Category Archives: Beary Celebrations

Out of This World Party

We can go anywhere we like! NASA gave us a passport to explore space!

This cocktail is out of this world! It’s a Samarian Sunset!

The best time to visit Mercury is in March. In March 1975, NASA’s Mariner 10 made its third and final flyby of Mercury. Then in March 2011, NASA’s Messenger became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. Next up is ESA’s BepiColombo, undergoing testing now, set to launch for Mercury in 2018.

Mars just isn’t the quiet neighbourhood it used to be. There are currently six orbiters (NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, MAVEN, ESA’s Mars Express and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission) and two rovers (NASA’s Curiosity and Opportunity) exploring Mars. It is second only to Earth in the number of robotic spacecraft studying its secrets.

Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius apparently discovered Jupiter’s four largest moons, or satellites, around the same time in 1610. Galileo initially named his discovery the Cosmica Sidera (Cosimo’s stars), but the names that eventually prevailed were chosen by Simon Marius (suggested to him by Johannes Kepler) — Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. These are the names we use today.

Saturn was the most distant of the five planets known to the ancients. In 1610, Galileo Galilei was the first to gaze at Saturn through a telescope. He thought there were other objects attached to the planet. It was Christiaan Huygens in 1659, using a more powerful telescope than Galileo’s, who proposed that Saturn was surrounded by a thin, flat ring. In 1675, Jean-Dominique Cassini discovered a “division” between what are now called the A and B rings. We now know that the gravitational influence of Saturn’s moon Mimas is responsible for the Cassini Division, which is 4,800 kilometres wide.

Uranus was discovered on March 13, 1781 by William Herschel. The English astronomer wanted to name his discovery — the first planet discovered in recorded history — Georgium Sidus after England’s King George III. But he was overruled, and astronomers stuck with traditional mythological names — creating an opportunity for 236 years of student jokes at the expense of the ice giant planet’s name. Hee, hee!

Yuri’s Night

Look Honey! We have a coin celebrating Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri’s Night is a global celebration of humanity’s past, present, and future in space. Yuri’s Night parties and events are held around the world every April 12 in commemoration of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to venture into space on April 12, 1961 and the first human to see Earth from space.

Three-quarter profile head-and-shoulders view of Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin in pressure suit and helmet (faceplate raised), probably on or about April 12, 1961, when he made his orbital space flight in Vostok 1.

Some people have argued that Gagarin does not qualify for the title “the first man in space” because he didn’t land inside his aircraft. When Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on 12 April 1961, the plan had never been for him to land inside his Vostok 1 spacecraft. His spherical re-entry capsule came through the Earth’s atmosphere on a ballistic trajectory. Soviet engineers had not yet perfected a braking system that would slow the craft sufficiently for a human to survive impact. They decided to eject the cosmonaut from his craft. Yuri Gagarin ejected at 7 kilometres from the ground and deployed a parachute at 2.5 kilometres in altitude before landing safely on Earth. Soviet engineers had not discussed this shortcoming with Soviet delegates to the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) prior to his flight. They prepared their documents for the FAI omitting this fact. This led everyone to believe that Gagarin had landed inside his spacecraft. It was not until four months later, when Gherman Stepanovich Titov became the second human to orbit the Earth on Vostok 2 and the first person to spend a full day in space (circling Earth 17 times), when the controversy began to brew. Titov owned up to ejecting himself. This led to a special meeting of the delegates to the FAI to re-examine Titov’s spaceflight records. The conclusion of the delegates was to rework the parameters of human spaceflight to recognize that the great technological accomplishment of spaceflight was the launch, orbiting and safe return of the human, not the manner in which he or she landed. Gagarin and Titov’s records remained on the FAI books. Yes, Gagarin did not follow the rules that the FAI established before his flight. However, as is true with any sports organization, the FAI reserved the right to re-examine and reinterpret its rules in light of new knowledge and circumstances. Yuri Gagarin remains indisputably the first person in space and the concept that the first cosmonauts had to land inside their spacecraft is a faded artefact of the transition from aviation to spaceflight.

Even after Soviet-made models of the Vostok spacecraft made it clear that the craft had no braking capability, in 1968 the FAI created the Yuri Gagarin Gold Medal that it awards annually to greatest aviation or space achievement of the previous year.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin carried tokens with them to the Moon, to honour three US astronauts and two cosmonauts who died during the early days of spaceflight. One of those symbols, a medal, honoured Yuri Gagarin. The medal is still on the Moon today. A crater on the Moon is named for Gagarin as is asteroid 1772 Gagarin.

Yuri Gagarin was born on a farm in a region west of Moscow in the Soviet Union (now Russia). He learned to fly as a teen and began training as a military pilot at the age of 22. Just two years after Gagarin graduated from flight school, the Soviets began looking for candidates to become cosmonauts (the Soviet term of astronauts). Out of 3000 applicants, they chose 20 men. Gagarin was one of them.

