Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book review - "Red Moon Rising" by Matthew Brzezinski

Years ago, I read James Oberg’s awesome book, Red Star in Orbit, which chronicled the Soviet Union’s space program and its competition against the United States’ newly formed NASA, up to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program.  Brzezinski’s work, Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age, reads as a prequel to Oberg’s but from the political side of the situation.

After WWII, the Soviet Union struggled to get back on its feet after the devastation and consumption of its resources.  However, in the United States, life could not have been better.  The economy was booming.  WWII hero Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House and the US had a large arsenal of missiles ready for military purposes if the need should arise.

The Soviet Union had only a handful.  Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary, wanted to close that gap.  He was not interested in space.  He just did not want to appear vulnerable and defenseless if the Americans were to launch missiles at them.

Sergei Korolev managed to get Khrushchev to consider putting a satellite in orbit, one that could carry warheads into space where they could be launched to anywhere on the globe with impunity.  With Khrushchev’s blessing, the Chief Designer (as Korolev is referred to in Brzezinski’s work) proceeds to accomplish what no one had done before.  Successfully put an artificial satellite in orbit around the world.

Brzezinski follows Korolev’s journey through set-backs, financial difficulties, disasters, rivalries and mounting pressure from all sides.

I found it humorous that Korolev and Khrushchev did not immediately understand the impact of what they had done.  Not until the whole world reacted with awe at Earth’s new artificial satellite.
Brzezinski did stumble in the epilogue.  He states that when the Chief Designer died in January 1966, “Russia’s moon dreams died with Sergei Pavlovich Korolev”.  As any student of history will recall, during the 1960’s, the space race between the US and the USSR rose to fever pitch and ran hot and heavy from Yuri Gagarin’s 1962 orbital flight until Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969.

Despite this, the book is an important read for anyone interested in space history.

Donna Summer releases "Live and More" 1978

The Queen Donna Summer released her double album Live and More, August 31, 1978, the recording of a concert she performed at the Universal Ampitheater in Los Angeles the previous June. It was her first live album and second double album.  It went to #1 on the Billboard 200 and became double platinum in the U.S.

My man Billy Joel knocked Live and More out of the top spot with his album 52nd Street.

The album featured a studio recording, the MacArthur Park suite, which was edited and released as a single MacArthur Park. She earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

John Swigert, Apollo 13 astronaut, born 1931

John "Jack" Swigert, born August 30, 1931 in Denver, Colorado, was an astronaut on the bad-luck-ridden Apollo 13 mission, as Command Module Pilot.

The mission was his only flight.  He was slated to be in the rotation for the Apollo-Soyuz project but was removed due to his involvement in the Apollo 15 Postage Stamp Incident.

Swigert passed away in 1982 from cancer.

The Netherlands enter the Space Race 1974

August 30, 1974, the Netherlands launched their first satellite, Astronomical Netherlands Satellite or ANS (I know.  Kinda mundane).  The program was jointly funded by the Netherlands Institute for
Space Research and NASA and ran for 20 months, ending in June 1976.

Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, ANS carried an X-ray detector and an ultraviolet telescope.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Happy birthday, Chris Hadfield (first Canadian EVA)!

Chris Hadfield, born August 29, 1959 in Ontario, Canada, is a veteran of 2 space shuttle missions, one Soyuz mission and is the first Canadian to walk in space.  He was admitted to the Candian Space Agency in 1992 and his first mission was aboard Atlantis (STS-74) in November 1995.  His second mission, aboard Endeavour (STS-100) in April 2001 to the International space Station, is when he performed his EVA to help install the Canadarm.

His final mission was on Soyuz TMA-07M in December 2012 to the ISS, where he spent 145 days and served as commander for the last two months, March - May 2013.

He showed us how to make  a peanut butter sandwich in outer space.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Discovery (STS-128) launched 2009

Seated (L-R):  Kevin Ford, Frederick Sturckow
Standing (L-R): Jose Hernandez, John Olivas, Nicole Stott, Christer Fuglesang, Patrick Forrester

Discovery took off August 28, 2009, the 25th anniversary of its first flight just seconds before midnight, so NASA can say it is the first (probably the only) time a launch took place over two calendar days.

Her crew consisted of Commander Frederick Sturckow, Pilot Kevin Ford, Mission specialist 1 Patrick Forrester, Mission Specialist 2 Jose Hernandez, Mission Specialist 3 John Olivas, Mission Specialist 4 Christer Fuglesang (ESA - Sweden) and Mission Specialist Nicole Stott.

It is the first time two astronauts of Mexican heritage were in space at the same time.  Olivas performed 3 EVAs, once with Stott and twice with Fuglesang.

Discovery returned to Earth September 8.

