Alright, that headline is a bit misleading. The knights were depicted fighting giant snails. But the mystery remains – why? And were snails really that big back then?
Apparently, it’s a common sight in English scrolls dating from the 13th and 14th centuries: armored knights engaging in medieval combat with giant snails. Medievalists at the British Library began to wonder the same things we all are – WHY.
Two reasons might explain the ubiquitous depictions (but not fully). The first is that the snails are the enemy of the person writing the manuscripts. Many famous families and villains could have fit the bill. The only problem is that this doesn’t explain why the knights are always losing to the villain. If this was propaganda, shouldn’t the good guy win?
Another reason is that it could be a depiction of the common folk rising against an unwilling aristocracy. These slimy creatures from the garden weren’t welcome guests in the manor houses and castles of the Middle Ages. Neither were peasants.
There’s no way it could be a depiction of actual knights fighting real giant snails, right?
There were, in fact, snails as large (perhaps larger) than humans. But not in the middle ages. Fossils of Pachydiscus Seppenradensis – giant cephalopods – have been found in temperate climates from the USA and across Europe. This puts the snails in the area where they could have fought medieval knights, but the timing doesn’t work out.
Fossil records date Parapuzosia back to the early-to-late Cretaceous period of Earth’s history. This means these snails walked with dinosaurs like the Ankylosaurus and some species of dinosaur bipeds.
As far as history is concerned, knights couldn’t have been fighting giant snails because snails just didn’t grow that big back in the middle ages. Not even close. These days, the max size a “giant” snail grows can still fit in your hand.
So if they’re not fighting actual giant snails, what’s up with all the imagery of knights fighting giant snails?
If you have the answer, I’m sure the British Library would be interested in knowing.
From brutal trench warfare in World War I to fighting the Nazis and challenging Soviet Russia during the Berlin Airlift, Army Reserve forces have faced the perils of combat for more than 100 years.
The Army Reserve started as a medical force designed to fortify the Army’s shortfall of combat doctors. In 1902, Secretary of War Elihu Root proposed the creation of a volunteer reserve to augment the regular Army and National Guard in wartime, and on April 23, 1908, the Medical Reserve Corps, with 160 medical professionals, was launched, with one simple mission: keep Soldiers alive.
Today, that force has grown to more than 205,000 citizen soldiers spanning a wide range of specialties. That includes 11,000 civilians and 2,075 units residing and operating in every state, 5 U.S. territories, and 30 countries.
Reservists, who say that deployment rates have skyrocketed since 9-11, give much credit to their employers and family members.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)
“We don’t serve in a vacuum. We can’t do what we do without the support of our employers. With the increased op tempo there has been increased time away from home and our employers,” Col. Richard Bailey, Commander, 804thMedical Brigade, told Military.com in an interview.
As the Army Reserve honors its 110th anniversary, let’s take a closer look at the some of its highlights over the past century. Here’s to citizen soldiers!
5 defining moments from a century of war
1. World War I
About 90 reserve forces mobilized in World War I to fight the Germans across the European continent. One-third of them were medical doctors. Treating wounds during World War I was no small task, as injuries ranged from bayonet injuries to gunshots resulting from deadly trench warfare.
2. Fighting the Nazis: World War II (1941-1945)
During World War II (1941-1945), the Army mobilized 26 Army Reserve infantry divisions. Approximately a quarter of all Army officers who served were Army Reserve Soldiers, including over 100,000 Reserve Officers’ Training Corps graduates. More than 200,000 Army Reserve Soldiers served in the war.
3. Challenging Soviet Russia: Cold War and the Berlin Airlift
The Army Reserve was mobilized twice during the Cold War; over 68,500 Army Reserve Soldiers mobilized for the Berlin Crisis (1961-1962), during which time the Soviets insisted that Western forces withdraw from Berlin. As forces on both sides escalated, conflict was imminent, but ultimately avoided, as U.S. Soldiers followed President Kennedy’s words: “We seek peace, but we shall not surrender.”
4. Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-1991)
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq led to a call-up of approximately 84,000 Army Reserve Soldiers to provide combat support and combat service support in the Persian Gulf theater and site support to American forces around the globe.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Monte Swift)
5. Global War on Terrorism (2001-Present)
Since 9/11, approximately 218,000 Army Reserve Soldiers have been activated in the Global War on Terrorism. Today, approximately 200,000 Army Reserve Soldiers serve through the Army’s five- year, rotational force generation model.
While deployed to Iraq, Bailey ran a combat hospital and treated life-threatening injuries nearly every day.
