Monthly Archives: May 2015

Science Thursday: May 28th, 2015

It’s Thursday WHAAAAAAAT. Sci-ence! Sci-ence! Sci-ence! Righto. Here we go.

Ok. SO. Here is an awesome story about some mice. A study of three mice in space has found abnormalities in their skin. This experiment is part of the ongoing saga of research into the long term effects of zero-g on essentially, little furry things. (Read: people.) The skin on the mice that were kept onboard the ISS had thinner skin than their earth-bound brethren in fur. The reasons for this have are still somewhat fuzzy, but have to do with the places that hair grows in the skin. This will not likely be as large a problem for human astronauts because mice are furrier than the average human. The real kicker about this story though, is a tie. One: something called the “Mouse Drawer System” exists, and like dogs, mice also live in shortened years, the conversion being 91 days to seven mice years, or about 13 days to revolve around the tiny mouse sun.

Also from the BBC, a new species of ancient human has been found. The new species, found in Ethiopia, is estimated as somewhere between 3.3 and 3.5 million years old. It is an interesting development in our evolutionary family tree.

On the SpaceX front, the company has just been certified to launch military spacecraft. The Falcon 9 rocket will now be a competitor to the Atlas 5 system, which is powered by Russian made rocket engines. The news comes amid United Launch Alliances plans to develop a new rocket named Vulcan.

Here’s some news from a little guy we haven’t heard from in quite a while…Rosetta! And Philae! The dynamic duo have just sent back some more photos of Comet 67P/C-G. These include a cliff that is some 190 meters (630 feet) high. The images, while just recently released, were taken before Philae got a chance to make us wonder whether or not it had landed. The comet is currently approaching the sun, and is starting to heat up and develop the comet’s defining tail.

A bit of news from a website called “Fusion”, so you know it’s going to be “hip”…and whatnot. Volvo’s self parking feature has gone horribly awry. Seriously though, the car that was being used to demonstrate the feature to some journalists actually ended up running them over instead. The vehicle was apparently not equipped with something called “pedestrian detection functionality”, which, if you ask me, is totally something that should be left as an option. This basically boils down to the fact that the people who performed the test, which, I THINK are not Volvo (the reporting is unclear, remember…Fusion), were being idiots. I, for one, am ok with the idea of self driving cars (because of the number of completely stupid moron drivers that take the wheel these days), and bits of news like this are not quite so good for that cause. So please people, stop getting in the way of progress by being idiots.

Finally, science is still seen as a male profession. A study to be published this fall in the Journal of Educational Psychology asserts that while all countries generally hold this belief, the ones with fewer female scientists hold it more strongly than the ones with fewer female scientists. I do not really understand why this is the case, because science is for people who have inquisitive minds, not those of us with penises. (Like yours truly, but not YT.)

Well, there was abundance of stories this week about people being idiots, and that is just the way it is. I’m assuming that people won’t stop being idiots between now and next Thursday, but we won’t know until then. You know what happens when you assume. Sometimes, you’re right. That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember boys, think with your brains, not with any other organs.

Science Thursday: May 21st, 2015

Welcome to this week’s edition of Science Thursday. I can’t come up with anything clever or sassy to say, so let us just get on with it then.

The Russians have done it again. After another accident, the Proton M fleet, which is currently the sole means of getting humans to and from the International Space Station, is grounded. After the Progress 59 (Progress M-27M) resupply ship tumbled out of control earlier this month, an unmanned Proton M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite and crashed after there was an animal with the third stage of the rocket. After this incident, the entire fleet of Proton M’s has been grounded until the incidents can be analyzed.

Everybody panic! The US and Canada are going to run out of internet addresses this summer. Actually, no. DON’T PANIC. So the internet is made up of a bunch of wires running about, and you send electrical signals over them to find web pages and do email and all that other stuff. Well, to find the web pages (actually, to find the computers where the files live that have the webpages on them) are identified by dotted quads…IP addresses. Type into a web browser. Well, since there are only a finite number of possible IP addresses, at some point or another, we knew we were going to run out. Luckily, there is a new type of IP address called IPv6, which will uses hexadecimals and will keep us going for a while longer.