Comic Book Artist Jack Kirby born 1917

Jack Kirby, known around the world for being one of the most prolific and successful comic book artists, was born August 28, 1917 in New York City.  He learned to draw comics by tracing them from the papers and in 1940, he was hired by Timely Comics, where he co-created one of the best heroes of all times, Captain America.

In the 60's, he teamed up with Stan Lee at Atlas Comics which would become Marvel.  There he and Lee co-created...well,...just about everybody.  In the 70's Kirby went back to DC Comics where he created the Fourth World Saga and New Gods.

Kirby passed away February 6, 1994 from heart failure.

Happy birthday, Space Shuttle astronaut & UFO spotter, Leroy Chiao!

Leroy Chiao, born August 28, 1960 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a veteran of 3three Space Shuttle flights and one Soyuz mission to the International Space Station.  He received a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1987.

His first mission was on board Columbia (STS-65) in July 1994, which carried the first Japanese woman in to space, Chiaki Mukai.

Chiao's second trip was on board Endeavour (STS-72) in January 1996 and his third was aboard Discovery in October 2000 (STS-92).  Since he was fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he studied Russian and flew to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-5, Expedition 10, in October 2004.  He remained on the ISS until April 2005.

Here is some interesting footage of him experiencing strange lights during an EVA:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Happy birthday, 6-time astronaut John Blaha!

John Elmer Blaha, born August 26, 1942 in San Antonio, made 6 trips to space aboard space shuttles and one four-month stay on Mir.

His first flight was on board Discovery (STS-29) in March 1989.  His second mission was also on Discovery (STS-33) in November 1989. His third mission (STS-43) was on Atlantis in August 1991.  The fourth was on Columbia (STS-58) in October 1993, during which they performed numerous medical experiments expanding our knowledge of human physiology in space.

His fifth flight took him to Mir on Atlantis (STS-79) in September 1996 where he would spend the next four months.  Atlantis brought Shannon Lucid home from Mir.

Blaha returned to Earth on Atlantis (STS-81) in January 1997.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Voyager 2 flies by Neptune 1989


Launched in August 1977, Voyager 2 made a flyby of the planet Neptune August 25, 1989.  It is the only spacecraft to have visited Neptune and Uranus.  During its pass, it took photographs of Triton, Neptune's largest moon and discovered Proteus, the second largest moon.

Voyager 2 is expected  to enter interstellar space in 2019 or 2020.  It is still sending weak signals and will continue to do so until about 2025.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Xanadu" soundtrack released 1980

The dorky movie Xanadu was released the same month as its soundtrack in August 1980.  The movie didn't fare well, but the soundtrack went double-platinum in both U.S and Canada.  It was a collaboration between Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John, released on MCA and Jet labels.

I like Olivia but I much prefer ELO's contributions to the album.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Happy birthday, Space Shuttle astronaut David Wolf!

David Wolf, born August 23, 1956, in Indianapolis, Indiana, is veteran of four space flights, one trip aboard Mir, seven EVA's and one ballot.  His first space shuttle mission was aboard Columbia (STS-58) in October 1993.  Also on that mission was Shannon "Right Stuff" Lucid, who was on her 4th trip into space.  (I wonder if she dozed off during launch?).

Wolf's second trip was on Atlantis (STS-86) in September 1997, which took him up to the space station Mir.  During his 128-day visit, he became the first American to cast a vote in a presidential election.  He returned to Earth on Endeavour (STS-89) January 1998.

His third trip was aboard Atlantis (STS-112), an eleven day mission to the International Space Station in October 2002.

His final trip (STS-127) was on Endeavor in July 2009 to the ISS.  The launch of the Endeavour was successful on its 6th attempt.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Happy birthday, Skylab 4 astronaut Gerald Carr!

Gerald Paul Carr, born August 22, 1932 in Denver, Colorado, is one of three rookie astronauts on Skylab 4, the third and last manned mission to the space station.  He was one of the original 19 astronauts chosen by NASA in 1966.  For over 4 years, Carr and his fellow Skylab 4 astronauts held the record for the longest stay in space, 184 days.

During the mission, the Skylab astronauts got worn out from their hectic work schedule and finally ceased radio transmissions to and from Mission Control for a day.  NASA was furious, of course, but it did lead to some revising of work schedules and the astronauts ended up completing more work that originally planned.

Carr was on the rotation for Apollo 19 but the mission was cancelled in 1970.

Mannheim Steamroller releases "Fresh Aire 8" 2000

Mannheim Steamroller released Fresh Aire 8, the final album in their Fresh Aire series, August 22, 2000.  Chip Davis composed all the songs, which are based on the topic of infinity.

Here is the video for "Leonardo (The Infinite Thinker)":

Monday, August 21, 2017

Marie Blake, actress, born 1895

Marie Blake, born August 21, 1895, in Philadelphia, is probably best known for her role as Grandmama in the Addams Family.  She appeared in bit parts on television from her beginning in 1935 until her retirement in 1966.