“We had two rockets come in and explode on the compound and the base had many incursions on the perimeters. A lot of things happen outside the wire but on a daily basis it would come to our doorstep. We saw gunshots on a daily basis,” Bailey said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The first time Changiz Lahidji joined a Special Forces unit, his loyalty was to Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. But he found himself guarding lavish parties in the middle of the desert, protecting the opulent ruler of Imperial Iran and his guests. It wasn’t exactly the life of adventure that John Wayne movies led him to believe he could have.
He didn’t stay in service to the Shah for very long. It seemed like a waste. So, he moved to California, working in family-owned gas stations until November, 1978. That’s when he joined the Army and became an instrument of destruction — for the United States.
Master Sergeant Changiz Lahidji in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He was the first Muslim Green Beret and longest-serving Special Forces soldier in history with 24 years of active service.
The late 1970s were not a good time to be from the Middle East and living in the U.S., even if you’re in the Army. He had to constantly endure racism from his fellow soldiers, even though they couldn’t tell the difference between an Arab and a Persian. It didn’t matter, Lahidji pressed on and finished Special Forces training. Less than a year later, he was wearing the coveted Green Beret and by December 1979, he was on his first mission.
He was on his way back to Iran.
Changiz Lahidji standing guard during the Shah’s celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire.
In November, 1979, students in Tehran seized the U.S. embassy there, taking 52 federal employees and U.S. troops hostage. Lahidji wasn’t about to wait for the military to get around to assigning him to help. He wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter, offering his unique skills, knowledge of Tehran, and native Farsi to the task. He wanted to choose his A-Team and get to Iran as soon as possible.
The U.S. military was happy to oblige. He wasn’t going to lead an A-Team, but he had an Iranian passport and he went into Tehran ahead of Operation Eagle Claw in order to get advance knowledge of the situation on the ground and to rent a bus to drive hostages and operators out after they retook the embassy. After the disaster at Desert One, he was forced to smuggle himself out aboard a fishing boat.
Master Sgt. Changiz Lahidji, U.S. Army.
After Iran, he didn’t have to worry about being accepted by his fellow Green Berets. He was one of them by then.
But it wasn’t the only time his Iranian background would come to the aid of U.S. forces. In 2003, some 24 years after the failure of Eagle Claw, Lahidji was in Tora Bora, dressed as a farmer and working for a U.S. private contractor. There, he would personally identify Osama bin Laden. When he went to the American embassy to report his finding, the U.S. seemed to take no action.
Lahidji does a lot of private contractor work these days. After spending so much time traveling and in service to the United States — he’s done more than 100 missions in Afghanistan alone — he looks back on his time in the service as a privilege. Army Special Forces gave Changiz Lahidji the brotherhood and adventure he always dreamed of as a secular, middle-class child growing up in Iran.
In World War I, pilots on either side of the line enjoyed sudden lurches ahead in technology advances followed by steady declines into obsolescence. This created a seesaw effect in the air where Allied pilots would be able to blast their way through German lines for a few months, but then had to run scared if the enemy got the jump on them.
So the Allied pilots found a way to fake their deaths in the air with a risky but effective maneuver.
Some Nieuport planes had a tendency to break apart when pilots pulled them out of a steep dive.
(Nieuport, public domain)
By the time that America was getting pilots to the front in 1917, all of the early combatants from the war had years of hard-won experience in aerial fighting. U.S. pilots would have to catch up. Worse, U.S. pilots were joining the fight while German planes were more capable than Allied ones, especially America’s Nieuport 28s purchased from France.
France had declined to put the Nieuport 28 into service because of a number of shortcomings. Its engine burned castor oil, and the exhaust would spray across the pilots, coating their goggles in a blinding film and making many of them sick. It could also turn tight but had some limitations. Worst of all, pilots couldn’t dive and then suddenly pull up, a common method of evading fire in combat, without risking the weak wings suddenly snapping off.
Yes, in standard combat flying, the plane could be torn apart by its own flight. So new American pilots adopted a strategy of playing dead in the air.
The technique wasn’t too complicated. In normal flying, a pilot who stalled his plane and then entered a spin was typically doomed to slam into the ground. And so, enemy pilots would often break off an attack on a spinning plane, allowing it to finish crashing on its own.
But a British test pilot, Frederick A. Lindemann, figured out how to reliably recover from a spin and stall. He did so twice in either 1916 or 1917. So, pilots who learned how to recover from a stall and spin would, when overwhelmed in combat, slow down and pull up, forcing a stall in the air.
