Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy birthday, Skylab, Space Shuttle astronaut (and Okie!) Owen Garriott!

Owen K. Garriott, born November 22, 1930 in Enid, Oklahoma, flew on  Skylab 3 and the Space Shuttle Columbia.  He was selected as an astronaut in 1965 and his first mission was aboard Skylab 3 from July - September 1973, doubling the amount of time astronauts spent in space from the previous record.

During the mission, the controllers in Houston were surprised to hear a woman's voice coming from Skylab 3, even calling Bob Crippen by name.  She explained:

"The boys haven't had a home-cooked meal in so long I thought I'd bring one up." After several minutes in which she described forest fires seen from space and the beautiful sunrise, the woman said: "Oh oh. I have to cut off now. I think the boys are floating up here toward the command module and I'm not supposed to be talking to you." 

Garriott had recorded his wife the night before liftoff and the crew was in on the prank.

Garriott's second flight was aboard Columbia (STS-9) November-December 1983 as a mission specialist.  His son Richard flew aboard Soyuz TMA-13 in October 2008, becoming the first American to follow a parent into space.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mangalyaan, India's Mars Orbiter, sends back stunning pictures!

The India Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched their Mars Orbiter, called Mangalyaan, November 2013 and it entered Mars the following September.  India became the fourth space agency to reach Mars, the first Asian country to put a probe in orbit around the planet and the first country to do so on its first attempt. 

The cloud formation (arrow in above photograph) is seen around Ascraeus Mons, the northernmost and tallest of three shield volcanoes, known as the Tharsis Montes in the Tharsis region of Mars.

Bakhuysen Crater

Three linked Craters of Mars

Juventae Fons and Baetis Chasma - Terrains on planet Mars

Henry Hartsfield, Space Shuttle astronaut, born 1933

Henry "Hank" Hartsfield, born November 21, 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama, was a veteran of 3 Space Shuttle flights, including one of the first, STS-4 aboard Columbia.  In June 1982, he and Ken Mattingly made the final test run of the Space Shuttle program, which was the last time only two astronauts were aboard a shuttle.

His second flight was on Discovery (STS-41-D) in August-September 1984 as commander.  Its initial launch date was June 26 but at T-6 seconds before blast off, the launch was aborted.  Its mission was delayed over two months.

His third and final flight was aboard Challenger (STS-61-A) in October-November 1985.  It was the last successful flight of the Challenger.  He was commander of the only space shuttle mission to carry 8 astronauts for the entire mission. 

Hartsfield passed away in July 2014 from complications due to back surgery.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"The Day After" airs 1983

I remember watching this on my portable TV in my dorm room at Southwestern Oklahoma State.  There had been such a build-up to it in the media including Newsweek, that I had to watch it.  The Day After, which aired November 20, 1983, was a scary movie because it is one of the first to show the horrors of a nuclear holocaust and the fallout afterwards.  I think it got people thinking seriously about nuclear war with the Soviet Union and how we could avoid it. 

It is still one of the most-watched shows of all time (not counting miniseries) and garned 12 Primetime Emmys, winning two of them. 

Remembering Della Reese (1931-2017)

Singer/actress/commedienne Della Reese has passed away although the details of her death have not been released.  She retired from acting in 2014 and suffered health problems related to her diabetes.

I remember seeing her in many different roles on television.  She won numerous awards for her role in Touched by an Angel

I remember her best from her role in Harlem Nights and especially her hilarious fight scene with Eddie Murphy.

Book review - "Satan's Fire" by P. C. Doherty

P. C. Doherty’s ninth novel in his Hugh Corbett mystery series set in the early 1300’s England, involves the Knights of the Templar, and takes place just a few years before they were destroyed by greedy kings.  Doherty hints at the changing political climate in Europe as Philip IV in France and Edward I in England become jealous of the Templars’ wealth, since both kingdoms are strapped for cash.  Satan’s Fire opens with Edward managing to convince the very reluctant Templars to grant him a loan for his wars.

But strange events have occurred when the Knights of the Templar have been in the vicinity, such as an attempt on Philip’s life while hunting and ominous warnings pinned to doors.  The most bizarre of all are the reports of people killed in mysterious fires that seem to ignite spontaneously and have a mind of their own.