Now for some biology. Scientists have discovered the worlds first documented example of a warm blooded fish. The fish is called an Opah. Opah!!! Right. The fish can keep it’s body temperature up to 5 degrees C above the surrounding water. This allows it to hunt at great depths, where other fish can not do so. Pretty cool stuff. Actually, it’s pretty warm.

Unfortunately folks, more bad news. Andromeda and the Milky Way might collide sooner than we think. What? Yes, our galaxy is going to collide with out closest neighbor, that’s old news. So, some astrophysicists have done some astrophysicsing, and they think our galaxies might be already touching. Don’t worry though, the meat of the thing won’t really happen for another four billion years. It’s a pretty interesting article, worth a read.

Finally, a British astronaut has invited school children to help him experiment with food in space. Astronaut Major Tim Peake, who is set to start a six month stint on the International Space Station (if the Russians ever get their rockets to, you know, not explode) later this year. His experiments will work on growing food into space, including a type of lettuce called, appropriately, ‘Rocket’. The ability to grow food in space is something that will be important when we actually start exploring it again.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. We’ll be back next week with more of the same, yet all of it different.

The One Space Two Space Squabble

My roommate and I get into a lot of stupid arguments. Like, for example, how many windows are there on the space shuttle? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Who the fuck cares?’ Well, I do. That argument quickly lead into ‘how many windows are on the Apollo spacecraft, which devolved into ‘well, which part of the Apollo spacecraft?’ In any event, we spend a whole lot of time talking about things that A) nobody really cares about, and B) really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So it was only natural that we would have an argument about the number of spaces that go after a period in typed copy.

Normally, if I’m honest, our arguments are really quite boring if you’re not one of us. (One of us! One of us! One of…er, sorry, can’t help myself sometimes.) This time, though, since I thought this was really a stupid thing to argue over, I decided to settle the argument by asking people I knew. Then, it hit me. Why, I asked myself, keep this information to myself. I have a blog, on the internet. Is it not my duty, my moral obligation, to fill up the internet with completely useless bits (and bytes) of information that nobody will be interested in, yet lots of people will probably read?! Yes, yes it is. So you, my dear reader, get to find out all about this grand debate, this monumental kerfuffle, which hence forth and hitherto will be known as The One Space Two Space Squabble.

Before we get into the data I collected…yes, I collected some data…lets discover just how silly sentence spacing really is. Since humans have had the ability to typeset language, after Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid 15th century, humans have needed to have rules about how many spaces to put where. Humans like rules, you see, so the more the better. So, some rules were drafted up, (the real question, is who decided how many spaces to use when the wrote the rules about sentence spacing), and then people lived happily ever after. Until they didn’t. Most early style guides for printers and type setters stated that sentences should be separated by more space than words. This wasn’t known a a double space, rather it was called an em-space, where the ’em’ comes from the typesetting unit based on the point size of a font. The space between words was usually 1/3 or 1/2 an em-space, and the space between sentences was one em-space. Ok, simple enough. Then came along, the type writer.

Type writers really threw a wrench into the mix. Type writers made it relatively easy for typists to typeset papers and whatnot in real time. Since it would be complicated to have all sorts of space keys, early typists had to use the one space key they had to match the old typesetter style guides used by the people who worked the printing presses. This resulted in two main styles, known as the English style, and the French style. The English style, named after the typesetting style of that country, was to use two spaces between sentences, while leaving no space around other punctuation marks, while the similarly named French style was to insert spaces around other punctuation, and use single spaces between sentences. This was all fine and dandy until printing began to take place on a very large scale in the 1940s and 50’s. Typewriters also evolved to have ‘grids’ that could be broken up, which allowed for proportional spacing. Due to cost, and complexity, the mass printing industry adopted the single space standard during the 1950s.

