The Civil Rights Act had just passed and the slide rule was giving way to computers when Frances “Poppy” Northcutt arrived at Nasa’s Houston campus in 1965, eager to join the space race. But her job title stunned her: “computress.” Northcutt, then 22 and fresh out of the University of Texas at Austin with a mathematics degree, soon learned that at Nasa, men were engineers, women “computresses” or “human computers,” with less status and less pay. But Northcutt persevered, and three years later, during the Apollo 8 mission, she would become the first woman to work in Mission Control. As the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches, Northcutt and other women who helped America’s space efforts are reflecting on their often unheralded roles — and the indignities they endured. Many were lone pioneers, fighting behind the scenes to not only build their own careers, but to advance those of other women and minorities at Nasa. When Northcutt started at the agency, she knew nothing of fellow computresses at Nasa’s Langley, Virginia, research centre — African American female mathematicians made famous in the book and 2016 film Hidden Figures. What Northcutt knew was that she wanted to be part of the team putting men on the moon. “I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of breaking rules,” she said recently at her Houston office. “I was thinking you have to integrate into the team.” Poppy Northcutt When Northcutt entered Mission Control in 1968 with her long blond hair and miniskirts, she knew she would stand out. Almost everyone working there was white, male and clean-cut, a sea of white shirts. “It was a radical thing for the guys to wear a blue shirt,” said Northcutt, 75, adding, “It was a pretty bleak landscape for women.” She took a seat at a console, donned headphones and was instantly overwhelmed by the din of overlapping conversations. “How am I going to make sense out of this cacophony of voices?” she thought. She soon figured out how to focus on particular conversations, and picked up on some non-scientific chatter: “There’s a girl in here.” “I knew I was being watched,” she said. As the Apollo launch approached, video footage from Mission Control was broadcast around the world, including shots of Northcutt that prompted heaps of fan mail. But she also discovered that co-workers had trained a camera on her that they secretly watched on a private channel. “It would be called a hostile workplace” today, she said, but at the time, “we didn’t even have that language.” Northcutt never complained to supervisors. “They were just barely processing claims of sex discrimination at that time,” she said. “And again, I’m trying to integrate into a team. I’m not trying to sue people. I think most women that experience things like that just go, ‘OK, I got to get past this.’” She focused on her part of the mission: the return to Earth trajectory, the spacecraft’s path around the moon. As the astronauts rounded the backside, they would lose radio contact with Mission Control. Northcutt’s job was to plan for the worst, be prepared to abort the mission quickly and bring the men home safely. So during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969, it wasn’t the lunar landing she recalls watching, but the orbit. And it wasn’t a TV she was watching, it was a clock. “You know what time they’re supposed to come out and acquire signal,” she said. “If they’re early or late, it can be bad either way.” They were right on time. She would go on to successfully advocate not only for better pay, but also for improved benefits for women, including maternity leave and affirmative action. (When she started, labour laws dictated that Northcutt and other women were not paid for working overtime.) “Being the first woman in Mission Control, I was being asked questions about the status of women at the time. I began to think more about that. I began to be more aware of the discrimination that was going on,” she said. Northcutt stayed on as a Nasa contractor until 1973. By then, she recalled, “there were a lot of women in Mission Control. Just seeing women involved made a difference.” The following year, she served as the city of Houston’s first women’s advocate, promoting legislation and executive actions that allowed women to serve as police and firefighters. Motivated by her work and the women’s rights movement, Northcutt became a lawyer. She helped create a domestic violence unit at the local prosecutor’s office and said she now works on reproductive justice issues. She describes herself as a “onetime rocket scientist, sometime lawyer and a full-time women’s rights advocate.” Last week, she visited Los Angeles in advance of the premier of the new IMAX film Apollo 11: First Steps Edition, which opened last Monday at the California Science Center. Christine Darden Christine Darden, one of the mathematicians portrayed in Hidden Figures, had been working as a computress at Langley for five years when she worked up the courage to ask her supervisor in 1972 why only men were allowed to be Nasa engineers. She had assumed the men had engineering degrees, but learned that many had studied mathematics, just as she had at Hampton University and Virginia State, where she earned her master’s degree. Nasa even paid for them to take a year of graduate engineering classes. Darden had joined civil rights sit-ins during college, and saw the promotion as a question of equal opportunity. Computresses served engineers. “I did not want to spend my entire career just supporting somebody. I wanted to do my own work,” Darden, 76, said by phone from her home in Virginia. At the time, Darden was married to a middle school science teacher, and had taught math before coming to Nasa. She was so nervous about how her boss might react, she contacted local colleges to line up teaching jobs, in case she was fired. Her boss surprised her. “He looked at me and said, ‘Nobody has ever asked me that question before,’” she said. Darden pressed him. “The women do all the work,” she observed, “and they don’t get promoted very easily.” Two weeks later, she was transferred — and promoted. She later found out that a white computress married to a male engineer had already complained about the added schooling men received, and had been allowed to take graduate engineering courses. “I probably would not have gotten approved if that had not happened,” she said. While working as an engineer and raising two children, Darden studied mechanical engineering part-time for a decade at George Washington University until she earned her doctorate. The first few weeks were the toughest. “I was scared, because I knew the class was going to be all males,” she said. For about a month, none of her classmates talked to her. But after she aced a math test, suddenly men were inviting her to join their study group. After Hidden Figures was released, she toured the country, speaking after 14 showings with women still working at Nasa. “We talked about what lessons can you learn from this,” Darden said, and her message was “how women did good work instead of complaining.” Darden also speaks to engineering classes, where professors tell her they struggle to keep female students. She thinks the problem starts much earlier. “I tell parents, ‘Don’t let people tell you what your daughter can’t do,’” she said. Darden had grown up helping her father change tires on the family car and prime the carburetor. When her mother gave her a talking doll, she “cut it open to see what made it talk.” “I had a curiosity about what made things work,” she said. “I found the right home at Nasa.” Sylvia Stottlemyer On July 20, 1969, high school senior Sylvia Salinas left Oaklawn Assembly of God Church in Houston’s eastern barrio early with the rest of her family to gather at her aunt’s house and watch the moon landing on a grainy black-and-white television. A year later, she was working as a secretary for astronaut Alan Shepard. At the time, there were few women like Northcutt on the front lines at Nasa, recalled Sylvia Stottlemyer, now married and retired in the Houston suburbs. But throughout the agency, “there were hundreds of other women that were working, women like me, that were behind the scenes.” Stottlemyer had studied typing and shorthand, but encouraged by a teacher, took a civil service exam and qualified for two government jobs. Her father, a produce manager who never graduated from middle school and did the family driving, decided she would take the Nasa job because it was closer. “It was a traffic decision,” she said at her home near the Nasa campus. “I happen to think it was fate.” Astronauts would shape her life. She came of age “mothering” the first men in space, veterans like Shepard, 15 to 20 years her senior, whom she addressed as “sir.” It didn’t occur to her that women could be astronauts, too. “No-one questioned. It was just what it was,” she said. “The culture shift hadn’t happened yet.” But the country and Nasa were changing. Stottlemyer’s father had survived the height of segregation in south Texas, when he and other Latinos were told to drink from the hose behind a local store and to sit in the balcony at movie theaters. Now he bragged that his daughter “works for astronauts.” By 1978, Nasa had brought in a new, younger crop of astronauts, including the first women, Judy Resnik and Sally Ride. Ride was the same age as Stottlemyer, 26, but had already earned her doctorate in physics. “I looked at them, and I was looking at myself in a different role,” she said. “And they came in seeing us as their equals.” The female astronauts asked Stottlemyer and other secretaries and administrative staff for advice on Nasa culture, and transitioned seamlessly, she said. “What pleasantly surprised me was how easily they integrated themselves into the office. They wanted to be one of the guys,” she said. The female astronauts also socialised with her, drinking, sailing and camping. Resnik became Stottlemyer’s best friend — and bridesmaid at her wedding. Although Resnik respected her expertise, the astronaut also pushed her to go back to school. “She said, ‘You’re way too smart to be in this position,’” Stottlemyer recalled. Stottlemyer earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston and returned to earn a master’s in human resource management, all while working full-time and raising her son (Nasa helped pay her tuition). She attended women’s rights protests, wearing a button she still has in her office: “Space for Women.” Because she was busy working on her master’s degree in 1986, Stottlemyer decided to send another secretary from Houston to Cape Canaveral in Florida to staff the ill-fated Challenger shuttle launch. Among those killed was Resnik. Stottlemyer helped organise her funeral. She rose to the ranks of senior management, and continued to volunteer with the Nasa Alumni League after she retired in 2014, promoting programmes like robotics in local schools. Each year, she and at least 40 other former administrative staff members who call themselves the “Sixties Chicks” meet at the Villa Capri restaurant overlooking a lake near Nasa to reminisce. Some are in their 90s. “We’re losing more and more of them every year,” said Stottlemyer, 67. Sitting in her home office, surrounded by astronauts’ signed photos, uniform patches, flags flown in space and other Nasa memorabilia, Stottlemyer said what was most precious were the opportunities she made for other women. Soon after she left Nasa, a young female engineer contacted her to say she had been struggling to fit in until she attended Stottlemyer’s retirement party and heard her story. “Where you started and where you ended, it inspired me to want that kind of career,” Stottlemyer said the woman told her. “I hope that’s my legacy.” — Los Angeles Times/TNS
