Friday, January 28, 2011

Duly Noted: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

(This is a bit of a drive-by posting, since it's already 3 and I don't have time at the moment to write up more than a summary and a link list.)

Twenty-five years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated a minute and change after lift-off, killing its seven-person crew. It had been cold the night before, and predictions were for temperature near freezing at the time of the launch; the low temperature caused the failure of an O-ring on the shuttle's solid rocket booster. Engineers for one of NASA's contractors expressed concern about proceeding with the launch under the weather conditions forecast, but were overruled. The launch went forward, and the O-ring's failure allowed heated, pressurized gas to escape and damage certain hardware.

Wikipedia has an article about the launch. Sub-articles include:
--  Space Shuttle Challenger launch decision
--  STS-51-L Mission timeline
Detroit Free Press coverage: 25 years ago today: Space shuttle Challenger explodes article: Challenger Shuttle Disaster at 25: NASA Recalls Darkest Moments
New York Times coverage from 1986:
-- The Shuttle Explosion: Suddenly, Flash of Fear Dashes Watchers' Hopes
-- Thousands Watch a Rain of Debris

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Duly Noted: US Airways flight 1549's unusual runway

About a month ago, another Duly Noted post detailed the 50th anniversary of a nasty plane crash. Today's airliner story has a much happier ending (provided, of course, you aren't a Canada goose).

Two years ago, on January 15, 2009, a US Airways flight left LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina. On its way up, however, its two engines each inhaled a Canada goose*, causing both to lose power.** Unable to get the plane safely back to LaGuardia (or, for that matter, to any airport), pilot Chesley Sullenberger instead chose to land the plane on, of all things, a tidal estuary.***  The landing can only be described as successful: all 155 people aboard the plane survived, with only five serious injuries.

* There are, apparently, a lot of geese who live at and around LaGuardia, and who pose a threat to the aircraft that come and go. I found a reference to at least one other such incident on the first page of results from a quick Google search. If you'd like to read more, the same search also brought up this article from CBS News and this press release from the City, both from the middle of last year.

** I'm not sure if it would have been possible to safely limp back to a proper runway with a single working engine, but I assume as much from the fact that everything I've read or heard about the incident make a point of saying that both engines were knocked out.
*** Before you start complaining that the Hudson is a river, let me point out that lower Hudson is indeed a tidal estuary. Check out the second paragraph of this section of the Wikipedia article.

Yesterday's New York Times article.
Further coverage from the NYT's City Room.
The inevitable Wikipedia article.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Duly Noted: Joan of Arc's (supposed) birthday

A late-15th century depiction of Joan
of Arc. (Wikimedia Commons)
January 6, 1412, is the date legend gives for Joan of Arc's birth. It probably wasn't, though: it would have been common knowledge in fifteenth century Europe that January 6th was the feast of the Epiphany, and as Joan interpreted the voices she heard as guidance on a divine mission, she would not have failed to make the connection had her birthday actually fallen on the traditional date.

Today, Joan of Arc is remembered more for her death at the stake in 1431 than she is for her earlier achievements: she led the campaign to raise the siege of Orléans and participated in enabling the Dauphin to his coronation in Reims in 1429.

Recommended reading:
Régine Pernoud, Joan of Arc: Her Story.
Article on Wikipedia
Short bio & link lists on

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Have a happy new year, good reader, and hopefully a more prosperous one for all of us than the last has been.

(Complete text of Robert Burns's poem can be found at Project Gutenberg.)