Training in the program was intense. It involved not only technical study and flight training, but also physical and psychological tests. In January 1961, Gagarin was one of 6 candidates chosen for the final testing. As the hopeful cosmonauts prepared for the tests, tragedy touched the Soviet space program. One of the candidates died when fire broke out during a training session. Gagarin and the other four candidates continued with their training.

On April 8, 1961, Soviet officials chose Gagarin to be the first cosmonaut in space. His warm personality was a deciding factor. Officials thought Gagarin would make a good impression in his ensuing wave of public appearances as the first person in space. The next day, Gagarin was told of the decision.

On April 12, 1961, Gagarin entered a Vostok spacecraft to fly on his mission, named Vostok 1, at Baikonur Cosmodrome. At 9:07 am local time, the command to ignite the booster rocket was given. Over the radio Gagarin said, Poyekhali! (“Here we go!”). The rocket began to rise and the booster was ejected. Gagarin and his capsule were in orbit.

Model of Vostok 3KA spacecraft with third stage of launcher. (Wikipedia)

Gagarin orbited Earth once, completing the trip in 108 minutes. Radio communications was lost briefly between tracking stations and the lack of contact worried officials. However, communications was soon resumed – to everyone’s great relief.

Gagarin did not actually fly the spacecraft during his trip. Soviet officials worried that the first cosmonaut might do something wrong, and they locked the controls. He did have a code to unlock them if anything went wrong.

The spacecraft re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere was difficult. The last set of booster rockets was discarded just before re-entry, but they did not completely separate. That caused the spacecraft to jostle as it headed back to the ground. As the spacecraft neared Earth, Gagarin opened a hatch and ejected from the capsule. He opened a parachute and reached the ground in a gentle descent. The historic first spaceflight by humans had been achieved.

This handy infographic gives details of Gagarin’s flight.

Fearing losing Gagarin in a fatal space accident, Soviet officials banned him from any more spaceflights. (President John F. Kennedy essentially did the same to John Glenn, the first US astronaut to orbit Earth in 1962, covertly banning him from any more spaceflights. In 1964, when John Glenn realised this, he left NASA.) Gagarin remained in the space program, helping to train new cosmonauts. In the middle 1960s, Gagarin was promised he could go into space once more and he began flying planes again to regain his status as a pilot. He died in a training flight in 1968 (age 34) when his airplane crashed. (John Glenn did get to fly into space again, on October 29, 1998, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, becoming the world’s oldest astronaut, at 77.)

Legend says that Gagarin had to relieve himself on the way to the launch pad. And today (male) cosmonauts do so as well: “They leave the bus and stand at the back wheel of the bus, to relieve themselves,” says the European Space Agency. Chris Hadfield talks about the tradition in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:

When the driver pulled over to the side of the deserted road, Roman, Tom and I were delighted to get out and breathe some fresh air. We also had a mission: to pee on the rear right tire of the bus, as Yuri Gagarin apparently had. Much is made of this as a tradition, but really, if you’re going to be locked in a rocket ship, unable to leave your seat for quite a few hours, it’s just common sense. However, we had a problem that previous crews had not: we had to figure out how to get out of our suits of downy armour. In the end the suit techs on board had to help us undo all the tricky fasteners they’d painstakingly closed not an hour before, so we were able to urinate manfully on the tire without spoiling our plumage. Female astronauts who bring little bottles of their pee to slash on the tire may feel just as self-conscious, but I doubt it.

The National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC has acquired a bronze sculpture of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in commemoration of the 55th anniversary year (2016) of the first manned flight to space.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, bronze sculpture by Aleksei Dmitrievitch Leonov
National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.

The museum also has on display space suits that Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn wore. Both suit designs were adapted from high-altitude pressure suits.

Left: John Glenn wore this space suit on February 20, 1962
Right: Yuri Gagarin wore this SK-1 pressure suit during training exercises for his April 12, 1961, flight on Vostok

Yuri Gagarin wore this SK-1 pressure suit during training exercises for his April 12, 1961, flight on Vostok 1. Notable features include a visored helmet that is not detachable from the suit; the inflatable rubber collar for use in the event of water landing; the bright orange nylon oversuit, which has a mirror sewn into the sleeve to help the cosmonaut locate hard-to-see switches and gauges; and the grey-checked pressure liner with connectors for life-support and communications hoses. The suit also has leather-palm gloves, heavy leather boots, and a leather-covered radio headset.

John Glenn wore this space suit on February 20, 1962, when he became the first American to orbit Earth. Like the Gagarin suit, its design was adapted from high-altitude pressure suits worn by aircraft pilots. Glenn’s suit was a lightweight multi-layered garment with an aluminized nylon cover layer. Thirteen zippers, plus custom-fitted gloves, boots, and helmet, assured a snug fit.