Qatar witnessed a lunar eclipse during the full Moon phase of Hijri month Dhul-Qa’da 1440 AH. The eclipse continued from Tuesday evening to the early hours of Wednesday, according to Qatar Calendar House (QCH). The last lunar eclipse of this year was expected to be partial, as the shadow of the Earth obscured some 65.3% of the entire Moon disc at its peak. This is because the centre of the Moon, the earth and the Sun were on one straight line so the Earth was in the middle between the Sun and the Moon, blocking part of the Sun falling on the Moon, QCH astronomer Dr Beshir Marzouk said. The eclipse was visible throughout almost of Asia, Europe, Africa, South America and North America. Qatar residents got a chance to see all phases of this lunar eclipse. All stages of this eclipse reportedly took some five hours and 34 minutes from the beginning of the eclipse to the end. —Photos by Chito S. Almacen, @chitos_peak
Sitting at her desk in rapt attention, Lisa Klein was told that the Russians had launched a silvery, beach ball-size sphere hundreds of miles into orbit. It was the world’s first satellite, the first victory in the race to conquer space — and it had been won by the other side. The satellite was called Sputnik, the man in the tie told his audience in sombre tones, and it was a sign that everyone needed to buckle down and get to work. The speaker, a school district supervisor in Wilmington, was addressing a group of first graders at River Road Elementary School. Klein, not yet 6 years old, decided right then to become a scientist. “It seemed to me that it was a personal invitation,” she recalled. “That was my job.” Far beyond Klein’s classroom, the launch of Sputnik 50 years ago next month sparked an upheaval in how the United States approached space exploration and how its schools taught math and science. The United States would proceed to catch up, of course, launching its own satellites and then, 12 years later, landing astronauts on the moon. Klein grew up to study lunar rocks from one of the Apollo missions before becoming the first female faculty member at Rutgers University’s engineering school, she said. Along the way, her education was fuelled by a programme that arose in direct response to Sputnik. Today, amid a fast-shifting global economy, there are cries that once again the United States is behind, as measured by everything from test scores to technological advances. In 1966, 1 in 5 US bachelor’s degrees was awarded in math or science, according to federal education data; in 2004, that proportion had dropped to 1 in 6. There are those who argue we need a jolt to the system. Another Sputnik. The news on October 4, 1957, exploded with the force of a rocket blast. Headlines blared for weeks about the “baby moon,” faintly ominous with its blank aluminium exterior and four slender antennae. The Philadelphia Inquirer warned of a Propaganda Gain for Reds and A ‘Pearl Harbor’ Jolt to Smugness. Some cautioned against overreacting to the smallish device, which weighed just 183 pounds. But many speculated that if the Communist nation could manage a satellite, it could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. A month later, the Soviets sent the heavier Sputnik II into space, this time with a live passenger: a dog named Laika. The United States, already at work on its own Vanguard satellites, began the parallel Explorer programme. The following year, Congress and president Dwight Eisenhower created Nasa. At River Road Elementary, the district science co-ordinator urged Mrs Conway’s first graders to study hard. Already interested in how things worked, Lisa Klein took the message seriously. “All of us were now engaged in this process of keeping up with the Russians or beating the Russians,” she recalled. Her parents, a dentist and a homemaker, encouraged her. Soon, in addition to her Barbie doll, she had a new toy at home in Wilmington: a Cape Canaveral rocket set. In 1968, she begged her parents to let her attend a six-week summer science camp at Brown University after 11th grade. Funded by the National Science Foundation as a direct result of Sputnik, it gave her the confidence to pursue science as a career. Many engineering schools at the time did not accept women. One that did was Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Klein became one of about 70 women in a class of 1,000. “There was a sense of invisibility,” Klein recalled, drily. “We were sort of too small a number to even be noticed.” In a college internship, she studied lunar rocks that contained glass, a substance not often found in samples from Earth. She continued this work for her bachelor’s thesis and her PhD. After coming to Rutgers in 1977, she pursued further research on tektites and other glassy rocks. Klein was among the first scientists to work with futuristic, low-density glasses that could be made at room temperature — ideal for use as scratch-proof coatings and sealants. Using this “sol-gel” process, her Piscataway, NJ, lab makes one kind of glass that is as light as cotton. Klein is currently working on protective sol-gel coatings for the lithium batteries and other components that are crammed into today’s cell phones and other handheld gadgets. “The idea is you can just pour it on,” she said. Since she began her career, the number of female scientists and engineers has soared. The number of Americans earning degrees in those fields has gone up as well, with the increase in population. But the percentage of people studying math and science in the US has slid. Meanwhile in Asia, the number of people earning science or engineering degrees jumped 35% from 1990 to 2002, according to a National Science Foundation analysis. The United States also has room for improvement on student tests. In a 2003 study of math and science achievement, directed by Boston College, US fourth and eighth graders scored above average among a group that included both developing and developed countries. But on a different test called the PISA, which measures math and reasoning ability rather than the knowledge gained in school, 15-year-olds in the United States scored below average in a group of 30 industrialised countries. Gauging changes since the 1950s is difficult, as the various tests are different and many more countries now take part, said Tom Loveless, an education-policy expert at the Brookings Institution. But clearly, US students are not at the top now, nor were they at the top at the time of Sputnik. “Because of our economic success and our military success in World War II, I think we just assumed that our educational system was the best in the world,” Loveless said. “That was just based on myth.” Sputnik led to a surge in spending on education programmes such as the one Klein attended, and that continues today. In the 2004 fiscal year, 13 federal agencies spent $2.8 billion to encourage the pursuit of science and math careers, according to the Government Accountability Office. But there is little coordination among programmes, and only half have been formally evaluated, the GAO found. For the woman who made science her mission because of Sputnik, there is reason for optimism. Klein notes that the United States swept the Nobel Prizes in the sciences last year, and she continues to be impressed by the students who pass through her lab. “The quality of that group hasn’t really changed,” she said. “It’s still as good as ever.” Yet she remains in the minority, as one of a dozen women on the 130-member Rutgers engineering faculty. She is the lone woman in the 24-member materials-science department. For men and women alike, Klein said, a renewed national focus on science can only help. For her, 50 years ago, it made all the difference. —The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS
I always say “Intention over everything”. Intentions are such a powerful resource. I set intentions for my day, intentions before I step into a meeting, intentions before meeting with friends. The act of setting an intention to be in your presence is enough to help realign you with yourself. Setting an intention can be as simple as stating to yourself (silently or out loud) that you’re ready to reconnect to your presence. When you make a statement like this, you release the fear that blocks you from tuning into the presence of your power. This statement sends a message to the Universe that you’re willing to align your thoughts and energy with love. Whenever you notice yourself out of alignment, set the intention to come back to yourself. Think about the intentions you set throughout your day. Are you intending to get things done quickly? To achieve and to accomplish? To avoid negative outcomes? Or to just get through the day? What would happen if instead you intended to feel really good? Before I speak at an event or meet with a coaching client, I make an intention to inspire the world, to make a difference and to share my messages with the world. It feels really wonderful. Intentions are statements of authentic desires. They usually form your highest spiritual ideals. For instance, you have intentions to be wealthy, wise or peaceful. At the root, intentions form the motivational reason behind your specific goals. The famous author Wayne Dyer says “Your intentions create your reality.” You are simply thinking about your desired outcome or end result. With intention setting, there is no SMART principle to follow. You are not planning the ‘how’. Intention setting can feel like making a wish or prayer but with strong intensity. Intention setting makes you feel good because it comes from your heart. It has to be something that you truly desire. The best part is that being intentional allows you to focus on how you want to be from moment to moment. You hold every belief that your intention is already manifesting for you. Because there is no plan, you are allowing things to unfold. You have faith, and you let go of worry on the ‘how’. There is no stressing about each and every step towards your desired outcome. Make setting intentions the starting point before goal setting. Most people only want to achieve to goals because of their desire for a positive experience. Hence, by starting with your intentions, you get right to the source of what you truly want. Everyone wants to be successful. I believe winning is all about being prepared. Start tomorrow with an intention and just watch the day unfold accordingly. * The author is a consultant and coach. Instagram handle: @miss_shefa, Website: missshefa.com