Edward summons his chief clerk Hugh Corbett, who longs to return to his manor in Leighton, to his wife and daughter.  Edward has received a warning and is fearful that someone is trying to assassinate him.  With extreme reluctance, Corbett plunges into the mystery of the strange fires (hence the title) and what the Templars are doing in Framlingham, their residence in England. 

The Templars aren’t shown in a favorable light and remain suspicious and aloof from Corbett and his manservant Ranulf and messenger Maltote.    But it becomes understandable when Doherty shows the shifting perceptions and the movements against their order from all sides.  They feel their existence is being threatened and have every right to believe so. There are certain splits among the Knights, which are causing tension which do not help their cause.

Corbett is one of the luckiest men on the planet since he manages to survive several attempts on his life in this book, but all the other victims were offed in one chance.  Hmm…

I like it when good ol’ chemistry is part of a novel, but not so much when it is used to kill.  Corbett finally discovers an ancient recipe founded by the Greeks centuries before after consulting old manuscripts.

On the downside once again, I read a book by Doherty and ask where is his editor? Does he even have one?  He commits several infractions that I was taught to avoid during my writing: use of passive voice, changes in point of view within one scene, etc.  Was all of it unnceccsary?

The Pointer Sisters release "Hot Together" 1986

My girls released their twelfth album Hot Together November 1986, pumping out more great music!  It was their eighth collaboration with producer Richard Perry.  Although it wasn't as successful as Break Out or Contact, it held its own. 

The title track was featured on the soundtracks to Spaceballs and Stakeout, and also part of the NBA's promotional campaign in the late 1980's.

Set Me Free was featured in the opening scene of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Happy birthday, Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins!

Eileen Marie Collins, born November 19, 1956 in Elmira, New York, is a veteran of four Space Shuttle flights.  She is the first female pilot for a space shuttle and first female commander of a space shuttle mission. Her parents immigrated from Ireland.

Her first flight was on Discovery (STS-63) in February 1995 as pilot, the first female to pilot the space shuttle.  She also piloted Atlantis (STS-84) in May 1997.

She served as commander aboard Columbia (STS-93) July 1999 for her third trip.  Her fourth and final trip was on Discovery (STS-114) July - August 2005.  During this last flight, Collins performed a backflip maneuver of Discovery so the crew of the International Space Station could check the hull for missing tiles.

How cool is that!

Columbia (STS-80) launched 1996

Back row (L-R): Tamara Jernigan, Thomas Jones
Front row (L-R): Kent Rominger, Story Musgrove, Kenneth Cockrell

Mission patch

Columbia blasted off November 19, 1996 was the longest Space Shuttle flight, lasting 17 days, 15 hours and 53 minutes.  Her crew was Commander Kenneth Cockrell, Pilot Kent Rominger, Mission Specialist Story Musgrave, Mission Specialist Thomas Jones and Mission Specialist Tamara Jernigan.

Tom Jones and Tamara Jernigan were to have performed two EVAs but both were cancelled.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Happy birthday, Space Shuttle astronaut Mark Brown!

Mark Neil Brown, born November 18, 1951 in Valparaiso, Indiana, has flown on two Space Shuttle missions.

His first was on Columbia (STS-28) in August 1989 as mission specialist. The details of the mission are classified.

His second and last flight was on Discovery (STS-48) in September 1991, also as mission specialist. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Soyuz MS-03 launched 2016

L-R: Thomas Pesquet, Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy

 Mission patch

Soyuz MS-03 took off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, November 17, 2016.  On board were Oleg Novitskiy (Russia), Thomas Pesquet (France) and Peggy Whitson (Iowa).  Peggy was the oldest woman to go into space, but I don't know of anyone who will actually say that to her.  ;)

Soyuz MS-03 traveled to the International Space Station, docking on November 19.  It undocked June 2, 2017 bringing Pesquet and Novitskiy back to Earth.  Whitson stayed on the ISS until September 3.

"The Little Mermaid" released 1989

Walt Disney's classic adaptation of The Little Mermaid was released November 17, 1989, putting the company back on top, after a series of not-so-good movies.  It was also the first fairy tale in 30 years since Sleeping Beauty in 1959.  I think it's hysterical that Ursula was fashioned after Divine, from the John Waters' movies.

The Little Mermaid won two Oscars, one for Best Music, Original Song (Under the Sea) and for Best Music, Original Score (Alan Menken).  Kiss the Girl was also nominated for Best Original Song.