She passed away January 14, 1978 in Los Angeles.

It wasn't easy finding clips with Ms. Blake (credited as Blossom Rock on the Addams Family) but I found one that includes the classic Don Rickles.

Gemini V launched 1965

(L-R): Pete Conrad, Gordon Cooper

Gemini V, the third Gemini flight, the 11th manned American flight and the 19th spaceflight of all time, launched August 21, 1965 from Cape Kennedy in Florida.  On board were the Command Pilot L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. and Pilot Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr.  They spent 7 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes in space, breaking the existing record for duration set by Vostok 5 in 1963.

Conrad and Cooper conducted medical experiments during the mission, but they did not have much of appetites.  They averaged about 1000 cal/day although the intended daily intake was 2700cal.  They also experienced dandruff as a significant problem, which was believed to be the results of very low ambient humidity in the cabin, causing their skin to become dry and flaky.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book review - Legacy of Hereot, Beowulf's Children by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle & Steve Barnes

I read Legacy of Hereot years ago when it was given to me as a present.  Even though I read science fiction, this book wasn’t even on my radar, so it was a surprise to receive it as a gift.  However, I read it and was wonderfully surprised.  I picked it up again so I could refresh myself before I read its sequel Beowulf’s Children, which I’ve had in my bookcase for years.

I loved reading Legacy of Hereot again, but I should have skipped Beowulf’s Children. Oh, well.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Legacy of Hereot was all about establishing a new colony on a distant planet, fighting unknown terrors and coming together as a community to defeat the common enemy.

Beowulf’s Children was all about teen angst and sex. 

Legacy of Hereot opens with about 200 settlers coming out of a 100-year sleep after a journey to a new planet, 10 light-years from Earth.  The novel doesn’t delve much into the problems on Earth that determined the necessity of colonizing a new planet, but it wasn’t much of a drawback.  Cadmann Weyland is the colonel of the new group on Tau Cetin and soon realizes there is an indigenous threat to the settlers, but no one believes him.

At first.

Then an attack on the compound shocks everyone into action and they rally around the Colonel.  Much of the book centers on the settlers and their plans to repel a huge attack, once it is discovered that they have upset the ecological balance on the planet and soon they will be up to their armpits in grendels (thus, the connection to Hereot), the name they’ve given the monsters.

Legacy of Hereot is an exciting, sci-fi adventure about interstellar space travel and survival.

Beowulf’s Children is not.

The sequel is set 19 years after the events in Hereot.  The children born shortly after the Grendel attack do not have any recollection of the horrific incident which took the lives of many of the colony’s men.  As far as they are concerned, the Firsts or Earth Born (the colonists who came on the space ship Geographic) are all crazy from Hibernation Instability (HI).  Apparently, people, frozen for 100 years for a trip across the galaxy, have a tendency to lose a bit of intelligence, the result of ice crystals forming in the brain. 

Or as the Seconds (Star Born) refer to it, ice on the mind.

For this reason, the generation born on the new planet have established themselves a colony, Surf’s Up, a distance from the original settlement.  There they can do whatever they want, sleep with whomever they want, without the supervision of the adults.  And they remind the Earth Born constantly about their autonomy.  The leader of this group is Aaron, an Adonis-like 19 year-old Bottle Baby.  Bottle Babies were embryos frozen to be thawed out if female colonists turned out to be sterile after their 100-year journey.

Aaron has seduced the Star Born (all teen-agers) that they need to settle the continent and convinces them to lie, betray and steal from the Earth Born to cross the ocean and establish a permanent outpost. 

Although there are more dangers other than the grendels to face, the novel seems to focus more on who is sleeping with who (with no consequences) and the rebellion against the first generation. 
The ending of Legacy of Hereot ends with the final battle with the grendels.  It does leave the door open for a sequel, but Beowulf’s Children seems as if it was forced.  As if the publishers mandated a sequel without a clear path forward.  There is a third book in the series, but I’m not inclined to read it after Beowulf’s Children.

Legacy of Hereot is an exciting must-read.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Happy birthday, astronaut Story Musgrave!

Story Musgrave, born August 19, 1935, is a space shuttle astronaut and is the second person to make 6 trips into space!  He is the only person to have flown on all 5 shuttles.  Musgrave and his fellow astronauts on STS-61 mission (Endeavour) appeared on an episode of Home Improvement.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Happy birthday, Umberto Guidoni, first European aboard the ISS!

Umberto Guidoni, born August 18, 1954 in Rome, Italy, is the veteran of two space shuttle flights and has the distinction as being the first European aboard the International Space Station.  Dr. Guidoni worked for the Italian Space Agency and the European  Space Agency.  His first mission into space was aboard Columbia (STS-75) in early 1996.