My son would always tell me how he wanted to be an astronaut when he grows up. We would read books about space and watch videos of different missions. Recently, we were elated to follow the live-stream of the One More Orbit project on board Qatar Executive, which broke a world record for the fastest aircraft to circumnavigate on both poles. This was in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission which brought the first man on the moon. What better way to celebrate everything we’ve learned than to go to Al Thuraya Planetarium. He surely had fun looking at life-like figures and had a fantastic, one of a kind 3D cinema experience. My son’s ambitious mission to space may be far from reality for now but through that museum doorway, one can absolutely dream, and as we know, it only takes one footprint and the rest could be history. — Photos and text by Vanessa Valencia Almacen, @valentsu
Does a good-size earthquake help relieve pent-up seismic stress? Does that postpone the day of reckoning when the Big One finally arrives? That was the question some in California were asking hopefully in the wake of the July 4 magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rattled the region. You won’t like this answer. It’s wishful thinking to imagine that, as a rule, earthquakes “relieve” seismic stress, said seismologist Dr Lucy Jones. In fact, generally speaking, earthquakes actually increase the risk of future quakes. Here is a primer on earthquakes and seismic stress largely based on past interviews with Jones and other scientists: Does an earthquake immediately relieve seismic stress, forestalling a future big quake? No. Think about what generally happens after a decent earthquake. Aftershocks. Lots and lots of aftershocks. It’s going on right now in the area around the Fourth of July magnitude 6.4 earthquake in the Mojave Desert, close to Ridgecrest, a town of 29,000 notable for being a pit stop for Mammoth-bound skiers from LA. But couldn’t relieving seismic stress in one part of the state restart the earthquake clock elsewhere, so to speak? No. Consider: One part of California, west of the San Andreas, is constantly moving northwest, toward Alaska, relative to the other side of the Golden State, which is headed toward Mexico. These immense forces are what generated the state’s mountains, from the ranges seen in the Los Angeles Basin to the hills lining the ridges of the Bay Area. There’s a reason why earthquake faults are often alongside hills and mountains. “If you see mountains in California, that means something is moving up those mountains faster than erosion is wearing them down,” Jones said in an interview published last year. “Basically, when you see mountains, think earthquakes in California.” It’s also the reason why California has been home to lucrative deposits of oil. It’s the reason where there are springs in the desert giving rise to places like Palm Springs. There is no avoiding, eventually, big earthquakes being unleashed on faults somewhere in this state. We just don’t know exactly when or where it’ll happen. But just as it’s happened before in centuries and millennia past, it will happen again. Explain a bit more about why there are quakes in California. Think about the San Andreas fault. It’s a doozy of a fault — more than 800 miles long. Just the southern San Andreas fault, between Monterey County to close to the Mexican border, is capable of producing a magnitude 8.2 quake. Relatively speaking, places on the southwest side of the San Andreas fault — such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara — are inching toward Alaska. Places on the other side of the San Andreas, such as Sacramento and the Mojave Desert, are sliding toward Mexico. But in places along faults such as the San Andreas, the land on both sides of the fault are locked, even as land farther away continues to move. Eventually, the San Andreas — as well as other faults throughout California — will have to rupture to relieve mounting tectonic strain. “Plate tectonics hasn’t suddenly stopped; it is still pushing Los Angeles toward San Francisco at the same rate your fingers grow — about 1.5 inches each year…. Their motion cannot be stopped any more than we could turn off the sun,” Jones wrote in her recent book, The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them). The San Andreas is particularly feared because, in some sections, it will move for many feet almost instantaneously. A famous example was during the great 1906 magnitude 7.8 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco; at Point Reyes in Marin County, a fence that intersected the fault was suddenly cut in two, separated on each side by the San Andreas by 18 feet. A similar sized earthquake of the San Andreas fault rupturing through the Palm Springs area would shatter the ground. If a couple had the misfortune of holding hands across the fault in a remote part of the desert near Desert Hot Springs when the Big One hits, they’d suddenly be separated by as much as 30 feet — almost the entire length of a city bus, USGS research geophysicist Kate Scharer said in 2017. What about just the area that was hit by the Independence Day quake? Is that area now relieved of quake strain? It actually probably made things worse for parts of some faults in that region, said earthquake scientists Ross Stein and Volkan Sevilgen, writing on their blog at Temblor.net. The two wrote that they believe that parts of three other faults — in remote areas of California — were actually “brought closer to failure by the 4th July quake.” And in fact, they wrote, the area hit by July 4 quake likely became loaded with more seismic strain after two previous temblors — the 1872 Owens Valley and the 1992 Landers earthquakes. What has California’s history told us about what moderate quakes can do? Sometimes, a moderate quake — after its series of aftershocks — can lead to a period of seismic quiet. Other times, it can usher in a new era of temblors. What does an era of earthquakes look like? For instance, in the 75 years before the great 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of San Francisco in shaking and flames, there were 14 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater in the Bay Area, Stein has previously said in an interview. (Since the 1906 quake — a magnitude 7.8 — there have been only three.) Angelenos might remember what is now known as the earthquake storm of the 1980s and ’90s. As tallied by Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson, it began with the Whittier Narrows temblor in 1987 (magnitude 5.9), which killed eight, followed by Pasadena in 1988 (4.9); Montebello in 1989 (4.4); Upland in 1990 (5.2); Sierra Madre in 1991 (5.8), which killed a woman; and ended with Northridge in 1994, which killed at least 57 people. The 1800s were also an active time for earthquakes in California. In 1800, a magnitude 7.2 quake hit on the San Jacinto fault east of Temecula. Then, in 1812, the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults moved in a magnitude 7.5 earthquake through present-day cities such as San Bernardino, Rialto, Loma Linda, Yucaipa and Highland and brought down Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Great Stone Church, killing more than 40 people inside. Then, in 1857, the southern San Andreas sent extreme shaking on both sides of the fault all the way from Monterey County to Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties in a breathtaking magnitude 7.8 quake. What’s an example of a moderate quake actually coming before something far worse? On March 9, 2011, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake off the east coast of Japan led some people to be complacent when, two days later, a historic magnitude 9 earthquake struck. Some people ignored protocol and failed to immediately evacuate before the catastrophic tsunami hit. Closer to home, the main shock of the last truly great earthquake in Southern California — at 8:24am on January 9, 1857 — was preceded an hour earlier in the Monterey County area by a magnitude 5.6 earthquake, and a magnitude 6.1 earthquake an hour before that. What can we do to prepare? In general: If you’re an owner of an older home or building, retrofit it if it needs it, and if you rent, ask the landlord about it. Stock up on food, water and medicine to be self-sufficient for two weeks. Plan for your workplace to have a continuity plan. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation has a template on how to do it at https://laedc.org/eq/ And keep an eagle eye wherever you live or work, and imagine all the possible things that could fall on yourself, your loved ones and pets. Head to your hardware store’s earthquake prep section to find ways to bolt bookcases down and keep large objects from falling on you when the shaking comes. We have a comprehensive list of tips available in our article, “Get ready for a major quake. What to do before — and during — a big one,” at https://lat/ms/2NB5SSq — Los Angeles Times/TNS
“Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” The firebug, or Pyrrhocoris apterus, is a common insect of the family Pyrrhocoridae. This is a red and black coloured beautiful insect that lives in groups. The bright red colour warns birds not to eat the firebug as its gland that produces a nasty smelling substance. Contrary to its Latin name, Pyrrhocoris apterus, that suggests that firebug is a “wingless fire bug”, the species does have wings although it is unable to fly. (In the South of Europe live relatives of the fire bugs that do fly.) The firebug can usually be seen on Lime trees and on Mallows feeding on their seeds. The bug can be found throughout the year in clusters under these plants or walking over the ground. I found a colony of firebugs, seen in tandem formation when mating, which can take from 12 hours up to 7 days! – Text and photos by Mohamed Samad Imran, @Imran_ismarbaan
From 1969 to 1972, six Nasa missions named for the Greek deity Apollo successfully landed 12 men on the surface of the moon; Neil, “Buzz,” two men named Alan, two men named Charles, Edgar, David, James, John, Jack and Eugene. At the time of Neil and Buzz’s 1969 moonwalk, Libertyville author and former rocket test engineer Suzanne Slade was 4 years old. She remembers none of it. She does remember three years later, when Eugene and Jack — the last of the men to have walked the moon — made their trip out of earth and back. “It was almost unbelievable,” she said. Now, nearly 50 years later, Nasa has set out on a mission that would have then been considered even more unbelievable — to land the first woman on the moon. But this is not another Apollo mission. This new programme is named Artemis, after the Greek deity of the moon and Apollo’s twin sister. The goal is to not just make a return visit to the moon’s surface by 2024, but to create a sustainable US presence there by 2028. The “first woman and next man” will step foot on the moon’s southern pole, a place no human has gone before. Following the Columbia space shuttle tragedy in 2003, Nasa’s mind and money have been long set on Mars. However, President Donald Trump, in 2017, ordered the agency to redirect its focus back to the moon. A sustainable moon base could serve as a necessary pit-stop once Mars missions begin. Nasa took up the Trump administration’s mission and responded with a plan to have humans on the moon by 2028. This was “just not good enough” for Vice President Mike Pence, who in March urged Nasa to speed up the timeline. The year 2024 became the new target, theoretically falling just in time for the end of a second Trump presidential term. As of March 2019, of the more than 500 people who have flown to space, just 64 have been women. The first woman was Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. Twenty