2009 Archives



A fire on the moon

A fire on the moon

Forty years ago this week, three men were strapped into a metal capsule perched atop a 36-story marvel of engineering that had three million parts, enough liquid hydrogen to blow up a small city, and five titanic rocket engines, but less computing power than you can find today on your desktop PC. On July 16, 1969, the fuse was lit and the three-stage Saturn V, the most powerful machine ever built, lifted majestically off the launching pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The Saturn V did not exist eight years earlier, when President John F. Kennedy declared that the United States would send a man to the moon before the end of the decade. Human beings had never escaped the gravitational pull of the Earth, and even our best scientists were not certain of what it would take to get to the moon, or if it was even possible to land on its surface. The technology, manpower and expertise had to be organized and created from scratch in the most complex enterprise ever undertaken. The race to the moon was filled with breathtaking episodes of triumph and touched by tragedy. Alan Shepard’s flawless 15-minute flight in a tiny Mercury capsule, the first American in space, was followed by Gus Grissom’s adventure. As a nervous Gus sat in his bobbing capsule waiting for an aircraft carrier to pick him up after he parachuted back to Earth, he prematurely blew the hatch, sending the capsule to the bottom of the ocean. Gus was plucked out of the water by a Navy helicopter, but he and two other astronauts met a tragic end five years later when a spark in their Apollo capsule — which had been filled with pure oxygen during a test run on the launch pad — caught fire, incinerating the crew in a matter of seconds. The two-man Gemini program, which followed the solo Mercury flights, featured a series of astonishing firsts: the first space walk by an astronaut, the first rendezvous and docking by two space vehicles, the first weeklong space mission. The debut of the Lunar Module (LEM), the strange, spider-shaped craft designed for the moon landing, was not inspiring. Neil Armstrong, already a space veteran in the Gemini program, took the LEM out for its first test flight on Earth and promptly crashed in a parking lot. Apollo 8 provided an unforgettable and welcome respite to the unrelenting bad news of 1968 when it circled the moon and, on Christmas Eve, sent back the first incredible […]





East wind

East wind

China probably will surpass the U.S. this year as the country that spews out the most greenhouse gases. At the same time, it is moving quickly to become the number one manufacturer for renewable energy.



Rat Pack

Rat Pack

We caught up with Fred, our favorite talking mouse, in Vegas this week. We found him sunning himself by the pool at the Bellagio, wearing some oversized Ray-Ban sunglasses. What’s with the shades? ”Too much neon. It’s messing up my Circadian rhythm,” he said. ”Besides, I’ve got to keep a low profile. CIA may want me to take over for their chief Congressional briefer. The last piece of limburger they sent over there to testify had more holes in his story than a wheel of Swiss.” When we last left Fred, the loquacious rodent was tucked away at a secret government lab in Wisconsin. As you may recall, Fred granted his first exclusive interview to us after he was successfully implanted with the human gene that governs language and speaking skills. This time, Fred was not alone. He was accompanied by six other mice, who like Fred were hidden behind Ray-Bans and reclining on miniature lounge chairs. ”I like to think of them as my grad students, but one of the Vegas papers is already calling them the Rat Pack. The one with the crooked tail over there is Dino. The clueless one is Joey, and the guy spreading clotted cream on his cracker is Lawford.” The three other members of Fred’s crew suddenly produced top hats and canes and began tapping their way around the pool, humming what sounded like a cross between Motown and Alvin and the Chipmunks. ”They’ve got an audition at the Mirage. Calling themselves The Three Blind Mice. The showstopper is a Four Tops medley.” Fred shrugged his little shoulders and sighed. ”Yeah, I know, it’s pretty cheesy. They can sing, but they can’t count. Maybe they’ll get eaten by Seigfried’s cat.” We asked Fred what he was doing in Vegas. Without missing a beat, he replied: ”Economic stimulus.” We told Fred we had a hard time believing he could write off a trip to Sin City as part of the federal recovery effort. ”Are you kidding? Those bozos are falling all over themselves trying to figure out how to spend it fast enough. I had six federal agencies begging me to come up with a project.” We asked Fred what he came up with. He took a sip from his frosty drink, pausing to flip the lever on a poolside poker slot machine with his tail. ”Small-Scale Urban Infrastructure Survey for HUD. Assessment of Climate-Change Variables in a Dry Desert Environment for DOE and NASA. Swine Flu Casual Contact Vector Threat Level for DHS […]