Then as they started to drop, they would push the stick hard to one side, causing one wing to have full lift and the other to have minimal lift, so it would fall in a severe spin. German pilots, thinking they had won, would break off the attack. Then the Allied pilot would attempt to recover.
U.S. combat pilot Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was America’s top-scoring fighter ace of World War I.
(U.S. Air Force)
But spins were considered dangerous for a reason. Recovery required leveling that lift on the wings and then using the rudder to stop spin before pulling up on the stick to stop the fall. So, for the first few moments of recovery, the pilot had to ignore that they were pointed at the ground. If they tried to pull up while they were still spinning, they really would crash. In fact, on some aircraft, it was essential to steepen the dive in order to recover.
And this whole process took time, so a pilot who fell too far before beginning recovery would hit the ground while still trying to recover from their intentional spin.
Most future American aces learned these maneuvers from British pilots in fairly controlled conditions, but some of them were limited in their flight time by their duties on the ground. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, in charge of maintaining and improving America’s major aerodrome at Issoudon, France, taught himself the maneuver on his own during stolen plane time, surviving his first attempt and then repeating it on subsequent days until he could do it perfectly.
Rickenbacker would go on the be America’s top scoring ace in World War I despite being partially blind in one eye and officially too old for training when he went to flight school.
Air Force Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. was a veteran of World War II, former prisoner of war, and an accomplished fighter and bomber pilot when he took off on a mission over Korea on Nov. 22, 1952. When North Korean batteries scored hits on his plane that would normally force the pilot to abort the mission, Loring turned his dive bomber into a kamikaze plane instead.
Maj. Charles Loring, U.S. Air Force pilot and Medal of Honor recipient.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
Loring received his commission in the Army Air Forces in late 1942 and flew combat missions over Europe, notching up 55 combat missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross before he was shot down on Christmas Eve 1944 over Belgium and made a prisoner of war.
When Chinese and North Korean forces concentrated their artillery—including their anti-aircraft artillery—in two locations, Loring was called up to lead a bombing mission against them. Loring’s target featured 133 large guns and 24 rocket launchers for use against ground troops and 47 anti-aircraft weapons to keep men like Loring at bay.
But it all went to hell from there. The Chinese troops manning the guns were accurate, and they scored some hits when Loring lined up to dive on them. According to after-action reports and his medal citation, Loring had plenty of time to abort the drop, but he didn’t.
Major Loring aggressively continued to press the attack until his aircraft was hit. At approximately 4,000 feet, he deliberately altered his course and aimed his diving aircraft at active gun emplacements concentrated on a ridge northwest of the briefed target, turned his aircraft 45 degrees to the left, pulled up in a deliberate, controlled maneuver, and elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy emplacements.
Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. (second from left) poses with other members of the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Suwon Air Base, Republic of Korea, in 1952.
(U.S. Air Force)
Yeah, Loring turned his already stricken plane into the guns, hitting a cluster of them and burying them in the metal and burning fuel of his F-80. Of course, he lost his own life in the maneuver.
The U.S. Air Force nominated him for the Medal of Honor which he later received posthumously. He was one of only four airmen to receive the honor. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded the medal to Loring’s wife, he also announced that a new Air Force base in Maine would be named in his honor.
The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.
(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)
The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)
First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.
You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.
When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.
Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.
And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.
And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.
So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.
If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.
And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.
But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.
Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)
It was the first major battle of the U.S.-Mexican War. President James K. Polk’s attempts to annex Texas and buy the lands west of the amiable state had failed, and the Army was sent in under Gen. Zachary Taylor to force the issue, starting at the Battle of Palo Alto where a young West Point graduate would first face the guns of the enemy.
Then-Lt. Ulysses S. Grant, at left. Grant and Lt. Alexander Hays fought together in Mexico and later in the Civil War where Hays was killed.
Cadet Ulysses S. Grant had been an underwhelming student, graduating 21st in a class of 39 students in 1843. But even the lowest West Point graduate commissions as a lieutenant, and Grant was sent to be the quartermaster in the 4th Infantry despite having proven himself as an adept horseman.
Palo Alto was named for the tall trees in the area, and Mexican artillery and cavalry numbering almost 4,000 men and 12 artillery pieces had positioned themselves on a hilltop near these trees. The U.S. forces arrayed against them had almost 2,300 troops and only 8 artillery pieces, and they had to march through tall grass and up the slope to attack.
An illustration shows U.S. troops engaging Mexican soldiers at the Battle of Palo Alto.
