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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Read Also:
* Space Droppings
* Heavenly Palace
* Meanwhile, Up There

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Before Afterlife


Upon Departing, Would You
Tell a Story or Leave an App?

The flip side of living longer is that death now may also take longer to finally succeed. That drives some to rehearse their award acceptance speech, and others, to compose long goodbyes. Here’s to your own, self-penned obituary, and the app and avatar that’ll outlive you.
It’s like custom-making your own narrative. Soon there’ll be more Websites of the departed than the breathing kind like us (knock on wood). A not so silent majority dwarfing billions currently walking and cursing, who in turn are but a fraction of everyone who’s ever lived.
We should be careful about what we wish for, though. One of the gifts of being alive is that, mercifully, we have no idea when our time is up. The powerful industry of ‘cure,’ however, by making sure that we last, may be spoiling even that most gracious of nature’s charities.
Heaven forbid if we were to take away such a precious comfort from those on the death watch, though. After all, to have time to prepare one’s affairs, and everyone around, for that announced demise is no small miracle. Hence, the wills, the lists, the begging for forgiveness.
The same with this new realm we’ve created to keep our distance from others, the Internet. Who do you know who knows your passwords, Wed identities, and above all, your wishes about what to do with it all? Not many and most are not even slightly interested in knowing either.
You can always program, though. Better than to leave behind a wake of digital detritus, why not set something up, or find a way to terminate it all for good? A few predated posts may just do the trick. And there won’t be any need to deputize someone else to run things afterwards.
Granted, the person who’s gone won’t particularly care one way or another. So it’s just an ethical matter of some consideration, on whether you’d like to continue, so to speak, indefinitely, or would rather leave space for those who actually stand to be affected by it: the living.

BETWEEN TOMBSTONE & LIFEBOAT
Marilyn Johnson has helped disperse the common idea that newspaper obituaries, for instance, should be shallow and phony in their eulogy to the dead. In her intriguing The Dead Beat, she demonstrates how obituary writing is an important art form, usually assigned only to experienced journalists. One of the most read sections of any paper, the death notice must tell a compelling story starting by what’s (more)

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Read Also:
* Final Cut
* Ways to Go
* Went Before

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Neverlands

When Snow White, Rapunzel & Oz
Meant Much More Than Fairy Tales

Video games may be the modern equivalent of fairy tales. But if child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim was right, those ancient stories about damsels in distress and their rescuing knights are far from having exhausted their appeal. The good old doc should know it.
He survived the Nazis only to fall in disgrace for enhancing his resume and being nasty to his pupils. Alas, the man who taught us about warding off life’s demons, could not handle his own. He suffocated himself to death with a plastic bag wrapped around his head in 1990.
After such a florid intro, though, we’re switching gears to focus on some hardly known facts behind two classics of children’s literature, Rapunzel and Snow White, and a book written a century ago that became a breakthrough movie, the Wizard of Oz.
They all share an underlying common trait: the confusion and hardship typical of impoverished children going through puberty. While predating even the concept of childhood and adolescence, there’s never doubt about what demographics they were catering to.
Behind a veneer of an idealized world to which the young protagonists long to belong and conquer, and a patina of virtue and redemption righting all wrongs, deep down, the stories are suffused with intrigue and betrayal, brutal competition and carnage.

TALES FROM THE DARK AGES
For all the high-def graphics and sensory numbness-inducing FX of video games, and all modern entertainment for that matter, they’re no match to the emotional intensity and masterly manipulation of deep-rooted fears, which are the currency of fairy tales.
All are about lonely children transitioning to adulthood, trapped by conspiring circumstances and on the verge of defeat until the very end, often when their rivals perish. Strife and miserable family bonds are never far from center stage, and neither is the threat of annihilation.
For Bettelheim, beyond their imagery, these tales are loved for offering kids happy outcomes, which they can come up with on their own. Behind the Dark Ages’ ambiance and archaic social settings, (more)
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* Warped Worlds
* Remarkable Apparatus

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Heavenly Palace


As Tiangong Crashes Down,
Star Dreams Remain Aloft

Has the world gone mad? A camelback rider could’ve said that about the Sphinx in 2550, then under construction. And so could a tourist during the rare pink snowstorm that blanketed Europe the other week. Some may say it about the Chinese space station’s plunge into Earth.
It’s reassuring to see that reality can still top whatever buffoonery the orange rerun of Mr. T. may come up with. What? NASA is inviting people to add their name to the cargo of that soon-to-be launched sun probe? Well, nature has a couple of penguins taking selfies for you.
Not all is fun and cookies however, in the realm of the bizarre and out of whack. Like some nut, high on proving that god existed, who crashed her car on a pole on purpose, with her two kids strapped in the back seat. They all lived but god’d better not help her get back the children.
Or a guy who ran the cops to the ground, and beat a record that shall not speak its name (or get on the Guinness Book): he spent 47 days without going to the bathroom. They wanted to recover some drugs they say he’d swallowed, but after watching him on the throne for six weeks straight, they couldn’t take it anymore and just gave up.
Guess what science came up with, just so we’re clear we have no idea what we carry around in our bowels? Not one but two unknown human organs in less than a year: the mesentery and the interstitium. They’re with us since our bodies got the latest upgrade, circa 30,000 years ago, among the biggest organs in the body. But only now got their own billing.