With the invention of computer based typesetting programs in the 1980s (What you young folks call Microsoft Word), the need for more or less space became arbitrary. A computer could just draw the amount of space or not, and a printer could just print it or not. Computer programs also lead to a wide variety of fonts, which meant a wide variety of space between letters. Some fonts had more space between the letters, and others had less. Spacing issues also lead to programs like TeX, a typesetting language. Today, different authorities on writing will tell you different things about spacing. The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends using two spaces after a period, for clarity reasons. The Chicago Manual of Style, originally published by the Chicago University Press in 1906, now used as a standard for publishing of academic papers and some trade publications, says to use one space. The Modern Language Association (MLA) will tell you that more and more papers are being written with one space, it is not incorrect to use two spaces, and the only thing you can actually do wrong is be inconsistent within your paper or publication. So, basically, according to the authorities, you can find evidence to support your position no matter what it is.

What I found out, is that this is an issue that most people tend to have pretty firm opinions on, although most people also recognize that it is an arbitrary choice. In a very scientific survey that I conducted of people who would answer my text messages, 24 people said they use one space, eight people said they use two spaces, and two people said it depended on what they were writing, or the device they were writing on, for a total of 34 responses.

Figure 1: Total responses to the survey

Figure 1: Total responses to the survey

As you can see in the figure, a little over 70% of people who texted me back use only one space, which is in line with the switch to one space being taught in most english and American schools somewhere in the second half of the 20th century. What was more astounding, to me, was the number of people who had deleted their contacts (or deleted me, and didn’t want to admit it), got a message from a random number that said, “Random question: how many spaces do you type after a period when you are just typing, not thinking about a particular style?”, and just answered, without asking any questions. (It was about five). I was also interesting to me how many people whose telephone numbers I have just answered that question without inquiring as to why I would want to know. ┬áThis, actually, restored my faith in humanity…whatever that means.

So, which is right? Well, I don’t know. There are arguments for both. The data shows that the people who I know generally use one space. I didn’t break it down by age, because I did not ask the age of the respondents and am bad with birthdays, but that would have been an interesting aspect to look into. (I suspect that older folks use two spaces, and young delinquents like myself only use one.) That being said, I myself am a two space kind of guy. I don’t know how or why, but at some point two spaces was ingrained into my brain, and now it just happens without my thinking about all. (If your intelligent enough to notice that this article has only one space, it’s because of find ” ” and replace with ” “…because it probably does look better that way in this application.) Honestly though, it really doesn’t matter. I mean people do it the way they were taught, and it’s so easy to manipulate text now-a-days that it’s six one way half a dozen the other. I will say this though: since the keyboard layout we all use is ancient, and solves a problem that doesn’t exist anymore, it seems only fitting to use a typesetting style that came out of the same era.

Thanks to everybody who willingly, or unwillingly, or unknowingly took part in my survey. Since this is a useless issue that people tend to get emotional over, you should probably talk about this with all your friends and cause rifts in relationships for no good reason, and generally be annoying. Because life is too short to not cause a ruckus, or, you know, be overly worried about how many spaces to use after sentences. Oh, and by the way, there are 10 windows on the space shuttle, five on the Apollo command module, and three on the lunar lander. Thanks for reading, see you next time.

Science Thursday: May 14th, 2015

Science Thursday, once again. This week we go from some coral models to glaciers, ending with some terrifying news about bees. But first, gravity.

So, in the video, you can see gravity waves rippling throughout the atmosphere. Kind of like in Interstellar.

These gravity waves can actually affect how the atmosphere on a global scale. It will also serve as something of a control group for studying how space weather really affects earth.

Next, a guy who used to work for the US National Park Service, now working for his own non-profit, has built a 3-D model of coral reefs. Using the same software that engineers use to design airplanes, Sly Lee (possibly the biological science technician with the coolest sounding name…ever) has created a 3-D map of the coral by stitching together photographs that he took of a reef…possibly in the Maldives, although the article is a little unclear about that detail.

Greenland’s glaciers are speeding up, and as a result, they are getting pregnant? No, but they do have stretch marks. Because the glaciers are moving so quickly, they are actually stretching out, leaving the clean white streaks you can see in the photograph. This is probably caused by global warming, or something. We know two things for certain though, one, the ice is moving really fast – for a glacier, that is – and, two, I want to go to Greenland now.

