Bell Telephone: Explaining mobile phone technology, c1946

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who notes that he watched this video on his modern mobile phone.

What strikes me is how much we take this capability for granted, especially when you watch and see how “compact” the car units were. Yet, in the 1940s when this technology was first being developed the use of telephones themselves was only a few decades old. The very idea of being able to communicate instantly with anyone over long distances was still relatively new. Now it included talking to people at random locations. For the people of that time, this was exciting news harboring a bright future.

Stockholm 1913

An evening pause: The footage is gently colorized but with little else changed. Like previous such pauses showing film footage from the past, it gives us a glimpse into a different world that appears more dignified and civilized.

Hat tip Björn “Local Fluff” Larsson, who notes, “All men wear suits and hats. All ladies are dressed up. All buildings are beautiful. Then socialism happened.”

Apollo 16 Lunar Rover “Grand Prix”

An evening pause: This seems especially appropriate with the arrival of another rover on Mars last week.

On their first day of three on the lunar surface, John Young and Charles Duke deployed their rover and took it for a test drive before heading out to nearby Plum Crater for two hours of sample gathering and exploration.

This footage shows Young driving with Duke filming and reporting what he sees. The goal was to gather engineering data on how the rover’s wheels functioned in the very dusty lunar soil.

This short clip nicely illustrates the ambitious achievement of the American Apollo missions that should give pause to any arrogant modern young engineer. This was before home computers and CAD-CAM. It was designed by hand and slide-rule, using inches, pounds, and feet. And it worked, and worked magnificently. Oh if we today could only do as well.

Hat tip Björn “Local Fluff” Larsson.

San Fran school board abandons plan to blacklist Lincoln & Washington

Beating the blacklist: In response to an enormous outcry of outrage from parents and citizens, the San Francisco school board that in January had voted to rename 44 schools named after many traditional American historical figures, including Lincoln and Washington, has now abandoned that effort.

The San Francisco school board has halted its effort to rename 44 schools named after George Washington and other Americans board members concluded held “racist” or other beliefs of which they disapproved. “I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process,” Gabriela Lopez, president of the San Francisco Unified School District board, said Sunday.

Lopez said school district officials will instead focus on re-opening classroom for in-person learning and called the months-long controversy about the re-naming school “one of the many distracting debates.”

Don’t be fooled. These politicians have not changed their mind about America and its history. They still think it evil and want to blacklist it. They will now simply move to do so in a more quiet and unobtrusive way.

What really needs to happen is for San Francisco citizens to wake up and vote these anti-American bigots out of power. Sadly I am doubtful this will happen. Once the fervor dies down the public will go back to the sheeplike state of somnolence that it has been living in for now more than three-quarters of a century, and these thugs will go about their business of transforming America from a free nation of educated citizens to a socialist state of ignorant slaves.

A historian’s memorial to Rush Limbaugh

I originally posted the essay below a year ago when we first learned that Rush Limbaugh was seriously ill with lung cancer. With his passing today, I think it needs to be reread, with an addendum at the end.

A historian’s memorial to Rush Limbaugh (February 4, 2020)

It was very strange to me to hear yesterday’s sad announcement by Rush Limbaugh that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. In the last six months or so my mind had actually been contemplating the fact that Limbaugh had been doing his show for more than three decades, was in his late sixties, and was not immortal. I had been trying to imagine what it would be like when he was no longer a fixture in the daily news reporting cycle, and I had been failing. I couldn’t imagine it.

Now it appears we might all be finally facing it. As they say, reality bites.

For those who have listened to him regularly these past three decades, the loss will be immeasurable. Without question Rush Limbaugh has been the best political analyst, from a conservative perspective, for the past half century. You might disagree with his opinions, but no one has been as correct and as pertinent and as thoughtful, consistently getting to the heart of every political battle, and doing it in an amazingly entertaining manner.

