Friday, September 17, 2021

Review: Kellogg's Club Crisps Sea Salt

These snacks had shapes of gently S-curved rectangles, with some wiggle and curl to the surfaces and a range of light to golden beige colors. ...

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by September 17, 2021 at 07:36AM

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Review: Takis Crisps Fuego

After rocketing to success with several flavors in their original tubular tortilla form, we've seen the Takis brand applied to additional kinds of snacks (including peanuts, meat sticks and rippled potato chips) that have the Fuego flavor but otherwise don't resemble Takis at all. ...

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by September 12, 2021 at 07:31PM

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Review: Koloko Pea Crackers Sour Cream & Onion

This version of Pea Crackers promised probably the most conventional flavor of any of them, but the helical-shaped snacks looked pretty much like all of the other flavors, with a light orange color and helical shapes. ...

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by September 08, 2021 at 10:03AM

Review: W.L. Corn Bits Super Garlic Flavor

These corn kernels looked pretty typical for this kind of snack, with varying shapes and a strong yellow color generally, plus some darker areas. ...

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by September 08, 2021 at 08:00AM

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Review: Reese's Colliders Chopped

This snack violated one of general guidelines for what we review, as it was refrigerated, but since it was a Reese's product and was pretty simple to prepare, we're making an exception. ...

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by September 02, 2021 at 02:39PM

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review: Peatos Crunchy Curls Fiery Hot

We discovered these alongside the Classic Cheese flavor of PeaTos, promising a hotter version of the badly named, pea-based cheese snack (or so it seemed), much as Cheetos has a Flamin' Hot version. ...

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by August 31, 2021 at 09:49AM

Monday, August 23, 2021

Review: Take Out Meal in-a-bag Puffs White Chedda

I do eat a lot of cheese puffs, sometimes with a meal, sometimes as a snack, but I have never really thought about whether cheese puffs could constitute a meal on their own. ...

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by August 23, 2021 at 10:32AM

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Review: Cheetos Crispy Chicken

This snack was a whole lot like the Spicy version of the same product, not shaped like any other kinds of Cheetos and not even made from corn. ...

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by August 17, 2021 at 01:52PM

Review: Lay's 3D's Bugles Sabor Bacon y Queso

This snack from Spain was a weird one from a Frito-Lay branding standpoint, as it clearly had the Lay's logo on the bag, but the snack inside wasn't potato chips, nor was it even made from potatoes. ...

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by August 17, 2021 at 12:15PM

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Can Humans Breathe Liquid Like in The Abyss?

At the end of James Cameron’s 1989 underwater thriller The Abyss, oil rig diver Bud Brigman, played by Ed Harris, dons an experimental diving suit in which instead of air he breathes a special oxygenated liquid. This allows him to avoid the lethal effects of extreme water pressure and descend to the bottom of a deep ocean trench to defuse a nuclear warhead. While certainly a memorable plot device, surely such a technology is pure science fiction, right?

Well, not as much as you might think. The breathing fluid depicted in the film, oxygenated perfluorocarbon, actually exists, and while scenes with the diving suit were filmed with Ed Harris holding his breath, an earlier scene in which a rat is immersed in breathing fluid was filmed for real. While The Abyss is certainly the most famous depiction of liquid breathing, the technology has been experimented with for over a century, and while it might not be quite ready for use in deep-sea diving, it may have lifesaving applications in the field of medicine.

The first experiments with liquid breathing were conducted shortly after the First World War, when doctors began investigating the use of oxygenated saline solutions to help heal the lungs of soldiers damaged by poison gas. But it was not until the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s that research truly began in earnest, as the US Navy sought ways of allowing sailors to escape a sinking submarine without suffering from decompression sickness.

Decompression sickness, also known as The Bends, is a condition that results from breathing air at pressure. As a diver descends and the water pressure increases, more and more Nitrogen from the air becomes dissolved in their tissues. If they then ascend too rapidly to the surface, the sudden drop in pressure causes this Nitrogen to come out of solution, forming tiny bubbles that can cause severe joint pain, air embolisms, strokes, and death. Consequently, divers must ascend slowly and make frequent decompression stops to allow Nitrogen to be gradually released from the body. But if instead of air a diver or escaping submariner could breathe an oxygenated liquid, then the pressure inside and outside the lung would be equal, preventing Nitrogen buildup and the need to decompress. Liquid breathing would also help reduce or eliminate other hazards of deep diving, including Nitrogen Narcosis or “Rapture of the deep”, an alcohol-like intoxication caused by breathing Nitrogen under pressure. Oxygen itself also becomes dangerous below a certain depth, a phenomenon known as oxygen toxicity. To avoid these effects, divers use various breathing gas mixtures such as Heliox or Trimix which dilute the Oxygen and Nitrogen with Helium. But even this only works up to a point, as below around 160 metres breathing Helium induces severe tremors and other neurological effects known as High Pressure Nervous Syndrome. As a result, the deepest any diver breathing pressurized gas has been able to descend is 701 metres – and even then only in a land-based diving chamber.

In 1962 a team lead by Dr. Johannes Klystra at Duke University succeeded in getting mice and other small animals to breathe an oxygenated saline solution pressurized to 160 atmospheres – the high pressure being necessary to dissolve sufficient oxygen in the fluid. But while respiration was sustained in this manner for around an hour, the animals died soon after of respiratory acidosis – AKA carbon dioxide poisoning. This revealed one of the major shortcomings of liquid breathing which has plagued researchers ever since: while breathing fluid can easily deliver sufficient oxygen to the body, it is far less efficient at removing exhaled carbon dioxide. In order to prevent acidosis, the average human would have to move 5 litres per minute of breathing fluid through their lungs while resting and 10 litres per minute to perform any sort of physical activity – a flow rate human lungs are not capable of sustaining for any length of time. Any practical fluid breathing system would thus have to actively pump fluid in and out of the lungs, like the mechanical ventilators used in hospitals.

In 1966 American researchers Leland Clark and Frank Gollan made a breakthrough in liquid breathing research by replacing Klystra’s oxygenated saline with an exotic liquid called perfluorocarbon or PFC. First developed as part of the Manhattan Project during the Second World War, PFC is a colourless liquid composed of the elements carbon and fluorine. The bond between these two elements is among the strongest in nature, making PFC unreactive and biologically inert. It has twice the density of water but a quarter the viscosity and can hold nearly 20 times as much oxygen and carbon dioxide as water – properties which make it ideal as a breathing fluid. Clark and Gollan’s early experiments involved simply immersing rats and mice in oxygenated PFC and allowing them to breathe naturally. While the high density of the fluid made breathing difficult, the animals were able to survive fully immersed for up to 20 hours without any ill effects. Larger animals required the use of forced ventilation to prevent carbon dioxide buildup, but experiments on anaesthetized dogs further demonstrated the viability of PFC as a breathing fluid.

Clark and Gollan’s work on PFC was soon taken up by Klystra, who between 1969 and 1975 conducted one of the most comprehensive studies on liquid breathing in history, using both animals and humans as test subjects. In the course of this research, US Navy diver Francis J. Falejcyk became the first human to breathe both oxygenated saline and PFC. Despite receiving no medication except for local anaesthesia to facilitate intubation, Falejcyk did not find the experience overly uncomfortable, though they encountered difficulty draining the fluid from his lungs and he developed pneumonia as a result. In 1971 Falejcyk delivered a lecture on his experiences which was attended by a then 17-year-old James Cameron, inspiring him to write a short story that would eventually become the screenplay for The Abyss. Klystra’s research concluded that a human could breathe PFC for up to an hour without suffering carbon dioxide poisoning provided they didn’t overly exert themselves, making liquid breathing a viable method for escaping a sinking submarine. For more physical applications, Klystra also experimented with emulsions of PFC and Sodium Hydroxide which could more readily absorb carbon dioxide from the bloodstream. Ultimately, however, none of these techniques ever saw practical use in real world scenarios. The Navy SEALs reportedly experimented with liquid breathing in the early 1980s, but found breathing PFC so strenuous that several divers suffered rib sprains and fractures from the effort during testing exercises.

One proposed solution to the acidosis problem is to fit divers with a venous shunt device that scrubs carbon dioxide directly from the bloodstream. Unfortunately, the medical and logistical issues inherent in such a device are fairly obvious, and liquid breathing still has a long way to go before it becomes a viable technique for deep-sea diving. It may, however, have an important role to play in medicine, especially in the care of premature infants.

Our lungs contain around a half a billion alveoli, tiny sacs of tissue through which oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream. To prevent these from collapsing in on themselves like a wet paper bag, the body produces a substance called pulmonary surfactant, a mixture of lipids which reduces the surface tension of water and allows the alveoli to remain open. Premature babies, however, are incapable of producing sufficient amounts of surfactant, and as soon as they are born most of their alveoli collapse, making it difficult for them to breathe. While traditional mechanical ventilators have been used for decades to help premature infants breathe, the high pressures produced by these machines can severely damage their delicate lungs. But by flooding the lungs with breathing fluid, liquid ventilation recreates the conditions found in the womb and allows the alveoli to open up, greatly increasing gas exchange. The technique also provides a convenient means of administering medication directly to the lungs.