Lunokhod 1 (Луноход), first rover on the moon, lands 1970

On November 17, 1970, Lunokhod 1 (Луноход, which is 'moon walker' in Russian) landed in the Sea of Rains on the moon.  It is the first lunar rover to explore the moon's surface.  It was launched on November 10 and carried into lunar orbit by Luna 17 spacecraft.

Lunokhod 1 would run during the lunar day, using solar panels to power it, and then hibernate at night.  It had a radioactive source to keep its instruments heated during the lunar night.

It operated for almost a year, the last communication received September 14, 1971.  The Soviets finally ended the project October 4, the anniversary of Sputnik 1. Lunokhod 1 travelled about 6 1/2 miles, returned more than 20,000 TV images, 206 high-resolution panoramas, and performed 25 lunar soil analyses.

Lunokhod 1's final resting spot was unknown until April 2010, when a team from University of California at San Diego located it and is being used for determining Earth-Moon aspects.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Atlantis (STS-129) launched 2009

Front row (L-R): Charles Hobaugh, Barry Wilmore
Back row (L-R): Leland Melvin, Michael Foreman, Robert Satcher, Randy Bresnik

Mission patch

Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off November 16, 2009 (STS-129) on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station.  Her crew consisted of Commander Charles Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore, Mission Specialist Leland Melvin, Mission Specialist (and current ISS resident) Randy Bresnik, Mission Specialist Michael Foreman and Mission Specialist Robert Satcher.

It was the second space shuttle mission that carried two African-American astronauts: Leland Melvin and Robert Satcher.

It was the 8th space shuttle mission to celebrate Thanksgiving in space.

Randy Bresnik's daughter was born the seventh day of the mission.  He received the news via private phone patch from mission control before the rest of the crew was awakened.  So he was able to give them the good news when they woke.

Happy birthday, Space Shuttle astronaut Carl Meade!

Carl Joseph Meade, born November 16, 1950 in Illinois, obtained the rank of Colonel in the US Air Force and is a veteran of 3 space shuttle flights.

His first mission was aboard Atlantis (STS-38) (the anniversary of its launch was yesterday) in November 1990 as mission specialist.

His second flight was on Columbia (STS-50) in June 1992 also as mission specialist.

His third and final mission was on Discovery (STS-64) in September 1994.  During this flight, Meade tested the self-rescue jetpack, performing the first untethered spacewalk in 10 years.  He spent over 3 1/2 hours maneuvering the jetpack.

Venera 3 launched to Venus 1965

Venera 3, launched November 16, 1965 by the Soviet Union to Venus, is the first spacecraft to (crash)land on another planet.  Venera 3's communications system failed about 17 days before it reached Venus.  It is believed to have entered the Venusian atmosphere March 1, 1966.

Thirty-one years to the day later, the Russians launched Mars 8, November 16, 1996 to Mars, but the spacecraft failed and re-entered Earth's atmosphere.  So instead of landing on Mars, it crashlanded on Chile, Bolivia and in the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book review - "The Song of a Dark Angel" by P. C. Doherty

Doherty opens his 8th Hugh Corbett novel, The Song of a Dark Angel, explaining to the reader that the Song of a Dark Angel is the sound the night wind makes as it roars off the sea and into Norfolk, England.    Then he describes two bodies, which have yet to be discovered, swaying in the Song of a Dark Angel. A pretty awesome way to start a book!

The Song of the Dark Angel has stories of King John, lost treasure and more naughty nuns.  Hugh, Ranulf and Maltote are sent to Norfolk to investigate the decapitation of a man on the beach, and the hanging of the baker’s young wife.  Hugh soon hears the legend of King John losing almost all of his fortune when he and his retinue tried crossing the Wash.  The tide came upon them suddenly, catching them unaware.  John and his retainers made it across safely but the pack train carrying his treasure was lost.  Although the event happened almost 100 years before, the people in the area are still looking for the lost treasure.

Thrown into the mix is the Pastoureaux, a cult, teaching enlightenment and freedom across the seas.  How are all these connected?  More murders occur and an attempt is made to kill Corbett.

I found this one to be a bit more exciting than some of the previous novels.  It moves at a pretty good pace.  However, there are a couple of scenes in which Corbett seems to pull a conclusion to a situation out of thin air.  Also, Maltote is just a periphery character as in the past novel.  He is usually sent on an errand for which he is gone for long stretches of the story.  I hope he gets more “air time” in the next few novels.  And Maeve doesn’t even appear.

