Thursday, 2 June 2022

capricorn one

The 1978 conspiracy thriller by Peter Hyams starring Karen Black, Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, OJ Simpson, Hal Holbrook and Telly Savalas, considered the most successful independent production of that year, premiered in cinemas on this day and tells the story of an aborted crewed mission to Mars whose members are kidnapped from the launchpad—the life-support systems deemed unfit for purpose—and transported to a film studio, under duress with their families under threat—to complete their journey of exploration in front of the cameras. Fearing another blow to public interest and confidence in the space programme and attendant loss of billions in contracts, NASA administrators force the astronauts to act out their Martian adventure. Unfortunately this plot strengthened and perpetuated the theory that the Moon landing was faked and directed by Stanley Kubrick with The Shining being a veiled confession for his involvement in the deception.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

a boring project

Granted a patent in the US in September of 1972—with the strong intimation that the Soviets built and tested a prototype well before that, the proposal from a team of scientists at Los Alamos Laboratories that a controlled occurrence of the China Syndrome could be used for drilling tunnels under the Earth’s surface, displacing the molten materials through adjacent cracks and forming a vitreous lining in the process, like an insulating glass coating that would also support structural integrity, with a bit powered by a mobile nuclear reactor. Still on the drawing board, the subterrene, as its sci-fi models were called, was a contender for the Chunnel linking Dover and Calais as well as touted as a more efficient mining scout. For colonisation of the lunar surface, a subselene was suggested. More at Weird Universe at the link above.

Monday, 17 January 2022

die sternjรคgerin

Born this day in the City of Gdaล„sk in 1647 (†1693), Elisabeth Catherina Hevelius (nรฉe Koopmann) is considered to be one of the first women astronomers and significantly contributed to observational knowledge of the skies, publishing Prodromus astronomiรฆ in 1690, a catalogue of over fifteen hundred stars. Sharing the same professional passion as her husband, Johannes Hevelius (Jan Heweliusz), the two—both from a wealthy merchant background, moved around the various cities of the Hanseatic League before returning Danzig and constructing a complex of buildings which was at the time among the best observatories in the world (Stellรฆburgum—Star Castle) and garnered quite an international reputation with extensive joint research on sunspots and selenography (charting the features of the lunar surface) and hosting visiting dignitaries and scientists like Edmond Halley—greatly impressed by the couple’s calculations that articulated how comets orbit the Sun in parabolic paths.

Saturday, 11 December 2021

apollo xvii

On this day, in 1972, the Lunar Excursion Module Challenger touched down in the Taurus-Littrow valley with commander Eugene Cernan (see previously) and pilot Harrison Schmitt and five mice, undertaking three moonwalks, conducting several experiments and taking surface samples. Once the two members of the landing party and the mice rendezvoused with Ronald Evans flying the circling command module two days later, they became the last visitors to the Moon (see above) and marked the last time humans had gone beyond low Earth orbit.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

ะทะพะฝะด 5

Despite being taken previously over a communications test conducted in March 1961 with the mannequin Ivan Ivanovich at the helm and despite gaffes and giveaways included in the tape-recording on board the space craft that featured among other mission protocols a military choir performing and a cosmonaut narrating preparing borscht—activities neither suited for the narrow confines of a capsule nor an environment of microgravity intended to signal to any eavesdropping parties that this wasn’t actually a crewed exercise, the Americans once again on this day in 1968 misinterpreted a practical joke by the USSR’s space programme.

