Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain


Although Olympic focus has been trained on Rio, the gringa would like to take the dear reader back in time and to the other side of the globe to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When China was preparing to host this historical event, pollution was high on the list of problems to solve. Although everyone is probably familiar with the tactic of temporary bans on driving & factory operations as drastic measures to help reduce smog. What many may not be aware of is China’s ambitious plans to control the weather, a $30 million dollar plan that they are still working on today. A plan to shoot into the heavens special “bullets” filled with salt and other minerals. What in the world are those crazy Chinese scientists up to? Apparently, nothing new! They’re just trying to make it rain.

Officially called “weather modification”, China helped clear their smog-filled skies during the Olympic games by making it rain, rain, rain. They are not alone in being rainmakers. Fifty-two other countries have developed their own rainmaking strategies. Ten of these countries joining the rainmaking team only five years ago. Rainmaking countries include: Canada, United States, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Australia, India, Senegal, South Africa, Russia and the list goes on. You can see the map created by the World Meteorological Organization to see who all is in on the rainmaking game.

The gringa is rather ashamed to admit that as for the United States, the origins of its weather modification program is not as noble as China’s. For the U.S., it all started with Operation Popeye which was a top secret program that weaponized weather during the Vietnam War. Although I’m sure the scientists who worked for General Electric had noble intentions, they probably had no idea that the U.S. government was going to take their technology and rain down silver iodide on the poor Vietnamese people.

But I digress. Back to China. In addition to creating rain to saturate polluted air and get rid of smog, they also wanted to prevent rain from spoiling events taking place in the stadium that was dubbed the “Bird’s Nest”. To achieve this amazing god-like feat, the Chinese implemented a 3 stage weather modification strategy:

  1. Officials tracked weather patterns with satellites, planes, radar and supercomputer.
  2. 2 aircraft, 20 rocket launcher & artillery sites sprayed silver iodide and dry ice into remote cloud systems that might approach the stadium so they would dump their rain before arrival.
  3. Nearby cloud systems filled with rain were seeded with chemicals that shrink the water droplets thus ensuring that the clouds would have time to pass over the Bird’s Nest without dropping their rain.

Now was all of this really necessary? The Beijing Olympics were held in August which is a high precipitation season for China so, yes, the gringa supposes that it was necessary. Consequently, China’s success in being a master rainmaker or rainstaller has resulted in China being the world leader in the weather modification sciences. They have more than 1,500 professionals devoted to all things necessary in controlling the weather: scientists, pilots, flight crews. Also proudly serving in the program are tens of thousands of peasant farmers who are more than happy to help their government blast away a cloud when crops have been inundated or have clouds seeded during times of drought. Peasants are on call to operate more than 7,000 aircraft guns and almost 5,000 rocket launchers when called to report to rainmaking duty.

The gringa is not too sure what to make of all this. For the most part I am the type to believe that the less we interfere with nature, the better. However, considering how bad mankind has screwed things up where climate change is concerned, it may just be that Mother Nature could use a few rainmakers. So, I say to the Chinese:

Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.

 

Sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.wmo.int

uspto.gov

fas.org

wikipedia.org/OperationPopeye

Image Credit:  cloudfront.net

 

 

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Launch Your Own Spacecraft


One wouldn’t usually think that a rock-n-roll music producer would be synonymous with space flight, but think again, dear readers. If you haven’t heard of Thirdman Records before, please let the gringa educate you on how this music production company deserves a place at the space traveling table and how you can earn a seat yourself. It’s all because of Icarus.

No, not the imprisoned Icarus of Greek mythology who escaped with his father using wax wings to fly skyward but then plummeted to his death after flying too near the Sun. The Icarus creation of Thirdman Records fared much better in its space travels. Celebrating their 7th Anniversary, the record company made music and space history by launching a specially designed turntable into space that was tethered to a spaceflight worthy balloon. Installed upon the turntable on a play loop was the company’s three millionth record, the recording “A Glorious Dawn” by Carl Sagan from composer John Boswell’s “Cosmos”.

