Blastoffs, Landings, Moonwalks and You – WIF Space Travel

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Unusual Aspects

of NASA’s

Apollo Missions

In July 1969 – five decades ago, and just eight years after President Kennedy challenged the United States to land a man on the moon – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin accomplished the task to international fanfare. They were of course just the tip of the sword. The lunar landings were a massive accomplishment, supported by an international network of communication stations and strategically located ships. It had required advances in the preparation of food and the disposal of waste; the exact determination of contingencies beyond the ken or caring of most of humanity. It was a scientifically determined exercise which required, at the end, the courage of three men strapped atop what was essentially an enormous bomb. At the time, only a few unmanned vehicles had been dispatched to the moon, and more than a few had failed spectacularly.

Scientists, engineers, mathematicians, cooks, tailors, technicians, administrators, politicians, and virtually every discipline known to humanity had contributed to the effort, striving to consider in advance every potential contingency and have in place the means to deal successfully with whatever event may arise. Fifty years later much of their efforts can be viewed as nearly quaint, particularly when one compares the computing power of one’s smartphone with that of the Lunar Excursion Module, which carried Armstrong and Aldrin to the surface of the moon and returned them to rendezvous with their colleague, Michael Collins, in lunar orbit. As with all of humanity’s great leaps forward, there are many aspects little remembered, but which were a part of the event and the community which accomplished it. Here are just a few.

10. NASA took steps to protect the Earth from moon germs, but they weren’t foolproof

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the only two men of Apollo 11 to walk on the moon, but upon their return to the mission’s Command Module they were reunited with fellow astronaut Michael Collins. Thus it was determined by whomever determined such things that all three astronauts could have been exposed to unknown microorganisms while on their journey, and that it was a wise precaution to isolate the three astronauts from the rest of the human race upon their return to earth, at least for a short time. Accordingly NASA constructed a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) to house the three upon their return, and it was waiting for them aboard USS Hornet. It was, essentially, an Airstream trailer which had been properly modified. Since they had made contact with other humans as part of exiting the spacecraft floating merrily in the Pacific, those potentially contaminated worthies joined them in the trailer.

Within the confines of the Airstream – which was actually built by Airstream – the three astronauts were seen via television chatting with American president Richard Nixon. What the public did not see was that the astronauts, and those recovery personnel isolated with them, were doing what many vacationers did when temporarily residing in their Airstreams. They were enjoying martinis. Perhaps it was the alcohol which stymied lunar pathogens, or perhaps it was a bit of over-caution on the part of NASA officials, but after three weeks the quarantined men were allowed to return to the life of the living, having exhibited no ill effects caused by moon germs (Not all the time was spent in the Airstream. They were transferred to a larger isolation facility after being flown to Houston). After Apollo 14 (the Apollo 13 astronauts were not quarantined, having never reached the moon) isolating the astronauts upon return was deemed to be unnecessary.

9. A piece from the Wright Brothers’ airplane was carried to the moon by Neil Armstrong

Humanity first achieved powered heavier than air flight in December 1903, when Wilbur and Orville Wright launched their Flyer into the air at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Less than 66 years later the first men walked upon the surface of the moon. Millions of people who were alive when the first flight was accomplished were still alive to see men on the moon. Neil Armstrong, like the Wrights, was an Ohioan, and it was his decision to take to the moon with him a tribute to the men who had not only achieved the first flight, but had developed the principles of control which still determine the ability to fly. To do so he enlisted the help of the Museum of the United States Air Force, also located in Ohio, and obtained pieces of the Wright Flyer, one of muslin fabric from the left wing of the aircraft, the other a piece of wood from the left propeller.

Armstrong took advantage of an authorized piece of equipment carried by the astronauts known as the PPK – NASA speak for the Personal Preference Kit. Basically it was a purse, made of Teflon coated fabric, and roughly the size of a standard lunch box. The space travelers were limited to five pounds or less of personal items, which they were allowed to carry to the moon and back. Although no one knows for certain what else Armstrong took with him to the moon (there has been speculation that personal items which had belonged to his late daughter were carried) the pieces of the Flyer which went to the moon were brought back with him. Both the swatch of fabric and the piece of wood are in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington today, having been, like a man, taken to the moon and returned safely to earth by the end of the decade, as President Kennedy had challenged.

8. The Apollo Program missions were a massive undertaking in terms of workers

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of people who directly supported the Apollo program and its accomplishment of landing Americans on the moon. Earlier programs, from which some workers had already retired, were essential to the success of Apollo, though they are not usually counted. By the time of the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969, NASA had already been subjected to cutbacks in other programs. The United States military also provided active duty personnel, particularly the US Navy, whose ships provided the recovery vessels for retrieving returning astronauts and their spacecraft. Other military organizations used the Apollo missions (and other space missions) to hone their missile tracking skills as part of their continuous training towards stymieing the Soviets during the ongoing Cold War. So a true number is somewhat difficult to pin down when counting those who made Apollo a success.

At least 400,000 men and women were directly involved in the successful landing on the moon. Whether this number considers those who were tangentially involved – such as those who prepared the recipe for a space dinner – is debated. Regardless, the effort was truly a national one, involving contractors and subcontractors from virtually every American state. President Kennedy had exhorted “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal” and the nation responded in a manner not seen since the industrial buildup during the Second World War, and unfortunately, not seen since. Each Apollo space mission, including all of the components of the boosters and the Apollo system itself, comprised over 5.5 million individual parts, any of which could have led to a catastrophic failure and the loss of the lives of the three men which rode the system into space.