Some more space news, the crew on the ISS is sort of..stuck. After the Progress 59 resupply mission tumbled out of control, the decision to fly the mission to pick up astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha Christoforetti, and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov has been delayed. This is actually not a huge deal, as NASA, the ESA, and the Russian space agency have plans in place for this sort of thing. In fact, this is probably the best bad news there is. “Yeah, we’re gonna need you to stay up in space orbiting the earth once every 90 minutes for a couple more weeks mmk?” “Oh, I suppose we’ll deal, sir.” A SpaceX resupply ship is scheduled to fly on June 19.

Finally, something terrifying about bees. They are all dying. Ok so not all, just 40 percent, and, just bees that are kept by beekeepers. (We don’t really know about wild bees.) yes, this is actually bad news. While you might think it’s great because you won’t get stung at the pool this summer, it’s actually something of a catastrophic thing for, you know, life on Earth. Bees are pollinators. This means that they go around from one plant to another plant, and as they do they collect pollen on their legs, which they spread around. This is good for species diversity and all sorts of good biological things. It’s especially good for farmers, who grow food that we eat. So, bees disappearing is actually very worrisome. A disease termed colony collapse disorder was researched by teams at Penn State University, among others, starting in the late 2000s. This is when one bee knows that it is sick, and just leaves to avoid affecting the rest of the colony. This explained much of the bee disappearances of the late 2000s, because there was a known pathogen that has been infecting bees sines the 1980s. The thing is, the recent drop offs in bee population do not have the symptoms of colony collapse disorder. Also something to note is that beekeepers have been buying more bees when their colonies die, so they don’t actually have any fewer bees than they used to. The question I think comes next, is where do they buy the bees from, and where do those people get their bees. While this story isn’t necessarily life threatening to you right now, it is something that could affect the way we live eventually. Eventually may sound like a wonderful time of day, but it really does sneak up on you.

That’s it for this weeks science Thursday, thanks for reading. Goodnight.

* Updated Friday, May 15, 2015


Monday, it happened. I graduated. College. I am an alumnus. Actually, today it happened. Monday was just the day I dressed up in funny clothes and a stupid square hat and walked across a stage in front of a bunch of people, so I guess that’s the day that will go into the history books. Really though, it was today. My school has this thing about paperwork and bureaucracy rivaled only by the state DMV, so I had to wait a couple of days before the school could say I actually graduated. Which, is a whole other story. Back to Monday though, when I graduated. Four years (technically five, hello my Clarkson friends!), a bunch of work, enough math for eight lifetimes, and a little piece of paper. Here’s the thing though. I walked away from the whole thing feeling two things that were so opposite of each other that I’m still thinking about it.

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit…underwhelmed. I mean you do all this work, you jump through all these hoops, run around getting this form signed and that form signed, taking this exam and that exam, writing two research papers in one night, all the while tap dancing and juggling flaming marshmallows. Ok, so I am being a little dramatic. The marshmallows weren’t on fire. You do all of this, while trying to determine what you are going to do after you finish it all, and then, you sit in a room for a couple of hours with 700 of your closest friends and you go take a picture with a guy who you’ve never met before and then you’re done. I’m done. Someone talked about the usual graduation things. You went to a great school, here are some tips to succeed at life, shoot for the moon, but don’t miss because if you do you’ll end up trapped in orbit around the sun, which has actually happened, twice. I like to rail on my school. I was just doing it a little there. I do it for a whole bunch of reasons. All of those reasons are still true, and I will continue railing on them for it. This, though, this underwhelming feeling, was not my school’s fault. And, where we find the other side of my emotional state.