years later, in June 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Mae Jemison followed in 1992 as the first black woman in space. Growing up in Goshen, Indiana, during the late 1960s to early ’70s height of the Space Age, Slade knew of no women in the science field, let alone women who had gone to space. Still, she remembers sneaking away in coat closets to work on math workbooks for fun. Slade’s parents supported her interests and after graduating from Valparaiso University with a mechanical engineering degree in 1986, she went on to work at McDonnell Douglas Space Systems as a test engineer. One day, shortly after arriving at the company, Slade and a couple of colleagues gathered for a rocket component test. She could not understand why they were all standing around, waiting to begin the test. She asked a colleague about the holdup. “We are waiting for the test engineer, he hasn’t showed up yet,” the man said. Slade pointed to herself, “He’s here,” she said. “We can start.” After seven years as a mechanical engineer, Slade made the career switch to become a children’s book author. “I started reading my children those wonderful, beautifully illustrated picture books,” Slade said. “I remembered how much I loved them and decided I would like to give it a try.” Eighty rejection letters and eight years later, Slade broke into the publishing industry and quickly filled a gap in children’s literature. “I found that there weren’t many (children’s) writers who were interested in writing about science,” she said. “That’s how I was able to break in.” Since then, Slade has authored more than 100 children’s books, many about science. In March, she released A Computer Called Katherine, a biography of mathematician Katherine Johnson. Johnson’s calculations on orbital mechanics — as dramatised in the film Hidden Figures — made the Apollo missions of the ’60s and ’70s possible. “Katherine knew it was wrong that African Americans didn’t have the same rights as others — as wrong as 5+5=12. She knew it was wrong that people thought women could only be teachers or nurses — as wrong as 10-5=3,” the book summary reads. This year, in anticipation of the 50th Apollo 11 mission anniversary, Slade released Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon. She looks forward to the addition of a woman to this selective troop. “It would be out of this world,” she said, with a laugh. “Not only for the contribution she would make to science and to exploration, but also to show young girls, women and the world, that women are capable astronauts.” Astronaut Annie, Slade’s first fiction book, released in 2018, tells the story of Annie, a girl who dreams of exploring the solar system. On May 4, the book was launched into space aboard SpaceX CRS-17. An audio recording of astronauts reading the book will be shared on Story Time From Space, https://storytimefromspace.com/ “Young girls of any background and race need to know they can achieve whatever they would like to,” Slade said. “(They can) make valuable contributions in all STEM fields.” — Chicago Tribune/TNS
There’s nothing quite like the golden anniversary of one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments to encourage sellers to part with their historic collectors’ items — and inspire scam artists to get creative. After all, what space enthusiast wouldn’t like a piece of Apollo 11 history, especially now that everyone is talking about it? That demand is fuelling a spike in the number of people seeking to meet it, either with authentic pieces or with carefully crafted fakes, and for the same hefty price tag. A cursory search for Apollo 11 on eBay will draw up hundreds of results. There’s Neil Armstrong’s autograph on a moon landing photo, on his astronaut photo, on a magazine cover, a dollar bill, an index card. You can get a Buzz Aldrin-signed baseball or a copy of Mike Collins’ book, Carrying the Fire, autographed by the astronaut. But how to tell if they’re fake? That’s the rub, said Steve Zarelli, one of the nation’s go-to experts on astronaut autographs and memorabilia. As the 50th anniversary of the moon landing approaches on July 20, buyers will have to ask themselves that question often, he said. “As the event gets more media attention, then that drives people who in the emotion of the minute, they may want something this is connected to it,” said Steve Zarelli, owner of New York-based Zarelli Space Authentication. “It drives impulse buyers.” The problem is so acute now that Zarelli said he’s noticed a steep spike in the number of Apollo 11 items for sale, many of them knockoffs. “I would say the number of fakes I’m seeing is at least double the typical number you would see,” Zarelli said. “ … (Forgers) are making money off of persons just browsing on eBay and saying, ‘Oh look this would be cool to have.’ ” Locally, faked Apollo 11 items have “definitely” cropped up, said Charles Jeffrey, collections analyst and a member of the board at the American Space Museum and Space Walk of Fame in Titusville. “I can show you half a dozen items up on eBay right now that if not outright fakes, have such questionable provenance that they are more than likely fakes,” Jeffrey said. “It’s a true buyer beware site.” But it’s not just eBay. Fraudulent items have popped up at auction houses and Craigslist and garage sales. And some are more difficult to spot than others. The astronauts have certain signing habits that are well-documented. Neil Armstrong didn’t sign on top of the American flag on the arm of his spacesuit in photos, for example, and he stopped giving autographs altogether in the 1990s. His autographs with personal messages can run around $1,000 to $2,000 and his autographs alone — those not signed to a particular person — cost between about $3,500 and $4,000, Zarelli said. Any less or higher than that range, and you may be dealing with a fake. But hardware, pieces of spacecraft and items that were allegedly flown to the moon are more difficult to verify. It’s not hard to find sellers claiming to offer tiny pieces of Kapton foil that covered the Apollo 11 command module or flags flown to the moon by astronauts, but it is near impossible to prove if the pieces actually went to space — unless you specifically know the seller. Knowing your source comes in handy for fake mission patches, too. Tim Gagnon, a patch artist based in Titusville, said a forger on eBay made a copy of one of his patches and listed it using Gagnon’s name to pass the Apollo 16 commemorative patch as authentic. After he filed a complaint with eBay, the patch was removed. For the patches, he said, anything that’s not manufactured by A-B Emblem out of Weaverville, North Carolina and its partners, is not the real thing. The company has held the exclusive Nasa contract for patches since February 1970. The patches run for $8 to $30, depending on the size, said A-B Emblem’s national accounts manager Sandy McDonald. The proliferation of scammers trying to profit off the Apollo 11 craze has affected even legitimate sellers of items, such as Kissimmee’s Gregg Newton, who has been approached by a number of buyers trying to snatch up his astronaut signed artwork by offering to pay through fake wire transfers. Newton is a longtime collector of astronaut signatures and owns pieces with the autographs of all 12 moonwalkers. He’s selling a 1989 lithograph with the signatures of Armstrong, first American in space Alan Shepard, first American in orbit John Glenn, Apollo 10 and 17’s Gene Cernan, Apollo 7’s Wally Schirra, Apollo 12’s Charles Conrad, Apollo 8 and 13’s James Lovell, and space shuttle astronauts Jack Lousma and Rick Hauck. It’s going for $3,850. “2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first historic moon landing, and this is a unique way to obtain an unquestioned, undisputed autograph of Neil Armstrong!” Newton wrote in the listing on Craigslist. The piece was confirmed authentic by Zarelli. The former Reuters photographer plans to use the revenue from the sale to help pay for his son, Luca Newton’s, tuition at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne where he is double majoring in global conflict studies and homeland security. They’ve talked it over, Newton said, and decided that selling nearly all of his 19 pieces will help get the incoming junior through college without debt. But there is one piece that even the draw of the 50th anniversary won’t compel Newton to sell: An image taken by him in 1998 when John Glenn returned to space on a space shuttle mission. At 77, Glenn became the oldest human to fly to space. That day, Newton waded into the ocean at Cocoa Beach with an unprotected film camera and caught the rocket as it arched over the waves. In the photo, two young surfers in the water look up as the white plumes of smoke cross the sky. It was the 30th frame in a roll of 36. The image ran in dozens of newspapers across the nation the next day. Newsweek, Time and LIFE ran it on two pages. Newton sent copies to Glenn, who autographed it in 2003, “To Gregg, with best regards, John Glenn.” It’s the “one print I am holding on to,” Newton said, “and passing on to my son.” —The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida)/TNS
Retired astronaut Wally Schirra spoke for the world with his commentary for CBS News during the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969: “Thank you, television, for letting us watch this one.” A global audience of more than 500 million viewers tuned in for what was considered the greatest adventure in human history and the culmination of a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to get a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The young sons of astronaut Neil Armstrong were in the living room of their Houston home, surrounded by friends and family, when their father descended from the lunar module onto the moon’s surface. “We saw it on our state-of-the-art 26-inch colour set,” Rick Armstrong said at a New York event to promote the Smithsonian Channel’s upcoming documentary The Day We Walked on the Moon, which premieres July 7. Five decades later, viewers will be able to immerse themselves in the coverage again — or for the first time — in the weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, Smithsonian Channel and PBS are airing special programmes that feature rare footage of the voyage. TV news will offer coverage of the anniversary celebrations at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Florida, and Apollo Mission Control Center in Houston. Amy Entelis, executive vice president for talent and content development for CNN — which aired its theatrically released film Apollo 11 on Sunday — believes the upcoming anniversary is a chance for viewers to see how a nation united at a time of deep divisiveness over the Vietnam War and social upheaval. “It was a moment of time when we all came together, achieved something monumental and experienced it together,” Entelis said. “In the very tumultuous time we’re living in now, I think people are looking at our film and saying, ‘I’m nostalgic for a time when that was possible.’” Network television news was a major partner in promoting the space programme — as evidenced in Robert Stone’s three-part documentary Chasing the Moon, which debuts July 8 on PBS stations. In the pre-cable era of the 1960s, when CBS, NBC