He flew on Endeavour in 2001 (STS-100) with a Canadian, a Russian and four Americans to the International Space Station.  Its primary objective was the installation of the Canadarm2 robotic arm onto the ISS.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Pointer Sisters release "Special Things" 1980

The Pointer Sisters released their 7th studio album, Special Things August 1980.  It was their 4th collaboration with producer Richard Perry.  Their biggest hit from the album He's So Shy helped elevate Special Things to gold status.

Save This Night for Love is my favorite from this album.

Is it me...or is The Oklahoman suddenly silent on Trump?

In the days leading up to the presidential election in November, The Oklahoman squandered no opportunity to bash Hillary Clinton, and exalting The Donald.  After Mrs. Clinton had been exonerated by the FBI for her use of emails and the Benghazi scandal, The Oklahoman repeatedly used those cases against her, not emphasizing the facts, nor stating them (I'm sure) so voters in Oklahoma would continue to feel horrified and disgusted at the thought of putting Hillary in the White House.

Prior to the election, many of the nation's biggest and prestigious newspapers endorsed Hillary for President. Even those publications that are typically apolitical or conservative threw in their hats for her.  Newspapers from smaller but major cities in Oklahoma who endorsed Mrs. Clinton include Enid, Muskogee, McAlester, Woodward, Norman, Ada, Talequah, Stillwater, Duncan  and Chickasha.  The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World did not endorse either candidate (1).  But shortly before the election, the Oklahoman basically said, "we're not telling you to vote for Trump, but DON'T vote for Hillary." You can read their holier-than-thou rant at the link below (2,3).

But in recent events where The Donald has shown his true colors, pasty white with a yellow streak down his back, the Oklahoma Editorial Board has gone silent.  Even a search of the top stories on The Oklahoman's website and discovers little of the tragic events in Charlottesville and The Donald's meltdown at his press conference.  The only editorials come from columnists from other papers around the country.

Not even a bit on the deadly landslide in Sierra Leone.

What is the top story in Oklahoma?  A 12 year-old ventriloquist is a semi-finalist on "America's Got Talent".


Venera 7, Soviet probe to Venus, launched 1970

Venera 7, a Soviet spacecraft and lander to Venus, was launched August 17, 1970.  The probe entered the Venusian atmosphere December 15 and the lander broke away from the bus.  The lander's parachute opened at an altitude of 60km and began the probe began to take tests, revealing the Venusian atmosphere to be 97% carbon dioxide.

The probe seemed to go silent upon impact, due to the parachute somehow failing during descent, but recording tapes kept going.  A few weeks later, scientists discovered about 23 minutes of weak signals.  They concluded the spacecraft had landed safely but harder than expected.  It bounced onto its side and the main antenna was pointed in the wrong direction to send strong signals to Earth.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stuart Roosa, Apollo 14 astronaut, born 1933

Stuart Allen Roosa, born August 16, 1933 in Durango, Colorado, was part of the Apollo 14 mission in early 1971.  He was raised in Claremore, Oklahoma and attended Oklahoma State University, as well as the University of Arizona, and the University of Colorado in Boulder.  He was chosen as one of the 19 in the class of astronauts in 1966 and served as support to Apollo 9.

He took off in Apollo 14, January 31, 1971 and commanded the lunar orbiter, while Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell visited the moon.  While in orbit, he conducted extensive experiments, including carrying seeds from a number of variety of trees.  The seeds were germinated upon his return and planted around the world, becoming known as "Moon Trees".

Roosa died in 1994 in Washington, DC from pancreatitis and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Peggy Whitson Talks about Life aboard the International Space Station

Peggy Whitson has spent more time in space than any other NASA astronaut, male or female, and she is the oldest woman to go into space at 56, when she launched November 2016.  She has also set the record for the most time spacewalking for a woman and is third in overall time spent in EVA.

Peggy will also get to observe the solar eclipse August 21, possibly as many as 3 times as they orbit Earth. She has a PhD in biochemistry from Rice University so she has been conducting experiments of testing new drug treatments and studying bone cells in microgravity.

Listen to her talk to Hanneke Weitering, a staff writer at

Record-Breaking Astronaut Peggy Whitson Talks About Space Travel & a Solar Eclipse

Happy birthday, astronaut/Top Gun pilot Scott Altman!

Scott Douglas "Scooter" Altman, born August 15, 1959 in Illinois, is an astronaut with four Space Shuttle missions under his belt but he will probably be best known as the pilot in Top Gun, who gives the finger to the Soviet fighter pilots.

He entered the U.S. Navy in 1981 and became a figher pilot and was awarded the Air Medal for being a strike leader in support of Operation Southern Watch.  He performed aerial stunts in Top Gun including buzzing the tower and the scene mentioned above.