As I looked down that long line of about three thousand armed men, advancing towards a larger force also armed, I thought what a fearful responsibility General Taylor must feel, commanding such a host and so far away from friends.
But Grant’s memoirs also provide a window of hope for the U.S. forces. Though outnumbered, they had a clear technological advantage:
an army, certainly outnumbering our little force, was seen, drawn up in line of battle just in front of the timber. Their bayonets and spearheads glistened in the sunlight formidably. The force was composed largely of cavalry armed with lances. Where we were the grass was tall, reaching nearly to the shoulders of the men, very stiff, and each stock was pointed at the top, and hard and almost as sharp as a darning-needle.
So the men were in tall, sharp grass like they were advancing through a sea of rapiers, but their enemy was relying on lances to pierce through the infantry. Lances were a dangerous weapon at the time, but disciplined infantry could still give better than they got under lance attack if they stayed in formation and fired when the horsemen were close.
But if they broke and ran, lancers would slice through the lines and gut one man after another.
As Grant and the men advanced, the Mexican artillery was the first to fire, but they opened fire when the U.S. lines were still too far away, and the grass proved itself to be quite useful to the Yanks.
As we got nearer, the cannon balls commenced going through the ranks. They hurt no one, however, during this advance, because they would strike the ground long before they reached our line, and ricocheted through the tall grass so slowly that the men would see them and open ranks and let them pass. When we got to a point where the artillery could be used with effect, a halt was called, and the battle opened on both sides.
Major Ringgold, an artillery officer, was killed at the Battle of Palo Alto.
It was at this point that the U.S. artillery advantage showed itself. The infantry on either side could still inflict little damage as they were too far apart for accurate musket fire. But while the U.S. soldiers were barely in the effective range of Mexican artillery, American artillery could reach further and with greater effect.
The artillery was advanced a rod or two in front of the line, and opened fire. The infantry stood at order arms as spectators, watching the effect of our shots upon the enemy, and watching his shots so as to step out of their way. It could be seen that the eighteen-pounders and the howitzers did a great deal of execution. On our side there was little or no loss while we occupied this position.
For most of the day, Grant and the infantry would trade limited shots with the enemy infantry while their artillery punished the Mexican forces. The U.S. did suffer losses; Grant makes note of two artillery officers hit nearby, one of them killed. The Mexican cavalry tried to turn the U.S. flank, but disciplined infantry fire drove them back. The limited U.S. infantry advances and the punishing artillery fire made good effect, and the Mexican forces began to withdraw before sunset.
Grant went forward under fire to occupy the vacated positions and saw the effects of Mexican artillery at close range.
In this last move there was a brisk fire upon our troops, and some execution was done. One cannon-ball passed through our ranks, not far from me. It took off the head of an enlisted man, and the under jaw of Captain Page of my regiment, while the splinters from the musket of the killed soldier, and his brains and bones, knocked down two or three others, including one officer, Lieutenant Wallen,—hurting them more or less. Our casualties for the day were nine killed and forty-seven wounded.
When Grant and the U.S. forces advanced the next day, they found that their enemy had departed. The Battle of Palo Alto was over with a decisive U.S. victory. But there was a lot of war left to fight, and Grant was at or near the front for most of the major battles, serving under Gen. Taylor for the start but transferring to Gen. Winfield Scott’s command in 1847 before the battles of Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec.
During these engagements, he was twice promoted by brevet for bravery, reaching the rank of brevet captain.
Let’s face it – some planes are tough to fly. The F4U Corsair that served in World War II and Korea was called the “Ensign Eliminator.” The F-104 Starfighter and AV-8B+ Harrier have both been called the “Widow Maker.”
So. too, was the Martin B-26 Marauder.
The B-26 Marauder was a medium bomber with two engines. According to MilitaryFactory.com, it had a crew of seven, a top speed of 282 miles per hour, a range of 675 miles, and the ability to carry up to 5,200 pounds of bombs.
It also had a bad reputation early in World War II for crashing and killing its crews. In fact, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the B-26 was nearly cancelled because of all the crashes. But experienced crews went to bat for it, convincing Sen. Harry Truman to relent.
The bomber ultimately flew over 110,000 sorties, and dropped over 150,000 tons of bombs on the Axis.
One of those who helped prove the B-26 wasn’t a killer was Jimmy Doolittle, fresh from leading the Tokyo raid. He soon realized that many of the instructors were almost as inexperienced as the pilots they were training. Worse, the mechanics were not experienced, and weren’t maintaining the engines properly.
To top it off, a switch in the type of gasoline used had been causing damaged to the carburetors.