While originally slated to carry human members, the Zond 5 mission, authorities fearful of the bad publicity over another accident, carried aloft various biological samples for a lunar flyby, including wildflowers, fruit fly eggs and a pair of tortoises to see if they could survive circling the Moon. As a consolation for the cosmonauts that weren’t able to accompany this living payload, a simple relay was rigged up by the radio engineers to make it appear that they were transmitting from the probe, reading off telemetry and even proposing landing. US intelligence of course intercepted these shenanigans, which caused considerable international consternation and geopolitical turmoil with the Americans afraid that the Soviets would beat them to this final, arbitrary end-goal of the Space Race, to the discount of Russia’s other technical achievements and important firsts—all except the last Apollo missions. Whether meant for a wider audience or not, cosmonauts throwing their voices was characterised as a hoax and may have informed America’s own conspiracy regarding the authenticity of the Moon landing. Concluding after a single orbit, none of the biological specimens were worse off for the trip.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

space: 1999

Though only running for two seasons, the titular BBC programme (renewed the second year by ITC Entertainment) that premiered on this day in 1975 was quite ahead of its time and established among many other tropes the “cold open” scene that preceded the credit sequence, itself boldly a spin-off of a narrative in the Supermarionation production Thunderbirds by the same creative duo Sylvia and Gerry Anderson in non-puppet form. A radioactive waste dump on the far side of the Moon, detected by the research staff at Lunar Base Alpha, experiences a magnetic anomaly, which causes the material to reach critical mass and triggers a thermonuclear explosion 13 September 1999 and propels the Earth’s satellite into deep space. This spaceship Moon wanders into a black hole and several “space warps” to continue its exploration of the Cosmos.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

astrophilately

From the start of the Space Age and ensuing Space Race, adjacent stamp collecting became a serious pursuit with commemorative cover depicting every mission and milestone (see previously) with the bubble inflated to bursting with the scandal surrounding Apollo 15, returned to Earth on this day in 1971 with a payload of four hundred postage stamps sent to the Moon and back.

The astronauts had been compensated, bribed for sneaking the unauthorised souvenirs on board by West Germany dealer Hermann Sieger. The story broke the following year and though the money was returned and most of the remaining covers (the postal term for decorated, signed pre-stamped and cancelled envelops) were retained by the agency, museums or given as gifts, the astronauts were reprimanded for ethics violations and never flew on a mission again, reassigned to other departments within NASA. Such mementos were considered contraband for future missions.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

7x7

one man’s trash: a preview (plus whole film) of a documentary about spelunking in New York City’s garbage  

dare mighty things: Martian rover Perseverance (previously) conducts first test flight of its airfoil drone

distant drums: the ‘Wilhelm Scream’—the stock effect of a man being eaten by an alligator  

personnage: the almond and pebble that inspired Joan Mirรณ’s sculpture  

palace of culture: a choreographed tour of Lithuania’s Socialist Modernist architecture  

moon unit: Space X awarded NASA contract for lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis mission  

pegged: artist Helga Stentzel (previously) creates a clothes-line polar bear to raise awareness for climate change

Sunday, 10 January 2021

project diana

Namesake of the Roman lunar goddess (twin sister of Apollo, establishing the naming convention for missions eventually taken up by civilian agencies) carried out by the US Army Signal Corps at a specially built laboratory with a power surplus transmitter array at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey achieved on this day in 1946 one of its initial aims, concomitantly establishing the discipline of radio astronomy, by demonstrating that a radar wave could be bounced off the surface of the satellite, sent and received by a terrestrial source. Previously no one knew for certain whether transmissions through the vacuum of space were possible. This monumentally large step not only accurately furnished the distance from the Earth to the Moon and hinted at mapping the terrain of other worlds, Project Diana in a sense began the Space Age.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

7x7

3 a.m. eternal: the musical stylings of the KLF are finally available for streaming services—via Things Magazine  

paleofutures: the lunar Western Moon Zero Two takes place in 2021  

no show: Trump fails to appear at his Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve bash—guests entertained by Rudy Giuliani and Vanilla Ice 

not disappoint: a recommendation for a good polyglotinous language lover to follow, whose byline does rather suggest a crash blossom  

star wars—give me those star wars, nothing but star wars: the saga continues  

alla breve or cut for time: big, brute data analysis may finally resolve the controversy over Beethoven’s metronome and how the composer intended his works to be heard—via Strange Company

klanglandschaft: Swiss artist Zimoun engineers ambient soundscapes with everyday materials