Icarus made a successful journey that reached a peak altitude of nearly 95,000 feet above the earth and traveled for almost an hour and a half. As it reached the pinnacle of its flight the balloon burst and Icarus began its descent, controlled by parachute. The record played faithfully throughout the smooth ascension. Descent triggered Icarus to enter “turbulence mode” which raised the needle from the vinyl but the record continued to spin. When the entire space vehicle was recovered after setting down in a vineyard, the record, amazingly, was still spinning, a testament to sound design.

Now, record producers are not necessarily spaceship engineers. To achieve this mission, Thirdman friend and electronics consultant, Kevin Carrico, collaborated with SATINS (Students and Teachers in Near Space). The team needed to create a design that would not only operate successfully in a near space environment, but would also meet government standards established by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and FCC (Federal Communications Commission), whose approval is required in order to launch any space vehicle.

The design had to take into account that rising altitudes, a thinning atmosphere, temperature fluctuations and the vacuum of space would all be variables affecting the integrity of a vinyl record. It can melt or distort if it gets too hot or exposed to the Sun for too long. Temperature fluctuations create expansion and contraction which could render the record unplayable. As Icarus traveled in direct sunlight, the team designed the turntable so that it would cool the record as it played. To prevent distortion due to temperature fluctuations, the grooves of the vinyl were plated with gold.

From the moment the artists of Thirdman Records conceived of this ingenious anniversary event, it took three years of research and development to finally be ready by launch day. Carrico credits the project’s success to his father, Dr. John P. Carrico, PhD., a physicist who worked on NASA’s Mars-Viking missions. The gringa can fully appreciate how a father like that would inspire space dreams of epic proportions.

Anyone with the same kind of dreams can create their own work of art that they can launch into the heavens as a gift to any alien species that might happen upon it. Contact the FAA and FCC about their rules and guidelines regarding unmanned aircraft systems. Design your space vehicle to meet their guidelines then get approval for launch! Don’t forget to let the gringa know your launch date! I already approve!

Sources:

thirdmanrecords.com

www.faa.gov

www.fcc.gov

Image Source:  astrologyking.com

Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist


If the gringa were to attend a NASA recruitment conference, she would be sitting front and center. When the question was asked who would like to work for NASA the gringa would be the first to raise her hand and wave it like a madwoman. When the next question was asked, which would most certainly have something to do with appropriate qualifications and credentials, the gringa would then have to shamefacedly shrink into the background. No prestigious college degree here. But do all of us science fans have to live a life of utter disappointment and complete disenfranchisement of being a contributor to the world’s bank of scientific studies? The gringa is happy to announce that, no, we science buffs who, for whatever reasons, never achieved the glory of a diploma can still participate. NASA has many “citizen scientist” programs from astronomy observances to laboratory inventions of innovative technology. Take your pick. And, if you happen to live in the northeastern United States, you can be a part of a program that monitors algae blooms that develop in Lake Erie.

Your point of contact would be NASA’s senior scientist, Dr. Rafat Ansari. As the originator of the citizen science campaign, Ansari, along with airplane pilot Terry Schubert, work to mobilize citizen volunteers to monitor Lake Erie’s water quality as well as its coastline and conditions in related tributaries and waterways.

The goal of the program is to alert the coastal communities surrounding Lake Erie of conditions that contribute to algae blooms when they are in the early stages of development. Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

  • Pilots
  • Folks handy with a GPS
  • People who can operate wing mounted, infrared cameras
  • Detail whizzes that can collate data
  • Computer savvy geeks for uploading data
  • Anyone who has a cellphone with a camera and likes to take nature walks

Who, in particular, uses the data collected from the images?

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Water quality experts
  • Legislators

What’s the point? I mean, the gringa likes to look at cool pictures and read interesting facts and trivia, but how is the data actually useful?

  • Determine quality of a community’s water source
  • Predict if fish and game need protective measure to be taken to preserve environmental integrity and their survival
  • Alert the public if water conditions are unsafe for recreational use

Why is a citizen scientist program preferred to the amazing technology of satellites in orbit? The real time factor is the main reason. It takes data about three days to travel from satellites to Earth. Then there is more time involved in disseminating the data into usable information. Citizen scientists in low flying aircraft and on the ground can provide usable information within hours. They can also obtain images at lower altitudes that escape the abilities of orbiting satellites. Volunteers can also reach areas in rivers and streams that are simply not on a satellites “radar”, so to speak.