WE WILL BE LIVING AMONG STARS
The man sitting on the White House toilet, tweeting, is quickly running out of tricks to cover up his con, but life, in the words of that great Jurassic Park philosopher, will always find fresh ways to shock and awe us. Even when it takes, say, a couple of thousand years. Or we’re unaware of its wonders.
Shorter and much more recent is our history building space stations. Since way before the Skylab ended six years of watching over us and precipitously rained in pieces over the Australian town of Esperance, of all places, in 1979, we’ve been trying to stay aloft each time longer.
Mir, which lasted 15 years and managed to survive the breakup of the Soviet Union, before breaking up itself and falling back to Earth in 2001, upped the ante. And the beloved International Space Station, the current title holder that completes 20 years in orbit this November, is still sitting pretty on the night sky.

THE FALLING BROKENDOWN PALACE
Do not blame the Chinese for trying. Here’s a land where the impossible takes place everyday. For millennia. From building a quasi-replica of Paris to having a number of metropolises sitting on empty, awaiting its much slowed down population growth, China gets it. But Tiangong 1, its first space station, is coming back to Earth.
Where? No one knows. The prototype was not supposed to last pass the two-year mark, in 2013, anyway. These things cost a lot to maintain. They say the next one will be bigger and better than this small but highly-sophisticated space bus. Still, a refrigerator-sized leftover chunk may surviving reentry. So look out.
Even if what goes up has to come down, eventually, whatever happens above has been considerably better, and nobler, that what’s going on down here. For to keep people up there takes our best and the absolutely limit of our capacity as living beings. Astronauts make us proud.

CHERISH THE FRESH & THE UNEXPECTED
Yes, the world has gone completely insane. But just as it’s crucial to know all about thorns, let’s not forget to caress the petals. The fiery universe, or universes, are expanding to the speed of life, but we’ve been given a bubble to breathe in and grow. We’re the guardians of the guardians that protect us.
We’re not excelling at it, that’s for sure. But let’s not confuse (more)
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Read Also:
* Space Droppings
* Ungrounded
* Meanwhile, Up There

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The Morning After

For Those Who’ll
Feel Like Losers

Ok, so you’ve worked hard – or didn’t do a thing – and your candidate still didn’t win. Don’t feel too bad: fate is as fate does, but in case you’re wondering, it was absolutely your fault. Now let’s save you some bucks for the four years worthy of therapy ahead, shall we?
Choices are few and involve major changes, just what you were trying your best to avoid. Regardless, you’re here now. Assuming that you’ve already called for refills of your acid reflux prescription, plus a few bottles of extra strength Tums, next thing to do it to cope.
Relax, help is on its way, so you won’t despair alone. Yes, it feels as if you won’t be able to even look at your new president without gagging. But worst have happened to you, and you did just fine, right? Well, let’s not get into that now. The working word here is survive.
And you will endure, and abide, and stomach (did we mention Rolaids?). You’ll even learn to conjugate similar verbs because you must. For the love of heavens, everyone will beg you to. But in case you falter, we’ve put together a short list of strategies to help you out. You’re welcome.
But before you yell at your computer, on the account of our meek picks, let us cover our behinds with the appropriate disclaimer: no, this is not everything. And if you’re already into yoga, meditation, or just joined the circus or a cult, you shouldn’t be on the Internet anyway. Unless, of course, you aren’t sure about your choices. We feel you.
May your horse come ahead, and you don’t lose your you-know-what over this election. But if things go south and going north sounds no longer remote, print this list; you’ll have less than two months to pack and split. Tell everyone you’re off to get the paper and have a go. Either way, good luck to you.

WHY NOT (CALL YOUR AGENT &) LEAVE?
The Celebrity DeLite. Many have actually said so, probably thinking about that mega production being cast in Europe, as we speak. If they say Oh Canada, they’re likely Canadians. But if you too can afford it, by all means: kick the tires and sell the farm. Don’t forget to call Mom.
Since you’re no Bryan Cranston, you may consider going where you’re actually needed. A few years making new friends, maybe even learning a new language, and you may find that losing this election was your biggest victory. Just kidding. No, seriously, you may never have a better excuse.