Neonatal liquid ventilation was first pioneered by J.S. Greenspan at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, who in 1989 placed 13 premature infants on liquid ventilators for between 24 and 96 hours. All were successfully weaned back to breathing air, and of the 13 these 11 showed marked improvement in lung function, though six later died of causes unrelated to the experiment. A similar study conducted by R.B. Hirschl in 1995 on 19 adult, paediatric, and neonatal patients similarly confirmed the viability of liquid ventilation, with 11 of the 19 patients surviving with improved lung function.

However, the equipment required to carry out full liquid ventilation was found to be overly complex and expensive, so in 1991 B.P. Fulman developed a simpler technique known as partial liquid ventilation, or PLV. In PLV, the lungs are only partially filled with breathing fluid, the rest being supplied with air via a regular mechanical ventilator. This allows the breathing fluid to open up around 40% of the lung’s alveoli while allowing for more efficient removal of carbon dioxide. Another proposed technique involves administering breathing fluid as an aerosol mixed with air or oxygen, which produces similar results while being far more comfortable for patients than breathing straight fluid. And in 1995 Mike Darwin and Steven Harris demonstrated the application of liquid breathing to the induction of therapeutic hypothermia. This refers to the cooling of the human body following cardiac arrest to slow the onset of brain and other tissue damage. By perfusing the lungs with chilled PFC, Darwin and Harris achieved a cooling rate of 0.5 degrees Celsius per minute – faster than any existing technique. As a result of these and other breakthroughs, the FDA has granted liquid perfusion “fast-track” development status in order to bring this potentially lifesaving technology to patients as quickly as possible.

So while James Cameron won’t be able to reach the Marianas Trench without a fancy submarine for some time to come, he can at least take comfort in the fact that the technology which so inspired him as a teenager may one day save millions of lives.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Liquid Breathing – Medical Uses,

The Current Status of Liquid Ventilation, RT Magazine, February 7, 2007,

Tarantola, Andrew, Can Humans Breathe Liquid? Gizmodo, August 27, 2013,

Pomeroy, Ross, Can Humans Breather Liquid? Real Clear Science,

Klystra, Johannes, The Feasibility of Liquid Breathing in Man, Office of Naval Research, October 1975

Tawfic, Qutaiba and Kausalya, Rajini, Liquid Ventilation, US National Library of Medicine,

Taylor, Jerome, Into the Abyss: The Diving Suit That Turns Men Into Fish, The Independent, November 20, 2010,

The post Can Humans Breathe Liquid Like in The Abyss? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - August 13, 2021 at 11:52PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

The Steampunk Flight Simulator That Helped Win WWII

Flight simulators are often an integral part of pilot training, allowing trainees to log hundreds of flying hours and experience in as many emergency scenarios as possible without ever leaving the safety of the ground. But while modern simulators with their advanced computerized displays and motion-simulating hydraulics may seem like a relatively recent development, the idea of replicating the experience of flight on the ground is nearly as old as manned flight itself, with the first mass-produced simulator, the Link Trainer, appearing in the early 1930s.

The brainchild of American aviator and inventor Edwin Link, the Link Trainer was a remarkably sophisticated device for its time, and was produced and used in the tens of thousands by flying schools, airlines, and air forces around the globe. The Link taught an entire generation of pilots to fly, and was one of the forgotten secret weapons that allowed the Allies to attain air superiority and victory in the Second World War.

Edwin Albert Link, Jr. was born on July 26, 1904 in Huntington, Indiana, to Edwin A. Link Sr. and Katherine Martin. In 1910 the family moved to Binghamton, New York State when Edwin Sr. bought the bankrupt Binghamton Automatic Music Company, a manufacturer of pipe organs and player pianos. Renamed the Link Piano and Organ Company, under the senior Link’s management the company flourished, its products selling well in New York and Pennsylvania and even as far as California, competing on equal terms with the more famous Wurlitzer company.

In 1918 the family separated, Katherine moving to Chicago to resume her singing career. Not wanting her youngest son to grow up in the city, she sent Edwin to live with his aunt in Rockford, Illinois. Here Edwin acquired his lifelong passion for aviation, reportedly after witnessing a troupe of barnstormers fly into town. A common sight in rural America in the interwar years, barnstormers were nomadic pilots – many of them First World War veterans – who flew from town to town putting on displays of stunt flying and offering aeroplane rides or even flying lessons to the local townsfolk. But while young Edwin was enthralled by their feats of aerial derring-do, his Father was less than supportive of his new obsession, and pressured him to attend college like his older brother George. But Edwin was firmly drawn to the practical and the mechanical, and instead enrolled in vocational training at Rockford Training High School and then Los Angeles Polytechnic High School. It was in Los Angeles that Edwin took his first flying lessons, at a small field run by none other than Sidney Chaplin, brother of legendary movie star Charlie Chaplin. Right from the start, Edwin was less than impressed by the standard training procedure of the time:

“For the better part of that hour we did loops and spins and buzzed everything in sight. Thank heaven I didn’t get sick, but when we got down, I hadn’t touched the controls at all. I thought, ‘That’s a hell of a way to teach someone to fly.’ But I made a date for the next week anyway.”

 “I had two more lessons with Sidney, and they were pretty much like the first one. He did let me put my hands and feet on the controls during the maneuvers so that I could feel what he was doing. I didn’t learn too much, however, I found out later that most of the old-time aviators, like Chaplin, started teaching their students by scaring them half to death.”

For Edwin, this was a painfully inefficient way of learning to fly – and an expensive one too, with each lesson typically costing between $25-50 ($300-$600 today). It would be nearly six years before he sat behind the controls of an aeroplane again.

At the insistence of his Father and older brother, Edwin enrolled at the Lindley Institute military school in Pennsylvania, but while he enjoyed the military life he found academic classwork dull and soon dropped out, working briefly for the Western Electric Company before landing a job at his Father’s factory. Over the next four years he travelled widely on behalf of the Link Company, installing and repairing organs and player pianos in churches, theatres, and music halls across the country.

During this time he also filed his first patent – a small vacuum for cleaning out the air holes in organs and pianos – and befriended a group of barnstormers headed by WWI ace Richard “Dick” Bennett. In 1926, he finally achieved his dream of flight when fellow pilot Alfred Stanley allowed him to solo in his aircraft.

Upon hearing of his son’s achievement Edwin Sr., rather than be impressed and offering to pay for more flying lessons, was instead furious and fired his son on the spot. Thankfully, Edwin Jr. had an ally in George Thayer, the factory superintendent, who, recognizing the younger Link’s mechanical talents, threatened to resign if little Edwin wasn’t hired back. But by this time Edwin Jr.’s heart was firmly set on aviation, and in 1928 he borrowed money from his mother to buy his first aircraft, a brand-new Cessna Model AA.

While ubiquitous today in the world of aviation, in 1928 the Cessna Aircraft Company of Wichita, Kansas had only just been incorporated, and Edwin Link Jr.’s aircraft was the very first to be delivered. Using this aircraft Link went into business flying ferry and charter flights and formed his own professional barnstorming troupe. Unlike most of his contemporaries, who drank heavily and boasted loudly of their flying abilities and wartime exploits, Link and his crew maintained a sober, professional image, Link later stating: “I wanted to promote aviation, not kill it.”

Around this time Link’s thoughts returned to the problem of teaching pilots to fly in a safe and affordable manner. He had heard of a system used by the French during the war whereby pilot trainees were introduced to the controls and basic handling of an aircraft by taxing around on the ground. Known as the “penguin system”, the technique dramatically cut down on training time by allowing students to master the basics without the stress and distraction of actual flight. Edwin began to wonder whether a device could be built to simulate the basics of flight while keeping the pilot safely on the ground. While primitive simulators like the Sanders Teacher and the Eardly-Billing Oscillator had appeared within a few years of the Wright Brothers’ epoch-making 1903 flight, none had been commercially successful, and in any case what Link had in mind was far more sophisticated.

Working out of the basement of his Father’s factory, Link spent a year building and perfecting his flight simulator, which he dubbed the “Pilot Maker.”  The device consisted of a small plywood fuselage with stubby wings and a tail containing a cockpit with a full set of controls and instruments. Drawing on Link’s intimate knowledge of organs and player pianos, the Pilot Maker was driven by vacuum pressure and used a system of valves, bellows, and pneumatic motors to make the fuselage climb, dive, roll, and spin just like the real thing. Link immediately proved the device’s effectiveness by teaching his brother George to solo after only six hours in the simulator and 42 minutes in an actual aircraft. On April 14, 1929, Link filed a patent for the Pilot Maker and established a workshop and flight school in the factory basement to build more simulators and use them to train prospective pilots. The revolutionary training course promised to teach students to fly after only 35 hours in the simulator and 2 in an actual aircraft – all for the remarkably low price of $85 (about $1300 today).

While the flying school was reasonably successful, with 100 students soloing in its first year of operation, Link found the Pilot Maker itself considerably harder to sell. Though he had hoped that the Army Air Force and the Navy would jump at such a useful training device, at first the only buyers were county fairs and amusement parks, who, as the November 1930 issue of Science and Invention explained, saw the Pilot Maker as little more than a more sophisticated mechanical hobbyhorse: “The device is the centre of attraction at the Mayfair Miniature Golf Course in Los Angeles, California, where it was first installed. Such devices would make a valuable adjunct to the multitude of miniature golf courses that now dot the country.”