Other than those couple of items, The Song of a Dark Angel was a fun read.  I liked reading Doherty’s notes at the end of the novel.  Apparently, King John’s treasure has never been recovered so it might still be out there, waiting to be found.

Oklahomans elect a gay woman to the state senate!

I honestly did not think I would see the day that an openly gay person would be elected to any public office in Oklahoma.  But Senate District 37 in the Tulsa area elected Allison Ikley-Freeman, a lesbian who is married, to the state senate.  Way to go, Tulsa County!

However, according to, she is the third openly gay person to serve in the Oklahoma State Legislature.  Senator Al McAffrey and Representative Kay Floyd already serve.

It appears that Ikley-Freeman being a lesbian is down-played in the Oklahoma media.  Why is that?  Can we believe that those good ol' boys and gals think that it did not play any signficance in her election?  Could it be that they are finally accepting gays into politics?

Nah.  I'm sure they just don't want anyone to find out that a gay woman was elected.  Or that she is a Democrat.  Or that she wasn't endorsed by anybody yet still won. 

How is Brian O'Hara feeling this morning?

Happy birthday, Alexander O'Neal!

Alexander O'Neal, born November 15, 1953 in Natchez, Mississippi, is an R&B singer who had some awesome hits in the 80's such as Fake.  The single was released from his album Hearsay and it went to #1 on the R&B charts.  Its follow-up single Criticize reached No. 4.

I love his Christmas album My Gift to You released in 1988, but Fake is still my favorite overall!

Atlantis (STS-38) launched 1990

Seated (L-R): Frank Culbertson, Jr., Richard Covey
Standing (L-R): Charles Gemar, Robert Springer, Carl Meade 

Mission STS-38 patch

Atlantis blasted off on its 7th flight (STS-38) and 7th mission dedicated to the Department of Defense, November 15, 1990 for a four-day trip into space.  The crew consisted of Commander Richard Covey, Pilot Frank Culbertson, Mission Specialist Carl Meade, Mission Specialist Robert Springer, and Mission Specialist Charles Gemar.

Since this was a DoD mission, Atlantis' payload was classified.   She landed November 20, her returned a day later than planned because of unacceptable wind conditions at Edwards AFB so she landed at Kennedy Space Center.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Soyuz TMA-22 launched 2011

Angry Birds in space! 

L-R: Daniel C. Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoli Ivanishin

Mission patch

In the midst of a snow storm, Soyuz TMA-22 blasted off November 14, 2011 with two Russians and one American on their way to the International Space Station.  It was the first manned mission to the ISS since NASA had ended the space shuttle program in July with STS-135.

Soyuz TMA-22's crew consisted of Commander Anton Shkaplerov, Flight Engineer Anatoli Ivanishin and Flight Engineer Daniel Burbank (from Connecticut).

It is the first known flight in which an Angry Bird was a passenger.

Happy birthday, Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise!

Fred Haise, born November 14, 1933 in Biloxi, Mississippi, was an astronaut on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.  After high school, he served in the US Marines as a fighter pilot.  He graduated from the University of  Oklahoma with a degreee in aeronautical engineering in 1959 before becoming an astronaut.

Haise was scheduled to be the sixth human to walk on the moon during the Apollo 13 mission behind Jim Lovell, who was to be the fifth.  Jack Swigert was the Command Module Pilot.  Of course, we all know they didn't get to land on the moon but they returned to Earth safely.  Bill Paxton played Haise in the movie Apollo 13.

He was backup for the Apollo 16 mission and was slated for the Apollo 19 mission, but the latter was cancelled due to budget cuts.  Haise left NASA in 1979.

Endeavour (STS-126) launched 2008

L-R: Magnus, Bowen, Pettit, Ferguson, Boe, Kimbrough and Stefanyshyn-Piper 

STS-126 Mission Patch

Endeavour took off on its 22nd flight and the 124th mission (STS-126) of the space shuttle program November 14, 2008.  Her crew consisted of Commander Christopher Ferguson, Pilot Eric Boe, Mission Specialist Donald Pettit, Mission Specialist Stephen Bowen, Mission Specialist Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Mission Specialist Robert Kimbrough and Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus.

