The 23rd

When 2 + 3 Is Not 5,
Some Call it an Enigma

Numbers and the Internet. Man-made to gauge and track the world, they’re now endless and will go on long after we’re gone. As matter can always be reduced to its numeric essence, so all manner of human expression may one day reside on the digital realm.
Take 23, for instance, the number assigned by fate to my first breath. Like with other numerals, there are hundreds of Websites about it, on math and numerology to cults and strange coincidences, with everything in between, besides, of course, celebrity birthdays.
Age-wise, few are like 23, and most of anyone would consider it among life’s best years. Perhaps. We tend to appreciated this sort of thing when we’re either heading towards it, or receding from it. But it is a time when choices are wide open and self-fulfillment is still a priority.
A mind-boggling assortment of arcana is related to 23 as a prime number, but even as its complexities keep planets spinning, and the Space Station aloft, few are wise to them. We all have 23 pairs of chromosomes, though, even if they no longer dictate one’s gender.
A curious statistical theory, the Birthday Paradox, says that within a group of 23 people, chances are, two share the same day of birth. That’s the least amount of people to whom such a likelihood is higher than 50 percent. But please, don’t go asking strangers for their day.

Yes, there are at least two weird groups that attribute 23 a special meaning. Discordianism associates it with chaos, with some mumbo-jumbo about inverting the pyramids (you read it right), and the goddess Eris. By the way, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built with 2.300 stones, so there you have it.
As for 23rdians, they see the number as an enigma permeating all spheres of existence, claiming author Robert Anton Wilson as a spiritual mentor of sorts. Wilson, in turn, may have caught the 23 fever from William Burroughs, who once told him about his own obsession with it.
Add to these, well, peculiar people, Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash. Despite his work on economics, he was almost better known for having a strange, and tragic, thing about the number (and Pope John XXIII, but if you have to ask, don’t). And of course, (more)
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Space Droppings

The High-Speed Junk Our
Dreams Left Above Earth

Look at that sky above you. See how the stars are bright tonight. Think about the immensity of the universe, quasars and nebulae, waiting to awe you, just beyond the reach of your fingers. And be careful with the falling debris of thousands of objects man placed on Earth’s orbit.
That’s right. We can’t seem to live without producing many times as much as we’re capable of consuming. And just like the oceans, all that floating garbage is choking us. Or, in the case of space, either falling often over our heads or racing around the planet at top speed.
So, hail poets and philosophers and astronomers and dreamers. But also, hail the new class of space cleaners that will have to be trained and sent to do what janitors have been doing since time immemorial, besides taking the blame for their bosses’ crimes: cleaning after us.
The U.S., and as a distant second, Russia (as in former Soviet Union), are by far the biggest producers of space junk around. But neophyte China‘s also doing its part, as it launched this week a monitoring center to protect its over 130 space objects in orbit.
Other countries are concerned too. A month ago, Japan announced that it’s studying the possibility of laser-blasting, Star Wars-style, all that junk out of existence, probably from the International Space Station itself. Just imagine George Lucas losing his sleep over this.
But theirs is only a slightly more sophisticated idea that’s been tried before, with disastrous results. We’ve covered that a few years ago. Then as now, there were few reasons Continue reading


Threat to Our Dream
of Living Among Stars

In the concert of nations, Russia holds little sway. That is, if one discounts its nuclear stocks and storied past as a fierce competitor with world power credentials, its influence is now mostly regional. That’s not how President Vladimir Putin sees it, though.
So, despite all the hyperventilation about its imperialistic moves against its neighbors, which it never really ceased to control, and the phony indignation displayed by U.S. and Europe, the world doesn’t really care much about it. Except when it comes to space.
Specially, in what the International Space Station, that marvel of global scientific cooperation, is concerned. Aloft for over 10 years, with a steady stream of technological achievements to boot, the flying lab has done more to world harmony that many a peace talk ever could.
That positive outlook is what has been seriously challenged this week when the Russian president issued a not-so veiled threat to bar the launch of American satellites by Russian-made rockets, and even ban the use of the station itself by the U.S. after 2020, which, to be sure, is a qualified ruse.
The ISS hasn’t been projected to be fully operational much beyond that date anyway, and only recently its decommission got a reprieve, as the bitter reality that it’s been reduced to become the only game in town, or rather, space, has sunk in for nations still interested in exploring it, including the U.S.
Which is also at fault in the whole thing, for the record, and not for trying to upset Putin’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine next door. But because the U.S. has withdrawn much of that once unwavering support to its own space program since the last Shuttle left the assembly line.