7. Astronauts returning from the moon signed customs forms asserting items to declare

When Apollo 11 returned from the moon – in the form of the three astronauts and the Command Module, the rest of the equipment remained in space or on the moon – the astronauts were treated to the trappings common to heroes in American tradition. They were visited by the President of the United States. They were interviewed by the press, radio, and television. They were given ticker tape parades and the keys to the city by American towns. Streets were renamed in their honor. Later so were schools, parks, museums, highways, and other sites. But before enjoying any of the perks derived from their mission, they were subjected to the bureaucratic nonsense which is all too often part of modern life (after their period of isolation in the Airstream, that is).

The first men to return from the moon returned to US territory via the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. From there they were flown, ensconced in their Airstream, to Honolulu, then Houston, where they entered the more spacious isolation facility. While in Honolulu they filed forms claiming that they were re-entering the United States with items to declare to customs. The items were dust and rocks collected from the lunar surface. They also had to state, as all international travelers do, their travel itinerary, and they described it as being from Cape Kennedy to Honolulu, with a stopover on the moon. All three astronauts signed the form, declaring it to be “complete, exact, and true” as if they could have possibly deviated, having just completed what was the most closely monitored trip of all time.

6. The Apollo 11 astronauts were among the most closely watched television personnel in history

Apollo 11 provided some of the most dramatic television scenes in history, presented by the astronauts themselves as they continued on their journey, and emphasized by network personnel hosting the broadcasts. Walter Cronkite – an unabashed fan of the American space program – spent hours explaining events as the mission wound on, and his competitors at the other networks did the same. Regularly scheduled television broadcasts were bumped to allow events from space to be viewed by the American public (who were paying for them through their taxes) as well as by the rest of the world. When Neil Armstrong stepped down the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module, named Eagle by the astronauts, it was seen live on television. So were his early steps on the moon, undoubtedly the most dramatic footage yet created.

It should be no surprise then, to learn that a broadcast prepared by NASA and the astronauts engaged on a space mission should be the recipient of an Emmy award. But it went to the astronauts of an earlier Apollo mission, Apollo 7 in October 1968. Apollo 7 never left earth orbit as the astronauts went on an eleven day mission which tested the components of the program’s Command Module. Astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham were awarded a special Emmy award that year for their nightly broadcasts of what came to be known as the “Wally, Walt, and Donn Show,” during which they demonstrated eating in space and other daily evolutions. Later Schirra revealed that he had wanted to televise astronauts using the relief tube to answer the call of nature while in orbit, but his bosses in Houston demurred.

5. When astronauts needed clothes that moved with them, a bra manufacturer came to the rescue

As early as 1962 NASA was evaluating and testing spacesuits to be worn by the Apollo astronauts, cognizant of the fact that unlike suits to be worn only within the confines of a space capsule, the Apollo astronauts would require better range of motion and comfort. Of particular concern were the suits to be worn by the astronauts on the surface of the moon. Two companies led the bidding process to produce the Apollo suits, International Latex Corporation and Hamilton Standard. Hamilton tried to muscle ILC out of the process, but Hamilton’s spacesuits failed to make the grade required by NASA, with a great deal of the criticism coming from the astronauts themselves (the astronauts were heavily involved in all aspects of crew comfort and safety throughout the manned space program). ILC became the lead developer and manufacturer of space suits, a position it retains in the 21st century.

ILC is better known by its current name, Playtex. In 1962 it was a subsidiary of Playtex, known primarily as a manufacturer of two types of women’s undergarments, brassieres and girdles. Although girdles are all but unknown in current women’s fashions, in 1962 they were still considered a foundation (ahem) of the lingerie industry. The suit produced for the Apollo astronauts weighed just over 100 pounds minus the astronaut, and when the latter and his support pack were included the total was around 500 pounds, depending of course on the weight of the astronaut. It is a little known fact that at the same time the women’s lib movement was beginning to exhort their sisters to burn their bras, a suit designed and made by a bra manufacturer was preventing astronauts from being burned up in space. By the way, as of 2019, Playtex no longer manufactures girdles, preferring to concentrate on something called shaping wear.

4. Some of the astronauts carried contraband to the moon

America’s astronauts had an established history of smuggling unauthorized objects into space with them, to the everlasting frustration of their earthbound bosses. John Young once flew into space (Gemini 3) taking along a corned beef sandwich, mostly as a joke on his traveling companion, Gus Grissom. Both astronauts took bites from the sandwich before concerns over errant crumbs forced Young to return it to his pocket. The incident drew debate in the House of Representatives and other political posturing and drew Young a reprimand, though according to Young it was neither the first nor the last sandwich to be smuggled into space by astronauts less than enthralled with the NASA prepared official cuisine available. Alan Shephard took smuggling contraband a step further. He took along a golf club on his journey to the moon.

Specifically, he took the head of a six iron, specially modified by an accomplice (a Houston golf pro named Jack Harden) to fit an authorized piece of equipment to serve as a shaft. In the manner of golfers everywhere, Shephard also smuggled along golf balls with great secrecy, enabling him to play while his spouse thought him at work. While on the lunar surface, Shephard took out club and balls, and became the only man to hit a golf ball (thus far) while standing on the moon. According to Shephard, he shanked the first shot. On his mulligan he hit the ball “flush and it went at least 200 yards”, nice distance for a one-handed shot while wrapped in an over one-hundred pound Playtex space suit. The United States Golf Association Museum in New Jersey has the modified six iron, donated to it by Shephard at the suggestion of Bing Crosby. The balls still lie on the surface of the moon. Shephard never revealed to the world what brand they are.