So, if you feel the need to contribute, this is a great opportunity. Even if you are not a pilot and don’t know any pilots to partner with, if you have a cellphone with photo capability, you are sufficiently equipped to engage. If you have snorkeling or scuba gear along with an underwater camera, that, too, is an angle of participation. For more information visit the NASA page for this program. Dear readers can take their time and read all the interesting information posted and then scroll down to the bottom for contact information to begin your new adventure as a citizen scientist.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

The UK’s Windowless Plane – What’s The Point?


Have the gringa’s dear readers seen the United Kingdom’s announcement of the future of flying? The gringa has and she would just like to know why no one bothered to ask her advice on what should be the new and improved planes of tomorrow. Windows are the least of my worries on board an airplane. Technicon Design engineers, however, seem to think differently. They believe their revolutionary design is just what the world of travel needs for the following reasons:

  • Reduced fuel costs
  • Reduced overall aircraft weight
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Enhanced aesthetics of airplane interior

What passengers will have instead of windows will be LED screens that will display the outside view, movies, or, heaven forbid, presentations (EGAD! Surely not!). Individual LED displays can be used for passenger convenience to place a service order with flight attendants or display personal images of choice.

While the uber-wealthy will get to enjoy this style of travel a decade before the rest of the world’s peons, the gringa is not all that impressed. Please let me complain, er, I mean, explain…

#1. Reduce fuel costs? Big deal. Every single time an airline finds a way to reduce cost, it is only for the benefit of the airline to maximize profit. I have yet to pay a single dime less for any airline ticket I have ever purchased. A roundtrip flight to Peru cost the gringa $600 a decade ago. Today, it’s about $800 on a good day. So, when airlines start saying things like, “This technology will reduce the cost of a ticket,” and it actually happens (because we’ve all heard that one before) the gringa will be sufficiently impressed.

#2.  Reduce overall weight? Again, big deal. The gringa could care less about how much an airplane weighs. They all fall like a rock  to oblivion below if anything goes wrong. When airlines report that they have developed an airplane design that is light as a feather and will float safely and gently to the earth in the event of mechanical difficulties, the gringa will be on board with that development.

#3. Reduce maintenance costs? Why should I care? It still has nothing to do with the price of oranges today. What the gringa really wants to hear is that a smart-plane has been developed that can detect an explosive device within a one mile radius. Aerospace engineers, are you hearing the gringa?

#4.  Enhanced aesthetics of the plane’s interior? Now that’s just a bunch of baloney. I want the dadburn window, okay? I mean a REAL window. Why the heck would a gravity bound Earthling give up the chance to see a REAL LIVE CLOUD close up? Are you out of your mind? If you really want to improve the aesthetics of the interior give us passengers more leg room for crying out loud! Give us a bathroom where we can really sit for awhile and enjoy ourselves. Give me an aisle wide enough that some stranger doesn’t get a face full of patootie as I pass by during a bit of turbulence. Good grief, engineers, where DO you get your inspiration?

So, even if they announce that all of the things they see as benefits will reduce the cost of flying, the gringa wants to know exactly “who” is supposed to enjoy the benefit of those cost reductions. Will it really be the passengers or will it be the stockholders? When the caveman and I can fly south and see his family for as much as we pay for a week’s worth of groceries, THEN and ONLY then, will the gringa be happy about giving up the up close and personal experience of clouds. The dear reader can view a video of the U.K.’s windowless Spike S-512 and decide for themselves.

Source & Image Credit:  www.telegraph.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operation Highjump – Not The Launch of a Dark Ops Space Program


Certain conspiracy theorists (CTs) have put forth that there is a dark ops space program called Dark Fleet that is an offshoot of technology and goals that originated with secret societies that organized during the heyday of Nazi Germany. The members of these organizations were not so much devoted Nazis but, rather, exploited the resources and power of the Nazi party in order to realize their fantastical dream of reuniting with a superpower, extra-terrestrial, master race.