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

6x6

schrรถder staircase: prize-winning optical illusions 

well, the spam, eggs, sausage and spam—that’s not got much spam in it: McDonald’s in China releases a special, limited edition burger  

every day, the same, again: miscellany from the New Shelton wet/dry 

black mirror: a Claude glass was a handheld Instagram filter of artists and sightseers in the late 1700s

back contamination: NASA’s efforts to contain a lunar pandemic (see previously) that never came to pass and what lessons it can teach us in this current situation

frame-included position shift: another impressive optical illusion

Friday, 4 December 2020

8x8

three blind mice: researchers restore sight by reversing the epigenetic clock in laboratory animals, re-endowing youthful characteristics—via Marginal Revolution  

big drunk girl energy: the dumbest coup is still playing out in the courts  

a touch of cabin fever: this is what stir-crazy looks like—the Year on TikTok—via the morning news

manifest destiny: a scrollytelling art histories (previously) that recounts the mythology of North America—via Maps Mania  

alpenhorn: disappearing, defaced and duelling phallic totems in the mountains of Germany and Austria 

for the longest time: dispel the zoom and gloom with this quarantine rendition from the Phoenix Chamber Choir 

 home box office: Warner Brothers is simultaneously releasing its cinematic productions on subscription television for 2021—via Kottke  

oceanus procellarum: Chang’e probe (previously)has lifted off of the lunar surface and will return with the first samples of moon rocks since 1976—via Slashdot

Monday, 30 November 2020

8x8

regolith: British R&D company working on process to extract oxygen from lunar soil and using the by-product to three-dimensionally print a moon base—via the New Shelton wet/dry  

gentle giant: David Prowse, the British weight-lifter and character actor who played Darth Vader, has passed away 

person, woman, man, camera, tv: Sarah Andersen’s funny take on our future senility  

kung-fu grip: new research suggests that Neanderthals did not use their hands and thumbs in the same way as Homo sapiens 

 handkerchief flirting codes for post-humans: Janelle Shane (previously) trains a neural network on late Victorian courtship etiquette 

wilmarsdonk: the remains of a village in the middle of the Port of Antwerp, mostly vacated for the busy shipping hub’s expansion  

social harmony: queuing guests practise distancing on a length of music notation, producing a movement from Gymnopรฉdie  

pareidolia, apophenia: brain neurons juxtaposed with galactic clusters connected by filaments of dark matter

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

8x8

tanssinopettaja: a few dance lessons from the reigning king of disco, ร…ke Blomqvist

haunted bohemian shrine aunt: a truly cursed real estate listing from McMansion Hell (previously)—via Pluralistic  

ascertainment: Trump directs General Services Administration to credential President Elect Joe Biden’s transition team 

philately: United Nations honoured with a beautiful, retro series of postage stamps for its seventy-fifth anniversary 

mons rรผmker: China launches a unscrewed mission to the Moon to retrieve mineral samples from a young crater—all to be accomplished in the span of one lunar day (a terrestrial fortnight)  

after school special: times when television grappled with social issues in affecting ways—via the morning news  

monumenta antiquitatis: a scribe’s quill and quiver 

linus & lucy: tag your Charlie Brown dance—via Swiss Miss

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

dreamtime

The radio telescope observatory—colloquially known as “the Dish”—originally named for the nearby host settlement of Parkes, New South Wales (itself namesake of Sir Henry Parkes, a nineteenth century statesman and premier of the state, advocating the continental railway network and federation of Australia and critic of the practise of using the land as a penal colony) is redesignated as Murriyang—the toponym meaning Skyworld in the language and culture of the Wiradjuri people who have lived there for the past sixty-five thousand years. This realm was the dwelling place of the creator god called Biyaami and the renaming ceremony is meant to celebrate and highlight an endangered yet enduring (loanwords include kookaburra, bunyip and wombat) heritage. Built in 1961, the campus played a pivotal part in the Apollo missions—including the televised coverage, surveying for extraterrestrial technologies, discovering and articulating the phenomenon of fast radio bursts and continues to monitor and track outer space operations.