The ceremony was actually quite good. You can tell a college graduation apart from a high school graduation by looking at the details. They both have silly robes. They both have tassels that achieve nothing but excessive blinking and funny looks when you accidentally eat them (yet, cause a physiological response when you switch them from the right side to the left side, go figure). They both have speeches, and pomp and circumstance. The college graduation, though, has production. The band can actually play well, they take the extra step to have announcers who can pronounce the names correctly (which is challenging for an engineering school). The whole thing was broadcast in real time on the internet. My grandparents could watch from New York State. That is the future. The ceremony was nice. I like ceremony. I like the meanings behind the robes and all the regalia that the professors wear. I like that the colors mean different things. I like all of that. (But damn it I do hate those square hats.) It was all done well. Which is why I’m struggling to find the reason why I felt so unmoved by it all.

Part of it was just because I don’t work that way. I mean, I hardly ever realize the magnitude of events while they are occurring. I’ll sit down afterwards with me, myself, and I, and it’ll hit me. Which it did, the next day. I am proud to have graduated. I’m proud to have graduated from my school, and I will continue to have the feelings that I do about it. It’s bittersweet. Maybe it’s because I figured out that I am not passionate about aerospace engineering like some of my peers. So, I feel as though I’ve accomplished this great thing, but my heart isn’t really in it. That’s a part of it. Part of it is because I have no idea what I will be doing, now that I have this piece of paper that says I know something. My friends have jobs lined up, and all those good things. The people in my life whom I care about are growing up, getting jobs, getting married. I feel like a toddler who has just figured out he knows how to walk. I feel like everyone around me is running. I suppose that is just part of the game. So much to do, so little time. I feel two conflicting emotions so strongly, simultaneously, and so effortlessly. I feel them effortlessly. Which is good, because I need a lot of effort to understand it. Maybe it’s not meant to be understood. It’s one of those things, not in any one box. What’s so wrong with that?

I usually like to try and put a spin on my thoughts so that you, the reader, might gain something from reading them. The key word there is try. Tonight though, I get to be selfish. This one is just about me. Thanks for reading, goodnight.

Oh yeah, that orbiting the sun thing, it really did happen. Twice.

Science Thursday: May 7, 2015

Thursday again, funny how it seems to come up over and over again. This week we go from Martian cosmic rays to the LHC, and finish with Apollo 13. To start, we return to something that we talked about last week

Last week we learned about the fate of NASA’s Messenger probe, launched in 2004, as it crashed into the surface of the planet it spent four years studying. This week, Discover Magazine’s Corey Powell sheds some light on the unsung hero of NASA’s interplanetary fleet. He brings up seven interesting things, ranging from the somewhat straightforward Mercury is covered with ice, to the more befuddling Mercury has a tail, like a comet.

Another blog on the same publication’s website claimsMars astronauts could suffer brain damage from cosmic rays. Here on Earth, we are protected from these cosmic rays by our atmosphere. Similar radiation has been shown to cause confusion in mice, although when the mice wore some little tin foil hats, there was less memory loss. Or something like that. The article goes into more details.

This is an interesting journal article that was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that classifies looking at your cell phone screen as a non-verbal behavior tactic. Yes, we’ve all done it, I’ll be the first to admit it. We all know that when you look at your phone, it sends the signal that you don’t want to talk to people. As someone who spends a great deal of time not wanting to talk to people, I know quite a bit about this. There are times when it’s practical, but there are only so many emails to read before you’re intentionally sending a signal. Now, science says so.

The Large Hadron Collider is back up and running, we know, but this past week the first collisions took place since the run back in 2012. The tests won’t run up to the high energies that are now possible after the refitting until June. These collisions taking place now are use to help tune the instruments involved so that the higher energy runs go smoothly.

SpaceX has successfully tested the launch abort system for their Dragon capsule that will be carrying humans into space in a couple of years. You can watch video of the flight here. SpaceX launch abort system test uses the same principles that the Apollo spacecraft used, as well as the Soyuz spacecraft. Boeing will have to design and test a similar system as well for their CST-100 capsule. You can read the BBC’s coverage of the spectacle, here.