3. Communion has been taken, but not served, on the surface of the moon

The second man to set foot on the surface of the moon was Edwin E. Aldrin, known to his fellow astronauts as Buzz. Aldrin was, in addition to being a veteran combat pilot (he flew 66 missions in Korea, shooting down two enemy planes), the first astronaut to hold a PhD (Astronautics, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and a veteran of walking in space, an Elder at Webster Presbyterian Church. While on the surface of the moon and while awaiting his commander’s first steps on the lunar surface, Aldrin took communion, an event witnessed by a respectful Neil Armstrong, who did not participate. Aldrin took communion in the form of both water and wine, with the foreknowledge of mission controllers on the ground. The event was kept from the media at the time, since NASA was already involved in a lawsuit regarding the astronauts having read from the Bible during the mission of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968, an event broadcast to the earth on television.

Aldrin used a communion kit which had been presented to him by the pastor of his church. He poured the communion wine into a vessel and reported on the qualities it displayed in the severely lower gravity as a matter of scientific observation. Many years later (in 2009) Aldrin reflected that had he the opportunity to repeat his act, he would not do so, since the rite was a Christian one and thus not reflective of the mission’s self-stated intent to be for “all mankind.” There are other examples of astronauts taking part in religious rites while deployed in space, particularly on the space shuttle missions and while serving aboard the International Space Station, but Aldrin’s communion is the only such act to have been performed on the surface of the moon.

2. Humanity has left tons of trash and refuse on the surface of the moon

For the most part, the moon and Las Vegas have in common that what happens there stays there. There have been six manned moon missions, all completed by the United States. Twelve men, all Americans, have trod upon the lunar source. No man has ever gone back. Nearly all of the equipment taken to the moon by the missions was left behind. In return for the soil samples and rocks which Americans took from the lunar surface, left behind have been cameras, flags, shovels and other small tools, the bases of the six lunar modules, lunar rover excursion vehicles (yes, there are abandoned cars on the moon), and a host of other detritus. At least one bird feather remains there (falcon) and a hammer. The two items were used in an experiment mirroring those of Galileo, and then left to lay.

The Apollo missions aren’t the only source of man-made detritus on the moon, many unmanned space missions which reached the moon are of course still there, some of them Soviet property, making America not the only earthbound nation to litter the moon. Most estimates are that there are upwards of 400,000 tons of earth-made trash lying around,waiting for the next lunar explorer to encounter. In fact there is so much trash on the moon that missions to recover some of it have been proposed, as a means of studying the long term impacts of radiation and the lunar environment on man-made materials. The NASA History Program Office maintains an inventory of items known to have been abandoned or lost on the moon, visible online. Among the items listed is a Gold Olive Branch (sic) and just a bit lower on the same page, a Defecation Collection Device.

1. Armstrong and Aldrin both claimed that they could smell the lunar surface

Beginning with Armstrong and Aldrin, and confirmed by subsequent lunar explorers (unanimously) the surface of the moon had, or has, a unique but readily noticeable smell. First noticed by the Apollo 11 astronauts at the end of their first stroll around Tranquility Base (as they named the landing site in July 1969), it remained a subject of discussion among the small fraternity of men who have seen the earth while standing on the moon. The astronauts all noticed the smell upon re-pressurizing the cabin of the lunar module, allowing them to remove their helmets. Dust and other residue present on their boots, suits, and gloves gave off the smell, which several likened to gunpowder. Spent gunpowder. An interesting phenomena is that the smell is not detected emanating from lunar samples examined back on earth. It was only present in the lunar module, shortly after completion of re-pressurization.

While all of the astronauts who walked on the moon agreed on the existence of the smell and its similarity to the odor of gunpowder, none have ever agreed to explanations of what the smell was, or why it was not replicated when examining samples on earth. But the smell was bothersome at the time, as some scientists believed that lunar dust collected by the astronauts could spontaneously combust when exposed to oxygen, a worry not lost on Armstrong and Aldrin. Armstrong collected a handful of dust while on the moon, depositing it in a pocket rather than a sample bag, and placed it on a flat surface while the LEM was re-pressurized for the first time, ready to act should the sample begin to smolder. It did not, and the two astronauts returned to earth. The strange smell of the moon is a mystery which began, rather than ended, with man’s first trip to the moon.


Blastoffs, Landings, Moonwalks and You –

WIF Space Travel

Getting Sphinx-y W/You – WIF Like an Egyptian

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Mysteries of Egypt’s

Great Sphinx

of Giza

When the soldiers of Rome first encountered the Sphinx they gazed upon an ancient structure which was already older than the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire are today. Staring with mouths no doubt agape in wonder, they likely formulated questions which for over two millennia have remained largely unanswered. What was it? Who built it? Why? The great head which appeared before them (the body of the Sphinx was buried in the desert sands, unseen for hundreds of years before and after the Romans visited) may have retained the colors applied by its builders, adding to the mystery which stood before them. Or they may have already been scoured away by the sands of the desert and of time.

