Tag Archives: Space Shuttle

Joke 788

20 May
Train tracks, taken from a moving train.

Train tracks, taken from a moving train. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a little ruder than I usually post, but it’s too good not to share.  Thanks to my friend Cliff for forwarding it.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. 

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts. 

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. 

Illustration for the topic of bureacracy. The ...

Illustration for the topic of bureacracy. The form is fictional. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome , they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’ you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses i.e. two horses’ asses. 

Deutsch: Space Shuttle "Enterprise" ...

Space Shuttle “Enterprise” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. 

The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. 

English: The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS...

The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just seconds past 7 a.m., carries astronauts John Young and into an Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s ass.

And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important? Ancient horse’s asses control almost everything.

And current horses’ asses in Washington, London, and Europe are controlling everything else!

 

Star Trekking Across The Universe (Not)

21 Jul
Atlantis deploys the landing gear before landi...

Image via Wikipedia

Are you happy or sad the Space Shuttle has been retired?

This is the second time we’ve been asked this question, and Nancy suggested I re-post my first answer.  Given the state of the economy, and in a bid to save the world, I’ve taken her advice, because it’s good to recycle and re-use things; so don’t go thinking it’s laziness on my part that brought you here.

I waited for today to answer this question (again), because today, Thursday, 21 July 2011, sees the return to earth of the last Space Shuttle; the last flight any shuttle will ever make.  I could cry. 

We should be out there, crossing the final frontier.  And by ‘we’ I mean, of course, ‘the Americans’, because, well, that’s what they do.  I’ll settle for the Russians, the Chinese, the Fijians if necessary; but I don’t read or speak Russian, Chinese or Fijian, so following a space programme on their websites – assuming they have websites; you know how secretive the Fijians are – is going to be difficult.

That’s the mushy bit over with; here’s the original post, complete with the WordPress prompter’s then-factually incorrect question:

Tomorrow is the last Space Shuttle mission. Does this make you, happy, sad, or indifferent? Why?

Okay, it might not be tomorrow; it might already have happened because I’m writing this yesterday but in the future of the moment the prompt was given. So it might be tomorrow, or not: Space Shuttles are notoriously unreliable. I guess any plane that needs a parachute to land is going to have glitches, however, so I don’t hold that against them.

I am truly sad that the era of the Shuttle has come to an end. We should be out there in space, doing stuff.*

*Bear with me: I’m an enthusiast but not so hot on the technical jargon.

Stuff is what we do: search out new lives and new civilisations. Boldly go where no split infinitives have gone before.

It started with the bloke who thought, ‘This village is all right but there must be more than just us out there,’ and went to see for himself, dragging his missus and kids along so there was always supper on the table and someone to haul the water.

Having found he wasn’t alone in his universe and there was, in fact, another village over yonder (with his missus sighing, ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it: they eat their bread butter side down. I blame that Seuss fella’), he felt the urge to search out more villages, maybe one with a posh hotel and a shower: ‘Clean me up, snotty. I’ve travelled five miles to get here.’

And so he (it’s always a he because paternalistic attitudes prevail even in these enlightened times when a woman can’t get elected President because she doesn’t cry and people don’t like it because she’s hard and then she does cry and people don’t like it because who wants a cry baby as leader of the free world?) conquers the villages he visits and moves on to the next. On to towns, cities, shires, countries, new worlds across the sea, taking care not to fall off the edge on the way.

Finally, he thinks that space might be a good idea because those pesky communists wanted it first. Illogical, yes, but great motivation.

In 1969 he makes one giant leap for mankind (have you tried walking daintily in those huge suits?) and celebrates with a game of golf and a growth industry of conspiracy theorists who claim there was no way he got a hole in one with no shadows to prove it.

Some of his mates follow in his moon boots then bam! 1972 passes and nothing…no more moon walks that don’t involve a single white glove.

How did that happen? It’s like someone decided: been there, done that, got the space shirt; now we have a parking garage and huge garbage dump and we can live happily ever after.

Maybe they have a point: despite all the movies, we haven’t been invaded yet. What self-respecting alien wants to live in a world that uses space trash instead of ozone to keep the temperature ambient? A world that doesn’t want a follow-up to velcro?

Clearly, our prime directive is to save money and stay at home, avoiding the neighbours.

Of course I’m sad.

Space: The Final Is Here

17 May
Shuttle launch of Atlantis at sunset in 2001. ...

Image via Wikipedia

Tomorrow is the last Space Shuttle mission. Does this make you, happy, sad, or indifferent? Why?

Okay, it might not be tomorrow; it might already have happened because I’m writing this yesterday but in the future of the moment the prompt was given.  So it might be tomorrow, or not: Space Shuttles are notoriously unreliable.  I guess any plane that needs a parachute to land is going to have glitches, however, so I don’t hold that against them.

I am truly sad that the era of the Shuttle has come to an end.  We should be out there in space, doing stuff.*

*Bear with me: I’m an enthusiast but not so hot on the technical details.

Stuff is what we do: search out new lives and new civilisations.  Boldly go where no split infinitives have gone before. 

It started with the bloke who thought, ‘This village is all right but there must be more than just us out there,’ and went to see for himself, dragging his missus and kids along so there was always supper on the table and someone to haul the water. 

Having found he wasn’t alone in his universe and there was, in fact, another village over yonder (with his missus sighing, ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it: they eat their bread butter side down.  I blame that Seuss fella’), he felt the urge to search out more villages, maybe one with a posh hotel and a shower: ‘Clean me up, snotty.  I’ve travelled five miles to get here.’

And so he (it’s always a he because paternalistic attitudes prevail even in these enlightened times when a woman can’t get elected President because she doesn’t cry and people don’t like it because she’s hard and then she does cry and people don’t like it because who wants a cry baby as leader of the free world?) conquers the villages he visits and moves on to the next.  On to towns, cities, shires, countries, new worlds across the sea, taking care not to fall off the edge on the way.

Finally, he thinks that space might be a good idea because those pesky communists wanted it first.  Illogical, yes, but great motivation.

In 1969 he makes one giant leap for mankind (have you tried walking daintily in those huge suits?) and celebrates with a game of golf and a growth industry of conspiracy theorists who claim there was no way he got a hole in one with no shadows to prove it. 

Some of his mates follow in his moon boots then bam!  1972 passes and nothing…no more moon walks that don’t involve a single white glove.

How did that happen?  It’s like someone decided: been there, done that, got the space shirt; now we have a parking garage and huge garbage dump and we can live happily ever after.

Maybe they have a point: despite all the movies, we haven’t been invaded yet.  What self-respecting alien wants to live in a world that uses space trash instead of ozone to keep the temperature ambient?  And who doesn’t want a follow-up to velcro?

Clearly, our prime directive is to save money and stay at home, avoiding the neighbours.

Of course I’m sad.

PS

7 Apr

I knew there was something else I wanted to say.  I had a bit of fun with yesterday’s poem.  I was scrabbling around for a name when the Discovery space shuttle blasted off live on SKY News.  Perfect!  But I thought it would be amusing to include other shuttle names – Endeavour, Enterprise & Challenger.  I deperately wanted to use Atlantis and Columbia but I couldn’t make them work without giving the game away or ruining the poem.  I also used a couple of space references.

Did anyone spot my game?

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