Mind that first step…

I’ve been following Felix Baumgartner’s attempt at breaking the record for longest free fall for at least the last two years. While I encourage daredevil acts in general both for the amount of daring and ingenuity involved, I can’t help but think it pales in comparison to the effort of the previous record holder USAF Col (ret.) Joe Kittinger.

In 1960 the US was in the throes of the space and aviation race with the Soviets. Seemingly every month saw the shattering of speed or altitude records. As the altitudes increased, and space drew within grasp, the Air Force felt it necessary to determine if it was even possible to return to Earth safely minus air or space craft. On April 16, 1960 -almost one full year before Yuri Gagarin became the first man launched into space- Col. Kittinger hung suspended 102,800 feet above the Earth peered over the edge of the balloon gondola and jumped.

Unlike Baumgartner, however, Col. Kittinger didn’t do it for the sheer thrill of it. Kittinger was part of the Air Force’s Project Excelsior. The aim of Excelsior was to add to the thimbleful of knowledge the Air Force possessed about survival at high altitude. At the time they literally did not know if a pilot could bail out of his aircraft (or spacecraft) at such altitude. This ignorance despite the face that the Air Force was regularly flying above 75,000 feet since Chuck Yeager’s flight in December 1953. Col. Kittinger’s record has stood ever since that day in the spring of 1959. So while I admire Felix Baumgartner’s vision and daring, I revere Col. Kittinger and his brave contribution to the science of high altitude flight.

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Mars Science Labratory edges closer to “Seven Minutes of Terror”

The Mars Science Laboratory is on final approach to the planet. Once inside the Martian atmosphere, the Mini Cooper sized Curiosity rover will be lowered to the surface by rocket powered crane on August 5th. Curiosity’s mission objectives will be: measure surface radiation, search for organic compounds in the Martian soil, determine the state and cycle of water and carbon dioxide on the planet.

I totally want a rocket crane.

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4 stages of fear

OCTtK 450x606 4 stages of fear

Sadly, Rat Mountain would be forever closed upon the discovery that the rats were actually squirrels in costume. (img by Marcos267)

Your brain does screwy stuff when it’s under stress. As if you really needed to know you do strange and stupid things under pressure. What’s interesting is how. There are actually four stages of fear, all of them instinctual, evelutionary responses to threats and danger.

You probably know that the first thing that happens is a cortisol/adrenaline dump, which causes your heart, lungs, and muscles to ready themselves. When bad shit does happen, parts of your brain shut down while other, more basic parts, start to take over, which is why people sometimes don’t remember what, exactly, they went through; their hippocampus turned off, it wasn’t a priority.


The Mancos River rises in southwestern Colorado and flows through the Ute Mountains on its way to New Mexico, where it empties into the San Juan River three miles shy of the Four Corners intersection. Over millions of years, the river and its tributaries have carved a fanlike rill of dramatic canyons out of the ancient sediments of the Mesa Verde tablelands, a maze of vertiginous stone walls. The rugged, arid landscape of juniper forest proves a rich habitat for wildlife.

At 25, Sue Yellowtail was just a few years out of college, working for the Ute Indian tribe as a water quality specialist. Her job was to travel through remote areas of the Ute reservation, collecting samples from streams, creeks, and rivers. She spent her days crisscrossing remote backcountry, territory closed to visitors and rarely traveled even by locals. It’s the kind of place where, if you got in trouble, you were on your own.

On a clear, cold morning in late December, Yellowtail pulled her pickup over to the side of a little-used dirt double-track, a few yards from a simple truss bridge that spanned a creek. As she collected her gear, she heard a high-pitched scream. Probably a coyote killing a rabbit, she thought. She clambered down two steep embankments to the water’s edge. Wading to the far side of the creek, she stooped to stretch her tape measure the width of the flow. Just then she heard a rustling and looked up. At the top of the bank, not 30 feet away, stood a mountain lion. Tawny against the brown leaves of the riverbank brush, the animal was almost perfectly camouflaged. It stared down at her, motionless.

She stood stock-still.  (more…)

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Two Danish men need only underground lair for supervillan trifecta.

Rocket 2011 5501 450x675 Two Danish men need only underground lair for supervillan trifecta.

Roooooooookeeeeeeeeeeetship! (img by Bo Tornvig)

Although it was the first meeting between Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, the submarine‘s creator, the duo emerged with a daring plan: to launch themselves into suborbital space using custom-built contraptions. And with that, Copenhagen Suborbitals was born.

Co-founders von Bengtson, an aerospace scientist and former NASA contractor, and Madsen, an entrepreneur and aerospace engineer, have a lot to be proud of since they founded their non-profit space program four years ago. In June 2011, for example, Copenhagen Suborbital’s army of volunteers successfully built, launched and recovered a 31-foot-tall rocket — the largest “amateur” launcher ever built — with a crash-test dummy tucked inside.

I seriously hate guys like these two. I bet they come off like total jerks every Monday morning. “Hey Peter, hey Kristian, how was your weekend?”

“Great, we launched our rocket from a barge in the ocean. I used my homemade submarine to keep the launch platform stable. Kristian here got to push the big red button. What did you do?”

“Finished watching season three of True Bl… Wait, you have a submarine?”

Assholes. Both of ‘em.

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Shrimp inspires lightweight body armor

490514284 9f170164e8 z 450x300 Shrimp inspires lightweight body armor

This shrimp is probably getting shot right now and doesn’t even realize it. (img by dave~)

@TG Daily:

Engineers are turning to a tiny crustacean for inspiration in creating military body armor and vehicle and aircraft frames.

They’re aiming to incorporate the unique structure of the club-like arm of the mantis shrimp, or stomatopod – a four-inch long crustacean found in tropical waters.

Its arm accelerates underwater faster than a 22-caliber bullet, and repeated blows can destroy mollusk shells and crab exoskeletons – both studied for decades for their impact-resistant qualities. In other words, it’s tough. (more…)

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I would like to be the first to welcome our new beady-eyed overlords

miracleratsx616 450x303 I would like to be the first to welcome our new beady eyed overlords

img by EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

Always fear a rat in a tactical vest. Cat owners, you’re first on the list of those who must be destroyed.

Swiss researchers are working on using electro-chemical to treat spinal injuries.

Previous research has shown that it is possible to reverse some of the effects of spinal-cord injury by circumventing the normal connection between the brain and legs, which is broken by the injury. For example, walking can be triggered in spinal-cord-injured rats if their spine is stimulated. But until now, such movement has been involuntary. This new research shows that with a specialized training system, similar rats can regain voluntary control over their legs.

This research and other similar technology focusing on the electrical impulses in nervous tissue could also be useful for stroke patients or amputees.

As someone with more than his fair share of potentially crippling hobbies, this is very welcome news.

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