Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Science, Folklore, and Weather Predictions

 When I posted about folklore weather predictions some time ago, I shared several traditional examples.  The ability to predict weather in Isaac Werner's time was limited, although he did buy "Dr. J.H. McLean's Almanac and Diary...Also Storm Calendar and Weather Forecasts by Rev. Irl Hicks, the 'Storm Prophet.'"  These weather predictors lacked the knowledge and technology of today's forecasters, although some of them purported to rely on "secret" charts.

Many early settlers, not only in Isaac Werner's community but also around the world, relied on folklore.  In fact, some of the traditional rhymes and folklore had a scientific basis, although those who relied on the traditional predictions may not have known anything about science.  Many of the predictions related to the activity of animals and insects, and farmers learned to watch the animals for signs, although they did not know the scientific explanations for what the animals did.  

Birds are particularly sensitive to changes in air pressure, but other animals also react to pressure changes.  If you pay attention, as air pressure changes sheep will turn their backs to the wind, cows will lie down, and cats may sneeze.

Credit: Lyn Fenwick

By paying attention to birds, certain assumptions can be made.  Swallows respond when barometric pressure drops; they will fly close to the ground where air density is greatest.  In general, low-flying birds are signs of rain, while high flying birds indicate fair weather.

One summer a swallow couple chose our upstairs porch for their nursery and I was fortunate to photograph feeding time.  Notice the mud nest on the side of a glass light fixture...quite an achievement, getting the mud to stick.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

There is an old saying that crickets can tell time, and as strange as it may seem, that saying has significant truth.  Because crickets are cold blooded, they have a chemical reaction to temperature, and their chirps relate to the temperature.  If you count the number of chirps you hear within 14 seconds and then you add 40 to that number, you will get close to the time.  If you do that several times you can get a closer average.  At least, that is what I have read.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
More understandable are the predictions possible from observing spiders spinning webs.  Spiders are sensitive to humidity, and high humidity causes webs to absorb moisture and break.  In low humidity, spiders sense that and spin webs because the chances for dry weather are good.

So, when our ancestors made up little rhymes about the weather that include animals and insects in their prediction, they may very well have been basing their verses on science without knowing that scientific explanations were the reasons for the activities of the animals.

I noticed a spider nest with dew on it and what appears to be the spider's hiding hole, either to jump out to seize prey or to retreat from the dew.  I could not resist photographing it.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

In his journal, Isaac Werner regularly recorded the seasonal flights of birds.  While he believed their flights north predicted the arrival of spring, and in contrast, their flights a the end of summer predicted the approach of autumn, he may not have connected the movements of birds to science.  What is certain, however, is how much he enjoyed the birds and how he looked forward to their arrivals each spring.       

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Isaac Would have Cheered

 One of my favorite entries from Isaac Werner's journal is his explanation for ordering a book on public speaking.  It was his opinion that Women's issues would be important for quite some time, and he was considering becoming a public speaker in support of women getting the vote, as well as other rights, so he ordered the book to polish his skill.

He was supportive of women active in the populist movement during the 1880s, corresponding with Mary Elizabeth Lease and attending a rally in Pratt, Kansas with Mrs. Van de Vort as the main speaker. In the early 1870s, he wrote in his journal about the unfairness of men's treatment of women, specifically disapproving of his landlord's disrespectful comments about his wife, and also disagreeing with a fellow merchant's interference in the store's female bookkeeper's personal life. 

When I saw Wally Funk burst out of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, I imagined how excited Isaac Werner would have been had he witnessed her achievement.  He encouraged women's participation in the populist movement, participation that included women lecturers, and he supported women getting the vote.  I do not doubt that he would have been cheering Wally that day.

23-year-old Wally Funk's headline

Like women generations before her who had to wait for the vote, Wally Funk had to wait much too long for her chance to go into space.  The headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune reads:  "'Wally' Funk Likes Her Chances To Be 1st U.S. Woman In Space."  She had no idea that she would be 82 years old when she finally got her chance!  

