Landing A Shuttle

I was reading Austin Mayer’s blog post on shuttle orbiter re-entry when this piece struck me:

After de-orbit burn, the shuttle heads for the atmosphere at 400,000 feet, 17,000 miles per hour, and 5,300 miles away from Edwards. (Yes, you are landing in the Mojave desert and you are starting your landing approach West of Hawaii). Not a bad pattern entry, huh? In reality, the autopilot flies the the entire 30-minute re-entry, and the astronauts do not take over the controls of the shuttle until the final 2 minutes of the glide. The astronauts COULD fly the entire re-entry by hand, but it is officially discouraged by NASA. The reason is obvious… these speeds and altitudes are way outside of normal human conception, so our ability to “hand-fly” these approaches is next to nil.

In the history of Shuttle missions (the 100th mission has just come to a close as I write this), the real space shuttle has been hand-flown for the entire re-entry only ONCE, by an ex-marine pilot, as I understand it, who was ready for the ultimate risk and challenge.

A few minutes of research suggests this was Joe Engle a retired U.S. Air Force Major General and a former NASA astronaut. The Wikipedia entry credits him as “the only astronaut to have manually flown the shuttle through reentry and landing”. It should be noted however that he flew Shuttle Enterprise, and from 25,000 feet to landing. He didn’t re-enter the atmosphere from space. That however doesn’t diminish the task. He flew what was likely the worlds heaviest and untested glider successfully by hand. An absolutely insane task, and succeeded!

Internet Archive Preserves Ten Petabytes

The Internet Archive is a really cool org. They recently announced they have archived ten petabytes of cultural material. 1 Petabyte = 1,048,576 GB. Think about that for a moment. Humanity is creating and exchanging data at an alarming rate. In just a few more years this number will unquestionably be dwarfed.

This data will be of value in the future to analyze how the Internet impacted society today. We’ve yet to develop the tools to really parse data that big for things that aren’t quantitative.

High Speed Sports

Baseball at 5,000 FPS is pretty interesting stuff:

Davies says the camera is a Vision Research v642, which shoots high-def video and is regularly used to cover baseball games. But last night’s was specially modified by a company called Inertia Unlimited to shoot at an extra high frame rate and customized to use a Canon 200 mm 2.0 lens that allowed for an extra stop or two of light.

Physics of Baseball has a few GIF’s demonstrating just how awesome this really is. I’d love to see this demonstrated even beyond baseball. I’d imagine Football, Soccer, also being quite interesting to see. A kick at that speed and detail for example.

Project 1794

Project 1794 Flying Saucer

Pretty cool records recently declassified. From ExtremeTech:

The aircraft, which had the code name Project 1794, was developed by the USAF and Avro Canada in the 1950s. One declassified memo, which seems to be the conclusion of initial research and prototyping, says that Project 1794 is a flying saucer capable of “between Mach 3 and Mach 4,” (2,300-3,000 mph) a service ceiling of over 100,000 feet (30,500m), and a range of around 1,000 nautical miles (1,150mi, 1850km).

Looks a lot like the Avrocar in many respects. I wonder how many UFO reports in that era were perhaps manned or unmanned tests of this aircraft. I’d imagine it’s possible that while this is now declassified, the US Government still isn’t going to admit to what degree it was tested.

The Genius of Airline Baggage Tag Design

Slate has a great read on the design of airline baggage tags. My favorite part is the description of what the design needs to be able to deal with:

Let’s look first at how an ABT is made. In the interconnected, automated, all-weather world of modern aviation, tags must be resistant to cold, heat, sunlight, ice, oil, and especially moisture. Tags also can’t tear—and crucially, if they’re nicked, they must not tear further—as the bag lurches through mechanized airport baggage systems. And the tag must be flexible, inexpensive, and disposable. Plain old paper can’t begin to meet all these requirements. The winning combination is what IATA’s spokesperson described as a “complex composite” of silicon and plastic; the only paper in it is in the adhesive backing.

Bag tags must meet another set of contradictory requirements. They must be easy to attach, but impossible to detach—until, that is, the bag arrives safely at its destination and the traveler wants to detach it. Old tags were fastened with a string through a hole, but mechanized baggage systems eat these for breakfast. The current loop tag, a standardized strip of pressure-sensitive adhesive, looped through a handle and pressed to form an adhesive-to-adhesive bond, debuted with the ABT in the early ’90s. And the ABT, unlike string tags and earlier loop-y tag ideas, is easily attached to items that lack handles—boxes, say. Simply remove the entire adhesive backing and the loop tag becomes a very sticky sticker.

If you really think about it, it’s a pretty daunting set of requirements. The design they went with is not only quite simplistic and easy to print out it’s also quite effective.

While you can reduce it to a mundane sticker it’s a pretty impressive feat of engineering from the selection of a glue that can meet these requirements to a composite “paper”.