It was the 27th shuttle mission to the International Space Station to conduct repairs. It was the first time cow and pig embryos were carried into space by NASA to see how weightlessness affected embryonic growth.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen each conducted three EVAs, and Kimbrough performed two during the 16-day mission.

Stefanyshyn-Piper requested Hold On Tight by Electric Light Orchestra as her wake-up song.  Awesome!

Endeavour returned to Earth November 30.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book review - "The Assassin in the Greenwood" by P. C. Doherty

Warning: There is a spoiler in this review, but not the final solution!

The seventh book in P. C. Doherty’s Hugh Corbett series is based on the legend of Robin Hood.  I thought Robin Hood took place during the reign of King Richard I and King John, at least 100 years before Edward I, but after a quick check on the internet, I realize his myth spans more than one century.  That is probably one reason his legend survives to this day.  When I began reading The Assassin in the Greenwood, I was disappointed at first to find that Doherty had based a story on a fictional character.  Although the story is fiction, Robin Hood is iconic.  It would be like Merlin the magician showing up in a Corbett novel. 

But Doherty doesn’t disappoint his readers.  The legendary figure, reportedly in his mid-fifties at this time, never actually appears in the story and Doherty even manages to work in a possible ending for Robin Hood.

Edward I sends Corbett to Greenwood to try to bring the outlaw Robin Hood to justice.   Alive, if possible, but if not, that’s okay.  Reluctantly leaving his wife Maeve and their baby daughter, Corbett, his manservant Ranulf and his messenger Maltote they go off to the castle in Nottingham to help the locals in their search for the outlaw.  The woods are very thick and any force going into the forest are quickly ambushed with deadly results. 

Corbett and others have realized that there has been a change in Robin Hood.  For a while he was keeping to his mantra of robbing the rich, and giving to the poor.  But recently, he has become far more deadly and even peasants are beginning to fear him. 
Doherty hasn’t ever shied away from gore, but this novel seems to have more than previous stories and lots of deaths, emphasizing the brutal nature of the outlaw and his band of rogues. 

As always, though, Doherty gives us a surprise twist at the end, and does not disappoint his readers. 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men" airs 1995

One of the funniest episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was Little Green Men, which aired November 13, 1995.  It answers the decade-long question of what happened in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.  For seventy years now, people have been speculating that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert and has been the subject of the largest government cover-up in history.

It appears they were right.  Quark, Rom and Nog are on their way to Earth when they realize their shuttle craft has been sabotaged.  Nom figures out a way to keep the ship from tearing apart and they crash on Earth but in the year 1947. 

It has some of the best lines ever:

Rom: Maybe we are dead.
Quark: What're you talking about?
Rom: Maybe this is the Divine Treasury.
Quark: Oh, don't be ridiculous, the Divine Treasury is made of pure latinum. Besides, where is the Blessed Exchequer? Where are the Celestial Auctioneers? And why aren't we bidding for our new lives, hmm?
Rom: You don't think we're in the other place?
Nog: The Vault of Eternal Destitution?

Nurse Garland: For all we know, it could be the mother.
[Quark is shouting at Rom in Ferengi]
Jeff Carlson: If she is the mother, she's quite a shrew.

Major Kira: Quark, Rom and Nog together on that ship all the way to Earth? Glad I'm not going with them.
Captain Ben Sisko: Only thing that worries me... no one warned Earth that they're coming.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Columbia (STS-2) launched 1981

Columbia blasted off November 12, 1981 (STS-2) and returned two days later, becoming the first time a spacecraft has tone into space and returned twice. Her crew consisted of Commander Joe Engle and Pilot Richard Truly (who celebrates his 80th birthday today!).  The mission was scheduled to last 5 days but one of the three fuel cells that produced electricity and drinking water failed so it was shortened to 2 days.  NASA also cancelled the Canadarm tests but the crew stayed awake during the Loss-of-Signal (LOS) periods and tested the arm.

Richard Truly, born November 12, 1937 in Fayette, Mississippi, was the first person to be launched into space on his (43rd) birthday.  He became the 8th administrator of NASA in May 1989.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Happy birthday, astronaut Reid Wiseman!

Reid Wiseman, born November 11, 1975 in Baltimore, Maryland(!), made his first trip to space aboard Soyuz TMA-13M to the International Space Station for Expedition 40/41.  The mission lasted from May to November 2014.  His crew mates aboard Soyuz were Maksim Surayev (Russia) and Alexander Gerst (Germany).