Though disappointed, Link bowed to market pressure and began manufacturing Pilot Makers specifically for the amusement park crowd, with a built-in coin slot and a scoring dial that removed points every time the rider deviated from a level flight path. But soon slow sales were the least of Link’s problems, as the worsening Great Depression killed demand for organs and player pianos and forced the Link factory to close its doors. Over the next four years Link took on various jobs in order to stay afloat, including aircraft maintenance, stunt flying and parachuting, and even founding one of New York States’ first local airlines. Among his most successful schemes involved wiring lights to the bottom of an aircraft’s wings to create a giant illuminated flying billboard.

But in 1934, a major government scandal would finally give Link the opportunity he’d been waiting for, and prove the Pilot Maker’s true value to the world.

In 1920, after several years of experimental flights, the United States Post Office Department established the first regular transcontinental air mail service. At first the work was contracted out to private companies, but this arrangement soon became mired in scandal. As compensation was based on carrying capacity and not actual mail volume carried, those with stock in the air mail companies began mailing each other lead weights and other heavy objects to pump up revenues. In February 1934, fed up with allegations of corruption and price fixing, the Government withdrew the contracts and awarded them to the Army Air Corps, which, being a government department could be more tightly controlled. However, keeping a regular delivery schedule meant flying at night and in inclement weather, and the Army Air Corps had so little experience with flying on instruments that a dozen pilots were killed in accidents in the first 5 months of service alone. On February 10, Edwin Link received a call from the Army Air Corps asking for him to demonstrate the Pilot Maker at Newark airport the next day. The weather the following morning was grey and foggy, and as the hours ticked past the Army delegates assembled in the airport hangar began to realize that Link wasn’t coming. But then, a lone aeroplane suddenly burst from the fog and made a perfect landing on the runway, and from it stepped Edwin Link. Without even having seen the Pilot Maker in action, the delegates concluded that anyone who could make such a landing must know something about flying on instruments, and soon thereafter the Army Air Corps placed an order for six trainers at a cost of $3400 (about $66,000 today) each. The Link Company was back in business.

Over the next four years Link would sell hundreds more Pilot Makers – now known simply as Link Trainers – to the Army Air Corps and the Navy, as well as dozens of private airlines and flight schools. In 1935 Link secured his first international sale to Okura & Company of Japan, and was invited to travel to Japan to supervise their installation. The trip that was strongly supported by the US Government, who wanted Link to report back on Japan’s military capabilities. Link arrived in Japan only to discover one of his simulators disassembled and laid out to be photographed. Unable to do anything about it, he nonetheless carried on with the rest of the visit despite knowing that his design would be copied and he would likely never sell another unit to Japan.

During the early part of the Second World War, as the United States tried desperately to remain neutral, Link would sell simulators to many other countries who would soon become enemies, including Germany and Italy. By the time America entered the war in 1941, the Link Trainer was being used by the air forces of some 35 countries.

At this point the ANT-18, the standard Link Trainer used during the Second World War, was not merely a glorified amusement park ride but rather a sophisticated device for teaching instrument flying. In addition to being able to climb, dive, roll, and spin like an actual aircraft, the Link had a full set of instruments that behaved exactly as they would during flight. Amazingly, just like the Link Trainer’s movement, much of this simulation was accomplished not with electronics but rather pneumatics. For example, pushing the control column forward or back would let air in and out of a metal tank behind the instrument panel. The pressure inside the tank would be read by a pair of modified pressure gauges, which would give simulated values for altitude, airspeed, climb rate, and engine speed. Other instruments, like the artificial horizon and gyrocompass, worked exactly as they would in a regular aircraft, while others were slightly modified to work without the g-forces encountered in actual flight. The trainer even featured a cam-powered pneumatic system for simulating turbulence, as well as a mechanism that would throw the student into a spin if they stalled in uncoordinated flight. And to force the student to use his instruments, the Link Trainer was fitted with a hinged hood that could be lowered to cut off visibility of the outside world. The effect of all this was so realistic that one Navy trainee, finding himself in a particularly rough simulation, reportedly threw open the hood and attempted to bail out, only to break his ankle as he fell to the floor three feet below.

A short distance away from the Link Trainer sat the instructor, seated at a specially-designed desk that allowed him to monitor the progress of the student’s simulated flight. In addition to a duplicate instrument panel that displayed what the student saw in his cockpit, the desk also featured a small wheeled device called a “crab”, which rolled along in synch with the student’s movements and traced out his flight path in ink on a map. The instructor could also communicate with the student using an intercom system and simulate airport beacons, blind landing systems, and other radio signals using a specialized transmitter.

In any event, the increasing need for combat aircrew caused production to skyrocket, and Link established a new factory in Gananoque, Canada, to keep up with demand. The factory produced nearly 5000 Link Trainers over the course of the war, and at its peak one Link rolled off the assembly line every 45 minutes. The devices were widely used by the US Army Air Corps, US Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force, where they played a pivotal role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a massive undertaking wherein nearly 170,000 British Commonwealth and Empire aircrew – nearly a third of all who served – were sent to Canada to be trained. In total, more than a million Allied pilots were trained in the “blue box,” the importance of which in securing Allied air superiority was such that after the war RCAF Air Marshall Robert Leckie would declare: “The Luftwaffe met its Waterloo on all the training fields of the free world where there was a battery of Link Trainers”.

 After the war, the Link Aviation Devices would go from strength to strength, developing ever more sophisticated flight simulators including those used to train the Apollo astronauts to land on the moon. And they are still around today, having been acquired in 2000 by L-3 Communications and renamed L-3 Link Simulation and Training.

As for Edwin Link, in addition to developing simulators he also became a pioneer in deep-sea diving, developing some of the earliest ocean exploration submersibles and becoming the first diver to breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen underwater – a practice that is commonplace today. He died in Binghamton, New York on September 7, 1981 at the age of 77, his creations having taught nearly three generations of pilots how to fly.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Kelly, Lloyd, The Pilot Maker, Grosset & Dunlap, NY, 1970

The Link Trainer, Aeroplane Maintenance and Operation Series, Volume 8, George Newnes Ltd, London

Taylor, John and Jim, A Link to Victory, Vintage Wings of Canada,

Lipsner, Benjamin, Airmail: a Brief History,

The post The Steampunk Flight Simulator That Helped Win WWII appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - August 13, 2021 at 11:42PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

The Most Gruesome Death: the Byford Dolphin Accident

Imagine working 100 metres beneath the sea, a hostile place that sunlight never reaches and where temperatures can plunge to a few degrees above freezing. All your off hours are spent in a tiny, cramped metal tube, breathing a mixture of gases that makes it hard for you to speak and constantly saps heat from your body, giving you a permanent chill. Here you can eat a meal delivered through a tiny hatch or catch a few hours of sleep before your next shift begins and it’s time once again to plunge back into the abyss. Now imagine living like this for months at a time, unable to escape your little sealed world without facing a certain and gruesome death. Welcome to the strange twilight world of saturation diving, one of the most dangerous – and well-paid – jobs in the world.

Developed as part of the U.S. Navy’s Sealab Program in the mid-1960s, saturation diving is a technique that allows humans to live and work at extreme depths for extended periods of time. Specifically, it is designed to overcome the danger of decompression sickness, better known as the Bends. As a diver breathes pressurized air at depth, Nitrogen gradually becomes dissolved in their body. If they then ascend to the surface too quickly, the drop in pressure can cause this Nitrogen to come out of solution and form tiny bubbles, which can cause crippling joint pain, strokes, paralysis, and even death. To avoid this, divers must ascend to the surface slowly, taking decompression stops at regular intervals to allow the Nitrogen to be slowly and safely expelled from their bodies.

However, for long, deep dives like those required in the offshore oil industry, this technique becomes infeasible as divers would have to spend far more time decompressing than working during each shift. For example, a dive of more than an hour below 100 metres depth would require more than 50 hours of decompression. Instead, in saturation diving the divers spend their entire working shift under pressure, spending their off-hours in a diving chamber pressurized to their working depth and travelling to and from the job site in a pressurized diving bell known as a transfer capsule. This practice is based on the fact that after a certain amount of time a diver’s body becomes fully saturated with Nitrogen and cannot absorb any more, meaning that no matter how long they stay below, the required decompression time remains the same. Thus, rather than making multiple dives and decompressions, saturation divers only decompress once at the end of their shift, greatly reducing the risk of decompression sickness. The downside is that this single decompression can take up to two weeks to complete. There are also other hazards, including Nitrogen narcosis, a disorienting euphoria caused by breathing Nitrogen at pressure which divers describe as being similar to alcohol intoxication. Oxygen also becomes toxic below around 80 metres, so saturation divers must breathe trimix, a gas mixture in which much of the oxygen is replaced with Helium. This comes with its own problems. Not only does Helium alter the human voice, forcing divers to wear electronic descramblers in order to be understood, but it also has poor thermal properties, wicking away body heat and leaving divers perpetually chilled. Breathing Helium at depths below 300 metres can also produce severe neurological effects known as High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome.

But the greatest danger in saturation diving is the high-pressure environment itself, as a group of four British and Norwegian divers discovered in 1983 in a gruesome event known as the Byford Dolphin accident.

