Space Lighthouse

ISS@20, Life Amid Stars
Enters Its Third Decade

Here she comes. And there she goes. 16 times a day. The International Space Station, which completed 20 years in orbit last week, is humankind’s friendliest eye in the sky, a silent witness watching over us at every turn of our home planet.
It’s been an amazing ride and view. Just the sheer technological mastery necessary to keep it afloat, and the wealth of scientific data it provides daily, are enough to fulfill its lofty dream of being the space outpost of everyone of us, Earthlings.
Built by 16 nations, it’s been the temporary home to 230 highly trained rocket scientists who could even play some football up there: the ISS is almost as long as the field, or the equivalent of a six-bedroom house. They’re wiser with their time, though.
The station is a scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, from astronomy to meteorology. For instance, the yearlong study monitoring twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Mark in Houston, Texas, and Scott, racing overhead at five miles per second.
Above all, the ISS‘ greatest achievement is being a beacon to our best aspirations, of harmony among nations, working together to build a better future. As such a beautiful dream is far from becoming reality down here, it’s crucial that it survives in space.

A BLUE WORLD, ROUND AS PIE
Watching it sliding soundlessly above high mountains of clouds and vast water mirrors, allows us also into a truly surprising realization: all ground noise we make, tall buildings we erect, and border walls we raise, are invisible and meaningless from the air.
The ISS sees no wars, hate, hunger, tragedy. It does, however, observe the terrible ways we treat Earth, and from above it’s easy to see the pollution of the air, the desertification of land, the smoke of wildfires caused by our abandon. And that’s beyond sad.
From up there, lies and climate change denials can’t be heard either, which is probably good. But not seeing rising sea levels or lines dividing people, doesn’t mean that we’re unaffected by them. All it takes is, well, an astronaut, to report their deadly impact.

THE THIRD BRIGHTEST IN THE SKY
Just like the dream behind its conception, the ISS is also vulnerable: a little debris the size of a quarter can disable it and risk the lives of its dwellers. And it’s also susceptible to the whims of near-sighted (more)
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Here Before Us

Earth Natives Have a Day to
Celebrate But Not Much Else

To call ‘indigenous peoples’ those who predate the European rise to global dominance is an insult and a reminder. Their subordination and misery were brutally determined by the so-called civilization. And their very existence is proof that, if it were up to them, the planet wouldn’t be in such dire straits.
Yet they survive. Thus today’s U.N. International Indigenous People’s Day, both a mournful date and a celebration of their endangered wisdom. Since you’re bound to read and hear all about the reasons that there are for grieving over them throughout the day, we’ll rather focus briefly on some of their legacy.
Even ‘packaging’ natives as part of a supposed worldwide collective is an expression of prejudice. Only in North America, there are more tribes and languages than Europe, Asia and Africa combined. And most didn’t even make it to our times. The same about the rest of the world.
A staggering diversity and history, dating back from at least 10,000 BCE, informs their status as the original lords of Earth. With the now nearly impossible virtue of having not spoiled the place, as we did in mere 500 years. All but wasted, though, when they met our truculence.
The fate of the Comanche, Hopi, Cherokee, and Navajo, Maya, Aztecs, Incas, Mapuche and Quechua, the Tupi, Guarani and Kayapó, plus million others, was sealed in 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed on what he called La Española. It’s been downhill ever since.

NOT YET EXTINCT, NOT YET LOST
That’s no reason to dismiss their fight to protect their land, and our own survival, and criminalize their defiance. Indigenous peoples, native tribes, and forest dwellers, equal resilience. Their endurance is a testament to the power that preserved them to our age.
Moken children see 50% better than Europeans; Bolivian Kallawaya healers may speak the language of Incan kings; Sentinelese live on the Andaman Islands for some 55,000 years; Brazilian Awá-Guajá women care for orphaned monkeys by breastfeeding them.
400 years ago, the Incas performed head surgeries with better survival rates than Civil War-era medicine. Ancient cities uncovered under Guatemala City housed millions of Mayans. Aztecs philosophers would advise on matters of moral virtue and (more)
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Running on Fumes

The Scent With Power to
Make You Dream Or Run

Some of us like perfumes. Others, stink too much (you know who you are. Maybe). Some use one to cover up the other, to widespread annoyance. And yet, for all we know, the primeval sense of smell may be the scent that has saved our species from extinction. Maybe.
The odor spectrum is radically split into two realms: one transcends us to heaven, if not to sweet remembrances of the past; the other tosses us into the very bowels of hell, all gagging included. But without rot wafts, we wouldn’t know how appreciate so much a whiff of lavender.
Or to breathe into a room full of old books. To some, that’d be the one to bottle and carry around at all times. Humans are partial to jasmine, to myrrh, and to citruses, too, not just to the primeval smell of milk or food in general. Our taste for pleasant smells is its own reward.
A familiar smell can stop people on their tracks, and thrown them into deep reverie. Often, a memory floods the mind even before it can recognize what triggered it. Similar to an old song, a scent can transport anyone to an elusive mix of recollection and comfort feelings.
No wonder the sense of direction has been linked to the nose. It’s where scientists found traces of magnetite, a crystal we share with birds. Of all the places we stick our noses in, or point them to, guessing correctly which is the way back home can be a life saver.

FOR A FEW SCENTS MORE
We should also thank the stars for the nose to point forward and far from what’s better left behind (and unsaid). But either for a matter of survival, as when one smells a fire, or a rat, or for sentimental reasons, it’s hard to imagine organisms depleted from such crucial ability.
But some people are, either by accident or freak of nature. And most are doing just fine, thank you very much. So there you have it, how lucky you’ve been and hardly noticed. And don’t go around saying that nobody told you: you just have. You’re welcome.
Within the vastness of what flares the wings of our nose (beside anger and derangement), two traces are particularly close to us: body odor (you knew it was coming); and city smells. Each or combined, (more)
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