Since its rediscovery the Sphinx has added to its mysteries, with every proposed answer and theory leading to others, yet more secretive. It has left impressions upon its visitors throughout time. Napoleon gazed upon it in awe. Archaeologists, explorers, historians, and tourists have attempted to understand and explain its purpose, its meaning to those who built it and to those who followed. Yet it remains among the most mysterious artifacts of the ancient world. Why it was built, how it was built, what it represented, and what it continues to represent remain matters of speculation, mysteries unsolved, further enshrouded by the passage of time. Here are some of the mysteries of the Sphinx, the eternal lion of the Egyptian desert, silent guardian of the Pyramids.

10. Who built it?

The short answer, and one which has changed frequently over the centuries, is nobody knows. At least not to a certainty. Theories have abounded, with differing views presented based on science, religion, and even the study of extraterrestrials. It has been called a device representing astronomical configurations. It has been called a tribute to the dead. The bulk of the evidence regarding its origin is circumstantial, and its construction has been described to support other theories regarding ancient Egypt, each of questionable accuracy on their own. Some believe the statue to predate the nearby pyramids, others posit that it was added later. Today, the consensus is that the face of the statue represents the pharaoh Khafre, though some maintain that earlier known images of Khafre bear little likeness to the face on the statue.

Khafre is regarded as the builder of the second pyramid at Giza, and the theory that he built, or rather had built, the Sphinx is supported by those who believe that a statue in his likeness was included in the Sphinx Temple, part of the overall complex which was built as a funerary. Other Egyptologists of past years disputed Khafre’s contribution to the construction, claiming it to predate his reign by centuries. Accurately dating the construction is difficult, as there are no references to the statue, at least not by name, in any contemporaneous documentation yet discovered. A causeway near the statue, generally believed to have been built during Khafre’s reign, is believed by some to have been designed with the existing statue in mind, rather than as a part of the construction of the statue itself. Who built the Sphinx remains one of its riddles, to date unanswered, and to many unanswerable given the existing evidence.

9. What is the Sphinx?

Whoever built what is now known as the Sphinx aside, it is also unknown by what name the statue was called by its creator or creators. No inscriptions have yet been discovered which describe the statue, refer to it by name, or describe the purpose for which it was intended. The great statue was not referred to as the Sphinx until over 2,000 years after it was built, if the most widely accepted date of construction is used as a point of reference. The term itself is borrowed from the Greek, referring to a mythological being with the body of a lion, wings of eagles, and the head of a woman. Other Egyptian “sphinxes” which have been discovered bear the head of a man, the body of a lion, and lack wings. Even the name Sphinx comes from Greek, meaning (loosely) to squeeze. The term refers to the beast squeezing to death those unfortunates who failed to solve the riddle she presented.

Nearly all known inscriptions connected to the statue refer to it as the “Terrifying One.” It has been linked to the sun-god Ra, as well as the god appearing in the form of a jackal, Anubis. Anubis was the god of the Necropolis, the city of the dead. Over 1,000 years after the generally accepted date of its construction it was excavated and restored for the first time, or rather attempts at such restoration were made. The pharaoh Thutmose IV directed the excavation of the statue (which had been buried in the desert sand over the preceding 1,000 years, only its head showing above ground), though his attempt managed to expose only the front paws. To mark the event, Thutmose had a granite slab placed between the paws. Thutmose inscribed the slab, known as the Dream Stele, on which he linked the statue, already approximately 1,200 years old, with Ra.

8. How was the Sphinx built?

The Sphinx, contrary to common belief, is not a construction but a carving. It was hewn out of the rock of a quarry which also provided the limestone blocks for the construction of the nearby pyramids and the temples and causeways which surround them. The rock appeared in layers, with each layer presenting differing qualities regarding resistance to erosion and the ravages of time. How it was carved is, like all else about the statue, a subject of debate. It may have been hewn by hammer and chisel, shaped with saws, or blasted with water. Water, routed through leather hoses, pressurized by decreasing the diameter of the vessels transporting it, and used to wear away the rock might have been used. But if water was used, what was its source? There are those who believe, as much because they have to believe it to support their theory as for any other reason, that the valley, now arid desert, was once fertile and well-watered.

The theory is given some support through the belief, not fully accepted by the scientific community, much of the erosion which has damaged the statue is the result of rainwater, rather than desert sands driven by the winds. The theory that extensive rainfall damaged the statue furthers the argument that it predates the time of Khafre, during whose reign the region was arid, much as it is today. Nonetheless, by the time of the reign of Thutmose IV the Sphinx was buried up to the neck in the sands of the desert, as has been seen. Climatologists believe that the last period of heavy and persistent rainfall in the region occurred over 4000 years BCE, and the level of erosion, if the theory is accepted, indicates that the statue was built as early as 6000 BCE. The dates alone lead Egyptologists to consider the theory to be a fringe idea, lacking credence and scientific evidence, especially since it conflicts with theories of their own.

7. How was the Sphinx used in Ancient Egypt?

Over time, according to the experts, the significance and use of the Sphinx changed. In ancient Egypt, the lion was symbolic of the sun, and thus it is believed that the statue was used for solar worship more than 2,500 years before Christ. One thousand years later the statue was connected to the worship of the god Harmachis, another god of the sun. The Sphinx was at least one thousand years old when a temple to the god Harmachis was built nearby by the Pharaoh Amenhotep II. Yet the massive statue meant different things to different beholders. The Canaanites, a polytheistic people of many tribes often referred to in the Old Testament of the Hebrews and modern day Christians believed the Sphinx to refer to the god Horon, one of two gods who held sway as lords of the netherworld.