Byford Dolphin was a semi-submersible offshore oil rig built by Aker Engineering of Oslo in 1974. Weighing 3000 tons and manned by a crew of 100, it was capable of drilling in waters up to 460 meters in depth. To allow construction and maintenance of the wellhead at these depths, the rig was equipped with a sophisticated Saturation Diving system built by French firm COMEX. On November 5, 1983, the rig was drilling in the Frigg Gas Field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. At 4AM, British divers Edwin Coward and Roy Lucas were resting in the dive chamber while Norwegian divers Bjorn Bergersen and Truls Hellevik were returning from their shift in the transfer capsule. The capsule was hoisted from the water and docked to the dive chamber by diving tenders William Crammond and Martin Saunders, allowing Bergerson and Hellevik to climb through a short trunk to join Coward and Lucas.The normal procedure was for the divers to first seal off the trunk and isolate the chamber so the tenders could depressurize the capsule and detach it from the airlock. But before Hellevik could close the chamber hatch, William Crammond released the clamp securing the capsule to the trunk.

The results were immediately and horrific. The capsule violently decompressed and blasted away from the trunk, killing Crammond and severely injuring Saunders, while inside the chamber the pressure dropped instantaneously from 9 atmospheres to one in an instant. Hellevik, crouching in the trunk, was blown apart, scattering body parts across the rig deck. One observer described finding his liver “complete as if dissected out of the body,” while part of his spine was found 10 meters above the chamber on the rig derrick. The other divers in the chamber fared little better. Autopsies of Coward, Lucas, and Berergsen revealed lumps of white fat clogging their arteries and veins – proteins which had cooked and precipitated as their blood flash-boiled. Mercifully, all four divers are believed to have died instantly and painlessly.

A subsequent investigation concluded that the accident was caused by human error. As William Crammond was killed in the incident, it is not known why he released the clamp before the chamber hatch was closed; investigators surmised that a combination of fatigue and deck noise may have lead to a fatal miscommunication. However, another key factor was the saturation diving system itself, which, despite recommendations from Norwegian oil and gas regulator DNV, had not been fitted with any interlocks, pressure gauges, or other safety features to prevent the diving chamber from being disconnected while pressurized. This fault in the equipment was not mentioned in the official accident report, and as such the families of the divers killed received no financial compensation. Believing the investigation to be a cover-up, the families formed the North Sea Divers Alliance, which finally succeeded in suing the Norwegian Government and obtaining a settlement in 2008 – 25 years after the accident.

The Byford Dolphin rig is still in operation, currently on contract with British Petroleum, and saturation diving continues to be widely used in the offshore oil industry, consistently ranking among the most dangerous but well-paid jobs in the world – with many divers receiving up to $1400USD per day. While safety measures and accident rates have improved significantly since 1983, the Byford Dolphin incident stands as a stark reminder of the dangers that always come with living and working in extreme environments.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Giertsen, JC et al, An Explosive Decompression Accident, American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, June 1988

Banbury, Jen, The Weird, Dangerous, Isolated Life of the Saturation Diver, Atlas Obscura, May 9, 2018,

Hellwarth, Ben, Sealab: America’s Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor, Simon & Schuster, 2012

Norwegian Government Finally Pays Out for 1983 Byford Dolphin Diver Death, October 20, 2009,

Wingen, Tom, Pioneer Divers in the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea,

The post The Most Gruesome Death: the Byford Dolphin Accident appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - August 13, 2021 at 11:01PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Friday, August 13, 2021

Review: Pea Crackers Medicinal Ribs Stew Flavor

These helical-shaped, pea-based snacks had a similar orange color to the many other flavors of Pea Crackers, but the promise of "Medicinal Ribs Stew" had our snackers expecting something weird (and some were nearly unwilling to try them). ...

from Snack Reviews
by August 13, 2021 at 07:46AM

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Review: Chester's Poppers Cheddar Whirlz

This new snack from Chester was kind of a blast from the past, as we ate three snacks under the Chester's Poppers banner way back in 2014 — Pizza Waffle Rounds, BBQ Spirals and Cheddar Crunch Fries — but haven't seen those in years, nor any other new ones with that name, until this one appeared. ...

from Snack Reviews
by July 27, 2021 at 02:23PM

Monday, July 26, 2021

Review: Lay's Doritos Cool Ranch Flavored

After many years of marketing their big snack brands largely independently, Frito-Lay is pushing some synergies lately, first with a (contrived) grudge match pitting Doritos against Cheetos for which is hotter, and now they've taken three of their non-Lay's brands (these, Cheetos and Funyuns) to create Lay's flavors based on them. ...

from Snack Reviews
by July 26, 2021 at 08:32PM

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Why Do We Call a Software Glitch a ‘Bug’?

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” At one point or another we’ve all heard someone use this phrase or a variation thereof to sarcastically describe some malfunctioning piece of equipment or software. Indeed, the word “bug” has long been ubiquitous in the world of engineering and computer science, with “debugging” – the act of seeking out and correcting errors – being an accepted term of art. But why is this? How did an informal word for an insect become synonymous with a computer error or glitch?

According to the most often-repeated origin story, in 1947 technicians working on the Harvard Mk II or Aiken Relay Calculator – an early computer built by the US Navy – encountered an electrical fault, and upon opening the mechanism discovered that a moth had had flown into the computer and shorted out one of its electrical relays. Thus the first computer bug was quite literally a bug, and the name stuck.

But while this incident does indeed seemed to have occured, it is almost certainly not the origin of the term, as the use of “bug” to mean an error or glitch predates the event by nearly a century.

The first recorded use of “bug” in this context comes from American inventor Thomas Edison, who in a March 3, 1878 letter to Western Union President William Orton wrote: “You were partly correct. I did find a “bug” in my apparatus, but it was not in the telephone proper. It was of the genus “callbellum”. The insect appears to find conditions for its existence in all call apparatus of telephones.”

 The “callbellum” Edison refers to in the letter is not an actual genus of insect but rather an obscure Latin joke, “call” referring to a telephone call and bellum being the latin word for “war” or “combat” – implying that Edison is engaged in a struggle with this particular hardware glitch. In a letter to Theodore Puskas written later that year, Edison more clearly defines his use of the word: “It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise—this thing gives out and [it is] then that “Bugs”—as such little faults and difficulties are called—show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.”

Where Edison himself got the term is not known, though one theory posits that it originated from a common problem plaguing telegraph systems. For almost 40 years since their introduction, electric telegraphs were limited to sending a single message at a time over a single wire. As the popularity of telegraphy rose through the mid-19th Century, this limitation became a serious problem, as the only way to allow more messages to be sent was to install more telegraph wires – an increasingly inelegant and expensive solution. This lead inventors around the world to seek out methods for transmitting multiple signals over a single wire – a practice now known as multiplexing. By the 1870s several inventors had succeeded in perfecting workable multiplex or “acoustic” telegraphs, which generally worked by encoding each individual signal at a particular acoustic frequency. This allowed multiple signals to be sent along a single telegraph wire, with only a receiver tuned to the sending frequency of a particular signal being able to extract that signal from among the others. Among the many inventors to develop multiplex telegraphs were Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray, whose work on sending acoustic frequencies over telegraph wires would eventually lead them to discover the principles that would be used for the telephone.

In any event, while these early multiplex telegraphs worked reasonably well, they had a tendency to generate phantom signals in the form of loud “clicks” that reminded many telegraph operators of the sound of an insect. Thomas Edison himself patented an electronic workaround to this problem in 1873, which he referred to as a “bug catcher” or “bug trap” – suggesting this phenomenon as a likely origin for the term.

Another hypothesis points to the word “bug” being derived from the Middle English bugge, meaning “a frightening thing” or “monster.” This root is also the source of the English words bogeyman, bugaboo, and  bugbear – the latter originally referring to a malevolent spirit or hobgoblin but today used to mean a minor annoyance or pet peeve. Advocates for this hypothesis therefore posit that “bug” in this context was used in much the same manner as “gremlins,” the mythical goblins that WWII aircrews blamed for malfunctions aboard their aircraft.

Whatever the case, Edison’s frequent use of the term in his letters and notebooks lead to it being widely repeated in the press, with a March 11, 1889 article in Pall Mall Gazette reporting: “Mr. Edison…had been up the two previous nights working on fixing ‘a bug’ in his phonograph—an expression for solving a difficulty, and implying that some imaginary insect has secreted itself inside and is causing all the trouble.”

Edison and his so-called “insomnia squad” ’s habit of staying up all night to fix particularly stubborn technical problems was of particular fascination to the press, with Munsey’s Magazine reporting in 1916: “They worked like fiends when they [were] ‘fishing for a bug.’ That means that they are searching for some missing quality, quantity, or combination that will add something toward the perfect whole.”

The term was first formally standardized by engineer Thomas Sloane in his 1892 Standard Electrical Dictionary, which defined a “bug” as: “Any fault or trouble in the connections or working of electric apparatus.”

Three years later Funk and March’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language defined the term for the general public as: “A fault in the working of a quadruplex system or in any electrical apparatus.”

Thus by the early 20th Century the term was well-established in engineering circles, and soon began making its way into everyday usage. One notable early appearance was in a 1931 advertisement for Baffle Ball – the world’s first commercially-successful pinball machine – which proudly proclaimed “No bugs in this game.” Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov further popularized the term in his 1944 short story Catch the Rabbit, writing: “U.S. Robots had to get the bugs out of the multiple robots, and there were plenty of bugs, and there are always at least half a dozen bugs left for the field-testing.”

Despite being in use for over 70 years, it was not until the aforementioned moth incident in 1947 that the term “bug” would become inextricably associated with the field of computer science. The insect in question was discovered lodged in Relay #7 of the Harvard Mark II in the early morning hours of September 9. Later that day the night shift reported the incident to Navy Lieutenant Grace Hopper, a computing pioneer who would later go on to develop FLOW-MATIC, a direct ancestor of COBOL and among the very first high-level programming languages.

