Estimates run as high 50 to 100 million killed. For purposes of comparison, the “Black Death” of 1347-51 killed 20 million Europeans.

History has a way of swallowing some events whole, like they never happened. Today, the Spanish flu is all but overshadowed by the Great War, even though in the end, the flu pandemic of 1918-19 proved a far deadlier adversary, than the war itself.