and ABC dominated the TV landscape, a captive audience watched largely uncritical coverage of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s launches and missions. One constant in the upcoming Apollo 11 commemorations is vintage video and audio of CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, an overt booster of the space programme from the start. By the time Apollo 11 launched, he was the top-rated network anchor, surpassing longtime rivals Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC. Cronkite’s audience for the moon landing surpassed the combined total for NBC and ABC and solidified his status as the dominant figure in TV news for the next decade. For viewers who want a pure Cronkite experience on the Apollo 11 anniversary, CBS is mining its archives to present real-time footage of his coverage of events at the times they occurred. The launch will be shown on July 16 at 9:32am Eastern on the CBS News streaming service CBSN. Cronkite’s account of the moon landing and moonwalk will run on July 20 at 4:17pm and 10:56pm Eastern. Audio of the coverage will be carried on CBS News Radio. Cronkite made himself an expert on the space programme and explained the technical aspects with precision. But he also felt free expressing his wonderment at Nasa’s achievements at a time when TV newscasters were generally stolid. When Cronkite let out an emotional “oh, boy” as the lunar module was 10 minutes away from the moon’s surface, Los Angeles Times TV critic Cecil Smith called it “an inelegant phrase, but it sounded like a prayer.” “Cronkite owned the story,” said Kim Godwin, executive vice president for CBS News. “He experienced it as the viewers experienced it.” Cronkite’s enthusiasm likely reflected the relief Apollo 11 provided after a string of relentlessly dispiriting stories news anchors brought into living rooms throughout 1968, including the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and growing polarisation over the Vietnam conflict. “The moonshot was the one place where Walter Cronkite’s patriotism could not be questioned,” said Michael Socolow, associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, and the son of Cronkite’s longtime producer, Sandy Socolow. “It was finally good news in the context of the Cold War and American innovation and ingenuity. It was kind of a restoration and looking ahead at the ’70s instead of the bad news of the ’60s.” At the same time, the risk of the voyage meant the networks had to prepare for the worst possible outcome. As retired CBS News correspondent David Schoumacher notes in The Day We Walked on the Moon, his network had obituaries prepared for Armstrong and his colleagues Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. While network television devoted dozens of consecutive hours to the Apollo 11 mission, there were long stretches with no live footage to show. News divisions used models and animation to depict much of what was happening. (Socolow said the re-creations fed into conspiracy theories that the moon landing was staged.) Celebrity interviews and panels also filled the hours between the live shots of the launch and the black-and-white TV images, picked up by a 71/2-pound Westinghouse camera, that were beamed back to Earth from the moon. CBS aired a segment with Orson Welles reminiscing about his War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which had panicked the country 31 years earlier with its tale of a Martian invasion. Welles told Mike Wallace that he would love to make a trip to the moon himself, but tipping the scale at 300 pounds made it unlikely. Over on ABC, jazz legend Duke Ellington introduced a new song called Moon Maiden. CNN’s Apollo 11, which was released in theatres in March, offers viewers an unfiltered view of the voyage. Outside of some audio of Cronkite, there are no anchors or reporters describing the voyage and its aftermath, which are depicted almost entirely by recently discovered 70-millimetre film shot by Nasa during the mission to serve as a record. Apollo 11 director Todd Douglas Miller had heard rumours that such footage existed but believed much of it was related to the Nasa-commissioned production of a 1970 documentary called Moonwalk, which was released in 35-millimetre. After searching for several months, Miller was contacted by an archivist about sealed cans of 70-millimetre film sitting in cold storage at the National Archives, some of which were labelled Apollo 11. “It wasn’t until we tested them at a postproduction house that we knew we had something,” Miller said. “The quality was the most stunning aspect of it.” Miller also was given access to 11,000 hours of audio of Nasa mission control that encapsulate the entire nine-day Apollo 11 mission; these recordings provide nearly all of the dialogue in the film. Entelis has anecdotal evidence that Miller’s approach will connect with younger viewers who have no knowledge or recollection of the moon landing. “At one of the Sundance screenings, I was sitting next to a woman who looked to be 20 or 21 years old,” Entelis said. “I struck up a conversation with her, and she said the movie was fantastic. She said, ‘I loved the fact that there was no narration, that nobody was telling me what to think or talking heads telling me how important this was. I sat there as if it was just me watching this mission 50 years ago.’” Entelis asked whether the lack of additional information or data detracted from the film. “She said, ‘Nope, if I want to learn anything more about it, I’ll just go to Google and find it.’” — Los Angeles Times/TNS
Climate change is about big things: melting ice sheets, rising seas, the feverish temperature of the planet. But scientists say it’s also about little things — namely, microbes. Everywhere you look on Earth, you’ll find these single-celled organisms making a living. And in the process, they produce and consume greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, helping to control the concentration of these planet-warming substances in the atmosphere. Collectively, they play an enormous role in regulating the climate. They are also the glue that holds ecosystems together. They often form the base of the food web and perform critical duties, such as breaking down organic matter, recycling nutrients and photosynthesising. Like all life forms, microbes will feel the impacts of climate change. The way they respond could have huge implications for the rest of us. For instance, microbes will help determine whether natural sources of greenhouse gases rise or fall in a warming world. And they are key to ecological resilience in the face of environmental stress. That’s why a group of scientists issued a consensus statement calling for more research on the topic in a recent issue of Nature Reviews Microbiology. Ominously, they called it Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. The Los Angeles Times spoke with Victoria Orphan, a microbial ecologist at Caltech who helped write the statement, about why we shouldn’t overlook microbes. Just so we’re all on the same page, what are microbes? They have one cell, by definition. Most you can’t see with your naked eye. But as small as they are, they are incredibly powerful in terms of the types of chemistry that they can do. Where do they live? Everywhere. Basically, any place that we would consider habitable for us, we find microbes. And in places that we would consider too extreme for multicellular life, we also find microbes. They are really the champions of colonising every possible liveable space on the planet. And what do microbes have to do with climate change? Many microbes in the ocean photosynthesise just like plants. They are responsible for generating half of the oxygen in our atmosphere. At the same time, they are also pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ocean and turning it into biomass. So they play a huge role as a sink for carbon dioxide, for example. Methane is another important greenhouse gas. What about that? Methane is largely cycled by microbes. We study one particular process in which two microorganisms collaborate to do this really challenging chemistry of oxidising methane with sulfate. And they do this very effectively. We don’t know the numbers exactly, but the upper estimates are 80% of the methane in ocean sediments is consumed by this team of microorganisms before it reaches the atmosphere. So, if these microbes weren’t working together, a lot more methane would be getting into the atmosphere? That’s right. We’re concerned that there’s a lot of discussion about things like deep-sea mining of natural resources. We know so little about these deep-sea habitats. If we start destroying them, this may perturb the system and make these important biological filters less effective. Have microbes been overlooked in how we think about climate science? It depends on who you ask. Some scientists are acutely aware of the importance of microbes. But we need to get the word out to everybody else that this is really critical. This is not just in the deep ocean, where I do most of my work, but in every single habitat. Microorganisms are basically determining how much greenhouse gases are emitted from these ecosystems, either as sources or as consumers of those gases. Can you give an example of how microbes’ response to climate change could amplify the problem? A familiar one is melting permafrost. Basically, you’re taking carbon-rich frozen sediments and you are thawing them. Microorganisms are feasting on this organic carbon and, as an end product of their metabolism, they are producing things like methane. It’s like taking a frozen dinner out of the freezer and thawing it — now it’s become edible. There’s tremendous amounts of carbon in permafrost that has been stored for many thousands of years, if not longer. But all of a sudden it is being made available all at once. It’s not just the fact that this process is going on, it’s also the speed that then can throw systems out of balance. Are there ways microbes can help? I think there’s a lot of exciting potential for engineering microbes. But in order to apply this in an effective way, we really need to understand their full impact in ecosystems and how they respond. My colleague Frances Arnold is sort of the champion for doing directed evolution and making all sorts of very interesting products and things that we never could have dreamed that a microbe could do. What’s an example of a way microbes can help the climate? Cows are a huge producer of methane. That methane is produced in their rumens from fermentation of grasses or corn. And this rumen is like a little ecosystem — just like studying deep-sea sediments. So there may be ways that we can better understand how microorganisms are working together to try to either minimise methane production from the start, or try to oxidise that methane before it’s belched out of the cow. In the consensus statement, you warn that “the impact of climate change will depend heavily on responses of microorganisms.” What do you want people to do with that knowledge? I would like them to not only have an appreciation for the fact that microbes basically rule the planet and we are just, you know, kind of visiting, but also to value and understand the importance of putting in effort in researching this. We’re starting to get on that trajectory, but there still needs to be greater awareness of its importance. Is there anything else you want us to know? People have gone through this radical change from thinking that microorganisms were dangerous germs to embracing the microbiome. That’s really wonderful, because people really care about their well-being and health. How then do we translate that excitement and wonder to the natural world around us? I think that is the big challenge. — Los Angeles Times/TNS