In the final blog-isode of Universe Today’s cleverly titled ’13 MORE Things That Saved Apollo 13′, Universe Today’s Nancy Atkinson once again interviews NASA engineer and Apollo flight controller Jerry Woodfill. This particular edition, the 13th, or technically 26th, since the original 13 things came in 2010, regards a 90 degree turn that may or may not have saved the mission. Actually, all of the things they talk about may or may not have saved the mission. Apollo 13 is one of the greatest testaments to the professionalism and skill of the people who worked the mission, both on the spacecraft, and on the ground. To boil it down to 26 things over five years seems a bit reductive, although it still informative. So peruse through, but then check out Andrew Chaikin’s work, or Gene Kranz or Jim Lovell’s books about the space program.

That wraps it up for us this week. Hopefully you learned something. If not, here is a video of whales swimming through Scotland, which appeared this week on Wired for some reason that is beyond me. Happy Thursday, and happy sciencing. Thanks for reading.

The story of a man

It’s a warm summer morning. Still early, by cubicle standards, but the sun has been up long enough to start baking the asphalt. The shade is still a pleasant place to be, and luckily for you, the shade is exactly where you need to go. Reaching up above your head you wrap your fingers around the cool metal spade, pulling down against the resistance of the pistons. Leaning into it, you push the blade through, standing up on your tip toes as another set of fingers wraps around the next one. You wonder to yourself what it must be like to be where you are, when the engines turn. Metal blades whipping through the air, driven by the enormous power of the motor. You’re glad you’ll be somewhere else.

As you walk across the tarmac to grab a bottle of water, you glance over your shoulder and see the aircraft in all of its glory, sitting on the ground, seemingly restless, waiting to get into the sky. The first group of passengers arrives, and the process begins. In the same manner that one would heard cats, the passengers are all rounded up into a group, and the briefing begins. You meander over about halfway through to find the meeting has been commandeered by an old guy in a hat that says “WWII – Ex POW”. So, you stop and listen. It’s 1944, you’re in England. In a mess hall. A Colonel has arrived, recently. You and your buddies are all sitting there, awaiting an announcement. The Colonel gets up onto the stage and begins to speak. “Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make,” he says. “The allied forces have officially decimated the German Luftwaffe’s fighters.” You cheer. Everybody cheers. But something is nagging you. You start to think to yourself, ‘You know, if I claimed the same two Messerschimdts as my buddy Tommy, who claimed the same two Messerschmidts as his buddy Joe Sue, who claimed the same two Messerschimdts as his buddy Frankie T, then dammit, we should have decimated the German Luftwaffe weeks ago!’

The laughter from the group brings you to Colorado. Denver. You’re a young enlisted soldier, in flight training. You and your crew have been doing very well. Performing all the tasks your instructors ask of you to their liking, which, is not easy. You’re excited because soon, you’ll get to go off to do what you’ve been training to do. Drop bombs on the Nazi scum who are trying to inherit the Earth. The day is finally here. Your commander tells the guys, much to their excitement, that tomorrow, they’ll be flying to England. Except, he says, you and your crew. You have, in fact, done so well in training, he says, that you are going to stay behind and train the next group of yuppies. You don’t like this. In fact, you and your crew complain, you write letters to Washington. Dammit, you’ve trained to fly bombing missions, not to be instructor pilots! Finally, you get your chance. The commander says, “Tomorrow, a B-17 is going to come in, and you and your crew are going to fly it to England.” Which you do. One, lone, B-17. From Colorado, to England. It is not even the most epic flight you will undertake.

You’re back now, you’re you. Standing there, mesmerized. The man says something about, “When we got shot down…” and your eyes flick back up to his hat. “Ex POW”. The meaning of those letters actually hits home inside your head. “We lost weight like it was in style. Your cheeks start caving in. Boy, if you want to lose a few pounds, have I got the program for you.” You don’t know whether or not to laugh. He does, so you do too. You try to imagine what it must have been like. You try, and you fail. You can’t help but stare at that man, standing there in that hat.