Friday, 31 July 2020

parting shot

Launched on 23 July, China’s mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, beamed back this postcard of a crescent Earth and its satellite from a distance of a little over a million kilometres as it accelerates towards the Red Planet.
The image joins a growing gallery of iconic photographs that help bring perspective and humility. The alignment of the two worlds mean that this is among the fastest and most efficient times for Martian travel and Tianwen-1—the first probe of a series of planned excursions and is named (ๅคฉๅ•) for the eponymous ancient work of epic prose that begins asking how the universe was created, thus Heavenly Questions—was joined during this auspicious launch window by and orbiter from the United Arab Emirates and NASA rover named Perseverance. All three will arrive in February 2021, touching down at Utopia Planitia.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

tpv-15

Though this image is just about three years old, one of the parting shots of the Cassini probe before it descended into the atmosphere of Saturn, we appreciated the reminder, a sense of proportion that’s much needed right now, from Strange Company of the Earth and the Moon framed by the Encke Gap of the gas giant’s rings—see previously—and for couching it in the POV of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s Total Perspective Vortex, a device (see also) originally built as a heuristic tool to demonstrate causality by extrapolating a model of the Cosmos from a single atom.
In application, however, exposing the mind to such a humbling vision of reality was overwhelming and the technology was mainly useful as an instrument of torture—execution, that is, with a final moment of clarity and transcendence. The only biological brain subjected to the Vortex to survive unscathed, protagonist Zaphod Beeblebrox, was only able to do so through the protective bunker of a computer-generated universe that was created specifically to shield him, and with the confidence, hubris that he in fact was the most important person in his paracosm was able to get through the ordeal with minimal amount of insight to put him in his place.

Friday, 27 December 2019

mmxix

As this calendar draws to a close and we look forward to 2020, we again take time to reflect on a selection of some of the things and events that took place in 2019. Thanks as always for visiting. We've made it through another wild year together.

january: China lands a probe on the far side of the Moon.  In the US, works from 1923 enter into public domain, the first tranche to do so since 1998. After a contested election, the incumbent government of Venezuela is declared illegitimate.  We had to say a sad goodbye to Zuzu, a long time companion for my mother and a devilish dog.

february: The Trump administration announces its decision to withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, prompting Russia to follow suit.  Pope Francis becomes the first pontiff to visit the Arab peninsula.  A second summit between the US and North Korea collapses in failure.  We bid farewell to fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, musician Peter Tork, and actor Bruno Ganz.

march: A terrorist’s rampage kills fifty people during services in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, prompting the government to immediately ban the sales and ownership of assault weapons.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller concludes his report on Russian interference in the US 2016 presidential election and summits it to the Attorney General.  Copyright reforms pass in the EU Parliament.  After successive failures to pass a divorce deal, Brexit is delayed.    We had to say goodbye to musicians Dick Dale and Keith Flint, actor Luke Perry, as well as filmmaker Agnรจs Varda.

april: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange loses his political sanctuary after seven years residing in the Colombian mission to the UK and is apprehended at the behest of the US, to be extradited to stand trial for releasing classified materials.  We sadly had to say goodbye to another canine companion, Chauncy. Astronomers capture the image of a black hole.  Brexit is postponed again. During Holy Week, a conflagration engulfed Notre-Dame de Paris.  Over three hundred individuals in Sri Lanka were massacred on Easter Sunday.