EAT ROOMS, DIG ACID, TRY AYAHUASCA
The Turn On, Drop Out Solution. Yes, this one is not for everybody (we also hope that kids are already in bed as your read this). But stay with it for a moment. First of all, no one is telling you to become drug addicted, just so to deal with harsh politics.
In fact, Ayahuasca has being a success at curing (more)
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* Binders Full of It
* Pre-Existing Conditions
* Polls & Tallies

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The Spanglish Twins

Shakespeare & Cervantes
Who Improved Our DNA

They never knew it, but when William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes left this earth, 400 hundred years ago this Saturday, their work were destined to become part of humanity’s greatest treasuries. And English and Spanish, two of the world’s most spoken languages.
Their art not just redefined their mothers’ tongues, but helped England and Spain conquest most of the world, way beyond what their powerful armies were capable of. Four centuries later, over a billion people speak an accented form of what they once put on writing.
Language has always been, arguably, a weapon of global domination. In 1616, with Europe deeply involved in wars of subjugation, Portugal and the Netherlands, for instance, were also militarily capable and actively jockeying for control of resources and trade.
But either for lacking of geographical advantage, strategical wherewithal, or visionary drive, by the time Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote, or Shakespeare, what was to become the First Folio, none of them were matches to Spaniards and Britons.
That’s of course a simplification. To many, Portuguese Luis de Camões was their equal, and his The Lusiads, the definitive account of the Discovery Era. But neither he nor Portugal’s mighty at sea survived the new century. And today, considerably less people speak his tongue.

A GENTILHOMBRE & THE WINDMILLS
Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra was pretty much the fruit of Spain’s Siglo de Oro, the period between the first decades of the 1500s and the end of the 16th century. Having reconquered their country from the Muslims, Spain was at the center of the world and expanding.
Unprecedented stability and trade, along a vigorous art tradition, forged the nation and inspired Cervantes to embrace the age, but not without struggle. From a humble family, he became a soldier and a crown’s servant, in order to support a career as a writer in his later years.
His tale of a delusional nobleman, chasing a doomed dream of love and peace, with a witty sidekick to counterpoint his reveries, still resonates. The poignancy of his adventures can be traced to Cervantes’ own quest for redemption, which included having been captured and enslaved.
It was all worthy, apparently. After his tomb was discovered last year in Madrid, and as his bones go through forensic analysis, there’s no question about whose history is being exhumed. More than the Inquisition, or the Armada, Spain’s now best represented by Cervantes.

THE BARD WHO MAY NOT HAVE LIVED
Some scholars have grown exasperated about the still lingering questions about Shakespeare authorship. For them, those who believe his works were penned by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, thus the Oxfordians, had their shot and it missed the point. It’s understandable.
There was never any question about the quality, or depth and breadth, of the multiple sonnets, poems, comedies, tragedies, stories, and romances attributed to that person who, despite thought of (more)
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* Author, Author
* Bones of Contention

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A Life, Abridged

Having the Final Word
About What We’ve Done

Remarkable sendoffs. Or virtual tombstones. And like the graveyard kind, not everyone will have one. To wrap the experience of living with a sharp focus, few things are more revealing that an obituary. That’s why many are now writing their own.
A well-composed death notice makes even those who knew the person feel special. And jealous if they hadn’t. A favorite of newspaper readers, is not for the feeble neophyte or the phony-flowery scriber. But two of the most remarkable here were self penned.
An obituary is designed to outlive the deceased, but many have beaten it at its own game, and survived it to tell the story. (Somehow, Monty Python comes to mind.) Or Mark Twain, even though that ‘reports of my death were greatly exaggerated’ quote is a misquote.
He was victim of one of the earliest mistakes about somebody’s passing, and had a chance to have a laugh about it. It still happens: in what became known as the ‘CNN Incident,’ a bunch of celebrities were all declared ‘dead’ in April 2003.
Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, and even Dick Cheney, which was called the ‘U.K.’s favorite grandmother,’ were among them. Parts of a 2002 demise notice of England’s Queen Mother were used for their pre-obituaries, and prematurely leaked online.

THE PREFAB & THE QUIRKY
It was an accident, but quite possible: newspapers keep a database of celebrity obituaries ready for when they pass on. Nine years before her death, Queen Mum herself had already had her own untimely death aired by the Australian media.
From the man who said ‘god is dead,’ William Hamilton (whose notice was greeted by a few devilish ‘thank gods’), to the woman who had more titles than anyone, according to the Guinness, (and 25 names), La Duquesa de Alba, the afterword is often all we’ll ever heard of them.
The ‘King of Cat Burglars,’ Peter Scott, or Madeline Gins, an architect who had ‘decided not to die,’ are two gems of lives most people wouldn’t know about it, hadn’t been for these few sentences published when they died.

THE RIGHT TO FINAL EDIT
It’s no mystery that writing your own obituary is becoming popular; everything in this era seems to be about promoting a social idea of oneself. It’s just the latest way to control the narrative, and prevent a silly act, or a crime, from seizing a lifetime of trying to look good.
It’s a selfie made up of words, a bit more elaborated than the ancient epitaph (Colltales has a ton here). But its aim is the (more)
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Read Also:
* The Hipothesis
* Before Afterlife
* Ways to Go
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