I first heard Rush Limbaugh back in 1988, when I lived in New York and was starving for a different and refreshing perpective on the news.
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Abraham Lincoln – an annual tribute

An evening pause: On this, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, I must once again honor his memory, most especially because the Marxist, anti-American bigots who are now running roughshod across our once free nation wish to cancel him by actually accusing the man who freed the slaves of being a racist.

And though he freed the slaves, I think Lincoln’s most enduring contribution to American history, a contribution that now has sadly been lost, was his limitless good will for everyone, even to those who hated him and wished to kill him. Had he not been assassinated, American history might have been far better because Lincoln would have had the clout to ease the worst elements of Reconstruction, while forcing through reforms in the former southern slave states.

The modern Democrats in Congress — and their supporters nationwide — might benefit by reading some history about Lincoln. Alas, I have no hope of this.

As I wrote for last year’s tribute,

Lincoln stood for freedom for all humans, the central heart of the American experiment. He was willing and did die for that stance. We should all be willing to do no less.

The video below shows probably every photograph ever taken of Lincoln, in chronological order. You can see him age and mature. You can also see a gaunt and serious man who appears to care deeply about whatever he does.

Fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 14 lunar landing

Apollo 14 as seen by LRO
Click for full image.

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary today of the landing of Apollo 14 on the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has used images from the spacecraft to map out what the astronauts did on the surface, as shown in the reduced image to the right. The orange and teal lines indicate the routes followed during the two EVAs, with the pink triangles indicating stopping points along the way.

Unlike Apollo 11 and 12, which focused on engineering goals such as landing precisely on the Moon, Apollo 14 focused on addressing science goals. Antares (lunar module) landed in the Fra Mauro highlands, the original destination of the failed Apollo 13 mission, essentially taking on that mission’s objectives. This was the first crewed landing in the lunar highlands and not in the mare.

The Apollo 14 astronauts who landed on the Moon, Alan Shepard (Commander) and Edgar Mitchell (Lunar Module Pilot), completed two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) while on the surface. They spent a total of 9 hours and 22 minutes setting up equipment, taking photographs, collecting samples, and exploring.

This was the last mission where the astronauts had to walk. The next three Apollo missions brought a rover with them, so that they could drive to their research sites.

Beals Science – Resurrecting a carbide lamp

An evening pause: Long time cavers are very familiar with the carbide lamp, as it was used routinely until around 1998, when LED lights arrived and finally superseded it.

Until then, the advantage of a carbide light was the quality of the light it produced, a soft bright glow rather than the harsh reflective rings produced by older electric lights.

The disadvantage however was the endless fiddling required to keep them working. For example, near the end of this video when he finally gets the light to work, he turns up the water flow to brighten the light. I guarantee that very soon the light would go out, as he was flooding the carbide. The water drip had to be precisely right. Too slow and not enough gas. Too fast and too much water.

I personally hated carbide lights because of that fiddling, especially because lamps made after 1970 were junk and didn’t work well. Most cavers who used carbide would scour yard sales to find old lights like this one, as older carbide lamps were made well and would work reliably.

Hat tip Jeff Poplin.

We are about to find out who our real friends are

Sergei Krikalev on the space shuttle
Russian Sergei Krikalev on the space shuttle, February 1994.

When in 2002 I was writing my space history, Leaving Earth, I spent more than a month interviewing Russian astronauts in Moscow. Many of those individuals had also flown on the American space shuttle during the initial Mir-Shuttle joint missions followed by the start of the assembly of ISS, which had given them a unique opportunity to get an outsider’s perspective on American culture.

One man Sergei Krikalov, was especially unique. He not only was the first Russian to train at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, he was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and the first to enter ISS’s first module after launch. Because of that experience, he also spoke excellent English, which meant he could describe his experiences to me directly, and not through an interpreter.

When it came to American culture, he noted how as a Russian, he was appalled at the empty nature of American friendships.
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Auld Land Syne – Freedom mix

An evening pause: This mix was apparently put together just after 9/11, and includes many of the most iconic sound-bites from the 20th century. One of the last lines however must speak to the new 21st century, as it appears many Americans have forgotten what it means to be an American.

