How appropriate that at the height of the Cold War, in which the United States was attempting to spend the Soviet Union into collapse (a task at which they eventually succeeded), the Soviets cloned the buggiest, most inconsistant part of the US space program.
Called Buran (Russian for blizzard or snowstorm), the program was launched by the Kremlin as a reaction to NASA’s space shuttle and an attempt to gain an edge in space against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. It was also an attempt to fulfill the Soviet Union’s dream of reusable spacecraft and payloads, ideas that predated the American space program.
A massive effort began. Over a million and a half people worked on the multi-billion dollar project, while researchers developed new, elaborate schemes for Russian space exploration. Among other tasks, Russian scientists hoped that the Buran would be able to carry the space station back to Earth, and — the reported reason for its inception — to allow the USSR to carry out military attacks from space.
And from Maciej Ceglowski’s epic takedown of the Shuttle program, this little tidbit:
The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you’re in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.
In No Evidence of Disease, Maciej Cegłowski writes about his girlfriend’s cervical cancer and the appearance of a new friend in her life, fellow cancer patient Stephanie. Except that, well, that’s not the whole story.
Cancer comes with an entourage: fear, loneliness, and isolation. Diane didn’t go to the makeup event expecting to make a new friend, but it was a way to get out of the house. She came home excited about having met Stephanie.
Stephanie was ten years younger than Diane. Her illness was acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer in which cancerous precursor cells completely take over the bone marrow. Steph had gotten her diagnosis while studying abroad in Spain, and had been treated there long enough to put her into remission and send her home. Now her life was on hold, and the cancer was coming back.
Her long-term prognosis was poor. Steph was reticent in talking about it straight out, but after she and Diane became better friends, it became clear that she did not expect to survive a year. Her only hope lay in a difficult and risky transplant procedure. I couldn’t imagine having to face this at 23, but of course no one gets to make the choice.
Maciej is a great writer and this is a crazy-ass story and I don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to feel after reading this piece (sad? mad? defeated?), but you’ll definitely feel something. (via @sippey)
Maciej Ceglowski tells the story of how the cure for scurvy was discovered, lost, and finally redsicovered, but not before it disrupted Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 expedition to reach the South Pole.
This is a good example of how the very ubiquity of vitamin C made it hard to identify. Though scurvy was always associated with a lack of greens, fresh meat contains adequate amounts of vitamin C, with particularly high concentrations in the organ meats that explorers considered a delicacy. Eat a bear liver every few weeks and scurvy will be the least of your problems.
But unless you already understand and believe in the vitamin model of nutrition, the notion of a trace substance that exists both in fresh limes and bear kidneys, but is absent from a cask of lime juice because you happened to prepare it in a copper vessel, begins to sound pretty contrived.
Loving article about the little-known transcontinental burrito tunnel linking San Francisco and NYC. “By the time they reach Cleveland the burritos are fully heated through and traveling uphill at about twice the speed of sound.” (via seriouseats)
In this week’s installment of the hot new show, Secret Agent: Beijing, Maciej turns the wrong way down the street and ends up with a whole bunch of new friends in law enforcement.
Maciej takes George Will to task on bilingual ballots. Will thinks bilingual ballots are “a mockery of the rule of law” because you need to speak English to become a citizen. Maciej says, “the insinuation that voters might want ballots in Spanish because they are cheating, lazy, bad people is malicious and wrong. You choose Spanish on your ballot for the same reason you might choose it in an ATM transaction - not because you have contempt for American civil society, but because you don’t want to make a mistake.”
My friend Maciej’s server died the other day, and it looks like it cannot be resurrected. He runs idlewords.com (not working at the moment, obviously), where you may have read his piece on the woes of the Space Shuttle, the one about the Wright Brothers, or about pizza in NYC (which ended up in Best Food Writing 2005). At the moment, he’s a starving artist and can’t afford a new server or even a vanilla hosting account. Anyone out there a reader/fan/friend of Maciej’s and want to give him a little corner of your server to get his site back online? Here’s his short request:
The site rarely exceeds 1GB/day bandwidth. It would be especially handy if I could install perl modules and run perl CGI scripts, but at this point I would settle just being able to keep the archive alive.
If you want to help, email mceglowski [at] gmail.com.
Update: Ok folks, looks like he’s all set. Thanks!
And as long as we’re on the subject (you didn’t think we were even on a subject, did you?), I’m a fan of how Maciej is displaying his oil paintings. For each of his newer paintings (like this one of a West Village scene), he’s documenting the progress of the work as it goes along so you can see how the painting becomes a painting.
Update: Eric writes that he uses this technique for displaying how his art progresses as well (sample).
Use the Technorati Accelerator to “search on any URL and get the same response you would have to wait thirty seconds for on their site”. Zing!
Fantastic must-read article slamming NASA with regard to the Space Shuttle program. I’ve been following Maciej’s del.icio.us links about the Shuttle for weeks now and was wondering if he’d get around to writing it up. Worth the wait.