Abandoned Russian Space Shuttles (Burans) in Baikonur, Kazakhstan


In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union decided to essentially rip off the American space shuttle and create their own “bigger and better and more Soviet” version.  The result was the Buran spacecraft. While multiple Burans were built, only one flew in space for about 3 hours.  Then it was put into a building and locked away by the Soviets because the program was just too expensive to run.

Although the Burans live on, albeit in a degraded and failing state due to the natural elements and looters, the boosters that took the Buran to space were completely destroyed in 2012 after a storage roof caved in.  So these guys will probably never fly again (unless they were fully restored and the boosters completely reconstructed).

Recently, some European adventurists sneaked into the facility and took some incredible footage that you can watch on their youtube channel:

You can read more and see more incredible pictures from National Geographic here.

The Buran started off as a copy of the US space shuttle, but quickly took on a life of its own.  The Russians decided to go essentially pilotless, and in fact the one and only Buran flight was done without any crew.  It was essentially a spaceship drone.

If the Russians were able to do autopilot space missions, why couldn’t the Americans?  In Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff there is some discussion about the Mercury astronauts insisting on a design that would allow them to have more control over the space shuttle.  The pilots wanted to feel like they were flying the capsule and not just along for the ride, which was probably more in line with what NASA had in mind at the time.  After all, the Mercury ships were piloted by trained chimps on their test flights!

As for the Soviets, they were known for simply locking things up and walking away when they ran out of money.  And so, you have Russian space shuttles sitting out in the middle of nowhere, rotting away in the dustbin of history.




The Moment Saddam Hussein Took Over

Christopher Hitchens chillingly narrates the moment Saddam Hussein took power.  Iraq’s 1979 Fascist Coup is a fascinating moment in history.  We all know how it ended for Saddam, but the archival footage married with part of a Christopher Hitchens speech, showing Saddam Hussein’s final purge of the Iraqi Baath Party leadership, is stunning.

Allied military government of Germany refused to recognize homosexuals as victims of the holocaust

Everyone is aware of the atrocities by the German people and government that lead to the mass murder of millions of Jews and other minorities prior to and during World War 2.  But what many do not realize is that persecution against homosexuals continued after the concentration/extermination camps were liberated by the Allies.

The Allies did not acknowledge homosexual concentration camp survivors as victims of Nazi persecution.  Indeed, reparations and state pensions available to other groups were refused to gay men, who were still classified as criminals.

The persecution of homosexuals also extended to gay men who played a pivotal role in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany.  For example, Alan Turing, the man credited with deciphering many German codes during the war and cracking the German’s famous “enigma” code machine, was tried in 1952 for criminal homosexual acts and forced to undergo chemical castration.  Soon after, he killed himself.

Unusual Airplane Designs



Sukhoi SU-47 (1997, 2 produced): Russian experimental fighter aircraft featuring an unconventional forward swept wing/canard configuration. Forward swept wings provide greater maneuverability over conventional wing shapes. A similar American aircraft is the earlier Grumman X-29, which was also experimental.



Antonov An-72 (1977): Soviet transport aircraft. The unconventional placement of the engines benefits from the Coandă effect (which I won’t pretend to fully understand) – the exhaust air flowing over the top of the wings increases lift, resulting in less runway distance required to take off.



Aero Spacelines Super Guppy (1965, 5 produced under both variants): Cargo aircraft made from a modified C-97J, designed to carry large payloads, such as other planes (NASA T-38’s shown).



Blohm and Voss BV-141 (1938, 13-28 produced): German WWII era reconnaissance aircraft, most striking for its asymmetric shape. The position of the cockpit allows for greater downwards visibility, which would be beneficial for the aircraft’s role. The much more conventional approach would be simply to use two engines, such as on the much more widely produced Focke-Wulf Fw-189.



NASA AD-1 (1979, 1 produced): Experimental aircraft built by NASA to test the viability of an oblique wing. The wing would start off normally, but could rotate once in flight.. The oblique wing reduces drag in a similar manner as variable sweep wings (F-111 shown), but the oblique wing has the benefit of reduced complexity (since there is only one moving joint as opposed to two), as well as reducing the shift in the centre of gravity and lift of the aircraft as the wing moves compared to a more typical variable sweep wing.



North American F-82 Twin Mustang (1945, 272 produced): The American military piston powered fighter aircraft, designed as a long range escort fighter. The F-82 was designed to escort B-29 bombers on missions ranging over 3200km as part of the planned invasion of Japan. Japan surrendered before any F-82’s entered service, although F-82’s did see active service during the Korean war.



Beriev Be-200 (1998, 9 produced): Russian amphibious firefighting, search and rescue, and maritime patrol aircraft. Mounting the engines above the wings greatly reduces the amount of water spraying into the engines. You can see this approach used on many other amphibious aircraft such as the Consolidated PBY Catalina.



Scaled Composites Proteus (1998, 1 produced): A one-off high-altitude high-efficiency aircraft designed by the legendary Burt Rutan (who could easily fill up a post of his own). The aircraft has an all composite air frame, greatly reducing its weight. The Proteus has set several altitude records, topping out at over 63,000 feet (double the typical cruising altitude of commercial airliners) and can fly at that altitude for ~18 hours.



NASA M2-F1 (1963, 1 produced): The M2-F1 was one of NASA’s many experimental unpowered aircraft built in the 60’s and 70’s to test the concept of lifting body aircraft, which typically lack wings and generate most or all of their lift from the airframe itself. These tests were mostly geared spacecraft re-entry. Being unpowered gliders, these test vehicles had to be towed into the air, including by a Cadillac convertible on at least one occasion. The SNC Dream Chaser is a modern example of such a lifting body, which is currently in competition for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract.