Despite the beliefs of the Canaanites, covered in detail in the Old Testament which describes the many conflicts between them and the monotheistic Israelites, the massive statue is not referred to or otherwise described in the biblical narratives. How it could be overlooked, when it was a focal point of so many of the ancient tribes and cultures, is one of its enduring mysteries (particularly given the large number of Israelites held as slaves by the Egyptians, according to the narrative in Exodus). The Book of Jeremiah does refer to what it calls “…signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,” but a more specific description is lacking. If Moses, or his brother Aaron, or any of the Israelites saw the Sphinx, they evidently did not find it worthy of comment in the books of the Old Testament.

6. Why was the Sphinx vandalized in ancient times?

A fairly well-known feature of the Sphinx is that the massive head is lacking a nose.Instead there is an irregular and roughly textured area of the face where the nose once was displayed. For many centuries it was assumed that the facial feature had fallen to the ravages of the desert and time. In other words, it simply fell off the face. The same fate was assumed to have befallen the beard which once adorned the chin of the statue. A myth developed in the nineteenth century that a cannonball fired by Napoleon’s troops during the Battle of the Pyramids destroyed the nose. In fact, subsequent archaeological research revealed that the nose was deliberately removed, using either lengthy rods or other instruments designed for the purpose, sometime prior to the tenth century of the common era. The unanswered question regarding the act? Why?

One theory is that Islamic peasants prayed to the Sphinx, offering it sacrifices, in the belief that the gods would intervene to ensure a better harvest, a sacrilege which Sufi Muslim leaders could not abide. The statue was thus desecrated to discourage the practice. Other sphinxes throughout the region were similarly defaced during the 13th and 14th century, for similar reasons. The desecration of the statue was also rumored to be the source of retribution, including the Crusade of Alexander in 1365. The status of the beard reputed to once have been a feature of the statue is disputed, with some scholars believing the beard was an original part of the carving. Others believe that it was a later addition, though all are in agreement that the beard is no longer a part of the face, with portions of the stone which formed it recovered from the sands between the beast’s paws.

5. Is the human portion of the statue a man or a woman?

The presence of a beard adorning the chin of the massive head of the statue would lead an observer to assume it depicts the head of a man. But beginning in the 1500s CE, and continuing well into the nineteenth century, visitors regularly described the statue as depicting a woman’s head and upper body melded with the body of a lion. The description of the statue as being that of a woman was reflected in both written form and in sketches and paintings by western artists. The Sphinx was described as having the breasts and neck of a woman, as well as a woman’s face. Traces of coloration which remain around the statue’s eyes and the lower face suggested that the statue at one time presented a garishly multi-colored visage, as that of a woman wearing heavy makeup.

George Sandys, an English poet, translator of the ancient classics, and extensive traveler who chronicled his journeys, described the Sphinx as a harlot. A noted contemporary, German writer Johannes Helferich, described the Sphinx as a “round-breasted woman.” Prior to the French Revolution, the overwhelming majority of images of the statue available in Europe depicted the Sphinx as decidedly feminine in appearance. Only after the French invasion of Egypt led by revolutionary general Napoleon Bonaparte were images of the Sphinx which were more interested in accuracy than romanticism widely available in Europe. Interestingly it was not until 1755 that European drawings of the statue presented the absent nose.

4. Who are the Anunnaki and did they build the Sphinx?

The Anunnaki were the temple gods of the Ancient Sumerians, a trading people who recorded their activities in cuneiforms, and gave to history among other things the twenty-four hour period known as one day, divided into periods of sixty minutes each. An agricultural society, they also left behind a method of preserving grain for consumption in liquid form, a beverage we know today as beer. According to a believer in ancient visitors from alien realms, Zecharia Sitchin, the Anunnaki built the Sphinx, as well as the pyramids, centered in Giza as a port for other visitors. Sitchin’s theories have been dismissed as both pseudoscience and pseudohistory, but his works have sold millions of copies around the world to followers of his beliefs.

Though it is easy to dismiss Sitchin’s work, it is not easy to deny the influence he has over those who believe in extraterrestrial visitations in the ancient world. The seeming impossibility of explaining much of the mystery which surrounds the Sphinx and the ancient peoples who saw it in the background every day, just as modern people see cell towers and giant aircraft soaring overhead, leads some to seek otherworldly explanations. Sitchin’s numerous books and interviews have inspired motion pictures, video games, religious fringe groups, and various clubs and groups who believe that there is no mystery at all to the Sphinx, it is simply evidence of alien visitation, created by the gods of the ancient Sumerians.

3. How has the Sphinx survived for so many thousands of years?

It is no secret that the part of the Sphinx which has had the most difficulty weathering the passage of time is the head and upper torso. There is a simple explanation for that seeming mystery. For most of its existence the majority of the statue has been buried beneath the sands of the desert which filled the quarry in which it was carved. Before it was submerged, evidence of erosion was present (remember the postulation that water was eroding the statue), and the carving was protected by covering the damaged areas with limestone and sandstone blocks, carved for the purpose, as a sort of laminate.

During an excavation in 2010, a wall was discovered surrounding much of the statue, built of mudbrick, which ran for more than 400 feet around the Sphinx. It was determined it was intended to act as a windbreak, erected around the same time that Thutmose installed the Dream Stele between the paws. Most of the statue was still buried in the sand at the time. Not until the 20th century, in a project which began in 1925 and took 11 years to complete, was the entire statue exposed to view, and thus also to the elements. The face on the other hand was exposed continuously throughout the millennia since its completion, as well as being the subject of vandalism, or at the very least religious censorship, since it was first completed at a time still unknown.