After the Nazi empire crumbled when they lost World War II, many of the members of the secret societies relocated to other countries and kept their dreams and research alive, supposedly developing advanced weapons and spacecraft technology. As proof, CTs offer up the records of Admiral Byrd’s expeditions to the North and South Poles. The gringa says, “Well, let’s take a look at those records.”

There is a wealth of information about Admiral Byrd but the gringa wants to stick with facts and eyewitness accounts. To begin with, a look at official military records. Is there anything interesting there? Hmmm. Let us see…

From 1946-1947 the U.S. Navy had Operation Highjump underway. This operation was overseen by the U.S. Navy Antarctic Developments Program. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. was Officer in Charge, leading Task Force 68, and Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen was commanding officer. When these two admirals put to sea, they were joined by 4,700 seamen and airmen, 13 military ships, and 33 military aircraft. To achieve the goal of establishing a research base, Little America IV, it sounds like an awful lot of firepower was put into play, but, that’s just the gringa’s curious little mind in overdrive. It could have been perfectly normal to pack all that weaponry on an Antarctic excursion.

The published objectives of the mission were:

  • Personnel training and equipment testing in subzero temperatures
  • Evaluate how to establish, maintain and utilize Antarctic military bases and scout sites
  • Develop techniques for creating, maintaining and using military bases in ice
  • Make new discoveries of the following Antarctic conditions: electromagnetics, geological, geographic, hydrographic, and meteorological

Up until this time it was primarily the British who had spent time exploring Antarctica with eleven expeditions from 1898-1945. Other countries who had explored the earth’s South Pole region: France (2 missions); Germany (3) missions; Belgium, Japan, Norway, and Sweden (all a single mission). Operation High Jump was the second U.S. mission, following the conclusion of Byrd’s initial exploratory expedition four years earlier.

The fleet of ships arrived in the Antarctic December 12, 1946 and immediately set up weather monitoring stations. Within 12 days of arrival aircraft was in the air flying reconnaissance missions. Some of the ships that were in the flotilla:

  • Henderson – Destroyer class, commissioned in 1945 and served with distinction for 35 years receiving (8) battle stars for service in the Korean War and (7) battle stars and a commendation for service in the Vietnam War; armament at the time of Operation Highjump: (6) 5” guns, (12) 40mm anti-aircraft (AA) guns; (11) 20mm AA guns; (10) 21” torpedo tubes
  • Cacapon – Cimarron class fleet oiler; commissioned 1943, decommissioned 1973 and scrapped; armament: (1) 5” gun; (4) 3” guns; (4) twin 40mm AA guns; (4) twin 20mm AA guns
  • Currituck – Currituck class seaplane tender, nicknamed “Wild Goose”; commissioned June 1944, decommissioned October 31 1967, scrapped 1971; armament: (4) 5” guns

Eighteen days after arrival (3) men were killed when their plane crashed during a blizzard. Six crewmen survived the crash and were rescued two weeks later. The remains of the plane and the three lost airmen have never been recovered. The aircraft they were flying was a Martin PBM Mariner. This craft is a patrol bomber flying boat. Standard armament for the Mariners were: (8) 50” machine guns, 2 tons of bombs or depth charges or (2) Mark 13 torpedoes. The gringa can only ask why a bomber would be needed in an exploratory, scientific expedition in Antarctica?

An interesting thing to note is that there was a Navy chaplain serving on the mission. He held a religious service and consecrated Antarctica. The gringa scratches her head and wonders if this is typical or strange? I’m no Catholic so I wouldn’t know.

New Year’s Day, 1947, American dive team began exploring underneath Antarctic ice shelves. The gringa supposes this may have been related to search efforts to locate the downed bomber. No big mystery there.