It’s time to move now, the first group of passengers is getting ready to board the plane. You have to practically pull the old man away from it. Safety reasons or something. Once he gets relocated, he just keeps going on about his stories. But you have to do your volunteer duties, which involves a lot of standing around, doing not much of anything. A man comes up to you and asks, “Have you been inside?”, motioning with his head. “No, not yet,” you say. “Man, I tell you what, I give those guys more credit then me and the guys I was with in ‘Nam. Being cramped up in one of those things for 10, 12 hours,” the guy says, “Especially the turret gunner, man. I give these guys credit.” His hat also informs you that he is a veteran. That gets you thinking though, as if your mind had been idle before. You’re just a 20-something year old kid. Still in college. You haven’t seen the real world, let alone war. Your idea of war comes from the stories you’ve heard, and the movies you’ve seen. A good descriptor, at times, but not real. To have a Vietnam veteran come up to you and say that the B-17 crews had it worse than he did, that’s perspective.

It becomes apparent that the second flight has unsold seats on it, so they are giving some to the volunteers, for volunteering. The head volunteer comes up and informed you of this, and asks if you want to go, and you say, “See if that Vet wants to go instead.”. He does. The paperwork gets filled out, and after all is said and done there are still enough seats for you too. The plane comes back, swings around to park. The passengers all file out with smiles on their faces, a good sign. Next, you, the other volunteers, the Vet, and the actual paying customers get herded into a group, and taken over to the plane. Under one of the massive wings, you meet the pilots and the crew chief. They start the briefing, and the Vet is just elated. You can see it on his face. After the crew gets done, they ask the Vet if they missed anything. Which is all he needs to tell some more stories. These planes were based in England, you see. They would often start their missions in the early morning. The missions would begin by everyone taking off, and subsequently forming up over the English Channel. Makes sense. The problem is, it’s the English Channel, early in the morning. What is around England and its channel early in the morning? Fog. Thick fog. So thick, that a lot of B-17s were lost due to mid-air collisions while forming up in the thick fog. A lot of men were killed. The thing is, when you’re killed in a mid-air collision with your own squadron, you’re just as dead as when you’re killed over enemy territory.

You’re now over Germany. You’re the radioman on the airplane. You come under attack from enemy fighters. All of the sudden your plane has been hit. It is your 13th mission. Ordinarily, the pilot is in charge of the aircraft, and the crew, so he gives the order to bail out. This particular time, the number two engine has been hit, which is the one on the left, closest to the pilot. Some part of the engine has flown through the windscreen and hit the pilot. He’s bleeding from his head, so he says to the copilot and the guys in the nose, “Let’s get out of here.” Which they do. They just forgot to tell you. So you’re flying along, with nobody forward of the bomb bay, and your crew members ask you, hey when are we going to bail out? You respond that the pilot hasn’t said anything, and when he does, you will. Then the tail gunner pipes up. “Hey Joe, would it be of any use to you to know that I have three parachutes that have just popped up off our tail” “Three?! Where?!?” “Just aft of us.” “Then let’s get the hell out of here!”

This brings you to the point where you have to actually jump out of the plane. Something of an unnatural maneuver. Your guys ask you what to do. This is where all that training the Army Air Corps gave you comes in. All that training. “Hold the parachute on your chest, jump, and count slowly to 10, then pull the cord real hard like.” Well, you must not have been very good at math, see, because you only made it to four. The chute has opened (thank God) and you’re not sitting there, at some 15,000 feet, just floating. It’s actually a beautiful day. For a couple of moments, you’re transported from the warplane, on your way to bomb someone, to a little speck of dust floating in the air, with nothing to do but enjoy the beauty of it all.

The next thing that the old man says really knocks you off your feet. “I have no idea if the other eight guys I was flying with are dead, or alive, or what happened to them. We all jumped out of the plane, and I’ve never seen them since.” Wow. I had always thought, in my naive little mind, that they would land in the same place. I mean, I knew that a lot of guys jumped out of airplanes, but I never really considered the possibility that they wouldn’t land together. Thinking of it now, I guess it makes sense. The real improbability is that the guys would land together. If you jump out of a burning plane moving through the air at a couple hundred miles an hour, I guess it’s a miracle to land together. It’s still incredible to me. To live for all these years. 70 years. To not know the fate of your crew mates.