2. Is the Sphinx linked to the constellation known as Orion, the Hunter?

According to some theorists (Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, et al) the Great Pyramids of Giza are aligned in the same manner as the stars which create the “belt” of the constellation Orion, and when considered along with the Sphinx and the nearby Nile River present a model of the relationship of Orion and its position with the Milky Way. According to their calculations, the positions of the stars, if established in relationship to the pyramids and the Sphinx, are depicted as they were 10,500 years ago. That would mean that the Sphinx is part of a model displaying the astronomical positions at that time, and is thus 10,500 years old. To those subscribing to the theory, Giza is a map, presumably for the use of visitors from beyond the stars.

They are undaunted by the fact that no artifacts of any kind supporting such an early appearance of the Sphinx, the Pyramids, or any other man-made structure of the kind have ever been found in the region. They are equally undaunted by the fact that their method of establishing the date has been proven to be inaccurate. While it is possible that the belt of the constellation could have been used as a guide for the layout of the Pyramids (the Sphinx is also laid out in a manner which annually measures the sun’s attitude during the solstices), that in and of itself does not necessarily indicate a link to interstellar visitation. Alien influence in the construction of the Sphinx also does not take into account one important fact about the statue. After surviving thousands of years, through earthquakes, floods, world wars, the rise and fall of empires, and all of the vagaries of human existence, the statue is rapidly crumbling into dust.

1. Can the Sphinx survive the 21st century?

Modern man is destroying the Sphinx. The greatest single culprit is the air pollution emanating from the city of Cairo, as well as high winds and humidity, both of which are increasing and for both of which climate change is a contributing factor. Since 1950 – almost three-quarters of a century – organized efforts to save the statue have been underway. They are failing. Concrete used to reinforce the statue was found to be incompatible with the original stone, and did more damage than good. Chemical injections to help the stone resist the effects of modern pollution failed to do so. Additional limestone blocks were added to reinforce the stone, but they were unable to prevent further erosion of the original structure.

By the 1980s portions of the left shoulder were crumbling, falling to the ground in pieces, and attempts to reattach them, or replace them with modern substitutes, also failed. The structure is crumbling so badly, and its decay accelerating so quickly, that further exploration of the Sphinx has been for the most part set aside in order to concentrate on saving what is left before it is too late. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is responsible for protecting and hopefully saving the massive structure, the oldest extant relic of the ancient world, as well as the largest. With them lies the answer to the greatest of all the mysteries of the Sphinx; can a marvel created by ancient man survive the foibles and shortsightedness of their modern successor? As with all of the mysteries of the Sphinx, the answer remains unknown.


Getting Sphinx-y W/You –

WIF Like an Egyptian

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #114

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #114

…When it comes to avoiding bad weather, it is wiser to duck a one-two punch, than stop it with your face…

Acting Secretary of Agriculture Herbert Love and his bride Phoebe have seen more than Sec. of Ag-001enough devastation before they can reach the major Gulf of Mexico port that once was Galveston. The flattened buildings and depopulation are not very out of the ordinary for a storm such as this. You need to know what it looked like before, to understand the devastated after. But as a presence, the Presidential Train and all its trappings are comforting still, though the Loves are not exactly well known.

Herb Love delivers a reassuring speech to those very ready to receive; those who cannot find hope in their circumstances and see him as an answer to earnest prayers of intercession. Beside the presence of the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and a trainload of goods, tents and fresh water, the most tangible evidence that the survivors of the Galveston/Houston area can hold on to is the promise of the Army Corps of Engineers. They are planning to erect a seventeen foot high seawall between them and anything the Gulf of Mexico can dish out.

In addition to a concrete wall, which is designed to manhandle nature, Love tells them about establishing a network of observers for the purpose of reporting climatic conditions, both in the United States and without. The region’s scientific community of countries are banding together, including those unfriendly on other levels, such as Cuba and Mexico; or the misunderstood, including the Bahaman Islands and the British West Indies.

(Sam Rabin Art)

When it comes to avoiding bad weather, it is wiser to duck a one-two punch, than stop it with your face.

Down in New Orleans, they can tell you something about taking two blows on the button. And just ask the good folks of Greater Tallahassee, who have spent the past number of days living and breathing something could have avoided and remained mainly ignored or neglected. But they did not, standing tall in a world where humanitarianism is becoming a lost art.

The Levee at Canal Street

Sure, John Ferrell had a vested interest, a personal agenda, as did those concerned about the well-being of the Tallahassee Junior Women’s Club, but what this grouping of ordinary everyday people has accomplished is amazing.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #114


page 104

When Bad Goes Happen – WIF Engineering Boo Boos

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Tragic Engineering

Miscalculations

In Space and Terra Firma

Engineers are one of the most important behind-the-scenes groups of people, and most of us just take them and their work for granted. The truth is that there can only be so many designers, and the vast majority of engineers do the un-glamorous, but no less important work, of building, testing, and improving things for safety to make sure nobody gets hurt and no one has to pay for large amounts of property damages. However, when you don’t hire enough skilled engineers to properly focus on safety, and do that all-important work that they do, you can end up with examples like the 10 tragic events in today’s list.

10. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster Gushed 130 Million Tons Of Oil Into The Ocean

Back in 2010, BP’s Deepwater oil rig, operated by the Switzerland based company Transocean Ltd., suffered a massive blowout, and the world watched in shock and horror. Eleven people died and 17 were injured in the initial blowout, and immediately people wanted to know how it had happened. But soon, something even more important became apparent: Due to the fact that the well was 35,055 feet under water, which was far deeper than any well in existence (and the only one that was in truly deep water), the oil that started leaking out quickly became a huge concern.

For years BP and Transocean had contended to regulators that their oil rig was fine because they were prepared for cleanup, but all they had were the same techniques that worked in shallow water. No company, BP or otherwise, had any real plan for how to stop a gushing oil leak coming out of the ocean floor in actually deep water. BP took 87 days before they managed to plug the leak, and during that time an estimated 130 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, with the Audubon Society estimating a good one million birds and other marine life were killed by the spill. As for how it all occurred, it turned out there wasn’t a single reason the oil rig suffered a blowout. It was caused by multiple failures that could have been prevented in time if not for lax regulators, and a lax company culture from both BP and Transocean Ltd.

9. Earthquakes May Have Damaged The Fukushima Reactors Long Before The Tsunami

Most people know that that there was a meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after a tsunami several years back, but many don’t know the official story — or at least what some suspect is the true cause. The official story is that an earthquake knocked out the power to the plant, but apart from that it left the plant largely unharmed and functioning just fine. In fact, according to this official story, the plant only failed when the tsunami came along and destroyed their backup generators, after which the plant’s cooling system stopped working and the meltdown occurred.

However, investigative reporters who interviewed workers that had been at the plant when the earthquake occurred offer a version of events that differs a bit from that of the Japanese government. Many of them claim they saw significant damage to pipes, some of which led to cooling systems for the reactors. Others saw serious structural damage or other issues and claim they were already told to evacuate because of oxygen tanks exploding and pipes bursting well before the tsunami hit. Then, as they were leaving, the tsunami warning came and they had to go to the top of the building to wait to be rescued. While the government version of the events calls into question the safety of a reactor near the coast (due to the possibility of a tsunami), the second version of events calls into question any reactor of a similar design that is in any kind of earthquake zone at all.

8. The Challenger Disaster Was Caused By An O-Ring, But Only Because Of Poor Decisions

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch and it was going to be a truly epic affair. A schoolteacher had been chosen to join the six astronauts, in order to show that even normal civilians could go into space, and children around the country were watching the launch from their classrooms on that cold Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, the festive atmosphere soon turned tragic as the shuttle exploded before reaching the upper atmosphere, killing all seven people aboard. The Secretary of the State at the time, William P. Rogers, formed a commission to find the root cause.

They quickly found that the technical cause was a faulty o-ring. This small piece of plastic helped form seals in between the parts of the rocket boosters, and doesn’t operate well in cold — it tends to lose its elasticity. In fact, the commission found that despite knowing the o-ring didn’t function well below 53 degrees, they went ahead with the launch despite it being 36 degrees outside that morning. The commission found that there were concerns about the o-ring, but that they never reached the top of the chain of command. This is believed to have been due to incredibly poor communication, and that the top brass was desperate to get the launch done in time for Reagan’s State of the Union, so they weren’t particularly interested in learning about potential last minute problems that would delay the launch.

7. The Columbia Disaster Could Potentially Have Been Avoided As Well

The Columbia was a storied space shuttle that had been flying for decades and was set for its final mission. After many delays, it took off with a crew of seven on January 16, 2003. As the shuttle was launching, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the propellant tank and hit the left wing. Engineers at NASA tried to look at it with every camera angle they could and see how bad the damage was, but it was hard to make out. Now, NASA’s top management was not particularly concerned, as foam insulation had broken off at three launches in the past and hadn’t caused any critical damage. However, some felt that this time it might be critical, and pushed to use satellites to get a closer look.

Unfortunately, no one took that look during the Columbia’s two week mission, partly because some of the top brass felt there would be nothing they could do at that point even if critical damage had occurred. Then, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle reentered Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart, killing all aboard and scattering debris far into the distance. The damage to the wing allowed the heat from reentry — along with the wind — to basically tear it apart, and after that the rest of the shuttle wasn’t far behind. While those in charge had decided to do nothing while the crew was in space, thinking nothing could be done, they were wrong. Later studies found that rescue, or even a possible repair by spacewalk, could have been done — NASA’s top management just didn’t take the danger that seriously.

6. The Apollo One Fire Almost Put An Early End To US Ambitions To Fly To The Moon

On January 27, 1967, NASA was testing their Apollo One command module, in advance of attempting a potential flight to the moon. There were three astronauts aboard: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom, and they were bolted into the pressurized compartment to begin the launch tests. While the tests were not proceeding particularly well and they were having technical issues, things were not anything beyond frustrating until the call of “Flames!” came over the communications equipment from inside the command module. The workers outside did everything they could to get the door open, but by the time they had, it was too late and all three astronauts were dead — the Apollo program was then shelved for 18 months while the situation was investigated.

The United States lost three pioneering astronauts that day, but at least NASA did learn something from the situation. It turns out that a single spark from a faulty piece of equipment had spread like wildfire in the all-oxygen environment of the cabin, and to make matters worse, most of the material they were sitting on and around was highly flammable. On top of that, the highly secured door usually took a good minute and a half to open at the best of times, and with the extra pressure in the air from the fire, they just really didn’t have a chance. While this should have been something NASA accounted for to begin with, they made future doors much quicker to open, replaced the flammable materials, and made the air an oxygen and nitrogen mix that would not so easily spread fire all over the place.