After the great conquests of the 1960s and 70s, NASA, the agency in charge of firing up the imagination of Americans still starstruck, has frankly come up with mediocre plans to follow up the Apollo, the Hubble, the Shuttle programs, and even the ISS, of which it was a crucial contributor.
Instead, lacking the funding and epic ideas needed to go ‘to infinity and beyond,’ to use Buzz Lightyear credo (if you have to ask…), after folding the Shuttle program, NASA decided to count on the aging and unreliable Russian Soyuz rockets, to lift its ambitions to orbit. It couldn’t couldn’t work.
Why? Haven’t you noticed where they all land, and eventually depart from? You’re right, Ukraine. That in itself granted Putin a free ride, and power over the aspirations of millions of Americans who wished we still had a first class ticket towards the future.
The space card was bound to be played also when a misguided bet was placed on the market’s ability to carry our dreams aloft, on board Continue reading

Spilled Expectations

A Site Flags the Unpunished
& the Wonders of What’s Next

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in U.S. history, coincided with Colltales’ birth four years ago, and helped establish both the site’s green credentials and its status as a breaking news destination. A bittersweet landmark, for sure, but a landmark all the same.
Over 1,300 hundred posts later, increased readership and considerable growing pains, Colltales remains a source of constant renewal. As for the state of the environment at the gulf and BP, the corporation responsible for the spill, the news are diametrically opposed.
Despite company and official claims to the contrary, recovery of marine and marshland life, and cleanup of miles of severely impacted coastlines continues to lag. Very unlike the record profits posted by the British giant concern since the April 20, 2010 disaster.
In fact, BP has been spending a large chunk of such profits fighting claims by individuals and local businesses affected by the spill, even though the Obama administration had forced it to put up a $20 billion compensation fund for the victims of its mismanagement.
As it turned out, what happened was an accident only by definition. Long before (and, sadly, ever since) the aging equipment used to pump oil out of the gulf, that sub-contractors operate for BP and other companies, is still highly vulnerable to tragic events just likely.
The defective cement supposed to seal the well feeding the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was already under much more pressure that it could handle, a government report found out, and when it failed, it caused the rig to explode and sink, claiming the lives of 11 workers.
Far from an ‘accident,’ what happened was a tragic confluence of predictable negligence and cost-cutting measures by BP and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, resulting in the record spill of an estimated 4.9 million barrels for three full months, until the well was capped in July of 2010.
By then, the devastation to wild life and local economies was all too apparent: massive numbers of birds perished, entire micro ecosystems went into disarray and a still unknown number of marine animals were wiped from waters washing the beaches of all five gulf states.

As it’s becoming a habit when it comes to corporate crimes and malfeasance, despite a tacit admission of guilt and heavy dollar-figure penalties, no one went to jail. It took BP less than two years to go back to profitability, while many local business simply folded.
The event also marked one of the saddest and most ironic Earth Days in its now forty four year tradition, and
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The Other Half of the Sky

Future of Space Travel May
Belong to Female Astronauts

Some two years ago, NASA was looking for a few good astronauts. It found a few good women. In fact, four out of the newest batch of eight space-bound Americans are female, truly a record. Unlike most professions, being an astronaut accurately reflects our demographics.
They may all thank their lucky stars to Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian who became the first woman in orbit 50 years ago last Sunday. As if on cue, Wang Yaping, China’s second female astronaut, has returned to Earth yesterday, after 15 days in space with two others.
Valentina’s launch, two years after Yuri Gagarin’s historical flight, was a second stunning win for the Soviet Union in the early years of the space race. After Godspeed John Glenn, in 1962, it’d take two decades for Sally Ride to, well, ride the Space Shuttle and become the first American female to get there.
As it goes, June seems to be a special time for women in space. Apart from Wang, Liu Yang, China’s first female astronaut, went aloft last year on the 16th, the same day as Valentina‘s, while Sally, who passed away last July, boarded the shuttle 30 years ago, on the 18th.