may:  Austria’s far-right coalition government collapses after an incriminating video surfaces of a senior official emerges of him promising infrastructure contracts in exchange for campaign support to the posturing relative of a Russian oligarch during a meeting in Ibiza.  Sebastian Kurz resigns as Austrian chancellor and Brigette Bierlein leads a caretaker government until new elections can be held.  We bid farewell to master architect I.M. Pei, Tim Conway, Peter Mayhew, Leon Redbone and Doris DayGrumpy Cat also passed away too soon.

june: The Trump family take a summer vacation, going off to London to see the Queen, fรชted by outgoing Prime Minister, Theresa May, discharging one of her last, onerous official duties before stepping down. The US administration reinstates most sanctions and travel restrictions against Cuba.  Trump ordered strikes against Iran for the destruction of a US spy drone, belaying the order once jets were already in the air and instead authorised a cyber-attack against the government.  Over the course of two evenings, the large pool of Democratic nominee hopefuls held debates.  We had to say farewell to iconic New Orleans singer, song-writer and producer Mac Rebennack, otherwise known as Dr John, as well as epic, old Hollywood filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli and Gloria Vanderbilt.

july: Violent protests continue in Hong Kong.
An arsonist attacked an animation studio in Kyoto, killing dozens.  Donald Trump channels his racism to strengthen his bid for re-election, having never stopped campaign, blowing a dog whistle that is clearly audible to all.  Boris Johnston succeeds Teresa May as prime minister and head of the UK Tory party.  We had to say goodbye to Brazilian musician Joรฃo Gilberto who introduced the world to bossa nova as well as business magnate and philanthropist turned independent politician Ross Perot (*1930), US Supreme Court associate justice John Paul Stevens, Argentine architect Cรฉsar Pelli and actors Rutger Hauer and Russi Taylor.

august: Protests continue in Hong Kong.  India revokes the special status accorded to the disputed territory of Kashmir, escalating tensions with neighbouring Pakistan and China.  More gun violence visits the US.  Puerto Rico goes through three governors in five days.  Sex-trafficker and socialite Jeffrey Epstein was found dead of apparent suicide in his jail cell awaiting trial.  In the midst of a mass-extinction event, Trump repeals the Endangered Species Act and the Amazon burns.  Poet and author Toni Morrison (*1931), Irish singer Danny Doyle and lyricist David Berman died as did actor Peter Fonda and animator Richard Williams.

september: Setting a dangerous precedent, the US national weather agency revises its hurricane forecast to match the antics and bullheadedness of Donald Trump in the wake of the death and destruction brought on the Bahamas.
Prime minister Boris Johnson prorogues Parliament until only two weeks ahead of Brexit departure day.  Trump also announces the cancellation of secret talks he was to hold with a delegation of the Taliban that probably otherwise would have been a 9/11 anniversary photo-op.  Greta Thunberg leads a Fridays for the Future climate walkout in Washington, DC and addresses Congress and global strikes follow.  After thirty years as presenter for BBC Radio 4 flagship Today programme, John Humphrys retires.  House Democrats launch impeachment proceedings against Trump after it was revealed he sought to impugn his political opponents with the help of a foreign power, this time Ukraine.  Photojournalist Charlie Cole (*1955) who captured the iconic image of Tank Man and artists Eddie Money (*1949) and Cars headman Ric Osasek (*1944) and pioneering journalist Cokie Roberts (*1943) passed away.

october: Trump withdraws US troops from the Kurdish controlled border region of Syrian and Turkey promptly invades.

Protests continue in Hong Kong, marring China’s seventieth anniversary celebrations.  There is a terrorist attack on a synagogue in Halle.  Trump refuses to cooperate with House impeachment proceedings.  John Bannister Goodenough (previously) is recognised with a shared Nobel in Chemistry for his pioneering work with lithium batteries. An all-women team of astronauts successfully complete a space-walk.  Brexit is delayed again with the extension pushed back to 31 January 2020.  ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed in a raid by US military forces.  The Trump administration is highly recalcitrant and uncooperative during impeachment proceedings.  Long-time congress member representing Baltimore, Elijah Cummings (*1951), passed away.