In any event, at 3:45 PM Hopper taped the slightly crispy moth into the computer’s logbook with sellotape, gleefully noting beside it: “The first actual case of a bug being found.”

As British cybersecurity expert Graham Cluley notes, Grace Hopper’s whimsical logbook entry clearly indicates that the term “bug” was well-known at the time, but:

“…while it is certain that the Harvard Mark II operators did not coin the term ‘bug’, it has been suggested that the incident contributed to the widespread use and acceptance of the term within the computer software lexicon.”

The historic logbook page, complete with preserved moth, survives to this day in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, though it is not currently on public display. And in commemoration of the infamous incident, September 9 is celebrated by computer programmers around the world as “Tester’s Day” – reminding everyone of the vital role played by those who tirelessly hunt and slay the various glitches, bugs, gremlins, and ghosts in every machine.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact

 While we tend to think of software bugs as minor annoyances and inconveniences at worst, depending on what a piece of software is controlling, they can have serious real-life consequences. Among the most notable examples of this is the tragic case of the Therac-25, a computer-controlled cancer therapy machine produced by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited starting in 1982. The unit contained a high-energy linear electron accelerator which could either be aimed directly at the patient or at a retractable metal target, generating an x-ray beam that could reach tumours deeper inside the body. The machine could also be operated in “field light” mode, in which an ordinary light beam was used to line up the electron or x-ray beam on the patient.

While AECL had achieved a perfect safety record with its earlier Therac-6 and Therac-20 machines through the use of mechanical interlocks and other physical safety features, the Therac-25 dispensed with these entirely, its designers relying solely on the machine’s control software to ensure safety. Unfortunately, this software contained two serious software bugs which soon resulted in tragedy. The first of these allowed the electron beam to be set to x-ray mode without the metal x-ray target being in place, while the second allowed the electron beam to be activated while the machine was in field light mode. In both cases, this resulted in patients being bombarded with an electron beam 100x more powerful than intended. The initial effect of this was a powerful sensation of electric shock, which lead one patient, Ray Cox, to leap from the table and run from the treatment room. Between 1985 and 1987 six patients in Canada and the United States received massive radiation overdoses, resulting in severe radiation burns, acute radiation poisoning, and – in the case of three of the patients – death.

A subsequent investigation revealed the truly shocking depths of AECL’s negligence in developing the Therac-25. While the two lethal bugs had been reported during the control software’s development, as the software was directly copied from the earlier Therac-6 and Therac-20 and these machines had perfect safety records, the report and bugs were ultimately ignored.

Of course, the earlier machines relied on mechanical interlocks for safety and their software was written to reflect this, leaving the Therac-25 control software with almost no built-in failsafes and no way of communicating potentially lethal errors to the operator. Even more disturbingly, the software was never submitted for independent review and was not even tested in combination with the Therac-25 hardware until the machines themselves were installed in hospitals. Indeed, throughout the Therac-25’s development cycle little thought appears to have been given to the possibility of software error leading to dangerous malfunctions, with a Failure Modes Analysis conducted in 1983 focusing almost exclusively on potential hardware failures. Software failure is mentioned only once in the report, with the probability of the machine selecting the wrong beam energy given as 10-11 and the probability of it selecting the wrong mode as 4×10-9 – with no justification given for either number. This absolute confidence in the software ultimately served to prolong the crisis. Following the first two overdose incidents in 1985, AECL was ordered by the FDA to investigate and submit a solution. Refusing to believe that the software could be to blame, AECL concluded that the issue lay with a microswitch used to control the positioning of the machine turntable, and in 1986 submitted this fix to the FDA. This, of course, did nothing to solve the problem, leading to three further overdoses before the actual cause was finally tracked down.

Once the fault was uncovered, the FDA declared the Therac-25 “defective” and ordered AECL to develop a full suite of corrective modifications. These were all implemented by the summer of 1987, but no sooner was the Therac-25 returned to service, another patient in Yakima, Washington, received a massive overdose, dying of radiation poisoning three months later. This incident was caused by yet another software error – a counter overflow – which caused the updated software to skip a critical safety step and withdraw the x-ray target from the electron beam. In the wake of the six incidents AECL was hit with multiple lawsuits by the families of the victims, all of which were settled out of court. Since then no further accidents have been reported, with the original Therac-25 units continuing to operate for nearly two decades without incident.

The Therac-25 affair has become a seminal case study in safety and systems engineering, dramatically illustrating the dangers of blindly trusting pre-existing software and of not thoroughly testing hardware and software together as a complete system. It also serves as a stark reminder that in our modern, hyper-connected world, the effects of software are not limited to the inside of a computer; sometimes, they can slip out into the physical world – with devastating results.

Expand for References

McFadden, Christopher, The Origin of the Term ‘Computer Bug’, Interesting Engineering, June 12, 2020,

Was the First Computer Bug A Real Insect? Lexico,

Whyman, Amelia, The World’s First Computer Bug, Global App Testing,

Laskow, Sarah, Thomas Edison was an Early Adopter of the Word ‘Bug’, Atlas Obscura, March 16, 2018,

Magoun, Alexander and Israel, Paul, Did You Know? Edison Coined the Term “Bug”, IEEE Spectrum, August 1, 2013,

Leveson, Nancy and Turner, Clark, An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents, IEEE 1993,

Fabio, Adam, Killed by a Machine: the Therac-25, Hackaday, October 26, 2015,

The post Why Do We Call a Software Glitch a ‘Bug’? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - July 20, 2021 at 11:40PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

That Time an Oregon Free-Love Cult Launched the Largest Bioterror Attack in US History

On September 18, 2001, one week after the 9/11 attacks, mysterious envelopes began appearing at the offices of major American news outlets including ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The envelopes contained a strange brown powder, which quickly caused those who came into contact with it to fall seriously ill. That powder was Anthrax, a deadly biological weapon. By the time the FBI located and impounded all the envelopes, 22 people had contracted the disease, 5 of whom eventually died. Despite a 9-year investigation, the case has never definitively been solved, though the bulk of the FBI’s suspicion fell on Bruce Edwards Ivins, a vaccine expert at the bioweapons facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland, who committed suicide in 2008 before he could be questioned.

While the 2001 “Amerithrax” event is the most well-remembered bioterror attack in US history, it was not the first or even the largest. That dubious honour belongs to a largely forgotten incident in 1984 when a Hindu-inspired free-love cult called the Rajneeshees attempted to take over a small Oregon town by poisoning local salad bars with salmonella bacteria. It is a story truly stranger than fiction.

The Rajneesh movement was founded in 1970 by Rajneesh Chandra Mohan, an Indian philosophy professor and spiritualist better known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh or later simply as “Osho.” In 1974 Rajneesh founded an ashram, or commune, outside the Indian city of Poona, which soon began attracting thousands of mainly young, middle and upper-class followers from Europe and North America. His teachings, an eclectic mixture of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, and even western psychotherapy and capitalism, denied the existence of God and promoted casual nudity and sexual freedom, placing him at odds with the more conservative Indian population. Nonetheless, the movement grew rapidly, and by the late 1970s Rajneesh had amassed over 200,000 followers in 600 meditation centres worldwide and enough personal wealth to maintain a fleet of 90 Rolls-Royces.

By the early 1980s, however, the Rajneeshees faced increasing pressure from the Indian government to leave, and in 1981 at the urging of his right-hand woman, Ma Anand Sheela – real name Sheela Silverman – Rajneesh moved his ashram to Montclair, New Jersey. After an extensive search for a larger territory in which to build his spiritualist utopia, Rajneesh purchased 65,000 acres of land called “The Big Muddy Ranch” outside the town of The Dalles in Wasco County, rural Oregon. More than 7000 followers would eventually settle in the new compound, which was incorporated later that year as Rajneeshpuram. The settlement quickly grew into a self-contained commune featuring its own communal farms, 4,200-foot airstrip, fire department, public transit system, sewage plant, and even zip code. The organizational structure of Rajneeshpuram was equally unusual. While Rajneesh was nominally in charge, upon arrival in Oregon he had taken a four-year vow of silence and rarely appeared in public outside his daily drive-throughs of the commune in his Rolls-Royce. Daily decision-making was thus left to Ma Anand Sheela and an inner circle of high-ranking women who became known as “Big Moms.” Ruthless against anyone who challenged their authority, the “Big Moms” became known among disaffected Rajneeshees as the “Dowager Duchesses.”

While the Rajneeshees initially enjoyed friendly relations with the residents of Wasco county, contributing some $35 million to the local economy, these relations soon soured as the group attempted to further expand Rajneeshpuram. Oregon zoning laws at the time placed severe restrictions on land use, and the Wasco County Commission, wary of the group’s growing population and political power, began denying them land-use permits and citing them for numerous building code violations. According to former Commission member Dan Eriksen, the Rajneeshees reacted violently to such challenges, threatening local government officials with libel suits and even death. The Commission’s fears were confirmed in early 1984 when the Rajneeshees took control of the nearby small town of Antelope by overwhelming its 75 residents in a local election. They then renamed the town “Rajneesh”, raised taxes, and carried out strange initiatives such as turning the town’s only business into a vegetarian restaurant called “Zorba the Buddha” and renaming the local recycling center the“Adolf Hitler Recycling Center.” No, really. Furthermore, this coup, along with the incorporation of Rajneeshpuram itself, gave the Rajneeshees the legal right to not only form their own police department, but also to patrol county roads and access State police training programs and even crime data networks. Rajneeshpuram thus organized a “Peace Force” of 60 officers who patrolled the roads around the commune with machine-gun armed jeeps.