Doolittle soon took the plane up – in the type of lead-from-the-front leadership that would later get him in hot water with Gen. Eisenhower on more than one occasion. He would fly the plane with one engine shut down on takeoff, then he would make inverted passes at low level. But the Army also began to work harder on training the crews properly, and the manufacturer sent crews out to train the mechanics.
The Army also made a training film for prospective pilots of the Marauder, which you can watch below.
In the early 1960s, international communications were limited to transmissions through undersea cables or occasionally unreliable radio signals bounced off of the ionosphere. As you might imagine from this, many in the Western world weren’t too keen on the state of the situation given that were to someone, say, the Soviet Union, cut those cables before launching an attack, international communications with overseas forces and foreign allies would have to rely on the mood of said ionosphere.
For those unfamiliar, the ionosphere is a layer of the upper atmosphere about 50 to 600 miles above sea level. It gets its name because it is ionized consistently by solar and cosmic radiation. In very simple terms, X-ray, ultraviolet, and shorter wavelengths of radiation given off by the Sun (and from other cosmic sources) release electrons in this layer of the atmosphere when these particular photons are absorbed by molecules. Because the density of molecules and atoms is quite low in the ionosphere (particularly in the upper layers), it allows free electrons to exist in this way for a short period of time before ultimately recombining. Lower in the atmosphere, where the density of molecules is greater, this recombination happens much faster.
What does this have to do with communication and radio waves? Without interference, radio waves travel in a straight line from the broadcast source, ultimately hitting the ionosphere. What happens after is dependent on a variety of factors, notable among them being the frequency of the waves and the density of the free electrons. For certain types of radio waves, given the right conditions, they will essentially bounce back and forth between the ground and the ionosphere, propagating the signal farther and farther. So clearly the ionosphere can potentially play an important part in the terrestrial radio and communication process. But it is the constantly shifting nature of the ionosphere that makes things really interesting. And for that, we’ll have to get a little more technical, though we’ll at the least spare you the math, and we’ll leave out a little of the complexity in an effort to not go full textbook on you.
To begin with, the ionosphere’s composition changes most drastically at night, primarily because, of course, the Sun goes missing for a bit. Without as abundant a source of ionizing rays, the D and E levels (pictured right) of the ionosphere cease to be very ionized, but the F region (particularly F2) still remains quite ionized. Further, because the atmosphere is significantly less dense here then the E and D regions, it results in more free electrons (the density of which is key here).
When these electrons encounter a strong radio wave of certain types, such as AM radio, they can potentially oscillate at the frequency of the wave, taking some of the energy from the radio wave in the process. With enough of them, as can happen in the F layer, (when the density of encountered electrons is sufficient relative to the specific signal frequency), and assuming they don’t just recombine with some ion (which is much more likely in the E and D layers in the daytime), this can very effectively refract the signal back down to Earth at sufficient strength to be picked up on a receiver.
Depending on conditions, this process can potentially repeat several times with the signal bouncing down to the ground and back up. Thus, using this skywave certain radio signals can be propagated even thousands of miles and, most pertinent to the topic at hand, across oceans.
Of course, given the unpredictability of this form of communication, and potentially even times when communication would be impossible, military brass during the Cold War wanted another option.
Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs, the project was initially called “Project Needles” by Professor Walter E. Morrow in 1958 when he first dreamed up the idea. It was later re-named “West Ford”, presumably after Westford, Massachusetts, a nearby town. The idea was to place potentially even billions of tiny (1.78 centimeters 0.7 inches long and microscopically thin) copper antennae or dipoles in a medium Earth orbit to be used for communication signals at 8 Ghz.
The first set of well over a hundred million needles was launched on Oct. 21, 1961, but unfortunately this test failed when the needles didn’t disperse as planned.
On a second attempt in May 9, 1963, a batch of 350 million needles was placed on the back of an Air Force satellite and sent into orbit. Once dispersed, properly this time, the needles spread to form a sparsely concentrated belt with approximately 50 dipoles per cubic mile.
Needles from “Project Needles” compared to a stamp.
While you might think surely this wouldn’t be dense enough to be effective for use in communication, in fact early results of the experiment were extremely promising, with communication established using the needle array from California to Massachusetts, some 3K or so miles or 4,800 km apart. As such, there were reports that the Air Force was considering launching two more belts to be placed more permanently in orbit.
There was a problem, however. Beyond the Soviets, allies and even Americans opposed the further deployment and continuance of this program.