As if that wasn't exciting enough, he became an astronaut in 1994 and flew on four flights, logging 40 days in space.  His first mission was April 17-May 3, 1998 on Columbia (STS-90).  Then he flew on Atlantis in September 2000 (STS-106) to the International Space Station to get it ready for a permanenet crew.  His third mission was in March 2002 aboard Columbia (STS-109) to the Hubble Space Telescope to perform maintenance.  His final mission (STS-125) on Atlantis was the last servicing mission to the Hubble Telescope.  This mission was filmed in IMAX.

He retired from NASA in 2010 and is working somewhere over here in Greenbelt, MD.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Happy birthday, astronaut Jon McBride!

Jon Andrew McBride, born August 14, 1943, in Charleston, West Virginia, made his only spaceflight onboard the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-41-G), which launched October 5, 1984.  This early in the space program, the mission had several milestones.  One of which it was the only flight for Jon McBride and fellow astronaut Paul D. Scully-Power, the first Aussie-born astronatu and the first pilot to travel with a beard.

It was also the first mission to have two women at the same time: Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan.  Kathryn would perform the first EVA by a woman.  And the first Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau was aboard.

After the mission, McBride was assigned as Commander of mission STS-61-E in March 1986, but the Challenger explosion postponed many flights after that.  Then he was scheulded to command mission STS-35 in March 1990, but chose to retire from NASA instead.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vostok 4 launched 1962

August 12, 1962, cosmonaut Pavel Popovich blasted off in Vostok 4, just one day after Andriyan Nikolayev launched in Vostok 3.  Having two men in space in different spacecraft at the same time was a huge step for the Soviets in the space race.

Popovich stayed in space just under 3 days, orbiting Earth 48 times.  His flight was terminated early when a misunderstanding by ground control who thought Popovich used a codeword asking to end his flight ahead of schedule.

He landed about 7 minutes after Nikolayev and about 200km away.  Like Nikolayev, Popovich ejected from his spacecraft and parachuted to Earth separately.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie review: Shin Godzilla

I finally got to see Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgent), still not released in the U.S.  It is Toho Company's latest film with the G-Man,  coming after the success of the 2014 blockbuster Godzilla.  It's their first Godzilla movie since Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004. Toho stayed with the man in the rubber suit as Godzilla instead of CGI.  It harkens back to the early Godzilla films in the 1950's where he is being a pain in the ass, destroying Tokyo for no other reason than just being a pain in the ass.   Not saving the world from goofy giant monsters.  No aliens trying to abduct him so they can bring in King Ghidorah.  Just Godzilla vs the Japanese and American military.

Most of the effects were not the campy sort we've seen before, but were actually quite impressive.  The major exception being the pre-Godzilla form coming ashore.  It looks like a Rose Bowl Parade float, a big-eyed comical turtle-thing.  Some of the scenes are eerily reminiscent of video footage of the tsunami in 2011.

Until it evolves into Godzilla.  Toho gave the G-Man more abilities, such as he can shoot his radioactive beams from his spines AND his tail!   A lot more power to his  punch.  He's never done that before.

The movie also has a lot of fresh new faces and we only see one former Godzilla actor, Jun Kunimura, a veteran of Godzilla: Final Wars.

I was surprised that Toho tried tugging at some heartstrings by mentioning the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. By the Americans, who believe the only way to stop Godzilla is with a thermonuclear bomb.  The movie goes back and forth blaming Americans and then relying on their military support.  In the end, it is France that comes through and helps Japan avoid becoming Ground Zero for a third time.

There is more than enough evidence that demonstrates  there will be a sequel to this movie, so we can look forward to that.

Not as good as the 2014 movie, but still a great ride!

Happy birthday, astronaut Rick Sturckow!

Rick Sturckow.jpg

Frederick Wilford Sturckow, born August 11, 1961, is a veteran of 4 Space Shuttle flights, all of which docked with the International Space Station.  This makes  Sturckow one  of two people to visit the ISS four times.  His first mission was STS-88 in December 1998 aboard the Endeavour.  His second was aboard Discovery (STS-105) in August 2001.  His third was in June 2007 on  Atlantis (STS-117).  His final mission (STS-128) on Discovery again in August 2009.


Vostok 3 launched 1962

To further test the effect of microgravity on the human body, Vostok 3, carrying cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev, was launched August 11, 1962.   Nikolayev spent 4 days in space orbiting Earth 64 times before returning August 15. During his first day in space, Nikolayev unstrapped himself from his seat and floated freely, the first time a human had done this.

August 15, Nikolayev, the third cosmonaut in space, returned to Earth but he ejected from the spacecraft and landed separately.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book review - The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara series by Terry Brooks

Book 1: Ilse Witch
Book 2: Antrax
Book 3: Morgawr

I haven’t read one of Terry Brooks’ Shannara novels in a very long time, even though I’ve been hoarding them for years.  I finally read the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy and read it in less than two weeks.  Yes, it was that exciting and I made time to read. 