Despite all this, however, attempts to expand the commune continued to be stymied by the Wasco County Commission. Furthermore, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland had begun an investigation into the immigration status of many of the cult members and the legal status of Rajneeshpuram itself, threatening the commune’s very existence. Sheela and the other “Big Moms” thus realized that the only way for the commune to gain complete autonomy was to take control of the Commission itself. Fortuitously, two of the three seats on the Commission were coming up for reelection in November 1984, and so the Rajneeshees set to work trying to secure them. At first the cult attempted to find sympathetic politicians to run against the hostile commissioners, but when they failed to get enough signatures to get their preferred candidates on the ballot, they turned instead to straight-up voter fraud.

As the 15,000 registered voters in Wasco County outnumbered the Rajneeshees more than two-to-one, the cult initially planned to send members into The Dalles, the largest population centre in the County, under false names in order to vote twice. But this plan was quickly abandoned due to the high risk of discovery. Instead, the Rajneeshees launched a scheme called “Share-a-Home,” an ostensibly humanitarian venture in which some 2,300 homeless people from around the State were brought to Rajneeshpuram and given shelter and food on the condition that they vote for the Rajhneeshee candidate in the upcoming election. However, on October 10 the Wasco County clerk countered this tactic by evoking an emergency rule requiring all new voters to appear in person at eligibility hearings and present their qualifications – including a minimum 20-day residency requirement to vote. The Rajneeshees filed an injunction, but this was quickly struck down. Meanwhile, those the commune quickly discovered that housing and caring for more than 2,000 homeless people – many of whom were suffering from untreated mental illnesses – was rather more than they had bargained for, and there are reports of  “guests” being blindfolded and forced to listen to hours of religious chanting or being drugged to keep them under control.

With their attempts to stuff the ballot box thwarted, the Rajneeshees turned to ever more drastic measures, even plotting to assassinate Oregon District Attorney Charles Taylor in Portland. Taylor was stalked, firearms purchased, and an assassin even chosen, but the hit was never carried out. Another abortive plot involved crashing a small plane packed with explosives into the Wasco County courthouse. In the end, however, the Rajneeshees settled on an even more sinister option: biological warfare.

What would become the largest bioterror attack in US history was masterminded by Ma Anand Puja, a native of the Philippines who had worked as a nurse in California and Indonesia before moving to India in 1979 to join the Rajneeshees. Wielding power in the cult nearly equal to Ma Sheela, Ma Puja served as the Secretary and Treasurer of the Rajneesh Medical Corporation and the commune’s Pythagoras Clinic and Pharmacy. But she was far from the caring, benevolent nurse her responsibilities would suggest. According to one former cult member: “There was something about Puja that sent shivers of revulsion up and down my spine the moment I met her. There was nothing I could put my finger on beyond her phony, sickeningly sweet smile; it was years before she became widely-known as the Dr. Mengele of the [Rajneeshee] community, the alleged perpetrator of sadistic medical practices that verged on the criminal; my reaction to her seemed irrational [but] Sheela trusted her implicitly.”

Indeed, the mayor of Rajneeshpuram, David Knapp – then known as Swami Krishna Deva – later testified that: “[Sheela] had talked with [Rajneesh] about the plot to decrease voter turnout in The Dalles by making people sick. Sheela said that [Rajneesh] commented that it was best not to hurt people, but if a few died not to worry.”

In concocting the bioterror plan, Ma Puja reasoned that if the Rajneeshees couldn’t inflate their own voter numbers, they could suppress everyone else’s, and this she planned to do by infecting The Dalles’ water supply with bacteria and forcing large groups of voters to stay home on election day. To accomplish this, Ma Puja considered a number of different different diseases inclyding Typhoid Fever, Tularemia, and Beaver Fever, before finally settling on Salmonella typhimurium. A common cause of food poisoning spread through poor food-preparation hygiene, Salmonella was perfect for the Rajneeshees’ purposes as it causes severe vomiting and diarrhea for 4-7 days but is very rarely fatal, killing only around 600 Americans every year. If successful, an attack would incapacitate much of the town on election day while being likely to be dismissed as a natural outbreak.

Ma Puja ordered cultures of Salmonella from a Seattle-based medical supply company called VWR Scientific, along with industrial incubators and freeze-driers in which to grow and store the cultured bacteria. As the Rajneeshee Medical Corporation was an accredited medical facility, acquiring this equipment was straightforward and attracted little suspicion. Ma Puja also ordered cultures of Typhoid, Tularemia, and Shigella Dysentery and reportedly expressed interest in cultivating and spreading the HIV virus, but none of these other plans ever came to fruition.

The Salmonella bacteria were cultured and packaged in a secret lab at Rajneeshpuram, and by August were ready for small-scale field trials. On August 29, 1984, two members of the Wasco County Commission, Judge William Hulse and Ray Matthew, visited Rajneeshpuram on a fact-finding mission. During their visit the men were given glasses of water spiked with Salmonella, causing both to fall severely ill. Judge Hulse had to be hospitalized, and likely would have died without treatment. Whether this was intended to intimidate the Commission or simply to test the potency of the bacteria is unknown, but whatever the case soon after Ma Puja decided to move on to the next phase of testing. While selecting targets in The Dalles, she and other conspirators entered a local supermarket and contaminated some of the fresh produce by pouring Salmonella liquid over it. They also spread the agent on urinal handles and doorknobs in the Wasco County Courthouse. However, nobody reported falling ill from this attack.

Two attempts were also made to contaminate the town water supply, but on one occasion a police car arrived and scared off the conspirators, while on another they realized that they did not have enough Salmonella to effectively infect the entire town. Undeterred, Ma Puja suggested infecting the town with Giardia or “Beaver Fever” by trapping local beavers, pulverizing them, and pouring the remains into the water supply. For one reason or another, this plan was also never carried out. But in September 1984, five weeks before the election, Ma Puja and eleven others decided to carry out a full-scale dress rehearsal of their planned attack. Targeting the salad and salsa bars of 10 local restaurants, they poured Salmonella liquid from concealed plastic bags into the lettuce, salad dressing, salsa, coffee creamer, and any other communal food or condiment they could find.

The effects were dramatic. By September 24, more than 150 people had fallen violently ill with bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, and abdominal pain, with lab tests confirming infection with Salmonella. By the end of the month a total of 751 people would develop confirmed cases of salmonellosis, though as The Dalles lies on a major thoroughfare it is likely that many more were infected while passing through the town. The victims ranged in age from two days to 87 years old, with 45 patients requiring hospitalization. Miraculously, however, not one person died in the attack.

Yet despite these promising results, the attack did not have the effect the Rajneeshees had hoped for. Being the largest outbreak of food poisoning in the country that year, the attack attracted the attention of the Oregon public health authorities, who immediately launched an investigation. This increased scrutiny meant that the Rajneeshees were unable to launch a follow-up attack when election day finally rolled around. Furthermore, local voters, annoyed by the cult’s antics, showed up to the polls in record numbers and soundly defeated the Rajneeshee candidate, rendering the whole exercise moot. Incredibly, though many including Oregon Democratic Congressman James H. Weaver suspected that the Rajneeshees were responsible, the official Oregon Department of Health investigation concluded that the outbreak had been natural, caused by the restaurant workers’ poor hygiene.

And there the story might have ended. While Congressman Weaver continued to pressure the CDC to investigate the Rajneeshees and gave a speech in the House of Representatives accusing the cult of starting the outbreak, it would be a full year before the truth was finally revealed. On September 15, 1985,  Rajneesh emerged from his four-year vow of silence to hold a press conference, in which he announced that 19 high-ranking cult members including Ma Sheela and Ma Puja had fled to Europe, and accused them of having planned and carried out numerous criminal acts including the Salmonella attack without his knowledge or consent. In response, Oregon Attorney David B. Frohnmayer formed an emergency task force composed of Oregon State Police and FBI personnel and obtained search warrants for Rajneeshpuram. On October 2, 1985, 50 investigators raided the compound. According to Frohnmeyer, they discovered evidence of extensive crimes perpetrated by the cult:

“The Rajneeshees committed the most significant crimes of their kind in the history of the United States … The largest single incident of fraudulent marriages, the most massive scheme of wiretapping and bugging, and the largest mass poisoning.”

The investigators also found evidence of previous bioterror attacks on a nursing home and medical centre, that Ma Sheela had tried to murder Rajneesh’s personal physician, and that Ma Puja had been involved in the death of Sheela’s first husband and the attempted assassination of Oregon politician James Comni in a Portland hospital.

Rajneesh fled Oregon by plane on October 27, 1985, only to be arrested when he landed in Charlotte, North Carolina and charged with 35 counts of deliberate violation of immigration law. He plead guilty to two counts, received a ten-year suspended sentence and a fine of $400,000, and was deported and barred from entering the United States for five years. Baghwan Shri Rajneesh returned to India and died on January 19, 1990 at the age of 58, having never been prosecuted for the bioterror attack in Dulles. Soon after the Rajneeshpuram Commune collapsed as disaffected members began leaving en masse to testify for the prosecution. Ma Sheela and Ma Puja were arrested in West Germany on October 28, 1985 and extradited to the United States, where they were charged with one count of attempted murder, two counts of assault, product tampering, wiretapping, and immigration offences. Ma Sheela and Ma Puja were given prison sentences of 55 and 42 years respectively, though both were released on good behaviour after serving only 29 months. Sheela later moved to Switzerland where she ran two nursing homes.