Why? Astronomers, in particular, were afraid that the belt would interfere with their observations. The outrage of scientists and the reason for it was perhaps best expressed by Sir Bernard Lovell of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory who said: “The damage lies not with this experiment alone, but with the attitude of mind which makes it possible without international agreement and safeguards.” After all, the space above the Earth is not the United States’ alone to do with as it pleases without consulting other nations of Earth.
While you might consider this a bit of an overreaction, it’s important to understand the context here, with the U.S. up to and around this point having done a series of things in space without oversight that the international community was more than a little upset about. For example, consider that also smack dab in the middle of this time, the United States was busy accidentally nuking Britain’s first satellite, among many, many others.
The satellite in question was the Ariel-1, which was developed as a joint-venture between the United States and Britain, with Britain designing and building the core systems of the satellite and NASA launching it into orbit via a Thor-Delta rocket.
Around nine months after the launch of the first batch of needles, on July 9, 1962, mere weeks after Ariel-1 was put into orbit and had successfully begun transmitting data about the ionosphere back to Earth, British scientists were shocked when the sensors aboard Ariel-1 designed to measure radiation levels suddenly began to give wildly high readings.
As it turned out, as Ariel-1 was happily free-falling around the Earth, the US military had decided to detonate an experimental 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon named Starfish-Prime in the upper atmosphere as part of Project Fish Bowl.
The explosion, which happened on the other side of the planet to Ariel-1, sent a wave of additional radiation around the Earth that ultimately damaged some of the systems on Ariel-1, particularly its solar panels, killing it and about 1/3 of the rest of the satellites in low-Earth orbit at the time.
Most pertinent to the topic of communications, this famously included the Telstar satellite, which was the first commercial communication relay satellite designed to transmit signals across the Atlantic and managed around 400 such communications before the U.S. accidentally nuked it. Funny enough, the Telstar actually wasn’t in orbit at the time of the explosion, being put there the day after the Starfish-Prime detonation. However, the additional ionizing radiation created by the explosion took years to dissipate and was not anticipated by the designers of this particular satellite. The immediate result being the degradation of Telstar’s systems, particularly the failure of several transistors in the command system, causing it to stop working just a few months after being placed in orbit. They were eventually able to get it back online for a short period via some clever software workarounds, but it didn’t last thanks to the extra radiation further degrading its systems.
It’s also noteworthy here that The Starfish explosion was actually supposed to have happened a couple weeks earlier on June 20th, but the rocket carrying it failed at about 30,000 feet. Once this happened, the self-destruct on the nuclear warhead was initiated and it broke apart, raining its radioactive innards down on Johnston and Sand Islands, as well as in the ocean around them.
It should also be noted that the effects of Starfish-Prime weren’t just limited to low orbit.
The electromagnetic pulse created by the blast ended up being much larger than expected and, in Hawaii some 900 or so miles away from the blast, the pulse ended up knocking out a few hundred street lights and damaged the telephone system. Today in our digital world, of course, a similar electromagnetic pulse would have much more catastrophic effects, especially if near more populated centers, potentially even revealing the Lizard people’s Matrix, which would be catastrophic to our Draconian overlords’ (may they reign forever) plans…
The flash created by The Starfish explosion as seen through heavy cloud cover from Honolulu 1,445 km away.
Needless to say, this, the needles in space, and other such projects had many in the international community concerned with the lack of any oversight on the United States’ activities in space. (Presumably it would have been even worse had everyone realized the United States had, a few years before this, planned to nuke the moon, more or less just because they could…)
Going back to the needle issue, a compromise measure was reached thanks to incorporating a sort of planned obsolescence; that is, none of the needles would remain in orbit longer than five years. (Or so they thought, more on this in a bit.)
Thinking more long term, several groups of scientists, including the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) demanded access and consultation in this and other such projects in the future. Ultimately an agreement was reached which granted the scientists the ability to participate in the planning and evaluation of space projects.
Of course, this particular issue quickly became moot as shortly after the second group of needles was dispersed, the military deployed its own first communication satellite system in 1966, making the needle system, while effective, obsolete. With this deployment of one object instead of hundreds of millions, the furor died down and people, for the most part, forgot about West Ford.
That said, while the project is largely forgotten, its effects are not with the consultation provisions of the original West Ford agreement with the IAU included in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, an agreement entered into by ninety-nine countries, that was designed to protect against the militarization and degradation of outer space. Among other things, in a nutshell, it provides that no country can claim ownership of space nor any celestial bodies; all countries will avoid contaminating both and are liable for any damage they cause; no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be deployed or placed in orbit or on any celestial body; and no military bases may be placed on any celestial bodies, including the Moon, something that unfortunately saw a planned military installation by the U.S. fully scrapped, as we covered in our article: That Time the U.S. was Going to Build a Massive, Death Ray Equipped, Military Moon Base.