Happy birthday, cosmonaut Vladimir Solovyov!

Vladimir Solovyov, born November 11, 1946 in Moscow, Russia, made two flights into space on Soyuz T-10 and Soyuz T-15.

The Soyuz T-10 mission was a critical flight because the Salyut 7 space station was dark and empty due to the loss of Soyuz T-10-1.

Soyuz T-15 was the last flight to Salyut 7, the first flight to Mir and the last Soyuz T spacecraft, since they were replaced by the Soyuz TM.

After his second flight, Solovyov became the Mir flight director.  He retired in 1994 but then came back to head the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Apollo 17 astronaut Ronald Evans born 1933

Ronald Ellwin Evans, Jr., born November 10, 1933 in St. Francis, Kansas, walked on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, the last trip to the moon.  Harrison Schmidte and Gene Cernan took the last steps on the lunar surface while Evans orbited above as the Command Module Pilot.

On the trip back to Earth, Evans completed an EVA for one hour and 6 minutes to retrieve some cameras and an inspection of the equipment bay area.  This was his only trip into space.

He passed away in Scottsdale, Arizona of a heart attack April 7, 1990.

Zond 6, Soviet lunar orbiter, launched 1968

Zond 6, a Soviet spacecraft launched to flyby the moon November 10, 1968, was the second probe to reach the moon and return, Zond 5 being the first.  Zond 6 reached the moon November 14 taking pictures of the near and far sides.

Zond 6 returned to Earth on November 17 but during re-entry, a faulty gasket caused the spacecraft to depressurize, killing the animals (turtles, wine flies, mealworms, plants, seeds, bacteria) on  board.  Then its parachutes failed to deploy and Zond 6 crashed in Kazakhstan, near the launch site.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Félicette, first cat in space, 1963

We've all heard about Laika, the first dog in space and Ham the Astrochimp, but not many of us have heard of Felicette, the first astro-kitty.  Fifty-four years (and less than a month) ago, on October 18, 1963, the French government launched Felicette, a stray found on the streets of Paris, insto space to study the effects of weightlessness on animals.  If Felicette could survive, humans could survive.  Her flight lasted on fifteen minutes, reaching a heigh of 156 kilometers.  She parachuted to safety and was recovered alive.

Three months later, French scientists euthanized her to study her brain implant. Bastards.

There is now a crowdfunding campaign happening to raise money for a bronze statue to commemorate her work.  Laika has a bronze statue.  Ham is buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.  It's way past time to give Felicette her place in history!

Book review - "Murder Wears a Cowl" by P. C. Doherty

Murder Wears a Cowl, the sixth installment of P. C. Doherty’s medieval mystery series featuring Hugh Corbett, clerk to King Edward I, is a convoluted tale with more twists and turns than any of his previous stories.  It also has a bit more character development on the main characters.  Hugh is now more spy than clerk for Edward I.  Maeve, although still in the background, is much more present since their daughter is about three months old.  Ranulf, Corbett’s faithful servant, falls in love and thinks about escaping his current station and bettering himself.  At the end of the story, Ranulf exacts some revenge in a calm, cold, ruthless scheme.  I was a bit surprised at Ranulf’s actions, thinking what happened to our lusty lad who’s only mission in life was to bed someone else’s wife or mistress?

In Murder Wears a Cowl, Edward I commands Hugh to investigate murders of prostitutes in London, which have occurred once a month for over a year.  Edward isn’t interested in the women, but Lady Somerville, the widow of one of Edward’s friends has been murdered in the same fashion.  Is there a connection?  And what does her message “a cowl does not make the monk” mean?

Hugh had planned to take Maeve and the baby to Wales to visit her family, but the king is most insistent that he postpone the trip to investigate the crimes.  To add insult to injury, Hugh’s nemesis and French spy de Craon is in London along with a notorious criminal is a master at the art of disguise.

In the previous novel, The Prince of Darkness, we had naughty nuns.  In Murder Wears a Cowl, we have naughty monks.  Early on, Hugh suspects a connection between the murders and the monks and priests at St. Paul, but he finds more than he expects. 

Doherty has a knack for bringing fourteenth century London to life in all its fetid, foul and malodorous glory.  Despite the stomach-churning details, this novel delivers several surprises and keeps the reader guessing until the last page. 