november:  The Trump impeachment hearings go public.
Aide and political consultant Roger Stone found guilty on all counts for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and lying to Congress just as Trump intimidates former Ukrainian ambassador live during her testimony and career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch is afforded the chance to reply in real time.  A deadly knife-attack on London Bridge is halted by three by-standers, one with his bare hands and the others armed with a fire-extinguisher and a narwal tusk.  The historic Austrian village of Hallstadt is partially burned down.   Frank Avruch (also known as Bozo the Clown, *1930) passed away. We also said farewell to William Ruckelshaus (*1932), America’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator and government official who defied Richard Nixon during the Saturday Night Massacre.

december:  The venue moved from Chile due to ongoing unrest, the environmental summit COP25 commences in Madrid.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin step down.   Greta Thunberg is named TIME’s Person of the Year.  In the UK General Election, a sizable Tory upset gives Boris Johnson a mandate for the UK quitting the EU.  Global trade wars with the US and the rest of the world as belligerents re-surges, this time over Nord Stream 2 (previously) and opting for an energy source at least marginally cleaner than American oil and natural gas obtained by fracking.  Wildfires continue to devastate Australia.  We had to bid farewell to pioneering Star Trek screenwriter DC Fontana (*1939), veteran stage and screen actor appearing in M*A*S*H*, Benson and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Renรฉ Murat Auberjonois (*1940), spiritual guru Ram Dass (*1931), accomplished actress Anna Karina (*1940) and Carroll Spinney (*1933), the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch (previously) for nearly fifty years.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

the voyage beyond apollo

To coincide with the Apollo 17 mission and last time that human would set foot on the lunar surface, Caribbean cruise line Holland America offered a special voyage on its flag ship that cruised past Cape Kennedy to afford paying patrons and a gaggle of celebrity shipmates the chance to observe the rocket launch.
For nearly as long as the final and longest mission of the programme, holiday-makers could mingle with science fiction and fantasy luminaries like Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Robert Heinlein, and Ben Bova as well as astrophysicist and science-communicator Carl Sagan (previously). Organised under the auspices of space propulsion visionary Dr Robert Duncan-Enzmann—who also incidentally tried to push the bounds of prehistory back eons by deciphering cave inscriptions and may have gone a bit mad in the effort, there was a series of on-board lectures and seminars to discuss the future of space exploration. The next port-of-call was Arecibo, Puerto Rico (see also) to visit the radio telescope.

le projet ozma

Among the first official accolades that the crew of the Apollo 11 Mission were awarded outside of the ticker-tape parades and immediate fame was the astronomical portion of the Prix Guzman—on this day in 1969, an honorarium provided for by the estate of Marc Guzman and established in the will of his widow Anne Emilie Clara Goget in 1891. Arguably the astronauts won by dint of a technicality—the one-thousand-franc prize to be given to a person or group that succeeded in communicating with another celestial body, which the Eagle did with Mission Control in Houston.
Interest accumulated in the meantime and that premium was awarded every five years or so to an individual who had made significant contributions to space exploration, as adjudged by the Acadรฉmie des sciences of the Institut de France. As many people believed at the time of Madame Guzman’s death that Mars was inhabited by intelligent beings, communications with that planet were specifically exempted as not worthy of the challenge and would be established in the immediate future (see also). The title and related paradox refer to the precursor programme to SETI started by Cornell astronomer Frank Drake, named after Princess Ozma whom L Frank Baum channelled by radio to learn of events in the Land of Oz after his first-hand accounts ended. The problem that arises from such a two-way communication with extra-terrestrials is the lack of a frame of reference and thus no means of conveying basic ideas of orientation, right and left, and parity. The other honorarium, to be awarded for the development of a treatment for the most common forms of heart disease, has yet to be given out. Regardless of Madame Guzman’s intent, the accomplishments of Apollo were certainly no mean feat.