The 1984 Salmonella attack on The Dulles has gone down as one of the most bizarre terrorist attacks in US history, and an unintentional demonstration of just how difficult it really is to commit voter fraud in America. But to Leslie Zaitz, the investigative reporter from The Oregonian newspaper who wrote the first detailed account of the attack, the real lesson of the Salmonella incident is how lax media coverage allowed the attack to go undetected for so long, and might have allowed further attacks to take place:

“If anything, the local news media were restrained and conservative in their coverage of the salmonella episode. There was nothing alarmist, nothing to trigger a public panic. More aggressive coverage perhaps would have heated up already tense community relations with the commune. Yet the benign treatment also gave the Rajneeshees comfort that they could get away with it .  Fortunately, the commune collapsed before that could happen. But consider this: if they knew reporters were watching closely, would they have even tried?”

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Thompson, Christopher, The Bioterrorism Threat by Non-State Actors: Hype or Horror? Naval Postgraduate School. Monterey, California, December 2006,

Carus, Seth, The Illicit Use of Biological Agents Since 1900, Centre for Counterproliferation Research, February 2001,

Grossman, Lawrence, The Story of a Truly Contaminated Election, Columbia Journalism Review, February 2001,

McCann, Joseph, Terrorism on American Soil,

Bioterror’s First US Victims Offer Hope to a Nation, Taipei Times, October 21, 2001,

Keyes, Scott, A Strange But True Tale of Voter Fraud and Bioterrorism, The Atlantic, June 10, 2014,

Thuras, Dylan: The Secret’s in the Sauce: Bioterror at the Salsa Bar, Arlas Obscura, January 9, 2014,

The post That Time an Oregon Free-Love Cult Launched the Largest Bioterror Attack in US History appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - July 20, 2021 at 11:31PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

‘Kaputnik’: America’s Disastrous First Attempt to Launch a Satellite

On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface and uttered the immortal words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” While five more Apollo crews would land on the moon over the next three years, for many that moment marked the triumphant end of the Space Race, which over the previous twelve years had pitted the United States’ scientific and industrial might against that of its arch-rival the Soviet Union. But while the Soviets never managed to match Apollo and launch their own manned lunar missions, the Space Race was not always so one-sided. Indeed, for the first several years of the Space Age the Soviets always seemed to be one step ahead, with the Americans constantly on the back foot and scrambling to keep up. And no single event epitomizes these desperate early days like Project Vanguard, the United States’ ill-fated first attempt to launch a satellite.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, into low-earth orbit. Though little more than a 58-centimetre-diameter aluminium sphere with two radio transmitters and four antennas broadcasting a steady pulsing signal, the satellite was nonetheless a stunning technical achievement –  and one which filled the Western world with a mounting sense of dread. For if the R7 rocket that launched Sputnik could carry a satellite into orbit, it could also carry a nuclear warhead – and drop it on any point on the globe. The Cold War had just taken on a terrifying new dimension.

But while Sputnik is commonly remembered as having taken the United States completely by surprise and triggered a national panic, the truth of the matter is rather more complicated. In fact, upon hearing news of the Soviet satellite, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower actually breathed a sigh of relief. Worried that a lack of reliable military intelligence would cause both superpowers to stockpile dangerous amounts of weapons, Eisenhower had proposed an ‘Open Skies’ policy whereby the United States would be allowed to conduct reconnaissance overflights of the Soviet Union and vice versa in order to keep an eye on each others’ military strength. The Soviets, however, flatly rejected the proposal, not least because at the time they possessed no means of overflying the continental United States. But as a nation’s airspace extends all the way out of the atmosphere, Eisenhower saw the launch of Sputnik – which passed over the United States several times a day – as the Soviets setting a precedent for open skies. This in turn encouraged the president to approve further overflights of the Soviet Union using the high-flying Lockheed U-2 spy plane. Unable to admit this ulterior motive, however, Eisenhower allowed himself to be portrayed by the media as an out-of-touch old man asleep at the wheel, as in a whimsical poem composed by Michigan Governor G. Mennan Williams:

Oh little Sputnik, flying high

With made-in-Moscow beep,

You tell the world it’s a Commie sky,

And Uncle Sam’s asleep

 You say on fairway and on rough,

The Kremlin knows it all,

We hope our golfer knows enough

To get us on the ball

Also contrary to popular belief, the launch of Sputnik was not entirely unexpected, nor was the United States completely unprepared to answer the challenge. In fact, a U.S. satellite program had been in the works for several years, with one of the first, Project Orbiter, being proposed in 1954 by a small team from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The leader of this team was none other than Dr. Wernher von Braun, who during the Second World War had led the development of the Nazi V-2 rocket, the world’s first operational ballistic missile, around 3,000 of which were launched against London and other Allied targets. Since the age of 16, von Braun had been obsessed with the dream of launching a satellite – and eventually humans – into space – so much so, in fact, that in 1944 he was arrested and imprisoned for two weeks by the Gestapo on the grounds that his work on the V-2 was focused more on his own spacefaring goals than the defence of the Third Reich. At the end of the war von Braun and many of his colleagues were captured by American forces, and under Operation Paperclip had their Nazi pasts expunged before being brought to the United States. There, building on their wartime experience, they developed the PGM-11 Redstone, essentially a larger, modernized V-2 and America’s first nuclear ballistic missile.

For Project Orbiter, von Braun proposed modifying a Redstone by elongating the propellant tanks and adding three additional solid-fuel rocket stages to create a vehicle he called Jupiter-C, which would theoretically be able to carry a small satellite into orbit. In order to come up with a suitable scientific payload for the satellite, von Braun asked his chief scientist, Ernst Stuhlinger, to find a “Nobel-level” scientist specializing in high-altitude physics. Stuhlinger immediately recommended Dr. James Van Allen of the University of Iowa, with whom he had worked on high-altitude cosmic ray research using captured V-2 rockets in the late 1940s. Using weather balloons and small research rockets, van Allen had discovered unusually high concentrations of cosmic radiation at high altitudes, and theorized that charged particles from the sun were being trapped and concentrated by the earth’s magnetic field into large belts of radiation. But without some means of reaching above the earth’s atmosphere, he could not confirm his theory. So van Allen readily agreed to von Braun’s proposal, and on January 26, 1956 at a symposium at the University of Michigan laid out the Army’s plan to develop and launch a small scientific satellite. Meanwhile, von Braun and his team developed the Jupiter C under the cover of an Army program to test the re-entry characteristics of ballistic missile nosecones. The first test flight, using only two additional rocket stages, took place on November 16, 1956, the rocket reaching an altitude of 1000 kilometres. Had the planned third stage been added it would have entered earth orbit, but von Braun was forbidden by the Pentagon to make the attempt.

But as luck would have it, world events had just provided the Army project with a legitimate reason for existing. In 1952, the International Council of Scientific Unions announced the International Geophysical Year or IGY, an 18-month period lasting from 1957 to 1958 during which teams from 67 countries would collaborate on experiments in meteorology, oceanography, seismology, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, and other earth sciences. On July 29, 1955, James C. Hagerty, President Eisenhower’s press secretary, announced that as part of the IGY, the United States would launch a small satellite into orbit. Four days later, at an Astronautical conference in Copenhagen, Soviet scientist Leonid I. Sedov announced that the Soviet Union would also be orbiting a satellite in the “near future.” Nonetheless, Eisenhower emphasized that the U.S. satellite program was being undertaken in the spirit of international scientific cooperation and not as a competition with other nations. And in any case, few in the United States believed that the Soviet Union – viewed by many as a primitive backwater – actually possessed the technical know-how to deliver on their promise. So the U.S. program proceeded at a leisurely, unworried pace.

But by now von Braun was not alone in his bid to launch a satellite; the U.S. Navy was also developing its own competing program called Project Vanguard. The task of deciding who would make the attempt fell to the Ad Hoc Committee on Special Capabilities lead by U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson. Despite the Army already possessing a proven launcher, on September 9, 1955, the Committee announced it had chosen Project Vanguard over Project Orbiter to launch the United States’ first satellite. The decision was an entirely political one. Given the ostensibly peaceful civilian nature of the IGY satellite project, President Eisenhower believed that using an Army rocket would appear too aggressive and wished to, according to Dr. Van Allen: “…avoid revealing the propulsive capability of the United States [and] alarming foreign nations with the realization that a U.S. satellite was flying over their territories.”

Tying in to Eisenhower’s desire for open skies, it was believed that the Soviets might not object to a civilian research satellite overflying their territory, setting a precedent for future military overflights. Plus there was the awkward fact that the Army’s Redstone rocket had been developed by, well, literal Nazis. By contrast, the Vanguard rocket, while developed by the Navy, had been assembled entirely from components of civilian rockets designed for peaceful research. On August 3, 1955, Project Orbiter was officially canceled. Undaunted, von Braun attempted to convince the Navy to use the Jupiter C instead of its unproven Vanguard, even offering to write “Vanguard” in big letters on the side of the rocket. But the Navy turned him down, and von Braun contented himself with setting aside a complete Jupiter C rocket in case it was ever needed, under the guise of performing an experiment on the long-term storage of missiles.