The pilots convince the Vet that he can keep telling his stories after they fly the airplane, and we all scrunch into our seats. It’s hot inside, but there will be air flowing soon. The plane shakes and shimmies as the engines fire up, with a great rumbling sound that you feel as much as you hear. You look out a window and see the end of the runway, and feel the engines start to spool up. The four mighty engines now produce a magnificent roar as the plane thunders down the runway. Suddenly, you’re airborne. The crew chief gives the sign, and you unbuckle your seat belt and stand. Turning around, you look out the left waist gunner’s window, and freeze. Over the great wing, the trees and houses and rivers move by. The image, of the wing flying, brings a smile to your face. Moving up through the airplane and arrive in the radio room. You sit in the bucket seat, and imagine. You imagine your not flying over Central Florida, but somewhere over England. You’ve just taken off on a mission, to go fight for your country. Maybe it’s your last one. You really have no way to tell. You try and feel what it would have felt like. Again, you try, and you fail. It’s time to move up to the cockpit. Stepping over the narrow gangplank that runs through the bomb bay, you emerge into the front of the plane. You are directly behind the pilots, can see out the windscreen, all the instruments. It’s mesmerizing. Down you go, between the pilots seats, into the bubble nose. You crawl up to the front, and sit in the bombardier’s chair. Suddenly, you’re floating over the ocean, mysteriously moving by some unseen force. It is beautiful. The time passes both slowly and quickly. Each second feels like a minute, but suddenly, all of the seconds are up. There are other folks who want to sit in the same chair you’re in. You crawl back up to the cockpit, and stand there behind the pilots, trying to imagine the English Channel moving beneath the belly. You look over to the right, and there he is. The Vet. You can tell by the look on his face that he’s not actually there. He’s back, 72 years. He’s over England, Germany. He has the stoic look of a man who has seen a lot. It’s sobering. It’s also gratifying, because more than anything you can tell he is enjoying this.

The plane comes in to land, and you sit back in your seat, and strap yourself in. Once the engines stop, and you all clamber out of the plane, the Vet comes out and greets his wife. You found out before the flight that he is only a week away from his 92nd birthday. He is sharp as a tack though. One of the other passengers walks up and tells him what a great experience that was, and that he was really grateful that he got to share it with someone who was actually there. And, the Vet tell more stories. There are less people around now, and the stories get a little more personal. He landed in a farmer’s field. Amongst the farmers. This is something of an unusual occurrence for the farmers, so things are a bit stand off-ish at first. The farmers are keeping him in his place with their pitchforks. They are trying to communicate in German, and he is trying to communicate in English, which isn’t working well. All of the sudden the Vet remembers that he has a flag on his shoulder, like all Americans. So he points to it. Everything changes. The farmers pick him up, and begin to move him towards the barn. The Vet has a broken leg, so the farmers have him on their shoulders. A German jeep comes across the field from out of nowhere, with it German soldiers. They beat the crap out of the farmers for helping the American. This is concerning to the Vet, because these are GERMANs and all they did was help him. What’s the treatment he will receive to be like?

They put you in the Jeep, and drive you someplace. They stop at another farm somewhere. Over a hill come a hundred women, the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. The women surround the vehicle and start rocking it side to side. There is some conversation in German, which you don’t understand. One of the soldiers, obviously the one in charge, looks at you and says,”Do you know what they are saying?” “No,” he says. “They want to know if we will release you to them.” “Well,” says the 20 year old Vet, “I could probably handle three or four of them, but not much more than that.” This gets him a punch or two. You may have just been captured by the Germans, but you’re a fighter. You know you’re going to be ok.

The whole experience accomplished what it is supposed to accomplish. Through the flight, the day, you meet people who have served in the military, mostly Vietnam. Several people come up to you on the ground tour, and explain how their father, or uncle, or grandfather flew on B-17s during the war. But the Vet is the only one who actually did. The 92 year old man, wearing the hat that says “WWII – Ex POW”. It really makes you think about what it was like. These guys, 19 and 20 years old, flying these planes into war. It’s incredible to think of what they experienced. It’s even more incredible to think of how little we think of it today. Thanks for reading.