On the bright side, the treaty also includes a Good Samaritan law that provides that astronauts are “envoys of mankind in outer space and [all] shall render to them all possible assistance in the event of accident, distress, or emergency landing.”
Going back to the needles, in case you’re wondering, despite the planned obsolescence, as of 2019, a few dozen clumps of them remain in orbit and are closely tracked to make sure they don’t cause any problems with all the other stuff floating around our little beautiful home space craft known as Earth.
Given AM radio signals can propagate for thousands of miles via the aforementioned skywaves, particularly at night, this can become a major problem as there are only a little over 100 allowed AM radio frequencies (restricted to keep signals interfering too much with one another), but around 5,000 AM radio stations in the United States alone. As a result, at night, AM stations in the United States typically reduce their power, go off the air completely until sunrise the next day, and/or possibly are required to use directional antennas so their specific signal doesn’t interfere with other stations on the same frequency. On the other hand, FM stations don’t have to do any of this as the ionosphere doesn’t greatly affect their signals, which has the side benefit (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) of severely limiting the range of the FM signals, which rely on groundwave propagation.
Speaking of Radio and space, while not a job ever mentioned by my school career counselor, it turns out “Space DJ” is a thing, if you work at NASA, going all the way back to 1965 during the Gemini 6 mission on December 16th, likely initially as a joke. During this mission, astronauts Walter Schirra and Tom Stafford were woken up by a recording of singer Jack Jones and Hello Dolly. This musical wake-up call quickly became a regular occurrence intended as a way of bolstering morale while allowing astronauts a few minutes to wake up slowly before having to respond to ground control. Over the years, wake-up calls became one of NASA’s most beloved traditions, with the role of picking the songs given to the mission’s Capsule Commander (CAPCOM)… Yes, just to be clear, not only do these people get to put CAPCOM for NASA on their resume, but they can also add in “Space DJ”. Thanks Career Councilor… If you’re wondering, the songs chosen over the years have been wildly eclectic, ranging from classical music by composers like Bach and Beethoven to Metallica and the Beastie Boys. Thanks to the extensive records NASA keeps, we not only know every song played for astronauts in orbit since 1965, we also have the astronaut’s responses to some of the more unusual choices played. For example, for a 2008 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, officially designated as STS-123, CAPCOM played a brief snippet of the theme song from the presumably epic film Godzilla VS Space Godzilla as well as part of the Blue Oyster Cult song, Godzilla, for Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, signing off by saying:
Good morning Endeavour. Doi san, ohayo gozaimasu, from mission control here in Houston, take on today like a monster.
An amused Doi responded that he was “happy to hear Godzilla,” before himself signing off to get to work. According to Fries’ extensive archives, Godzilla’s iconic theme song is apparently a popular choice for Japanese astronauts, as are the themes from other well-known films like Star Wars, Star Trek and Rocky.Predictably, songs with a space theme are also popular choices, with David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man being noted as some of the most commonly played.In addition to songs, NASA has, at various points, played private messages recorded by the astronauts’ loved ones (including the occasional singing of “Happy Birthday” where applicable) and even occasional messages from celebrities. Notable examples of the latter include personalised greetings from William Shatner, Paul McCartney and Elton John, a skit performed by Jim Henson involving Miss Piggy, and even a song sung by Darth Vader set to backing music from The Beatles.Perhaps best of all was the crew of Atlantis on November 25, 1991 being woken to none other than Patrick Stewart stating (with Star Trek: The Next Generation theme music playing in the background),
Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Its ten-day mission: To explore new methods of remote sensing and observation of the planet Earth… To seek out new data on radiation in space, and a new understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body… To boldly go where two hundred and fifty-five men and women have gone before!Hello Fred, Tom, Story, Jim, Tom, and especially Mario — this is Patrick Stewart, choosing not to outrank you as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, saying that we are confident of a productive and successful mission. Make it so.
As for today, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, this wake-up call tradition has partially been left in the dustbin of history, though occasionally is still observed on the International Space Station, and presumably will be reinstituted as a regular activity once NASA begins sending people to space themselves again.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
In December of 1903, the Wright Brothers made history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as they took to the skies in their powered and controlled aircraft, making an 852-foot flight. Less than a dozen years later, mankind revolutionized military aviation with a hugely important invention: the synchronization gear.