The trilogy takes place some 150 years after the last series ended with The Talismans of Shannara.  An elf, missing for 30 years is plucked from the waters of the Blue Divide near death by a Wing Rider.  The dying man carries a map and a bracelet that identifies him as the Elven prince Kael.  He was last seen when he led an expedition to a faraway land in search of powerful magic.  He took the Elfstones on his journey and they are lost.

Walker Boh is the only person who can decipher the strange symbols on the map.  He summons Bek Ohmsford and his cousin Quentin Leah to accompany him on the quest for this powerful magic and recover the Elfstones.  Also on the journey, is the dwarf Panax, shape-shifter Truls Rohk, Winger Riders and their Rocs, Rovers Redden Atl Mer and his sister Rue Meridian and a strange young woman Ryer Ord Star who has visions of the future.

But a powerful, dangerous young woman, the Ilse Witch, wants the magic for herself.  Her spies have kept her informed of Walker’s movements and she plans to destroy him because of her life-long hatred of him.

With a crew of Elves, Walker sets out across the Blue Divide in a sleek airship, the Jerle Shannara.  The first book ends as the Druid and company locate Castledown, apparently the source of the magic. 

The second book splinters the group into pieces as they are attacked by both the entity that guards the magic and by the Ilse Witch and her evil allies.  The book switches from one group to another as they try to avoid being killed but manage to find unexpected power and unlikely allies. I won’t spoil the climax of Antrax, but I will say the magic Walker seeks is not what he expects. 

Morgawr is the Ilse Witch’s mentor, who taught her how to use her magic.  She considers herself his equal, but she has also betrayed him.  Morgawr sets out across the Blue Divide to find and destroy her, and keep the magic for himself. 

The splintered groups manage to find each other and try to escape from Castledown with Morgawr and his mellwrets on their tale.

In some cases, the stories are a little predictable but overall, Brooks has many surprises for his readers.  I did feel that the second book, Antrax, was padded by backstories and experiences to lengthen the book.  But it is still full of action and excitement. 

All three books are page turners and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.  He makes you eager to pick up the next series in Shannara saga.

Happy birthday, Claudia Christian!

Gorgeous and multi-talented Claudia Christian, born August 10, 1965, is best loved for her role as Commander Susan Ivanova on television series Babylon 5.  She has been twice nominated for Best Genre TV Actress by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, USA.  In addition to being a stellar actress, she is a musician, singer, director and has a series of children's books titled "The Misadventures of Miss Emma Bradford".

It's easy to see why she has been nominated for acting in this clip from Babylon 5:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bresnik and Nespoli set up the MARES machine on ISS

The MARES on the ISS (not Randy Bresnik, though)

August 7, astronauts Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli set up the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) on the International Space Station.  It will be used for research on musculoskeletal, biomechanical and neuromuscular human physiology to understand the effects of microgravity on human muscular system.  Perhaps it can discover ways to prevent muscular atrophy, which can occur in space.

See the time-lapse video of Bresnik and Nespoli assembling the MARES machine on the ISS.

Luna 24, last return mission from the moon, launched 1976

Luna 24, launched August 9, 1976, is the last lunar mission that returned to Earth.  It was the last lunar launch of the Soviet Lunar program.  After take-off, Luna 24 reached the moon 3 days later, and after changes to its orbit, it touched down August 18.  It took a sample of the lunar soil and took off from the moon August 19.

Luna 24 entered Earth's atmosphere and landed August 22.  It was the last soft-landing on the moon for 37 years until the Chinese probe Chang'e 3 in December 2013.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ghana enters the space race!

Tiny African country Ghana has entered the space race, becoming the first sub-Saharan country to launch a satellite.  GhanaSat-1 was launched from Kennedy Space Center in June, released from the International Space Station last month, and began orbiting last week.

With support from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the satellite was designed, assembled and tested by three students at All Nations University for a price tag of about $500,000.  It is a tiny satellite, measuring about 4” square and weighing about 1kg.  GhanaSat-1 will monitor the coastline for mapping and data collection.  It could also monitor illegal mining activities. 

Ghana hopes its entry into the space race will attract wealthy investors and increase employment.

Government scientists "leak" a climate change report before Trump can bury it

The New York Times received a draft of a report from government scientists providing data that we're feeling the effects of global warming right now.  The scientists made the draft public in fear that The Donald and his WH staff might try to bury it.

The report states:  “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,”

This contradicts...nay, it PROVES that The Donald's and Pruitt's "beliefs" do not hold up in the face of cold hard facts.  The current administration has long denied that global warming and climate changes exists.