It wasn't as if Wally had started late.  On the contrary, she got her pilot's license at the age of 17.  Born February 1, 1939, the myth-making about her future in flying goes back to the age of 1, when it is said that when her parents took her to an airport, she walked right up to a Douglas DC-3 and reach out to touch it.  At 20 years old she was a professional aviator.  Reading her list of "firsts" is remarkable!  Skipping past all of those piloting achievements, her preparation for flying in space continued. 

In 1961 she learned about the "Women in Space" Program, and although it was not an official government program, she applied, along with 18 other women.  The physical and mental testing they endured was rigorous, but she passed the tests, finishing third best, although she was only 21.  The program was canceled before the women underwent their last test.
When NASA finally opened the program to women in the late 1970s, she applied--3 times, She was turned down for not having an engineering degree or background as a test pilot, despite her other impressive credentials.  It was Lt. Col. Eileen Collins who became the first female to pilot a Space Shuttle, and although Wally was one of the seven women from that original "Women in Space" group from 1961 invited as guests of Collins to watch the launch and receive a behind the scenes VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center complex, Wally's age meant her own dream of piloting a NASA shuttle was never going to happen.

Yet, when Wally exited Blue Origin, the joy she expressed looked like someone fulfilling a dream.  That is not to say that Wally doesn't want more, even after becoming the oldest person to go to space, passing John Glenn's 23-year record.  She already holds many records--the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor of Army pilots, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector. as well as so many other achievements.

Isaac Werner was correct.  Women's issues did remain important for the rest of his life and continue to this day.  The essay that appeared in the New York Times after the flight quoted Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut who served aboard the space shuttle and the space station, saying "When Wally flies, we all fly with her."  However, Katie Mack, an astrophysicist shared the thrill of Wally's flight, but she pointed out that while she wholeheartedly supported Bezos's decision to include Wally on the flight, she is concerned that the exclusion of women by NASA for so long may now become "Selection of space crew on whim and money rather than based on selections by governmental agencies," a shift that may  continue to exclude qualified women.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Imagination or Predictions?

Jules Verne

Isaac Werner did not have a horse, and he broke the sod for his timber claim by hand, gently placing the cuttings of cottonwood trees into the virgin prairie soil, and hand weeding the sunflowers that tried to steal the meager rainfall from the young trees.  He traded his labor with neighbors who had horses to break the tough prairie sod.  Only after several years did he finally buy a horse and the simple implements needed to work his land.  What would he have thought of the massive tractors and implements that farmers of today use in farming the same land?  Isaac knew about trains, but what would he have thought of airplanes?  Even with his imagination and gift for invention, what would he have thought of space ships landing on the moon?

I could not help but think of Isaac when I watched the successful launches of passenger rockets developed by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson soar into the sky in the summer of 2021, carrying the first passengers into space on privately funded spacecraft.

H. G. Wells
Men have long dreamed of space travel, and for decades fiction has predicted it.  Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, both sometimes called the "father of science fiction" have written of unbelievable achievements.  Jules Verne tended to keep his adventures earthbound, with books like Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and Twenty Leagues Under the Seas (1870).  It was H. G. Wells who made flying a part of his science fiction, with books like The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men on the Moon (1901)  However, it is Arthur C. Clarke who probably came closest to predicting most accurately the potential for future space travel.

Not only that, however, he described many other things that came into existence in a form quite consistent with his descriptions.  For example, in 1959 he wrote about a 'personal transceiver' small enough to carry, with which personal communication worldwide would be possible and global positioning could avoid getting lost.  These are the things we take for granted now with our smart phones.  In an interview five years later he described telecommuting and telemedicine.

Arthur C. Clarke
However, it was a short story competition in 1948 that caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick that led to Clarke and Kubrick developing the story into a novel and a movie in 1964, which may have fueled the imaginations of many people to believed that space travel would someday be possible.  Consider some of the other projections from "2001: A Space Odyssey" that have come true, particularly the iPad, and computer software that was able to read lips (which allowed H.A.L to know what the humans were saying.)