“We’re not gonna be stopped! We’re not gonna be deterred! We’re not gonna stay at home! We’re not gonna be afraid!

“We’re gonna live our lives as Americans!”

God bless. Let us work to return freedom to America in 2021.

Auld Lang Syne – (Freedom mix) from Don Krasley on Vimeo.

James Doohan’s ashes have been on ISS for the past dozen years

Video game developer Richard Garriott admitted in an interview this week that when he flew to ISS as a space tourist in 2008 he smuggled some of the ashes of the late James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek, to hide there.

[Garriott] printed three cards with Doohan’s photo on them, sprinkling ashes inside and then laminating them. He then hid the cards within the flight data file, which was cleared for the flight (the cards were not). “Everything that officially goes on board is logged, inspected and bagged — there’s a process, but there was no time to put it through that process,” he said.

…According to Garriott, one of the cards is on display in Chris Doohan’s home, while another was sent floating in space, where it would have inevitably burned up when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

The third card, however, remains in the ISS, hidden beneath the cladding on the floor of the space station’s Columbus module, where Garriott hid it. “As far as I know, no one has ever seen it there and no one has moved it,” he said. “James Doohan got his resting place among the stars.” Since being hidden in the ISS, Doohan’s ashes have travelled nearly 1.7 billion miles through space, orbiting Earth more than 70,000 times.

I hope that now that Garriott has revealed the location of that third card, the petty dictators at NASA and Roscosmos won’t insist that it be removed. For ISS having the ashes of the world’s best space engineer on board can only be good luck.

And it might encourage the government workers at NASA and Roscomos to follow Scotty’s most sage advice, which to paraphrase is “Always under-predict and over-perform. It keeps their expectations low.”

Werner Klemperer & John Banner – Silent Night

An evening pause: Silent Night is followed by Robert Clary singing a French carol. All three were actors from the 1960s television comedy series, Hogan’s Heroes, with Klemperer playing the Nazi prison commander, Banner the foolish guard (“I know nothing!!!”), and Clary the French prisoner.

I don’t know exactly when this aired, but it was likely in the late 1960s. It signals the good will fundamental to western civilization. The Germans had only two decades earlier put the world through a horrible war. Still, Americans were glad to hear two Germans immigrants sing this gentle song in their native language, despite the evils that nation had subjected the world to so recently.

The war was over. We are all fallible humans. Time to forgive, and move on.

Hat tip Phill Oltmann.

House passes bill that attempts to protect Apollo Moon sites

The House today passed a bill that would require any American business planning a Moon mission to agree to not disturb the Apollo lunar landing sites.

[The bill] requires any federal agency that issues a license to conduct a lunar activity to require the applicant to agree to abide by recommendations in the 2011 NASA report “NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Artifacts” and any successor recommendations, guidelines or principles issued by NASA.

All well and good, but this does nothing to stop other nations from touching those sites. Moreover, making all of those sites and whatever the astronauts did there totally sacrosanct is not reasonable. On the later Apollo landings the astronauts used a rover to travel considerable distances. Should every spot the astronauts visited by now considered holy? If anything, scientists will wish to return and gather more data at these locations to better understand the initial Apollo results.

Not that any of this really matters. In the long run the decision on how much these sites should be protected will be made by the people who live on the Moon. I suspect, as pioneers living on the edge of survival, they will have less interest in making memorials to past achievements and be more focused on getting things done, now.

Mysterious object in solar orbit identified as upper stage for Surveyor 2

Since August astronomers have been trying to figure out the nature of a mysterious object in solar orbit that did not match their expectations for either a comet or an asteroid. Dubbed 2020 SO, astronomers have now identified it as the upper stage booster used to send the unmanned lunar lander Surveyor 2 towards the Moon in 1966.

Surveyor 2 was a failure when it began tumbling and crashed into the Moon instead of doing a soft landing. Its upper stage meanwhile was sent on a path that would have it miss the Moon and go into orbit around the Sun. That orbit finally brought it back to Earth this year.

