Space, the Final Frontier

Space holds some of the last vestiges that have yet to be ‘concurred’ by humans.  Yet, interestingly, a major contributing factor to why we don’t have a man on Mars may surprise you.

Courtesy of Astrodigital.org, a quarky (pun intended) concept of why our manned-space program has failed to venture farther than the moon (that I’ve done nothing to verify for accuracy!):

Say friend, did you know that the US Standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches.

That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

I see, but why did the English build them like that?

Because the first railway lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Well, why did they use that gauge in England?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did their wagons use that odd wheel spacing?

Because, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads. Because that’s the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

So who built these old rutted roads?

The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The Roman roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts?

The original ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first made by the wheels of Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.

And the moral of the story is Specifications and bureaucracies live forever.

So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s ass came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war-horses.

So, just what does this have to do with the exploration of space?

Well, there’s an interesting extension of the story about railroad gauge and horses’ behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on the launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are the solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at a factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad from the factory runs through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than a railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So a major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was originally determined by the width of a horse’s ass.

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Space Trivia courtesy of KVOA.com in commemoration of the last shuttle launch. Heads up, this is a toughy, no multiple choice this time. I also abridged this from the original trivia which has a lot more questions, if you want the full-meal deal click the link above. Answers at the bottom of the page.

1. Who was the only U.S. President to be at a shuttle launch?

2. Only one Gemini capsule was given a name; which one?

3. Which astronaut was the only one of the Mercury 7 astronauts to fly in all three of NASA’s ‘Moon Shot’ programs (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo)?

4. How fast was the Galileo spacecraft going when it enters Jupiter’s atmosphere?

5. How long does it take for the Sun’s light to reach the Earth?

6. Who was the first American Astronaut to ride aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket?

7. The word “Ozone” comes from what Greek word?

8. How many of the original Mercury 7 astronauts walked on the moon?

Hubble: Orion Nebula

9. Who was the first African-American to perform spacewalk?

10. The Hubble Space Telescope is one of NASA’s “Great Observatories.” What are the other three?

11. Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah) was a Payload Specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-51-D. Who was the second elected official to fly aboard a Space Shuttle?

12. What are Saturn’s rings made of?

13. What is the largest interplanetary spacecraft ever built?

14. Who was the last NASA Astronaut to live aboard Mir?

15. What number one hit country song from 1970 was re-recorded in Russian and played in space during the Apollo- Soyuz Mission?

16. Who was the first American woman astronaut to perform a spacewalk?

17. How many pictures did Mariner 4 take of Mars?

18. How many days was Sojourner known to operate on the Mars Surface?

19. How did the Mercury capsules get their name?

20. Where were the Voyager spacecraft launched from?

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UPDATE:  As this was the last maned space launch I’m including this article I found on cracked.com

7 Awesome Images That Will Make You Mourn the Space Shuttle.

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CollegeHumor.com loves to make up fake Facebook wall posts, so I’m pilferin’ like a villain here.

Okily dokily, I’ve also sent these out before from College Humor on a prior Friday Funny, but at the risk of being redundant I’m giving them to you again because they are so gosh darn funny. 🙂

Star Trek, of course, has some parodies of their own (not including all the porn I stumbled across 😦 major gross). Personally I’m a bigger fan of the original Star Trek and their movies then the Next Gen or following revamps of gosh half a dozen?  Lets see, Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, I feel like I’m missing one, kind of like I would miss my appendix…  I did enjoy the Star Trek remake with the ‘young’ cast however, but I’m a sucker for Spock.

Shatner and Nimoy read Mad Magazine's parody of themselves

Speaking of parodies and other great space movies/TV, both serious and funny, lets look at my personal list of favorites.

From Venetian Princess on YouTube she parodies the Britney Spears song, (click! —>) Womanizer for all Sci-fi and Fantasy lovers.