They don't have proof.  They just don't believe it.  Disputing it does not mean it is wrong, fellas!

The NYT article addresses the authors citing thousands of studies by tens of thousands of scientists have documented climate changes.  I learned of global warming and the greenhouse effect in the late 1970's.
“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” the scientists wrote in their draft.

Pruitt said in March  “No, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Again, no proof, just a statement.  

The EPA and 12 other agencies have until August 18 to approve the report, but it's no small stretch of the imagination that Pruitt and The Donald will try to kill it.  Or edit it to leave out the global warming stuff.

Kinda like W. back in 2003,  when he ordered WH officials to edit a similar report by the EPA and deleted all the data on climate change.

Remembering Haruo Nakajima (1929-2017)

Haruo Nakajima, probably the most famous actor in Japan, passed away yesterday at the age of 88.  His name might not sound familiar but everyone knows him as the man behind the monster, Godzilla.  Haruo donned the rubber suit for every Godzilla movie from the original in 1954 to Godzilla vs. Gigan in 1972.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vostok 2 returns to Earth after 1 day in orbit, 1961

August 7, 1961, Vostok 2 returned to Earth just one day after it blasted off from Baikinor in Russia.  The cosmonaut, Gherman Titov, is the youngest person to fly in space.  He was just shy of his 26th birthday when he made the journey.

He made 17 orbits, which surpassed Yuri Gagarin's one orbit on Vostok 1, just a few months earlier.  Titov was also the first astronaut to sleep in space (he napped for about 8 hours) and the first to film Earth from orbit, taking over 10 minutes of footage.

Titov is the first person to barf in space, giving rise to the term 'space sickness'.

Happy birthday, Jake Sisko!

Handsome Cirroc Lofton, born August 7, 1978, is best known by Trekkies as his portrayal of Jake Sisko, son of Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) on Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

I don't remember this scene where an evail Pah-Wraith has possessed Jake and is doing battle with a prophet who has possessed Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor).  Also appearing, Avery Brooks as Capt. Sisko, Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax and Louise Fletcher as Vedek Winn.  A truly stellar cast!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Mars 6, Soviet probe, launched 1973

Mars 6, a Soviet probe to the Red Planet, launched August 5, 1973.  It carried a lander which detached as Mars 6 flew past the planet March 12, 1974.  The spacecraft took pictures as it flew by at an altitude of 990 miles.

The lander transmitted data for 224 seconds as it descended through the Martian atmosphere.  A chip had degraded during the trip and the data was unusable.  The lander went silent just before touchdown.

Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, born 1930

Photo of Neil Armstrong, July 1969, in space suit with the helmet off

Neil Alden Armstrong, born August 5, 1930, was the first man on the moon in 1969.  He made his first space flight aboard Gemini VIII in March 1966 and his second (and last) flight on Apollo 11.  He uttered the famous line:

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon.

Armstrong passed away on August 25, 2012 after complications from coronary artery bypass surgery.  He was 82.

Below is a clip of the first moon landing with clips inserted of the lunar rover, which was not on Apollo 11.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Phoenix Mars Lander launched 2007

Phoenix landing.jpg

Phoenix Mars Lander, launched August 4, 2007, was the first successful landing of a spacecraft on Mars' north polar region.  It took 10 months to travel to Mars and is the first mission to the Red Planet to be led by a public university, University of Arizona in Tucson.  The Phoenix is a partnership of universities in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, the UK, NASA, the Candian Space Agency and Finnish Meteorological Institute.

It landed May 25, 2008 and completed its mission in  August but continued until November, when  the Martian winter set in.  NASA hoped it  would survive but as of May 2010 contact could not be re-established so Jet Propulsion Laboratory declared it dead.  Since Phoenix completed all of its goals, it has been considered a success.

One surprise was the observation of snow from cirrus clouds.  It had  to be water-ice because the Martian atmosphere and temperatures are not favorable for carbon dioxide ice to form.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Happy birthday, astronaut Joan Higginbotham!

Joan Higginbotham.jpg

Joan Elizabeth Higginbotham, born August 3, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois, is the third black woman in space, behind Mae Jemison and Stephanie Wilson.  She flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-116) as a mission specialist in December 2006.  It was the first shuttle mission to carry two African-American astronauts and the first time the ESA had two astronauts in space at the same time.

The inflatable BEAM module on ISS

AstroKomrade Randy Bresnik posted a pic yesterday of him entering the BEAM module on the International Space Station for the first time.  BEAM stands for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, which is an expandable habitat on the ISS.  Expandable components that can be used for living spaces require minimum payload volume and weight for liftoff, but once in space, and can be inflated to provide a comfortable place for astronauts to live and work. 