With Project Orbiter now on ice, Dr. Van Allen wasted no time in jumping ship to Project Vanguard and proposing his cosmic ray experiment for the Navy’s satellite. But so small was the Vanguard rocket’s maximum payload that there was no room for Van Allen’s radiation detector or any other scientific instruments. Instead, the spherical, 15-centimetre-diameter Vanguard satellite carried only two 108-MHz radio tracking transmitters powered by batteries and solar cells, as well as two thermometers to monitor the satellite’s internal temperature. The spacecraft’s diminutive size was widely mocked by the Soviets, with Premier Nikita Khrushchev referring to it as “the grapefruit satellite.”

In spite of rumours that the Soviets were making swift progress on their own satellite project, work on Vanguard carried on at a steady pace, with the first suborbital test of the rocket’s first stage, TV-0, taking place on December 8, 1956. This was followed by the two-stage TV-1 test on May 1, 1957. In June of 1957 the Soviet press announced the radio frequency on which their first satellite would broadcast its signals, but once again few in the United States paid much attention. Vanguard TV-2, the first suborbital test of all three rocket stages, was scheduled for September of that year, but technical problems resulted in significant delays.

Then, on October 4, 1957, while TV-2 was still on the launch pad, the Soviets announced that Sputnik 1 was in orbit. The news sent shockwaves through American society, with many wondering how the supposedly backwards Soviets could have accomplished such a stunning feat. One U.S. General, referring to von Braun and his team in Huntsville, supposedly exclaimed “we captured the wrong Germans!” Vanguard TV-2 was successfully launched on October 23, 1957, but this accomplishment was immediately eclipsed on November 3 when the Soviets launched yet another satellite, Sputnik 2, into orbit. But this time, the spacecraft had a passenger: an 3-year-old Moscow street dog named Laika – the first living creature to orbit the earth.

With American military and scientific prestige at an all-time low, the formerly peaceful and scientific Project Vanguard suddenly took on new urgency as the United States’ last hope of answering the Soviet threat. While the engineers had originally planned to use a dummy satellite for TV-3, the first all-up orbital flight, under intense pressure from the American press they reluctantly agreed to install the genuine flight article. Finally, on December 6, 1957, two months after the epoch-making launch of Sputnik 1, the countdown for Vanguard TV-3 began at Cape Canaveral in Florida. At 4:33 PM Greenwich Mean Time the countdown reached zero, the first stage booster ignited, and the pencil-like rocket roared off the launch pad.

Then, disaster. A mere two seconds after liftoff, the engines suddenly cut out. Then, in front of millions of Americans watching on live television, Vanguard TV-3 fell back onto the pad and exploded into a giant fireball. The tiny Vanguard satellite was thrown clear of the explosion, and in a scene witnesses described as “pathetic,” the satellite, lying bent and broken on the concrete, began transmitting its tracking signal as  if it had successfully reached orbit.

The press had a field day with the disaster, headlines variously referring to to Vanguard as “Flopnik,” “Dudnik,” “Oopsnik,” “Stayputnik,” and “Kaputnik.” The Soviet Union also joined in the mockery, with a Soviet delegate to the United Nations offering the United States financial aid from a fund reserved for “undeveloped countries.” The cause of the launch failure was never fully determined due to a lack of proper instrumentation, with engineers variously pointing to low fuel pressure or a loose fuel connection. But whatever the cause, the damage was done: the United States’ sense of technological superiority had been shattered. Yet America was not out of the game just yet, for thanks to Wernher von Braun’s foresight she still had an ace up her sleeve. In the wake of the Sputnik Crisis, on October 9, 1957 Secretary of Defense Wilson resigned and was replaced by Neil H. McElroy. One month later McElroy authorized Redstone Arsenal to revive Project Orbiter.

It was the moment von Braun and his team had been waiting for. The Jupiter C – now known as Juno I – was pulled from storage and fitted with a third stage and a small 14kg satellite called Explorer I, which among other scientific instruments carried Dr. James Van Allen’s cosmic ray detector. On March 17, 1958, Explorer I roared off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and became the first U.S. satellite to enter orbit. While only the third satellite to be launched after Sputnik 1 and 2, Explorer I made up for its tardiness by becoming the first spacecraft to make a major scientific discovery in orbit. Readings from its onboard instruments confirmed the existence of large belts of trapped radiation girdling the earth, now known as the Van Allen Radiation Belts.

To the American public, however, the launch of Explorer I meant only one thing: America was finally back in the Space Race. But it would be a hard road to the stars, for on May 15, 1958 the Soviets launched Sputnik 3, a massive satellite a thousand times heavier than Explorer I. This would be followed by a long string of Soviet space firsts, including the first spacecraft to reach the Moon, the first spacecraft to take pictures of the far side of the moon, the first animals to be safely recovered from orbit, the first man in space, the first planetary flyby, and the first man to make a spacewalk. It would not be until 1965 during Project Gemini that the Americans finally exceeded the Soviets in manned spaceflight capability – a lead they would carry all the way to the moon.

And despite being the poster child for America’s early failures in space exploration, the much-maligned Project Vanguard may have gotten the last laugh. On March 17, 1958, three months after the embarrassing TV-3 disaster, Vanguard I was successfully launched into orbit. It remains the oldest man-made object still in space, Sputnik 1 having decayed from orbit in January 1958, Sputnik 2 in April 1958, and Explorer I in March 1970. And while its radios stopped transmitting long ago, Vanguard I is still actively tracked by radar, the shape of its orbit used to map the earth’s gravitational field. It is expected to remain in orbit for another 1000 years, a lonely relic of the heavy and uncertain days at the dawn of the Space Age.

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Bonus Facts:

 Over the years, a number of common myths and misconceptions have grown up around Sputnik and the early days of the Space Race. For instance, after Sputnik was launched, many people claimed to be able to see the satellite with the naked eye as it passed overhead. However, given the small size of Sputnik this is unlikely; what people were actually seeing was the much larger upper stage of the R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik and which entered orbit alongside it.

Another commonly reported fact is that the steady beeping signal transmitted by Sputnik conveyed no telemetry information and was simply used to track the satellite. But this is not quite true; encoded in the pulses was data from a sensor which monitored the pressure inside the satellite’s body. This was essential, as a leak would have caused the satellite to fail. Soviet avionics were based on vacuum tubes rather than transistors and could not operate in a vacuum, so Sputnik’s body was filled with nitrogen gas and sealed shut. While somewhat bulky and crude compared to American transistorized systems, the Soviets would continue to use this unusual arrangement for years. For example, when Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first man to take a spacewalk on March 18, 1965, he had to exit through an inflatable airlock attached to the Voskhod 2 spacecraft’s hatch because the cabin could not be depressurized without causing the avionics to overheat. This in turn lead to the mission being plagued with problems as both the airlock and Leonov’s spacesuit ballooned in the vacuum of space, preventing him from fitting back through the hatch. Leonov had to partially deflate his suit, risking the Bends, before he was able to climb back aboard.

Another mission shrouded in myth and misconception is Sputnik 2 – especially regarding the ultimate fate of its passenger, the dog Laika. Following the success of Sputnik 1, the Soviet Politburo urged the space program’s chief designer, Sergei Korolev, to design and launch another satellite in time for the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in early November. This tight deadline left no time to design a recovery system, meaning that from beginning Laika was destined to die in orbit. Indeed, the satellite’s designers even placed a poison pellet in Laika’s food dispenser to euthanize her at the conclusion of the mission. Early Soviet reports variously claimed that Laika had died of oxygen deprivation or been euthanized after four days in space, but more modern sources indicate that she died mere hours after reaching orbit, the victim of heat exhaustion caused by a faulty cabin thermostat. It would not be until the Sputnik 5 mission on August 20, 1960 that living creatures – the dogs Belka and Strelka – would be recovered safely from orbit.

But perhaps the greatest myth of the early Space Race is that the Soviets enjoyed success after success while the American program was plagued with endless mistakes and failures. However, this notion is largely the result of the very different way in which the American and Soviet space programs were organized. The establishment of NASA as a civilian government agency meant that the U.S. space program was from its inception an open and transparent undertaking. This meant, however, that both failures and successes would take place in full view of the public. The Soviet space program, by contrast, was run by the military and carried out under the strictest of secrecy, with few details being revealed even to the Soviet people. Missions were not announced until after they had launched, and cosmonauts’ names were not even revealed until they had reached orbit. To the outside world this gave the impression of an unbroken string of unqualified successes, when in reality the failed missions were simply not reported. And there were a lot of failed missions. For example, 23 of the 59 R-7 rocket launches conducted between May 1957 and February 1961 were unsuccessful – a failure rate of 39% and comparable to that of the closest American equivalent, the SM-65 Atlas missile. This is not to say that Soviet achievements in space were not impressive or important; only that they should be evaluated in the context of the secrecy and propaganda that pervaded the depths of the Cold War.

Expand for References

Swenson, Lloyd; Grimwood, James & Alexander, Charles, This New Ocean, NASA History Series, 1989,

Ludwig, George, The First Explorer Satellites, October 9, 2004,

Vanguard – a History, NASA History Series,

Ackmann, Martha, The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight, Random House, 2003

Berger, Eric, The First Creature in Space Was a Dog. She Died Miserably 60 Years Ago, Are Technica, November 3, 2017,

The post ‘Kaputnik’: America’s Disastrous First Attempt to Launch a Satellite appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - July 20, 2021 at 11:18PM
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