These are the photos of brittle star taken in the south of Qatar at the Golden beach, Sealine. Brittle stars is closely related to starfish. They crawl across the sea floor using their flexible arms for locomotion. They generally have five long, slender, whip-like arms which may reach up to 60cm (24 in) in length on the largest specimens. They are also known as serpent stars containing two large clades. Brittle stars are also common members of reef communities, where they hide under rocks and even within other living organisms. Brittle stars’ skeleton is made up of embedded ossicles. Brittle stars generally mature in two to three years, become full grown in three to four years, and live up to 5 years. Using their arms for locomotion, brittle stars move fairly rapidly by wriggling their arms which are highly flexible and enable the animals to make either snake-like or rowing movements. However, they tend to attach themselves to the sea floor or to sponges or cnidarians, such as coral. — Text and pictures by Khaled Zaki, a diving consultant, PADI ambassador, and UW photographer @khaledzakidiving
On a sunny afternoon in Dania Beach, a dozen scientists unloaded crates full of corals from a dive boat and onto a pickup truck. They gently removed each piece from large tanks on the deck and placed them inside smaller containers, which were slowly taken onshore. The operation is part of what scientists describe as a “Noah’s Ark” mission to save corals from extinction as a mysterious disease ravages mile after mile of the Florida Reef Tract. Since first being spotted in 2014, the disease has killed colonies already weakened by impacts from climate change, including frequent rounds of bleaching and rising ocean acidification. During one trip earlier this month, researchers spent six days diving in the Lower Keys to collect corals that haven’t yet been touched by the epidemic of what is called stony coral tissue loss disease. Their mission, as the “Ark” reference suggests, is to preserve healthy examples of species that can be cultivated in labs, then later transplanted back to the barrier reef that parallels much of the Southeast Florida coastline. “It’s a Herculean effort, but we need to do everything we can to help corals survive,” said Richard Dodge, dean of Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, as he watched university staff and volunteers place the 341 corals in holding tanks on the university dock across from Port Everglades. NSU is one of seven research facilities that will act as temporary hosts for specimens collected for what is formally known as the Coral Rescue Collection Plan, part of an ambitious programme led by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. NSU researchers will collect data on the species, then send them to other universities and zoos across the country, where they will be used to grow new colonies — seed stock for potential restoration efforts in the future. The challenges to the survival of Florida’s reefs are immense. More than half of the corals have disappeared over the past 250 years, hammered by development, pollution, boat anchors and groundings, frequent bleaching events and, recently, climate change. Warmer sea temperatures, sea level rise and changes in storm intensity are all concerns, but the out-of-control stony coral tissue loss outbreak in recent years brought new urgency to coral rescue efforts. If Florida’s reefs disappear, it would wipe out economically valuable destinations that draw boaters and divers but that are even more important to the biological health of South Florida’s offshore waters. Coral reefs create habitats that provide shelter and food for hundreds of species, from fishes to lobster. The reef also serves as a buffer that protects coastal areas against hurricanes and storm surge. Growing corals in a lab or even in offshore gardens isn’t new. But recovery programmes like the one NSU has joined are getting more sophisticated as threats intensify. Most previous work has focused on the large branching corals that have nearly vanished from South Florida waters — the critically endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. This programme expands restoration efforts, targeting species that are more susceptible to the disease and die faster or those that have higher coral-building capacity, which would speed restoration. During the journey from the southern Keys to NSU’s coral nursery, everything was meticulously controlled to guarantee the corals remained healthy. They travelled in insulated bins that were shaded by black tarp. The water in the tanks was constantly monitored to prevent even a trace of disease from tainting the specimens. Only the strong will survive and, hopefully, guarantee a pool of genetic wealth to regrow more colonies in the future. Though some corals may look like rock formations, they are very fragile and require a lot of love and care. The variety of corals in NSU’s precious collection from the Keys was surprising: Some resembled small flower arrangements while others looked like images of the emerald-green Irish countryside seen from above. Removing them from the ocean is a challenging balance of strength and delicacy: Diver scientists use a chisel and hammer to chip at spaces between the coral and the structure where it grows until it pops out. At the NSU nursery, marine biologists worked methodically to give the corals the best chance of survival, dipping each piece in a solution of antibiotics and vitamins, rinsing them off and whisking them away to designated tanks. “In these first days bringing them from their homes in the ocean and moving them to our tanks, they may experience some stress, so we need to avoid that at all costs,” said Nick Turner, research assistant and a lab manager at NSU. And it’s not easy to keep corals happy outside of the ocean. Light and water conditions need to be constantly monitored, with the right level of nutrients to guarantee their survival at NSU’s coral nursery. The area is covered with light beige cloth to simulate the dimmer sunlight that reaches corals in their natural habitat, about 20 feet below the surface. Kyle Pisano, the university’s self-described coral nanny, said the hard work is worth it. His job is not only to make sure the corals survive the transition from NSU’s holding tanks to their next stops in the rescue project, but also that they are healthy enough to reproduce. “The whole point of this project and of our work here is to make sure we get the best possible specimens of different species, because they will provide new individuals to be transplanted,” Pisano said. Scientists know they are racing against time against a disease they don’t know yet know much about. What’s causing it? No-one can even say yet. “We are trying to stop it, and at the same time we are working to make sure we can at least restore some of the colonies,” Dodge said. — The Miami Herald/TNS
“I want to be in love with you the same way I am in love with the moon with the light shining out of its soul.” Poet and writer Sanober Khan is on message here and it is just as well that the celestial body is the metaphor for its luminosity. Last Thursday, I happened to note a Facebook alert about the moon appearing close. I rushed off to Souq Waqif with the purpose of grabbing some lunar shine — the souq was the chosen rendezvous because I recalled this avid stargazer there with his strategically placed telescope to make the experience worthwhile. One was not to be disappointed — which is what happens with a Meade LX10 EMC to transport you to another world. Amro Attia, an Optics graduate who likes to call his 5-riyal adventure spot “Waqif Scope Station” (opposite the Fanar Mosque), was at hand to knuckle down the weighty telescope and fix the powerful lens that he says he bought online from the US. How does one describe the experience of getting up, close and personal with the moon, except getting “moony” as they say, in popular parlance. A replica with artificial light hovering over it to make it visible in the dark of the night was nearby for inspiration. It was nearly perfect, but of course not a patch on the real thing. The craters were visible and a shimmer that was hard to beat. One also got a chance to watch Saturn and its rings, which however appeared hazier. But the moon is a completely different kettle of fish — or astronomical body to be precise. It may be the (only permanent) natural satellite of our planet, but it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever! —Text and photos by Kamran Rehmat @kaamyabi TRANSPORTED: An enthusiast sets her eyes on the celestial body.
I remember the day vividly. Just a few minutes shy of 5pm when I was about to leave for work in Muscat, the languid capital of Sultanate of Oman, where I worked as News Editor in Times of Oman, the country’s leading English language broadsheet, I switched on the TV; its volume pressed low. It just so happened that the channel on cue was CNN. I watched smoke billowing from a skyscraper but since I did not initially pay attention to the tickers at the bottom of the screen, it seemed eerily like a scene out of a movie. I thought as much. Just then, a plane emerged from the middle of the TV screen on the right and rammed into the building. This intrigued me, because the plane looked real — real enough for me to raise the volume and figure out the fuss. It was then that I realised that this was no figment of imagination and the skyscraper which had looked like a spitting image of the World Trade Center was, in fact, just that: South Tower, taking a startling hit. It took a while to absorb that all this was really happening — that the world’s sole superpower was under attack — a series of incredibly precise missions impossible one after the other (all in a day’s terror work) — beyond the wildest imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter. Even though it has been 18 years, there is still that aura of disbelief that the mightiest of all nations could be a sitting duck for the while it lasted. But what is beyond a shadow of doubt is that the deadliest terrorist attacks in history did change the world, for both America and the rest of us on this cinder of a planet. In 2014, I had occasion to visit the 9/11 Memorial, an experience so profound that it takes you in its sweep. In a way, it symbolises a global communion — remember citizens of more than 90 countries perished in the attacks and the majority of them paid with their lives in the Twin Towers tragedy. Regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, language, or any other distinction, the spirit of humanity weighed heavy and whilst recalling the nerve-racking moments of the tragedy on the day that shook the world, there was an inescapable feeling that may be the world had underestimated the propensity of evil and it took an epic tragedy to draw the realisation and fight back.