BEAM launched in April 8, 2016.  It was extracted from the space capsule’s “trunk” by a robotic arm and attached to the rear port on the Tranquility node.  In May, astronaut Jeff Williams inflated BEAM over the course of 7 hours.  While packed for launch, BEAM was 7 feet long and a little over 7 ½ feet in diameter.  Inflated to capacity, BEAM is over 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter.

Although it is meant for habitation, it is closed off to the station and astronauts will enter periodically to collect data on how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids and orbital debris.   As of May 2017, crewmembers have entered BEAM nine times in the last year.  They swap out passive radiation badges and collect microbial air and surface samples, all of which are sent back to Earth for analysis at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Halfway into its two-year demonstration, BEAM is showing soft materials can perform as well as rigid materials for habitation areas in space.  So far, researchers have found that cosmic radiation levels inside BEAM are comparable to other areas of ISS.  They have witnessed probably micrometeoroid debris impacts but its shielding has prevented penetration and exceeded space station shielding requirements.

Def Leppard releases "Hysteria" 1987

Def Leppard released their 4th studio album, Hysteria, August 3 1987, and has become their best-selling album to date.  It has received critical acclaim from all over the world, selling over 12 million albums (certifying it diamond, i.e. >10M) in the U.S. where it reached #1 on the Billboard 200.  Currently, it is the 51st best-selling album of all time.

According to Wikipedia, Q Magazine readers voted it the 98th Greatest Album of All Time.  In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it #464 on the list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time.

The album was released over 3 years after Pyromania, their breakout album, in 1983.  Drummer Rick Allen lost an arm after a car crash in 1984.  Producer Mutt Lange dropped out early in the album's production but returned a year later.  Lange was also involved in an auto accident but recovered quickly and Joe Elliott suffered a bout of mumps.  Still, they managed to pull off one of the greatest!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Oklahoman Editorial Board contradicts itself in supporting Pruitt

Once again, the medieval mindset at the Oklahoman Editorial Board, its lips firmly pressed against Scott Pruitt's backside, decries the evils of science in favor of profits for the rich.  In an editorial posted yesterday on, the OEB said citizens should "welcome" the changes at the EPA.  In  a typical narcissistic tone, they call opposition to the change "hysterical" and sending people into shock.  It's bullying tactic to call the opposition names.  And it's  childish.

It accuses the EPA of destroying businesses and ignoring important issues  such as Superfund sites.  True to fashion, the OEB did not offer  any examples of business that were destroyed by the EPA.  Which businesses were they?  Or does the OEB make up numbers like Pruitt. (Has anyone figured out where those 50,000 new jobs are?)

The example they do provide is for the Superfund site, saying the EPA has scandalously ignored this issue.  The EPA hasn't ignored it, fellas!  It's been bogged  down and delayed by bureaucratic red tape and corporations refusing to pay to clean up the messes they have made.  

Also, don't you think global warming and climate change  is a pressing issue, too?  Oh...right.  More of that science-y stuff.

The OEB goes on to say "fringe groups have threatened to file endless lawsuits to block the reforms now underway."  The National Resources Defense Council can hardly be described as a 'fringe group'.  They have filed lawsuits to keep industries from dumping mercury into our water and to keep pesticides from our environment.  

I  don't know about you but I tend to appreciate clean air and clean water.

But the best part of  the article:

Thanks to replacing coal with gas in generation of electricity, Pruitt noted, the United States is “leading the world” in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
This is credit to President Obama, not Pruitt, who has been pushing hard to roll back regulations on the coal industry, who has been touting all the new jobs in the coal industry. 

No, guys!  You owe the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions  to the man you love to hate!

Read the article here:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Soyuz TM-10 launched 1990

Soyuz TM-10 crew: Gennadi Manakov (L) and Gennady Strekalov

Soyuz TM-10, the tenth mission to the Soviet space station Mir, blasted off August 1, 1990.  It was Commander Gennadi Manakov's first flight and Flight Engineer Gennady Strekalov's fourth.  They took off with one passenger, but by the time they got to Mir, they had two.  A quail, which was aboard for some experiments, had laid an egg before they reached the station.

The quail and Toyohiro Akiyama, a reporter and the first Japanese in space, returned with the cosmonauts in December 1990 aboard Soyuz TM-11.

I could not find any videos of Soyuz TM-10 on Youtube, but here is the launch of Soyuz TM-11 which took Akiyama into space.

Happy birthday, Koichi Wakata (1st Japanese commander of ISS)!

Koichi wakata.jpg

Koichi Wakata, born August 1, 1963 in Japan, is the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station.   He trained as an astronaut for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and has flown on four space shuttle missions and one Soyuz mission, spending almost a year total in space.

He traveled to the ISS on Soyuz TMA-11M, November 2013 as part of Expedition 38.  He became commander of the ISS (the 3rd non-American, non-Russian commander) when Expedition 39 started in March 2014.  He returned to Earth in May 2014.