Little Puffles and Honey don’t have a photo with Yuri Gagarin or with John Glenn, but they have a photo with the first real Buzz in space 🙂

With Buzz Lightyear and Magellan T. Bear at National Air and Space Museum

Twenty years after the historic first spaceflight by humans had been achieved, on April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia made its historic first flight becoming the first winged spaceship to orbit Earth and return to airport landing. While technically Enterprise was the first shuttle, it was not built for spaceflight. Enterprise was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform atmospheric test flights after being launched from a modified Boeing 747. Space Shuttle Columbia was the first space-rated orbiter in NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet.

OV-102 Columbia
Over 22 years of service Columbia completed 27 missions before disintegrating during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission, STS-107 on February 1, 2003, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members.

Luck on the Brain

It’s pink!

It’s lucky!

It is shamrocks that are associated with St Patrick’s Day and a four-leaf clover, regardless of colour 🙂 , is not the same thing as a shamrock. But it’s lucky! Superstition holds that the clover’s four leaves represent faith, hope, love and luck.

The shamrock is associated with Ireland because Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, is said to have used the plant as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity of the father, the son and the holy spirit.

A shamrock is a young spring of white clover that grows during winter time. The word shamrock itself actually comes from the Irish word ‘Seamrog’ meaning ‘little clover’ or ‘young clover’.

A four-leaf clover meanwhile is meant to represent God’s Grace and is lucky because it is so difficult to find. The chance of finding a single four-leaf clover is about one in 10,000. The four-leaf clover is said to have been carried out of the Garden of Eden by Eve.

The four-leaf clover is the product of a genetic mutation in the regular white clover plant, but that hasn’t stopped humankind from assigning meaning to their unique shape. The 15th century politician and author John Melton even wrote, “If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find some good thing.” In other words, the four-leaf clover is quite the multi-purpose charm for good fortune.

But whatever you do, don’t mix up your average four-leaf clover with a shamrock, a.k.a. a three-leaf clover. Only the shamrock is associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

The Irish had imbued the shamrock with meaning long before St. Patrick came along. Three-leaf clovers featured prominently in ancient Celtic rituals and folklore (triads and the number three were considered spiritually significant back then, too). This is why the shamrock appears outside of St. Patrick’s Day decorations — like the four-leaf clover, it has a longstanding reputation as a pretty general source of luck.

The clover brings good luck and protects against evil. Anyone wearing a clover will be able to see fairies if they are around. If you pass your clover on to someone else, your luck will double.

There are over 300 different species of clover, but the type most associated with the rare fourth lucky leaf is the widespread white clover (so named because of the fluffy, delicious-looking white blossoms).

Research from the University of Georgia, published in 2010, finally pieced together the genetic puzzle of the multi-leaved clover. But even that research left a few mysteries. Two separate experiments conducted in summer and winter of the same year found the gene involved in creating a four-leaf clover — but the two experiments mapped it to two different places in the genome, which is impossible. The clover seems to have done everything possible to make its genome inscrutable.

So to this day, it’s still a mystery where exactly this four-leaf clover gene is actually located, and how it really works. What we do know is that it’s a genetic trait, like most other things in a plant.

Native on three continents, the white clover’s genome tells the story of a plant that geography tried, and failed, to split into multiple species. The white clover is an allotetraploid. Best to work backward on that one. -Ploid means chromosome, and -tetra means four. That means the white clover has double the amount of chromosomes as humans, mangoes, pill bugs, and most other organisms. This brings us to the allo- prefix, which means that each pair of the white clover’s chromosomes comes from a different species!

When it was proliferating over the globe, the clover started to split into multiple species, but then they doubled back and started breeding again. And instead of recombining into diploid chromosomes, the clover kept both pairs. Maize and sorghum had some awkward allotetraploid years when they first started splitting about 20 million years ago (both now have just two chromosomes). Pretty exciting family life for a boring ole ground cover, right?

On top of that, white clover don’t have the tidiest genealogies. The plants are promiscuous outbreeders. In fact, they are pretty much incapable of breeding with themselves (as many plants do). Combined with the quadruple chromosomes, the white clover’s sex life means that it is incredibly difficult to figure out which genes came from which parent. This means inheritance studies — which figure out if a gene’s expression is due to nature over nurture — are all but impossible.

And clovers can grow many more than four leaves. The most leaves on a clover stem (Trifolium repens L.) is 56 and was discovered by Shigeo Obara of Hanamaki City, Iwate, Japan, on 10 May 2009 (Guinness record). That’s the effect of getting rid of one of the genes that normally prevents too many leaves on a clover. If it gets mutated or stops working, the clover starts making multiple leaves.

Depending on how much of the other Guinness you have today, who knows how many leaves you’ll find on a clover!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!