Two weeks later an airfield was constructed and named “Little America IV”. Within a month, late February, weather conditions worsened and the expedition was terminated. The return trip home would have the expedition making a stop in March along the South American coast. Admiral Byrd gave interviews and a Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, reported. The most interesting quote the gringa will share is often cited by CTs to prove that something dark was afoot underneath the ice:

“… Byrd warned today that the United States should adopt measures of protection against the possibility of an invasion of the country by hostile planes coming from the polar regions.”

Now, was Byrd’s warning because he thought something sinister was going on secretly at either the North or South Pole? No. That’s not what his warning was about. CTs take that important quote out of context. They don’t usually reveal the rest of the interview which explains Byrd’s reasoning.

He recognized that technology meant the world was shrinking. America was no longer safe from enemy invasion because of isolation and distance. It was well within the capabilities of other nations to fly from one side of the globe, passing over either pole, and reach the U.S. Byrd was not fearful of a threat from an extra-terrestrial master race living within the earth and Antarctica being its headquarters.

So why all the firepower on an exploratory mission? It was right after World War II. The U.S. had already experienced the surprise air assault of Pearl Harbor. The militaries of the Allied Powers knew that Germany had been developing new weapons and technologies. The Navy had no idea what to expect and was taking no chances. The gringa says, “I don’t blame them.” So, no big suspicious, nefarious plot behind packing all the big guns on an expedition to Antarctica.

Just a few of the vessels that comprised the fleet’s complement:

  • Sikorsky R-4 helicopter
  • (2) Coastguard icebreakers
  • US Navy icebreaker
  • (2) Seaplane Tenders
  • (2) Destroyers
  • (2) Tankers
  • Battleship
  • (2) Supply ships
  • Submarine
  • Aircraft carrier (Byrd’s ship)

The gringa thinks that the main reason behind U.S. interest in Antarctica at that time is the same ol’, same ol’ imperialistic territory seeking mentality that has motivated the country’s interest throughout history. Great Britain had spent a lot of time in Antarctica. They also created all sorts of problems over the Falkland Islands. When the U.S. decided to stick their big nose in and establish a military base in Antarctica most of Latin America was none too happy about it.

The Cold War was getting under way and Russia was perfectly suited to wage war in the bitter conditions of a European winter. Americans? Not so much. So, according to official records the expedition to Antarctica was absolutely about military strategy. Not about little green men living under the ice. But, then, there’s Admiral Byrd’s personal diaries. What do they say? Well, come back and see what the gringa finds out!

Sources: Wikipedia and http://www.navy.mil

Photo credit: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz

 

 

X-Plane… Better than X-Men


Forget about X-Men and say hello to X-Plane. Now, of course, you want to know what the heck it is. X-Planes are NASA projects to produce all different types of aircraft that will be fueled with green energy, constructed of revolutionary materials and featuring innovative designs. Their energy consumption requirements and noise pollution contributions will be cut in half.

In response to Obama’s challenge to the agency to provide clean transportation, NASA launched the New Aviation Horizons initiative. The goal is to unveil experimental aircraft within a decade, hence the “X” of the X-Plane, and green aviation technologies.

Technology demonstrations have been happening for about six years now. With lightweight composite materials, shape changing wing systems, special coatings and revolutionary propulsion systems, researchers are predicting the airline industry will save hundreds of billions of dollars within the first two decades of putting the X-Planes into service.

In the future people will no longer be launched through the heavens in an aluminum tube. Hi-tech composite materials will create a craft where the wings blend into the body and have smart flaps that shape-shift to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Special surface coatings will reduce drag further by making it possible for things like bugs that get splatted, stick and disrupt fine aerodynamics to just slide their slimy guts right off the surface of the aircraft.

Engines will not be limited to being wing or tail mounted. They can also be a part of the fuselage. The gringa envisions literally flying through the clouds, straddling a rocket, bug guts never sticking to my teeth. Preliminary models of super-efficient subsonic aircraft depict elongated fuselages that are twice as wide as the average subsonic aircraft with narrow wings, electric propulsion and an embedded engine.

With the development of an X-Plane that is supersonic, those sonic booms heard from time to time will become a thing of the past, or at least a sonic “poof” is all that will be heard. With a propulsion system fueled by low carbon bio-fuel, aircraft will be much quieter as they break the sound barrier.