Followed closely by Phineas and Ferb (Disney kid’s show) that mocks Sci-Fi lovers vs. Fantasy lovers called “Nerds of a Feather.” Please watch the whole cartoon, you’ll like it, I promise.

Parody of Cops called “Troops” you can see what happened from the Storm Troopers perspective on Youtube.com (<—- click the link for your viewing pleasure).

How Star Wars Episode IV should have ended from the folks at How It Should Have Ended on YouTube.com (<—- click the link)

How The Empire Strikes Back should have ended, (<—- click) same creative geniuses.

Aaaaaannnnd Star Trek: How It Should Have Ended,(<—- click) again, same dudes/gals of HISHE.

Here is a long, but totally worth it, parody called Thumb Wars (<—- click). Every once in a while I just like to shout out, “I’m NAKED!” because of this video.  You have to watch to understand.

Now for the great Sci-Fi: both intentionally well-written and happy accidents, you can’t find on YouTube. I recommend (assuming some of you have not watched the originals) to use Netflix for the movies or maybe even the TV series or make a Nerd Friend, we’ll hook you up.

This list is in no particular order, and mostly  just a stream of consciousness demonstration as my mind reeled from one movie/show to the next. 🙂

STAR TREK original show/movies: LOL! Yes, I’m going to be cliche here, watch only the even numbered movies, except III Search for Spock because it helps explain why he’s a little daffy in IV.

I want to have your 3/4 human babies.

STAR TREK: Revamped (2009), you can watch the Next Gen ones if you like, I enjoyed them, but not as much as the original cast ones. The revamp is nice, edgy, and gives me my Spock fix, both ‘new’ and ‘old’ so, yeah, I was a happy camper.

GALAXY QUEST: First watch the Star Trek movies above, then you must watch Galaxy Quest, with Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Segourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and a bunch of great supporting cast.  Caulked full of funny, if you like Star Trek you’ll love Galaxy Quest. Sam Rockwell steals the show playing a ‘no-name’ ensign called Guy that thinks he’s going to die at every turn, a total nod to the deaths dolled out to the red-shirted ensigns of Star Trek. My favorite line, and it’s hard to choose, “Let’s get out of here before one of those things eats Guy.” ~Sigourney Weaver as Gwen DeMarco.

ALIEN and ALIENS: Do not waste your time watching any sequels beyond that. Pretty friggin’ awesome as far as horror meets sci-fi meets hatred for corporate muckity-mucks. “MOTHER!” and “They mostly come out at night, mostly.” Are some classic one-liners along with the knife scene where Bishop takes a knife and dashes it between the fingers of Bill Paxton’s character (who BTW is in the Predator 2 movie, which is sort of like time travel, right?) Note: I read somewhere that when Segourney Weaver accepted her role above in Galaxy Quest she insisted on being a blonde saying, “If I’m going to go up in space again, dammit, I’m going as a blonde this time.”

BABYLON 5: The writers of LOST have secret wet dreams that they were half as talented as the writers and creator of Babylon 5. Created, produced and largely written by J. Michael Straczynski the show aired for 5 seasons with a coherent story arc from beginning to end.  FIVE SEASONS they carried a bunch of innuendo and secret implications and finished the whole damn thing off in the end and didn’t leave shit out and even messed a little with time travel. TIME TRAVEL; the holy death knell for any sci-fi show. Pulled it off I tell yah’!  Mean while they had their own mini-story arcs to keep you interested in the regular day-to-day/season. Like I said, LOST cries itself to sleep at night dreaming about what Babylon 5 achieved. Note: Mira Furlon actually was on Babylon 5 and LOST, I wonder how she feels about that. Walter Koenig (Chekhov from Star Trek Original) has a reoccurring role as a bad guy. 🙂

FIREFLY (TV) and SERENITY(movie): Created by Joss Whedon, Firefly is a cross between wild-west and sci-fi.  I know that sounds campy, but it wasn’t, it was awesome. My friend, Michael, introduced me to the series via DVD and I watched them in the intended order that they were meant to be seen (they were aired out of sequence). Awesome!  I’ll just state that again.  One of those TV series that was canned early because people who run the line-up for TV shows are ass-hats (I’m looking at you FOX) who also cancelled shows like Dark Angel and Family Guy.  The out-cry from the nerd-community was so overwhelming it spear-headed the green light for Serenity the movie based on the TV show that ties up the loose-ends where the show dropped off.