2020 SO was captured by Earth’s gravity in November and came within 27,400 miles from Earth on December 1. That’s when Reddy and his colleagues at the IRTF were able to capture the infrared spectrum of another Centaur D rocket booster—this time from a 1971 launch of a communication satellite. When they compared that spectrum to the data gathered about 2020 SO, the spectra matched. 2020 SO is also a Centaur rocket booster, most likely the one used for the Surveyor 2 mission.

2020 SO is now moving away from the Earth and should escape Earth’s gravity within a few months, at which point it will follow a new solar orbit. But astronomers expect it to return to Earth in 2036, and they will be ready to learn even more when it does.

This booster is essentially an early example of space archeology. Someday colonists in space will go and catch it to bring it back to one of their museums on the Moon or Mars, to be studied and admired as a major marker of their own past history.

Chuck Yeager, 1923-2020

R.I.P. Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound passed away today at the age of 97.

A World War II flying ace, Gen. Yeager achieved his greatest fame by flying on Oct. 14, 1947, the experimental Bell X-1 at the speed of sound, Mach 1, in level flight at 45,000 feet — the first man to do so.

The achievement was not announced to the public though until June 1948 for security reasons.

Yeager epitomized the greatest generation, flying in combat in World War II, and commanding fighter squadrons in both the Korean and Vietnamese wars. More significantly, his 1947 supersonic flight was achieved with two broken ribs, caused when he fell from a horse the week before. He told none of his commanders, and flew anyway.

Pearl Harbor: The Last Word

A evening pause: On the anniversary of Japan’s unprovoked sneak attack on the United States, let’s hear what it was like to be a sailor on the U.S. battleships sunk during that attack, from interviews recorded four years ago for the 75th anniversary of the attack.

And did I mention it was an unprovoked sneak attack? The Japanese of that time brought the war upon themselves. Hiroshima and Nagasaki was their fault, not ours.

I wonder, would today’s Americans have the will to win, for freedom and the rule of law, as 1940s Americans did? Based on our response to 9/11, I think not. Based on our terror of a flu-like illness today, I know not. The tragedy of this is beyond words.

SpaceX sets numerous launch records in placing 60 more Starlink satellites in orbit

Falcon 9 booster landing for a record 7th time

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight broke a whole bunch of new launch records in launching another sixty Starlink satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

First, the leaders in the 2020 launch race:

31 China
22 SpaceX
12 Russia
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab

The US now leads China 35 to 31 in the national rankings.

For SpaceX, this launch established the following landmarks for the company:
» Read more

Debussy plays Debussy – Clair de Lune

An evening pause: As the youtube webpage notes, “This is not an acoustic recording. This is a recording obtained by piano roll.”

Rolls for the reproducing piano were generally made from the recorded performances of famous musicians. Typically, a pianist would sit at a specially designed recording piano, and the pitch and duration of any notes played would be either marked or perforated on a blank roll, together with the duration of the sustaining and soft pedal. Reproducing pianos can also re-create the dynamics of a pianist’s performance by means of specially encoded control perforations placed towards the edges of a music roll, but this coding was never recorded automatically. Different companies had different ways of notating dynamics, some technically advanced (though not necessarily more effective), some secret, and some dependent entirely on a recording producer’s handwritten notes, but in all cases these dynamic hieroglyphics had to be skillfully converted into the specialized perforated codes needed by the different types of instrument.

Thus, we are listening now to a player piano, replaying the music as Debussy played it.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

The Apollo 12 crew’s excursions on the Moon, 51 years ago

In celebration of the anniversary this week of the Apollo 12 mission to the Moon in November 1969, the science team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have created a wonderful animation showing step-by-step where and when Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walked during their two EVAs on the lunar surface.

That video is below. It highlights strongly the need of any future short-term mission to any planetary landing to have a vehicle on board. Conrad and Bean accomplished a lot during their two four-hour walks, but nowhere near as much as they could have accomplished if they could have driven about on their EVAs. In fact, in the 1960s NASA had already recognized this, and was to put a rover on the last three Apollo lunar landings.

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