Venus Express, ESA's first mission to Venus, launched 2005

The European Space Agency's first probe to our sister planet, Venus Express (VEX), was launched November 9, 2005 to explore the planet's atmosphere.  It arrived the following April for a two-year mission, but it kept going.  The ESA extended the mission five times, the last in 2013 through 2015 but they lost contact with VEX in November 2014. 

Basically, she ran out of gas.  VEX probably succumbed to Venus' gravity and burned up in the atmosphere in January or February 2015.

This was the first mission to make observations of Venus over a long period of time.  Previous missions by the U.S. or the Soviet Union were landers who transmitted data for very short times before being destroyed by the planet's harsh conditions.

Perhaps the data sent to Earth for eight and a half years will give us an idea of how the Venusian atmoshpere became such a runaway greenhouse effect, which in turn will help us contribute to our study of climate change on Earth.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Happy birthday, Skylab 4 astronaut Edward Gibson!

Edward Gibson, born November 8, 1936 in Buffalo, New York, made one trip into space aboard Skylab 4, the last manned mission to the space station.  With Commander Gerald Carr and Pilot William Pogue, he spent 84 days in space, which was a record at that time.  It was the only flight for all three men.

After his retirement from NASA, he wrote two novels, Reach and In The Wrong Hands, both science fiction about space travel.

Oklahoma schools having trouble retaining teachers...gasp.

Today, posted a report this morning that Oklahoma City schools are having problems keeping teachers.  I know...what a shock. 

Shane Keenan, director of employee engagement in Oklahoma City is reported as saying the turnover rates are because of "teachers who changed schools or were working with emergency credentials because of the state's teacher shortage."

Not because of budget cuts? Not because teachers' salaries are among the lowest in the nation?  Or could there be other reasons? 

In the past two years, I've found ten articles discussing the Oklahoma government's deplorable treatment of its educators:

1. Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs wanted to stop a one-cent sales tax increase to fund education.  They succeeded.

2. Lawmakers banned advanced placement history classes.

3. GOP state reps tried to take over "underperforming" schools.

4. Teachers leaving the state in droves.

5. Oklahoma State Department of Education could not buy new texts books because Oklahoma lawmakers did not appropriate funds for new books.

6. Teachers leaving the state because of the lack of education funding.

7. Failing blames education system, not herself or governments cutting funding, for suffering schools.

8. Senate Education Committee approves public funds to go to private schools.

9. Oklahoma City Schools closing due to budget cuts.

10. More schools closing, eliminating teachers because the House or Reps can't pass a budget.

Discovery (STS-51-A) launched 1984

L-R: Dale Gardner, David Walker, Anna Fisher, Fred Hauck, Joseph Allen
(That's not a real bald eagle.)

Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-51-A) took off from Kennedy Space Center November 8, 1984 and landed back there 8 days later.  It was her second flight.  During the mission, the crew of Discovery deployed two satellites and retrieved two other satellites that were malfunctioning.  Her crew consisted of Commander Fred Hauck, Pilot David Walker, Mission Specialist Joseph Allen, Mission Specialist Anna Fisher and Mission Specialist Dale Gardner.

Gardner and Allen performed the EVAs to capture the satellites.

Anna Fisher was the first mother in space.  She had a one year-old daughter at the time of the mission.

The mission began on Dale Gardner's 36th birthday.  He was born November 8, 1948 in Fairmount, Minnesota and passed away February 19th 2014.  David Walker has also passed away.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Remembering Gemini and Apollo astronaut Dick Gordon (1929-2017)

Astronaut Richard "Dick" Gordon, veteran of the Gemini and Apollo programs, passed away yesterday in California at the age of 88.  He was born October 5, 1929 in Seattle and received a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry(!) in 1951 from the University of Washington.

His first flight was aboard Gemini XI with Pete Conrad.  They docked with the Agena Target Vehicle on the first orbit, only an hour and 34 minutes after launch, the first time attempting this maneuver.  Dick performed two EVAs for a total of 2 hours and 41 minutes.

His second and final flight was aboard Apollo 12, which was struck by lightning during takeoff, but made it to the moon safely.  Gordon orbited the moon in the Lunar Orbiter while Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walked on the moon.

He was assigned backup commander for Apollo 15 and was to walk on the moon during the Apollo 18 mission but that flight was cancelled.