Mitchell Zuckoff and I spent September 11, 2001, in a similar pursuit: writing the main story of an unprecedented terrorist attack for our respective newspapers, based on the reporting of dozens of colleagues. His account appeared in the next day’s Boston Globe, and mine in Newsday. I don’t know what the experience was like for him, but for me, it was a frustrating day filled with unanswered questions; the most basic information was unavailable. Eventually, a vast body of evidence took shape: the 9/11 Commission records, including more than 1,200 interviews; aviation, engineering, communications and military inquiries; massive news coverage; dozens of books; 911 dispatcher tapes; court transcripts; oral history. Zuckoff, a Boston University journalism professor and author of seven previous nonfiction books, has masterfully transformed this enormous record and his own interviews into a powerful narrative of that day when America’s worst act of terrorism sped from out of the blue of a sunny, azure sky. It happened to be the last week of my 23 years in daily journalism; I was starting a second career teaching the craft. Every semester thereafter, I gave my students at Brooklyn College a lesson based on covering 9/11; I saw how it gradually turned from news to historic event. Zuckoff takes it in the other direction; he aims to “delay the descent of 9/11 into the well of history.” His book has little historic perspective or analysis, but it succeeds in making the events of that day as vivid as if they occurred yesterday. He has completed the first draft of history he set out to write 18 years ago; his careful citation and wide-ranging research will make this book a useful guide for future historians. With its disaster-movie structure, page-turning pace and steadfast focus on telling the story through dozens of individual human dramas, Fall and Rise is a thorough, accurate, well-documented and very readable account of what is known about that fateful day, thankfully stripped of conspiracy theories or political spin. I would strongly recommend it for those who were not yet adults in 2001; 9/11 was a pivotal event that will continue to shape the American experience. And those who think they remember — I count myself — may be surprised at how much they never knew, or perhaps repressed from memory. As a New Yorker, I was mostly aware of events involving the destruction of the World Trade Center. But I had not focused on other aspects. One example: the terrible foul-ups in military air support in response to the hijackings of four commercial flights. Zuckoff tells that story especially well, combining information in official reports with the stories of people directly involved, such as Major Kevin Nasypany of the Air National Guard, who was then air defence control commander for the Northeast. One small detail he reports is that the agency had coincidentally planned a drill for September 11 based on a simulated attack from Russian bombers, plus a mock hijacking by militants who wanted to land on Caribbean island. “Nasypany and some colleagues wanted the exercise to include a plot by terrorists to fly a cargo plane into the United Nations building in New York City, but a military intelligence officer had nixed that idea as too far-fetched to be useful,” Zuckoff writes. Then at 9:32am — after planes had already struck the two 110-story towers — air traffic controllers at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., saw a green dot materialise unexpectedly on their radar screens, racing east. “Oh my God,” one of the controllers shouted. “We’ve got a target headed right for the White House!” A manager at Dulles alerted the Federal Aviation Administration’s control centre and controllers at Reagan airport in Washington, Zuckoff writes. Still, he adds, no-one notified anyone in the military air defence system. F-16s had meanwhile flown — in the wrong direction. In one sense, it was the story of the day: one missed chance after another to avert catastrophe. But there was also a story of heroism, which Zuckoff tells with emotion and chilling, precise detail. He shows that even in our self-referential, individualist era, everyday people — many of them — summoned the courage to be self-giving, and even to give all. And that is worth remembering. — Newsday/TNS (Paul Moses was a reporter and editor at Newsday for 17 years. His most recent book is An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians).
About 43 million years ago, when South America was surrounded by water on all sides, there lived a whale with four legs, elongated toes, sharp teeth and perhaps even fur. This ancient creature looked more like the love child of an otter and a crocodile than any modern-day whale. And, unlike today’s whales, which dwell exclusively in the sea, this animal lived some of its life on land. “I think they were not very good at walking, and certainly not at running,” said Olivier Lambert, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Lambert has spent a lot of time with this whale, which was discovered in 2011 less than a mile from the beach along the southern coast of Peru. It didn’t take long for the researchers excavating the site to recognise some of the specimen’s remarkable features. Among them: • It had four limbs, like the whales that first evolved in present-day Pakistan and India more than 50 million years ago. • It was one of the earliest whales known to have lived in the New World. • It belonged to an entirely new genus and species of whales. “We found a really incredible specimen,” said palaeontologist Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi of Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, who was part of the team that reported the find Thursday in the journal Current Biology. The study authors dubbed it Peregocetus pacificus, or “the travelling whale that reached the Pacific.” The name honours its role in helping scientists understand how early whales migrated from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and eventually to the New World, said Lambert, the study’s lead author. The specimen’s fossilised remains are not only very old, they are very much intact. “It was almost a complete specimen,” Salas-Gismondi said. “It was something we never expected to collect.” The connections between the bones indicated to the researchers that this whale had reached adulthood. It probably measured about 13 feet from tip to tail, and it weighed at least several hundred pounds. Peregocetus had a long snout and a mouth with teeth sharp enough for it to hunt large animals and cut its prey into smaller pieces. (The pointed regions on its pre-molars and molars helped the study team classify the specimen as a four-legged whale.) Its legs were strong enough for the creature to stand on land, and it had hooves at the ends of its fingers and toes. But Peregocetus also likely had webbed feet to help it swim, Lambert said. Just like an otter, it might start by pushing back on its hind limbs. Then it might shift to undulating its body up and down from the tail to the hip. The whale fed at sea and probably only came on land for specific activities that could have included breeding or giving birth, Lambert said. That would be similar to the behaviour of seals and sea lions today. It only took a few hours of excavation for diggers to find the first traces of the whale in Peru’s Pisco Basin. The fossilised bones were embedded among marine deposits that dated back about 42.6 million years, to the middle Eocene Epoch. Whales are descended from artiodactyls, a group of mammals that includes cows, sheep, goats and other hoofed animals. The earliest four-legged whales from Pakistan and India lived in shallow rivers, said Hans Thewissen, an anatomist and paleobiologist at Northeast Ohio Medical University. “Those early animals are amphibious, but they are not very good swimmers,” said Thewissen, who didn’t work on the study. “At some point they learn to be better swimmers and learn how to cross big oceans.” Hind legs likely helped Peregocetus’ ancestors swim from the northern coast of Africa to South America more than 43 million years ago, Lambert said. At the time, the distance between the continents was only about half as much as it is today, and currents running between them may have facilitated the crossing. He said it was unlikely that the whale diaspora occurred in a single generation. But to travel that far, whales would have needed to spend days or weeks at sea, suggesting they acquired the ability to sleep in the ocean. As whales spent more time swimming, they gradually lost their hind limbs, which interfered with a swimming motion that relied primarily on tail movement, Lambert said. “The tail is much more efficient for locomotion than a combination of tail and hind limbs,” he said. Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, said the report helps scientists understand the locomotive ability of early whales. “That’s kind of exciting,” said Pyenson, who was not involved in the study. “That tells us early on in whale evolution they had gotten much farther than we had previously understood.” —Los Angeles Times/TNS
‘Every administration wants to go back to the moon and no administration wants to actually put the money down that it will take to do that,’ senior space analyst Marco Caceres tells Samantha Masunaga No humans have walked on the moon since 1972, when the Apollo 17 crew left the lunar surface. Since then, returning to the moon has been an almost perennial refrain among US presidential administrations. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration aimed to send astronauts to the moon within five years. It’s not a universally popular idea. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969, has worn shirts emblazoned bluntly with his preference toward Mars for any future crewed space exploration. Given the limitations on Nasa’s budget, some think resources would be better used for a push toward Mars. And the timing of a moon landing may be seen as a political exercise, as it would occur around the end of the Trump administration, should the president be re-elected, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at market research firm Teal Group. But Nasa has said a so-called lunar gateway in orbit around the moon could help astronauts explore the lunar surface more thoroughly than during the Apollo era. And last year, a team of scientists directly observed “definitive” evidence of water ice at the moon’s poles, buoying hopes that it could be used as a resource not only for astronauts on the moon, but those travelling to Mars or other destinations. “The moon isn’t the ultimate goal,” said Laura Forczyk, owner of space consulting firm Astralytical, describing it as a “steppingstone.” The idea behind a lunar outpost is that astronauts could have a home base from which to perform studies in lunar orbit and also conduct shorter missions to the moon’s surface. “We’ve only touched the surface of it,” Forczyk said. “We really haven’t done much. It’s equivalent to landing at LAX and saying you’ve been to Los Angeles.” From there, Nasa could work its way up to building a sustainable presence — or permanent base — on the moon, Forczyk said. That base could enable astronauts to train for longer-term operations on other planets, such as Mars. And further exploration and mining of the moon’s resources, such as water ice, could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, which could be used in propellant farms to fuel rockets going elsewhere in the solar system. Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview in February that the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, which is intended to take a crew to the moon and beyond, will be powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Development of that rocket is behind schedule and over budget, leading Pence to indirectly chasten its builder, Boeing Co., by saying that the Trump administration was not committed to “any one contractor” to get back to the moon. A return to the moon might not necessarily be solely a government endeavour. Pence said last week that if a commercially developed rocket was the only way to get to the moon in the five-year time frame, “then commercial rockets it will be.” The potential for commercial partnerships means that private companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin or Elon Musk’s SpaceX could one day play a role. Musk has long espoused his goal of colonising Mars and making humans a multi-planetary species. To accomplish that goal, SpaceX is building a spaceship called Starship and a rocket booster called Super Heavy. The company is testing a prototype of Starship at a facility in Texas. Last week, Nasa said it will conduct ground tests on five prototypes of deep-space habitats developed by companies such as Lockheed Martin Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation and Boeing. Renderings of the habitats largely look somewhat similar to smaller versions of the International Space Station and would remain in orbit around the moon. Last year, the space agency chose nine companies that could be eligible to bid on future contracts to take science experiments to the surface of the moon. Each of the companies is responsible for building robotic lunar landers. But a true return to the moon will cost money, and analysts say the current Nasa budget of $21.5 billion won’t cut it. “If we were really serious about sending astronauts on several missions to the moon, we would be jacking up Nasa’s budget by at least double or more. And nobody’s doing that,” Caceres said. “Every administration wants to go back to the moon and no administration wants to actually put the money down that it will ta`ke to do that,” he said. “Everybody wants to aim high and re-create the spirit of American can-do-ism that we basically saw during the Apollo era.” —Los Angeles Times/TNS