Clarke's stories have predicted what he called 'automatic control cars;' the potential of enabling a satellite to remain in a fixed orbit to transmit radio and television signals; and remarkably, he predicted in 1947 the year of the first moon rocket to be 1959.

Some of his predictions remain unfulfilled, like settlements on Venus and Mars by 1980.  But, that does not belittle the potential influence he may have had on the dreamers of today, like Jeff Bezos and  Richard Branson.  

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Other Space Adventurers

 The inception of the People's Party, our nation's most successful 3rd party, arose out of the Populist Movement, from men and women who thought they had a better idea for a political party that would represent the ideas and needs of workers.  People with the notion they have better ideas exist in nearly everything, from automobile manufacturers to restauranteurs to dress designers to baseball fans to nearly anything you can imagine.  Those who long to travel in space are no different, and the competition to create the best transportation into space includes more than just Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos.  The space race of governments has cooled, but now the civilians, especially very wealthy men, are in the race.

A previous blog introduced you to the two men who succeeded in their quest, Branson and Bezos, but this blog post will share a few others who have responded to the challenge.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk probably deserves to be introduced next, as the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX.  Among the very wealthy men in the race into space, Musk may be the wealthiest, a healthy portion of which came from the sale of PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion.  Now, in addition to his interest in space travel, he is CEO of Tesla, which is the electric vehicle manufacturer (Tesla Motors) and SolarCity, a solar energy services company (Tesla Energy).  His success story is particularly interesting because he says that 25 years ago he could not afford an office and an apartment, so he slept on the office couch and showered at the YMCA.

Paul Allen

Paul Allen was among those excited by the prospect of space travel, and having co-founded Microsoft Corporation with Bill Gates he had achieved the wealth to pursue other dreams.  His dreams sounded like a lot of fun, including owning the Seattle Seahawks, the Portland Trail Blazers, and part ownership of  the Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer team.  In 2018 Forbes estimated his net worth at $20.3 billion, and in addition to the sports' teams his portfolio included real estate, technology, scientific research, and media companies.  However, his holdings in private space flight ventures are what puts him in this group.  Sadly, he died in 2018.

Naveen Jain

Naveen Jain grew up in New Delhi and in villages in India.  He obtained an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee in 1979 and moved to the United States that same year.  He proudly calls himself an entrepreneur, admitting that he has never started two companies in the same industry and feels that has forced him " ask all the curious questions that children love to ask--those we sometimes call 'stupid questions' but which are often brilliant." He co-founded Moon Express, and after facing a series of lawsuits, he announced that Moon Express had become the first private enterprise to receive regulatory approval from the US government to send a robotic lander to the moon.  There goal was to use the robot to mine materials like gold, cobalt, platinum, and Helium from the moon.  I found no further news after the 2017 article.

Robert Thomas Bigelow

Robert Thomas Bigelow made his wealth with the hotel chain Budget Suites of America.  Of all the space adventurers, he is perhaps the most unconventional.  After acquiring his wealth from a hotel chain, he was finally able to begin the space travel career he had chosen for himself at the age of 12.  He is drawn to parapsychological topics, including the continuation of consciousness after death.   By 2011 Forbes estimated his wealth at $700 million.  In 1999 he founded Bigelow Aerospace, and his module, called BEAM, was installed on the International Space Station to test its expandable habitat technology.  News reports indicate that in March of 2020 all 88 members of the company's staff were terminated in what someone called "a perfect storm of problems," including the fact that the Nevada governor had signed a covid emergency directive ordering all 'nonessential' businesses to close.  The most recent information I found indicated that in March of 2021, he sued NASA for $1.05 million. 

My sources are public information, and I have no ability to verify further.  All that I can be fairly certain of is that this group is particularly intrigued about space.