Depending on how things go, NASA expects the first of the X-Planes to be in service by 2020. This, of course, all depends on funding, field tests and the cooperation of airports, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

NASA test pilots have already performed successful test flights for the Tecnam P2006T. This Italian production aircraft features electric propulsion and is similar to some X-Planes already in development. One model is a hybrid concept integrating the wings into the aircraft fuselage and engines mounted at the top rear of the plane. The turbofan engines are flanked by two tails that serve as buffers to engine noise.

However, by following the lead of the Italians and focusing on electric propulsion, future commuter aircraft would be environmentally friendly and reduce noise pollution. One such model NASA is working on is called Sceptor (Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology and Operations Research). This aircraft is based on the Italian produced Tecnam P2006T. However, it is modified to have a different wing configuration that features integrated electric motors. Developers hope to test the performance of both the Tecnam P2006T and Sceptor and compare their capabilities. This goal is probably about three years away.

To test the experimental wings, they mount the wing to the top of an 18-wheeler truck cab and then drive like the dickens through the desert, reaching speeds in the 70 mph range, to simulate a wind tunnel. This allows researchers to gather data on drag, lift, pitching and rolling. I don’t know about you, but driving that truck sounds like fun. The gringa would like to have that job for a day.

Technology, aviation, chemistry, truck driving, computer modeling… the future for our youth has something for everyone. With each generation we need to cultivate the minds of our future scientists and innovators. And, with programs like X-Planes, what an inspiration for kids everywhere!

Source and Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

Houston Space Center Fun


Space Center Houston is only about an hour south of the gringa’s little barrio apartment. With the caveman and myself being empty-nesters, it has actually been awhile since we’ve visited. In the past, the ninos always had a wonderful and awe-inspiring experience (mamasita, too) whenever we would visit.

Today’s activities and programs offered that are designed to appeal to kids has some massive appeal to a grown-up gringa as well. I may have to take the time to make a visit.

This month Independence Plaza has its grand opening.  Visitors enter a replica of shuttle Independence that is mounted atop the original NASA 905 shuttle launch aircraft. It is the only shuttle in the world the public is allowed to enter and explore.

When I make my plans for a return visit, the gringa wants to make certain it’s on a Friday. Every Friday at 11am  and 1pm it is “Meet an Astronaut Friday”. Astronauts make a presentation and are then available for a question and answer session with the public. And, if you are so inclined (the gringa is), “Lunch With an Astronaut” offers an interesting cosmic dining experience. It’s casual, no spacesuit required. Fare is catered by NASA (wondering if freeze-dried ice cream is for dessert?).  Astronauts featured for February:

  • Tom Jones, February 5
  • Mike Foreman, February 12
  • Brian Duffy, February 19
  • David Hilmers, February 26

If you want to dine with some stars from the stars, NASA advises that you order tickets early because it is first come, first served. If you arrive early, or stay a bit longer, after lunch, you can enjoy the “Meet an Astronaut Friday” presentation.  Don’t forget your camera and let NASA know in your reservation if you have any special dietary requirements.

And, if that doesn’t sound fascinating enough, the center opens a new exhibit February 13 that was designed by Scitech of Australia fame. This is the public’s big chance to pilot an airplane or drive a hovercraft. There are other interactive things to do in this exhibit but the gringa mentions her two favorites. Visitors are invited to explore travel and transportation technologies that have been around for years as well as new, emerging technologies.

And, if that’s not good enough for you, you can go on the Level 9 Tour as a VIP. The gringa believes she definitely ranks VIP status. VIPs get behind-the-scenes access on this five-hour tour which takes visitors through the astronaut training center and mission control for the ISS. Tickets for this tour need to be made in advance because only twelve people daily are allowed.

The gringa’s birthday is coming up and I’m pretty sure tickets for lunch with an astronaut and a Level 9 Tour are at the top of my birthday to-do list. The caveman may have quite a pout if he has to compete for my attention over lunch, but, my outer space madness is just all part of my charm.

Source: spacecenter.org

Photo credit: www.collectspace.com