Suitsat will track the progress of an empty Russian space suit as it orbits Earth for a few days, beginning in early February. To date, reports that the onboard radio will broadcast David Bowie’s “Major Tom” have remained unconfirmed.

La laa, la la laaa

What do you call a workday that begins at 6 am and ends at 8 pm?

In other news, we bought the floor for the house’s large family room over the weekend, about $1.5k, in a thicker-plank red oak than the existing oak that was under the carpets. On the whole, the remodel is on track to go over our hoped for budget, but not ridiculously so, and the pace that our contractors are keeping is stunning, measured by the yardstick of hearsay.

My mom’s birthday was Sunday, and I called minutes before her midnight, from work.

On Saturday Viv and I had lunch with League brothers Manuel and Jeff and ex-Seattleite daymented, and afterwards took them over to the house to see the remodel in person. It was great to see all of them and interesting to have guests at the house, dust, remodelers, and all.

An oddity about the weekend was that each day was scheduled to within an inch of its’ time, beginning at 8am and ending at 10 or so, and none of my activities involved alcohol.

On sunday, Viv and Spence and I also went to see “Magnificent Desolation,” a Tom Hanks / Ron Howard 3-D IMAX film about the moon landings. It was pretty good, but I was preoccupied. At least I did note with pleasure that the movie dealt directly with the problems the filmmakers had set for themselves: a) re-enactments of Moon-landings beg the re-enactors to address the Capricorn One scenario (pace OJ) and b) the much-remarked-upon single most distinguishing optical feature of the Moon’s surface is a lack of long-range dimensionality, calling into question the wisdom of such endeavors as, oh, as 3-D film concerning lunar exploration.

There were indeed, I’m happy to report, some wonderful, intimate 3D sequences covering such things as lunar rover travel, the landing process and suiting up for lunar EVA, and a lovely postmodern remastering of the LEM’s lunar liftoffoff. Alas, though, I was too preoccupied to properly focus on the film.

My ISP finally deigned to provide service and apparently I am now the proud owner of yet another new router and, according to the service person, “one IP address.” This, of course, make me insane with rage, but having worked such a long day, the form it takes is restricted to involuntary eyelid twitches. I have considered contracting these twitches out to Danelope, as he is ever so much more amusing when fueled by irrational hatred, but have declined to do so, on the grounds that he should actually purchase them from me as an ancillary inspirational resource.

Shortly, as well, the new box should arrive. It remains an open question when I will have the time to configure email and web and database dervishes on the device.

In conclusion, why can’t I receive my hard-copy New Yorker on Mondays? It would give me something to look forward to.

Apollo Guidance

Block I Apollo Guidance Computer Replica:


This report describes my successful project to build a working reproduction of the 1964 prototype for the Block I Apollo Guidance Computer. The AGC is the flight computer for the Apollo moon landings, with one unit in the command module and one in the LEM.

I built it in my basement. It took me 4 years.

If you like, you can build one too. It will take you less time, and yours will be better than mine.

Next stop, the Sea of Tranquility.

On some faraway beach


Huygens, ten miles high and falling fast, snaps the farthest shore.

Given the chance
I’ll die like a baby
On some faraway beach
When the season’s over

Unlikely I’ll be remembered
As the tide brushes sand in my eyes
I’ll drift away

Cast up on a plateau
With only one memory
A silver sail on a boat
Oh lie low lie low, li-li-li-li li-li-lo

— Brian Eno, 1974

How to steal a Zeppelin

This is the final installment of Blimp Week II, folks, and I’m playing a couple of requests. Soon-to-be parasite on society Paul Frankenstein (he’s famous, you know) IMs, suggesting the title above. Ergo:

1. Go to Google Image search.

2. Enter the word “zeppelin” and hit the submit button.

3. Steal as many zeppelins as you’d like.

Thank you! I’ve been here all week!

Seriously, I looked for as many variations on this as I could, and I got bupkis. I did find an online steampunk tale, Queen Victoria and the Zeppelin Pirates, and brief references to a stop-motion film by one Karel Zerman called The Stolen Airship, but as far as I can tell, no factual incident of airship theft has been recorded, an astounding wrinkle in the gasbag.