Pollution is an international issue as the world is trying to ward off the effects of climate change. At the same time, the experts are taking up different measures to address the reasons of the climate change. Besides the government and its initiatives, it is the obligation of every individual to curtail the pollution and then carry out clean-up activities. In this connection, both the government of Qatar and the residents have been showing great interest in raising awareness and cleaning the beaches and desert. Doha Environmental Action Project (DEAP) is one such group that has been active in Qatar for about two years in carrying out clean-up drives on every weekend now. DEAP is a team of volunteers, who are leading the beach clean-up movement in Qatar. The group members take it as their responsibility to fight against the plastic pollution in Qatar and to keep their country clean and safe. Besides organising beach and sand dune clean-ups, DEAP actively participates in school presentations as part of their efforts to educate youth about plastic pollution and what they can do to help mitigate the problems. Recently, the volunteers of DEAP cleaned up a small mangrove and beach area close to Al Khor. It was the 83rd beach clean-up by DEAP volunteers in Qatar. Over 70 volunteers of driftnet ages and origins gathered to clean the mangrove. As a result of their clean-up efforts, the team of volunteers managed to remove about 1,000 kilograms of trash from the mangrove and the beach, including 15 tires of different sizes. Talking to Community, Jose Saucedo, Director of DEAP, said, “We have completed 83 clean-ups to date and has taken over 3,500 volunteers on these drives. During these cleanups, they have collected more than 45,000kg of trash. DEAP has a pool of volunteers from all over the world, and every Friday they get together for cleanups. It is a fun, family and kid friendly organisation that allows people to discover Qatar with a purpose. “The government has been taking different necessary measures to keep the country clean. The government also helps us in transporting the garbage and trash we collect from different places. However, it is the responsibility of every resident and native to do their share in cleaning the far off area of the country.” Jose, a US national working in food and manufacturing industry, added, “During the Al Khor clean-up, we were very fortunate to have Torba Farmers Market people joining us. The Torba Farmers Market is actively taking steps to eliminate the use of plastics that are littering and polluting the oceans all over the world. For this clean-up activity, we had more local support as we went far away from Doha to clean the beach. The exercise was also interested as the clean mangroves can be a place for natural habitat of wildlife. “I joined the group some 11 months ago after I came to know about its positive activities. DEAP’s mission is to restore the natural beauty of the beaches and sand dunes in Qatar and to promote Qatar’s natural landscapes. I will ask people to support us continue our quest to discover Qatar with a purpose. If there’s anything we need, is people that care about the environment, share our love for Qatar, and are passionate about leaving a better place for generations to come.” Fatma al-Khater, Founder of Torba Market, said, “We witnessed first-hand that how pollution and especially single use plastics damage marine ecosystem in Qatar. The community-driven event was great at promoting our cause in reducing plastic waste. We also saw a need to do more events like this in the future”. Shreya Suraj, an Indian expatriate and active volunteer with DEAP, said, “I always have wonderful feelings when I become a part of the clean-up drives. I think I am contributing something positive. Mangroves are usually thought of clean and unpolluted areas. However, I saw that different items and things are stuck in the mangroves and pollute the area continuously. We had a fun time cleaning the mangrove in Al Khor. There were children and families carrying our clean-up activity. Such activities also raise awareness among children about importance of cleanliness.”
Earth’s oceans had their warmest year on record in 2018, a stark indication of the enormous amount of heat being absorbed by the sea as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to scientists. The analysis by an international team of scientists confirms the oceans are heating up much faster than previously recognized, and that the pace of warming has accelerated sharply since the 1990s. Rising ocean temperatures are already having profound consequences across the globe, scientists say, contributing to more intense hurricanes, destroying coral reefs and causing sea levels to rise. The report in the journal Advances in Academic Sciences builds on a study last week that found oceans are warming 40 percent more, on average, than was estimated by a United Nations scientific panel just five years ago. In fact, each of the last 10 years is among the 10 warmest on record, according to data from Lijing Cheng of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Beijing, who led the research. The unrelenting pattern is “incontrovertible proof that the Earth is warming,” and an unmistakable signal of the serious damage humans are already causing through climate change, the authors of the new study wrote. Earth’s oceans provide a crucial buffer against climate change by swallowing 93 percent of the excess heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans are spewing into the atmosphere. “The oceans are really the Earth’s thermometer,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with the academic non-profit Berkeley Earth who collaborated on the research. “They’re where all the heat ends up. They’re where we’d expect the strongest signs of climate change to be. And that’s exactly what we see.” In contrast with rising surface temperatures, which can vary from year to year with the influence of weather and cyclical climate patterns like El Nino, the warming of the ocean has been inexorable, with virtually every year breaking the heat record set just 12 months earlier. “There’s no sign of any slowdown or pause,” Hausfather said. “The ocean temperature is increasing year over year in lockstep with increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.” Indeed, emissions have accelerated as US President Donald Trump and some other world leaders have pursued energy policies that promote fossil fuels. Global carbon emissions increased 1.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, and then jumped an additional 2.7 percent in 2018, according to estimates published last month in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Last week, the research firm Rhodium Group reported that U.S. carbon emissions rose 3.4 percent in 2018 after years of declines. Rather than measure the water’s temperature, the researchers focused on the amount of energy the oceans had taken in. They determined that the heat content has increased by around 370 Zettajoules since 1955. The increase in 2018 alone compared with 2017 –about 9 Zettajoules – was about 100 million times greater than the heat released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Hausfather said. The rate of warming in the ocean’s upper 6,500 feet has been up to five times faster since 1991 than it was in the 1970s and ‘80s, scientists found. The warming is more pronounced in shallower waters, with about two-thirds of the energy accumulating within 2,000 feet of the surface. The effects will grow more devastating the longer oceans continue to warm, scientists say. Wetter, more powerful hurricanes, like Harvey in 2017, will become more frequent. Marine ecosystems, including coral reefs already stressed by past warming, will be unable to recover from marine heat waves and bleaching. Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, but the heat they contain is distributed unevenly. In 2018, one of the warmest spots was along the East Coast of the United States, where Hurricane Florence caused severe flood damage in the Carolinas last fall. Warming ocean waters have had a direct influence on storms like Florence and Harvey, scientists said, feeding them more energy and allowing them to hold more water vapor that rains down on coastal communities. “It leads to an intensification of the storm, and a bigger storm,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and a co-author of both recent studies. Ocean warming is also the main driver of the rising sea levels that are threatening coastal communities and ecosystems in addition to causing more severe flooding. Without global action to slash greenhouse gas emissions, the study projects, the planet could see about another foot of sea level rise just from warmer water taking up more space. That so-called thermal expansion doesn’t factor in additional increases expected as ice sheets melt in Greenland and Antarctica. Lisa Suatoni, a marine ecologist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the warming detected to date is already causing rapid transformation of ocean ecosystems, including certain marine species moving toward the poles and economically harmful disruptions to fisheries that provide food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. “The ocean is playing this silent but important service to the Earth in absorbing most of the heat that’s being trapped by our greenhouse gas emissions, but that service comes at a cost,” Suatoni said. “The transformation that global warming is having on the oceans is largely unseen because we’re land animals and it’s hard to observe.” That’s changing. Scientists’ observations are improving considerably thanks to new measurement techniques, particularly Argo, a network of drifting, automated floats in operation since the mid-2000s that periodically descend into the ocean to measure temperature and salinity, then transmit the readings to satellites. The new analysis is based on Argo’s measurements of the upper 6,500 feet of the ocean combined with earlier readings that go back to the 1950s. Scientists compared four different estimates of ocean warming completed since the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2014 and found them converging in agreement: Oceans were warming faster than prior estimates. The findings of record ocean warming come before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA were scheduled to release data on the average global surface temperature for 2018. The federal agencies are expected to report that 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record, but their announcements have been delayed indefinitely by the partial government shutdown. Once full operations are restored, it will take at least three days for scientists to finalize their reports, said Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The shutdown has also halted the flow of information to the United Kingdom’s Met Office, its national weather service, which hasn’t been able to finish its calculations of last year’s average global surface temperature, said spokesman Grahame Madge. “With the United States accounting for around 3 percent of the world’s land surface, the absence of American data, even for one month, would skew the final figure,” he said. “We’re hoping that the data can be released before the end of January.” A report last week from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said the last four years have been the warmest on record, with 2018 in the No. 4 slot. With a weak El Nino likely underway in the Pacific Ocean, 2019 air temperatures have a good chance of being hotter than they were last year. – Los Angeles Times/ TNS