How Tall was Goliath?


We’ve seen the fight between David and Goliath depicted many times by Hollywood, but what do the bible and other sources say about Goliath’s real height?

According to Jewish scripture, Goliath was about twelve feet tall.  The Jewish organization Chabad interprets the Hebrew scriptures this way:

The sight of the fierce giant, six cubits and a span tall (about twelve feet), towering over the hill, clad in armor and iron and brass from head to foot, filled the Jews with great terror. There was not a single man in the Jewish camp who dared accept the challenge.

shaquille-onealIn Reconsidering the Height of Goliath, author J. Daniel Hays posits that Goliath was instead about “4 cubits” tall, or just under 6′.

Hays’ conclusion seems to be supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls, which in the Book of Samuel puts Goliath’s height at 6’9″, making the giant three inches taller than Michael Jordan, but four inches shorter than Shaq.

Goliath must have been an intimidating man for the Jews who faced him in biblical battle, especially since the average height of a man at the time was about 5’3″.  But whatever Goliath’s height, he was of course defeated by David, who supposedly went on to be one of the most famous monarchs in human history.



The Titanic Today

The RMS Titanic was built by the White Star Lines and was billed as the “unsinkable” passenger ship.  The Titanic, however, met its fate on April 15, 1915 when it sank to the bottom of the sea.

01 - We all know the infamous tale of the White Star Line vessel

The crew was headed by Captain Edward Smith.  At the time Smith’s monthly salary was today’s equivalent of about $15,00 a month.

02 - Titanic was commanded by these men

The Titanic struck an Iceburg at about 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1915.  The crew estimated she would sink in an hour.

03 - On April 14th at 1140 PM Titanic struck an iceberg

The Titanic instead stayed afloat for almost three hours before she finally broke up and sank to the bottom of the ocean.

04 - Around 220 AM Titanic lost her fight against the North Atlantic and broke up and sank with over 1500 people aboard her

About 1,500 people died, going down with the ship to the bottom of the ocean or drowning.  About 700 managed to make it to lifeboats to survive the ordeal.

Before the ship was discovered in 1985, many believed that the ship did not break up.  In fact, the official investigation into the sinking “disbelieved” the eye witness accounts of survivors who claimed the ship broke up before it sank.  Here is what we thought the ship looked like before it was located in 1985:

05 - Today she rests two and a half miles below the surface of the North Atlantic 06 - This is what we thought she039d look like before she was discovered in 1985 by Robert Ballard

After the Titanic was discovered in 1985 on the ocean floor, researchers learned that she was being eaten alive by microbes hungry for the iron in her hull.  Here is her hull today:

07 - Today she sadly rusts away due to microbes eating the iron in her hull These things cover the ship and are known as 039rusticles039

The Titanic’s stern today:08 - Titanic039s stern today

09 - 925aScE

Here is a picture of one of the Titanic’s lifeboat davits (where the lifeboats hung):

10 - A lifeboat davit beginning to fall off the ship

One of her large anchors:

11 - One of Titanic039s large anchors on her side

Her propeller jammed into the mud upon impact with the ocean floor.

12 - One of Titanic039s propellers forced up out of the mud on impact with the bottom

A boiler that fell out of the ship when it broke up:

13 - One of Titanic039s boilers that fell out when the ship broke up

The head of a porcelain doll:

14 - The head of a porcelain doll

The Captain’s bathtub:

15 - Captain039s Smith039s bathtub seen through a collapsing wall in his cabin

Shoes are strewn about all over the wreck site.  These are unofficial tombstones.  When the bodies of victims sank to the bottom of the sea, they were eventually eaten up by sea life.  But nothing would eat their leather shoes, so the shoes stay in the same position where the bodies fell marking the site where hundreds met their fate.

16 - A pair of shoes

Helga Estby walked across America to win a $10,000 prize to save her home. When she finished, the sponsor refused to pay out.

Helga_and_Clara_EstbyMs. Estby might go down as one of history’s most unlucky women.  When Ms. Estby returned home she learned that two of her children had died.

Ms. Estby got pregnant at 15 out of wedlock and was married off to a 28-year-old (not the father) to avoid being ostracized. A decade later she worked incredibly hard to raise her kids in a one-room sod house before moving to Spokane, Washington.

When the Panic of 1893 hit, she had eight (surviving) children and she had recently recovered from a broken pelvis.

Her trip took seven months and she went with her oldest daughter.  Ms. Estby and her oldest daughter saw much of the U.S. on their trip. They were met with much kindness, and kept a wary eye out for rattlesnakes and bears. They had to shoot one would-be rapist in the leg. They finally ended up in New York and the sponsor failed to pay up and so she and her daughter were stranded in Brooklyn for another year before a wealthy man took pity on them.

Sadly, this tragedy shattered the family and Helga was alienated from several of her children. After she died, two of her daughters burned her papers: we only have the info we have now because a daughter-in-law saved a scrapbook with information about her trip in it (hiding it even from her husband, who also hated his mother).

Unfortunately for us, the identity of the sponsor remains unknown, as does the reason he failed even to pay for a return ticket. Helga’s journal disappeared in New York, before she’d returned, and one wonders what clues were in there – or in the papers her daughters burned.

More about her here.

More info here too.