Despite this, the early history of airships is rife with attempts to reverse engineer the technology or to obtain it by force of arms (there was a war on, after all). I’ve never encountered a detailed discussion of wartime espionage, but the themes play a big role in the ho-hum 1971 film Zeppelin, starring Michael York and Elke Sommer. York is a British spy sent to his duty in Freidrichshafen, where things get out of hand. I can’t recall if he attempts to steal the airship but we can safely state that it came up during script development and thus I rule it in bounds.


The creators went to great extents to make the ship convincing on screen, and as far as I could tell when I stumbled into it on the tube late one night, the interior control-deck seen in the film is quite accurate. Alas, the mediocrity of the film is apparently so great that even on the internet, no hard-core of obsessed admirers has surfaced to liberally sprinkle the darkweb with illict screen captures and grainy Quicktime video. At least there is some sort of collector’s market.


At the other end of the spectrum from technicolor films I’ve seen by directors I’ve never heard of, Dirigible was made in 1931 in black-and-white and directed by Frank Capra. I’ve never seen it, but it has a much cooler poster than that seventies monstrosity, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s my understanding that the film also features the USS Los Angeles in her only starring role.


As usual, John Dziadecki has done the legwork on the topic of airships in film generally. His list is really the best collection of information on the subject I have seen on the net.

Mr. Frankenstein also sought information on the scene in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in which the Hindenburg III is moored to the airship mast of the Empire State Building, and the passengers debark via a rickety nose-mounted gangway, high above the city. He wanted to know if the mast had ever actually been employed to moor an airship, and if so, if the depiction was accurate.

I had a hard time sourcing the details, but I know the answers off the top of my head, so here’s my un-researched skinny. The mast was added in the throes of a height race with the builders of the Chrysler Building, and its’ primary purpose is to add footage to the obelisk. The decision to design and promote the tower as an airship mast was largely driven by the desire for publicity. Shortly after the building was completed, of course, the airship era was brought to an abrupt and explosive close. However, even if the Hindenburg had not exploded, it’s unlikely that the Empire State’s mast would ever have been used.

At the time that the mast was conceived, there were two kinds of masts in common use on airship bases around the world. One, a mast low enough to the ground to allow the base of the ship to touch the ground and to allow people to board and debark directly, was less employed than another. The other, the high mast, is the approach which the Empire State’s mast emulates.

The high mast was, as the name implies, much taller. The moored airship’s crew would indeed primarily enter and leave via a nose-mounted gangway. If I understand the details, mooring a ship to the high mast was easier, faster, and required less crew, and therefore only if it was absolutely needed did a ship moor to the low mast. However, around 1920 (I think), a series of accidents occurred which led to the abandonment of the high mast generally, well before the Empire State building was completed.

The essential problem is that an airship is a great sail in the wind, and when the ships were tethered to the masts, wind could cause breakaways which severely damaged the craft and often occurred with only a skeleton crew aboard. The vessels were symbols of national pride and terribly expensive, and so it was rapidly learned not to expose them to the risks of the open air while moored.

So, amusingly, the most improbable aspect of the Hindenburg III sequence in Sky Captain – the absurd, apparent risk inherent in walking a plank while a quarter mile in the air – is also its’ most and least realistic element, simultaneously. It’s an enigma, a chinese puzzle box of the cinema, I tells ya!

I think we can fairly argue that the failure of humans to practice the second-oldest profession with regard to lighter-than-air aviation is also a mystery, and since this is a wrap up I can use that to transition into a couple of interesting anecdotes. Solidy in the realm of documented mystery along the lines of the Marie Celeste, the mystery of The Ghost Blimp generates a new story every few years. I believe the image below, of the pilotless vessel’s crash landing, originally ran with the linked story in print.


Well, if that doesn’t satisfy your appetite for fearful phenomena, may I suggest a careful, late-night perusal of The Mystery Airship of 1897, in which a rash of Victorian airship sightings in the midwest appear to presage our own darling UFOs and flying saucers. Triangulating airships and the UFO subspecies of delta-shaped craft brings us to the intriguing backyard engineering group JP Aerospace, whose mission is to develop a high-altitude lighter-than-air craft as a launch platform for spacecraft, or as they put it, “ATO – airship to orbit.” Widely reported this summer to be preparing a test flight of a 172-foot V-shapped craft, the Ascender, I found no meaningful follow-up and surmise the flight did not take place this year.