I shall now quote Robert Brockway from Cracked.com:

Nerds suddenly felt like the entire world had turned upside down; it was like entering Jaynestown (that’s 14 Nerd Points! We’re going to level up into Geeks any minute now). Bespectacled women in brown trench-coats sobbed hysterically in the corners of darkened rooms, listening to “You Can’t Take the Sky From Me” on endless repeat. And really, nobody else cared. They were just nerds, right? They’re always whining about something. Ignore them, maybe throw them a Star Trekmarathon or get a girl to talk to them or something; they’ll go away.

But thanks to the word of mouth on the web, DVD sales skyrocketed; organized email campaigns flooded the networks and the show leapfrogged the entire medium of television, and became an actual big budget Hollywood movie. That’s like being fired from Burger King and then getting re-hired as official blowjob tester for Ice Cream Island.

STAR WARS A NEW HOPE, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI: If you have not seen Star Wars frankly you probably won’t have made it this far down my article because you don’t give a flying Yoda at a rolling Sith Lord about Sci Fi enough to care. But, should you have simply not found the time to have seen the originals please do so. F* the ‘new’ episodes, just stick with the oldies, watch them all  retooled, digitized and remastered. Watching the original three movies should be a requirement to becoming an American.  It’s like going to Disney Land and NOT going on the ride “It’s a Small World After All.”  It’s like required reading in high school: Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Pride and Prejudice. It’s classic.

V: Original Series; I didn’t bother with the remake they recently had. V is Old School, as in chalk-boards and tying your books with an old-belt whilst you walked to the one-room school-house by the creek up hill both ways, old school. I saw it when I was a little kid, it freaked me out.

PITCH BLACK and CHRONICLES of RIDDICK: The dark horse of Sci Fi. The break-out roll for Vin Diesel was good action fun. Chronicles of Riddick was stylish, in my mind, and was filled with beautiful people; Vin Diesel (of course), Karl Urban (Eomer from LOTR), Thandie Newton, and Alexa Davalos beautify the screen with their beautifulness.

BATTLESTAR GALATICA: Old and New. I’ll admit I’ve not seen the remake, but I’ve heard enough to believe it is a pretty good class of show. The original I saw in syndication as a kid and it was a good time to enjoy brainless sci-fi.

STARGATE: Um, awesome! The TV shows were good too, both, SG1 and Atlantis (I could not get into the SG-Universe, the hand-held camera action was too Blair Witch for me). My only complaint was that the trailer for Stargate used a techno version of “O Fortuna” (click to listen) that was not in the movie and I was so looking forward to the mix of Opera with action. This is also the only time I have found James Spader even slightly attractive.  Kurt Russel is almost always attractive, so that goes without saying.

SOLDIER: I’m only putting this here because I said Kurt Russel up there.

THE FIFTH ELEMENT: Speaking of opera and action; this movie has a real operatic aria that is truly sung by a classically trained opera performer in blue pleather whilst Milla Jovovich kicks some alien ass (Sorry it’s in a different language (Italian?)on youtube, but it’s the best version I could find for the full aria + fight scene). Bruce Willis is also in the movie, if that’s your thing, but mostly it’s all about Milla; the fifth element.

SPACE BALLS: Flying Winnebago. “Nothing worse than a Druish Princess.”  “My name is Barf, I’m a MOG; part man, part dog, I’m my own best friend.” “May the Schwartz be with you.” “I see your Schwartz is as big as mine.” “Ludicrous Speed!” Those are just off the top of my head. Mel Brooks wouldn’t steer you wrong.