Perhaps mirroring the times, their trips were radically different. Valentina‘s type of orbit is now routinely done by unmanned rockets. Sally rode the no-longer active Shuttle Program, and Wang’s flight is part of China’s ambitious plan to build its own space lab.
Thus, even though our bets are still heavily stacked in the new crop of female astronauts and scientists who may help lift us all to a consistent new program of space exploration, the odds are still against women in space: of 534 space travelers, so far only 57 have been female. So much for demographics.
But let’s not restrict our imagination just yet. When it comes to exploring the physical universe, there’s practically everything to be done. Assuming that we don’t self implode without even trying, within a century we may as well be traveling if not through the stars, then at least among near planets in and outside the Solar System.
It may all start with a quick landing on an asteroid. Then another trip to the Moon, this time not on gossamer wings. A few additional extravagant dreams, and that long haul to Mars, the one-way ticket reserved for a very special breed of not yet born humans, and who, most likely, won’t return to Earth either.
And who’s not to say that on that very open-ended journey, someone may become the first space mother? It’s likely – and even preferable – that nationality won’t be relevant then. Or race. Or, to a certain extent, age. Gender, though, will. And there’s just one that’s been trained on this particular task for 100,000-plus years.

Just the time-frame we need to get used to think, if we’re to vanquish war, climate change, pollution, over population, diminishing natural resources, and, wny not? greed. As a matter of fact, if we do get at least a few of those right, there won’t be really any limits to what we’ll be able to do. Including having a birth in outer space.
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The Red Chronicles

Mars, As Red As They Come (NASA) Click for Video

Think You Could Move
to Mars? Pack Lightly

A curious thing happened while we were mourning the Space Shuttles’ demise, and lack of a recognizable project to follow it up: NASA got busy with Mars. Thus, even if such news are breaking at least 54.6 million kilometers away, and often farther than that, we take it.
Last time we checked it, there were two rovers on the surface, and a satellite orbiting the planet named after the Roman god of war. And as we’re already researching ways of sending humans for a permanent visit up there, no one has mentioned anything about armies to follow.
It belongs to Mars, for example, the most spectacular event connected to space exploration in recent memory: last August’s landing on the planet of one of those rovers, Curiosity, through an ingenious and complex succession of stages. Or so we were told, since there’s no real-time footage of it.
But even the animation NASA prepared detailing the landing beat by a large margin the next-best thing, the docking of privately-built Dragon capsule on the International Space Station last October. While that was the promising opening salvo of a new era of commercial cargo trips, Curiosity’s pictures are way hotter.
This week, it’s supposed to crack its first Martian rock open, and astrophysicists and scientists of all stripes are beside themselves about it. In the meantime, elsewhere in the traffic-free red surface, the other Continue reading

Space Odor

Fragrance Maker to Send People
to Space, Where the Smell Is Odd

Astronauts have struggled to describe the strange but unmistakable scent of space. ‘Seared steak,’ as one put it. No, ‘burnt gunpowder,’ said another. So odd it is, that NASA has commissioned a chemist to develop something similar, so rookies can get acquainted with it.
The out of this world odor can’t be covered up by any cologne. But AXE, the maker of a popular deodorant, is promoting the launching of its new fragrance by offering 22 lucky buyers the chance to fly aboard Lynx, a suborbital plane being readied to take tourists aloft.
As space is about to become the novelty du jour for those bored with the signs on the ground (and with deep pockets to afford taking off), we may also see a new era of space traveling being offered to common folk, via lottery. Just like it was done with the Titanic and we don’t mean to sound ominous here.
Until governments see a reason to invest heavily in space exploration, manned trips to outer space are about to get very rare indeed, and almost never for scientific purposes only. That could change tomorrow, of course, if there were suddenly the prospect of developing a super-duper weapon out there.
Funding wouldn’t be short for that, we’re sure. For all the great things you’ve read here, and our personal enthusiasm about the Space Age, it was never a question why it was being pursued, and what was the shadow program going along for the ride. We just wouldn’t let that take anything away from its overall  greatness.
That era, much to our chagrin, has come to a close, apparently. Or at least has slowed down to an almost grinding halt. For all the hoopla about traveling to Mars or to land a man on an asteroid, realistically we don’t Continue reading