And so Blimp Week II sails into the enveloping fog of the internet, her graceful lines gradually losing definition in the digital mists as she succumbs to bit rot. Thanks for sailing!


I regret that the source of this image is forgotten, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s the R101 and that it came from the Airship Heritage Trust site.

That's three forward, nine down

Apollo 11 materials at Nasa include an annotated transcript of the landing and the LM’s flight paths.

The actual first steps are documented in a similar transcript, peppered liberally with video, audio, and photo links.

Elsewhere, we find evidence of a Soviet attempt to reach the moon with cosmonauts, and my obligatory cardmodel links to the LEM and Delta 7’s in-progress Apollo project.

IMAX is producing a film, with some sort of assistance from Tom Hanks, that will take archival lunar surface footage, enlarge and de-grain it, and be offered up in 3-D.

Finally, it’s always important to note those who voyaged to Luna before Armstrong and company, such as the justly-celebrated Cyrano de Bergerac.

Has anyone talked to Spirit lately?

– begin messtrans –


NASA: come in Spirit
NASA: Spirit come in
Interplanetary Cellular has joined this chat.
NASA: Spirit come in
Interplanetary Cellular: Sorry, Spirit is away from its planet right now. Would you like to speak to somebody else?
NASA: is, um, is Pathfinder there?
NASA: hello?
Interplanetary Cellular: beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep
NASA: I’m sorry the reception on this phone is fucking terrible
Interplanetary Cellular: Please try your call again later.


NASA: oh christ
NASA: (redials)
NASA: (rings for a long time)
NASA: pick up!
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Hello!
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Sorry, I was in the shower!
NASA: Yes, hi! I’m trying to reach Spirit, you know, on Mars?
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Oh…one second…
NASA: Thanks!
NASA: (twiddles thumbs)
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: [muffled] Some guy named NASA is asking for you..
NASA: (doodles, hears quiet voices on phone)
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: I don’t know, something about pretty pictures of rocks…
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: [clear] Spirit stepped out for a minute; can I take a message?
NASA: (sighs)
NASA: Uh, yeah, can you tell her that everybody back on Earth is, like, really worried about her?
NASA: We have been trying to get through to her for several days now, and when someone does talk to her, all we get is static!
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: I can put you through to her voicemail, or I can take a message?
NASA: If by some chance you see her, or her friends Beagle or Pathfinder or that nice older probe Viking, will you pass a message?
NASA: Please?
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Sure thing!
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Lemme get my pen…
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Go ahead!
NASA: Her Uncle Hubble just got some very bad news. Spirit’s sister will be there in a few days, and she can fill Spirit in on the details.
NASA: After that, we’re sending someone to get you, Spirit. It may take a while but someone will be there. Hang on – please just hang on!
NASA: (deep breath, pauses)
NASA: That’s it.
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Whew. Perhaps you’d prefer voicemail?
NASA: no, no, this is fine.
NASA: Now, I think her sister should be the one to tell her, but I can let you know –
NASA: Uncle Hubble’s not long for the soloar system.
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Um…okay then.
NASA: Brush the dust and mud off her sundial for me – for all of us.
NASA: Okay?
NASA: By the way, you’ve been very helpful and kind.
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: That’s my job, sir.
NASA: Who is this again?
Interplanetary Cellular Customer: Scott Carpenter.

– end messtrans –


The part of NASA was written and played by Mike Whybark.

The parts of Interplanetary Cellular and Scott Carpenter were written and played by Ken Goldstein.

Pigs… In… SPA-A-A-A-C-E

Wanted: Traffic Cops for Space: [NYT] – um, wow.

Gotta make a joke here folks, there’s no passin’ it up. See headline.

Thought number two: is the UN really the body to regulate orbital litter?

Thought number three: if it is, won’t the Bad Mens(tm) step up to the plate to make sure it’s powerless, a la Kyoto (moustaches twirlin’, chargin’ rent, etcetry)?

Oh, it’s tizzifyin’.


Note to headline scribe: “Wanted: Cops …” is, perhaps, not precisely the meme you were looking for here.