TOTAL RECALL: I debated putting this on my list.  It’s not a favorite of mine, but it’s still a classic.  Not Star Wars/To Kill a Mocking Bird classic, more like Anne of Green Gables.

DUNE: “SPICE!” OK, I’ll be honest, I’ve never made it all the way through this one, please don’t revoke my sci-fi nerd card. It’s a David Lynch movie and he’s a little nutty for my tastes.

BLADE RUNNER: Right behind Dune for movies that are not my favorite so I’m posting under slight duress only because I don’t want the back-lash for not mentioning it.

AEON FLUX: Originally an animated show on MTv the movie has Charlize Theron in it and actually does a pretty good job. She’s no Milla though.

PREDATOR: I’m cheating here, it’s action, I mean there’s an alien in the movie, but it’s more horror/action than sci-fi. I don’t care, it’s one of my favorites, and I cannot explain why. For a good time pick up the book “Aliens vs. Predator prey,” (link to Amazon.com. Written by a father/daughter team) and skip the movies by the same name.

TERMINATOR / T2: OK, I cheated with Predator, so I’ll go ahead and cheat with this one too, technically it’s Sci-Fi since it messes with some time-travel, though truly it’s just an action movie.  Guilty pleasures abound for these two movies including Linda Hamilton buffing up for T2 and her own twin sister does the ‘duplicate’ work to mirror her when the T2 imitates Sara Conner. IMO don’t bother with the other sequels, and it pains me to say that because Christian Bale is so, so tasty.

Linda and Leslie Hamilton

Now you are thinking, “Well, that’s a really long list.  Maybe it would be just easier if you told us what NOT to watch.”

Sure, I can do that for you.

EVENT HORIZON: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WATCH THIS MOVIE UNLESS YOU ARE INTO SOFT-CORE SNUFF FILMS. Over-dramatic?  Not really.  This movie holds the record as being the ONLY movie I’ve ever walked out of part way through.

Hope you all enjoyed my blathering about sci-fi. TTFN!

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Space trivia answers:

1. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton watched John Glenn’s return to Space on STS-95 on Oct 29, 1998 from the Kennedy Space Center.

2. The first capsule was called Molly Brown by Astronaut Gus Grissom.

3. Wally A. Schirra was the only man to fly in all three projects. Alan Shepard flew in Mercury and Apollo, but not in Gemini. Gus Grissom was involved in all three project, flying in Mercury and Gemini, but he was killed during a pre-flight simulation in his Apollo 1 capsule, so he never actually flew in the Apollo program.

4. The probe was traveling 108,000 miles per hour or 30 miles per second.

5. The Sun is about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers, away from the Earth. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, therefore it takes a little over 8 minutes for the Sun’s light to reach the Earth.

6. Dr. Norm Thagard.

7. Ozein, which means “smell”, a reference to the chemical’s odor.

8. Although three of the Mercury 7 flew in the Apollo program, only one, Alan Shepard, walked on the moon.

9. On Feb. 9, 1995, Dr. Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space.

10. The Chandra X-ray Observatory (1999-present), the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (1991-2000) and the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (launched 2003).

11. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) was a member of Congress when he flew aboard STS-61C which flew in1986.

12. The rings are made of chunks of water ice ranging in size from dust to large houses.

13. Cassini, currently on its way to Saturn.

14. Andy Thomas was the seventh and last U.S. Mir astronaut. He spent 141 days in orbit.

15. The song “Hello Darlin'” by Conway Twitty, was played in Russian all around the world.

16. Astronaut Kathy Sullivan, was first U.S. woman to perform a spacewalk during STS-41G.

17. Mariner 4 took about 20 pictures of Mars.

18. 86.

19. Each astronaut named his capsule and added the numeral 7 to denote the teamwork of the original astronauts. (Freedom, Liberty Bell, Friendship, Aurora, Sigma, Faith)

20. Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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