5. The Boeing 737 Max Crashes And Subsequent Scandal Are Harming Boeing’s Reputation

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 went down over the Java Sea carrying a full load of passengers — 181 passengers and eight crew members all perished. Then, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 crashed and took 149 passengers and eight crew members with it. While plane crashes are always alarming, experts noticed that there were similarities between the two crashes, and that both involved the new Boeing 737 Max Jet.

The system that allegedly caused all the trouble was called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Systems, or MCAS for short. The system used two sensors to determine the nose of the planes’ so called “angle of attack” and adjust it if it thinks it is necessary, even if the pilot disagrees. On the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the black box showed that the plane was dangerously changing the angle of attack, and despite the pilot and copilot’s constant and best efforts, they could not prevent an uncontrollable nosedive.

Boeing has been under fire because regulators around the world allege the system did not have enough redundancy to spot malfunctions, that pilots were not given proper knowledge of it (or proper training for it), and that the limited information they did give on how to deal with a malfunction was used by the pilot and copilot in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and that it did not save them. Due to the loss in reputation, Boeing has had to scale back production to 42 jets from 52 and the 737 Max remains grounded worldwide until Boeing satisfies people’s fears.

4. The Chernobyl Disaster Was Caused By A Poorly Done Safety Test And Inadequate Design

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, when Soviet engineers were doing a test on the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in order to ascertain if the emergency water pumps could be run on inertial power. In order to prepare for their test, they actually disabled the emergency safety systems of the reactor the night before. They also removed quite a few of the control rods for the reactor as well, which are used to control power output. When their experiment didn’t work and they started to worry about meltdown, they reinserted all 200 control rods at once, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. The rods had graphite tips, which when inserted under already volatile circumstances caused a chemical reaction that blew the concrete and steel roof right off the reactor.

The disaster killed two people immediately, and at least 28 workers later succumbed to radiation poisoning. The fallout is said to have poisoned thousands and it led the entire world to put a lot more thought and effort into nuclear safety. The disaster was such a gigantic blow to the Soviet Union that Mikhail Gorbachev later lamented that it may have been Chernobyl that truly led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

3. The Grenfell Tower Fire Highlighted The Possibility Of Future, Similar Tragedies

On June 14, 2017, a fire rapidly spread through Grenfell Tower in West London. By the time the smoke had cleared, upwards of 80 people had died and dozens more were injured. The tragedy became global news and the entire world looked on in horror, as we all watched the building burn before our eyes. It was quickly discovered that the reason the fire was able to spread so rapidly was due to a cladding on the outside of the building, which was there both to spruce up the design and also slightly increase energy efficiency. Now, this cladding is usually aluminium, and has some kind of filler inside, and those fillers can be fire retardant. Unfortunately, the filler in the cladding at Grenfell tower was highly flammable, and the fire quickly raced all around the building.

After the tragedy, authorities in London have now inspected a lot of buildings that have cladding, and found that most of them failed safety tests. This highlights a serious public safety concern, as it means there are many, many more buildings at risk of simple fires raging out of control.

2. The Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse Killed 114 People And Injured Another 216

On July 17, 1981, there was a Tea Dance at the Hyatt Regency Hotel In Kansas City, and the ballroom was hosting about 1,600 people. The hotel had four floors, and upper walkways that extended across the main lobby area. The fourth floor walkway was positioned above the second floor walkway, and a couple dozen or so people were watching the dance from the walkways above the lobby. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fourth floor walkway collapsed on top of the second floor walkway, which then collapsed the whole pile onto the dancing couples below.

The aftermath was utterly appalling and rescue workers likened it to a war zone. 114 people were killed and 216 were injured. Many of them were crushed in half, and others were suffocated or dealt with other awful injuries. Unsurprisingly, an inquest into the matter occurred as people wanted to know why such a catastrophic failure would happen. The issue was the second floor walkway had originally been intended to be suspended from the stronger ceiling supports, but was instead suspended from the fourth floor walkway. As for how such a bad decision could be made, the change was actually approved over the phone.

1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Killed 21 People And Injured 150 More

If you haven’t heard of this tragic story before, it’ll likely sound too bizarre to be true. On January 15, 1919, a tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses ruptured in Boston’s North End. The stories say that its initial speed was 35 miles-per-hour, and that it reached a wave of 25 feet high and 160 feet wide; 21 people were killed and at least 150 more were injured by the time all the molasses had settled. Many who were close to the explosion were simply pulverized, and others drowned in the goop as the kinetic forces dissipated and it turned back into its highly viscous consistency.

Back in the day they were never really sure what happened, but recent investigations have discovered that the tank was almost certainly just not adequate for the job. It was too thin, and while built to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquids, it wasn’t designed for a thicker liquid that might weigh more — like molasses — and had even shown signs of cracks that were ignored by the owners and operators of the tank. Some reports even say it was leaking so badly before it burst that children would come with cups to fill up from the cracks. It just goes to show that sometimes, on rare occasions, molasses actually flows quickly in January.


When Bad Goes Happen –

WIF Engineering Boo Boos

Big Better Building Part II – WIF Engineering Feats

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Incredible Modern

Engineering Achievements

Humanity likes nothing more than building insanely large and complicated structures, except maybe reading about large and complicated structures built by other people. Today, we’re going to do the latter. While the ancient people had some amazing engineering achievements, we’ve all seen an article or six about the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. As such, let’s focus on the amazing achievements of relatively modern engineering, such as…