This ingenious device managed the milliseconds that stood between crashing to the ground and defeating your enemy.
In the early days of World War I, aviation was still very much in its infancy. People were skeptical about the effectiveness of aircraft in battle, so many turned to mounted cavalry for reconnaissance. When that couldn’t cut it, they finally gave aircraft a shot — which turned out to be an effective way to cross no-man’s land without serious risk.
The low-power engines of the time, however, couldn’t build enough lift to carry any weapons what weren’t also found on the battlefield below. Machine guns only become a viable option once the engineers increased wing space. Thus, the iconic biplane was born.
The attached machine gun, which usually faced the rear of the aircraft, could rain Hell from above, but they were extremely ineffective against other aircraft. To address that need, they affixed a forward-facing machine gun that could fire in the direction of the aircraft. The problem was, however, that there was a propeller to contend with.
As an interim solution, the British developed the F.E.2. This machine-gun faced the front of planes but, to avoid hitting the propellers, it was located in the middle of the aircraft. It wasn’t pretty but it was an effective compromise.
Then, the Germans introduced their newest advancement: the synchronization gear. Pilot Kurt Wintgens scored the first aerial victory utilizing one on July 1, 1915 — and it changed everything.
The theory behind it is fairly simple to explain. The machine gun was placed directly behind the propellers and would fire only when the propellers were safely out of the way. The execution, however, was much trickier. A poorly timed synchronization gear meant that the pilot would drop out of the sky like Wile E. Coyote.
Let’s talk mechanics: A timing cam rotated at the same speed as the propellers. This would physically stop the trigger from pulling at the moment a propeller was in the line of fire. The timing cam allowed the propeller to move at a various RPMs without adjusting the machine gun itself.
Americans improved on this design by employing hydraulics near the end of the war. This meant a faster rate of fire, more acute synchronization, and increased gun accuracy. The system could be adapted for nearly any engine and aircraft. The synchronization gear became a relic after the jet engine eliminated the need for propellers, but it still stands as one of the most ingenious inventions in aviation.
For more information on the physics of WWI aviation, check out the video below:
Richard James Flaherty was born on November 28, 1945.
Unbeknownst to his parents, Richard and his mother, Beatrice Rose, shared incompatible blood types (Richard, Rh-Positive; Beatrice, Rh-Negative). This is a dangerous condition that can lead to serious complications for the fetus or even death. Thus, when Richard was born, he was different.
The incompatibilities in the blood caused hormonal imbalances and stunted his growth. When he reached adolescence, Flaherty was small compared to his peers. Flaherty would be considered a dwarf in medical terms, meaning that his height was less than 4’ 10.’’
Short in size he might have been, but short in courage he wasn’t. When the Vietnam War heated up, Flaherty volunteered for the Army. However, he was initially turned down because of his size. It was only after a determined effort, which included the involvement of his local Congressman, that he managed to acquire a waiver.
In 1967, Flaherty attended Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He deployed with the Screaming Eagles to Vietnam and served as a platoon and recon platoon leader.
During that 13-month tour to Vietnam, Flaherty received the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor, respectively, the third and second highest award for bravery under fire, and was wounded three times.
His Silver Star citation offers a brief glimpse to Flaherty, the man. The action took place on April 20, 1968, when Flaherty’s platoon was ambushed and came under withering enemy fire.
“Throughout the battle, he repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire in order to better direct the suppressive fire of his squads. Lieutenant Flaherty immediately called a 90 Millimeter recoilless rifle team to his position after having spotted an enemy bunker position to his front, which was delivering automatic weapons fire on his platoon. Lieutenant Flaherty then personally directed and assisted the 90 Millimeter recoilless rifle team in an assault of the enemy bunker, braving up the intense hail of hostile fire. Under Lieutenant Flaherty’s astute direction and leadership, the enemy bunker was swiftly destroyed, enabling his platoon to advance and continue its devastating attack against the enemy.”
After his tour of duty was over, he applied for Special Forces training. But it wasn’t easy. To even attempt Special Forces training, Flaherty had to gain six pounds and get another height waiver.
After successfully graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), also known as Q course, Flaherty was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group. He went back to Southeast Asia with the 46th Special Forces Company as a Special Forces Operational Detachment A (SFODA) commander. His ODA was tasked with training the Royal Thai Army in counterinsurgency operations and prepare them for a deployment to Vietnam.
ODA’s are the tactical arm of the Special Forces Regiment. Comprised of 12 Special Forces soldiers, an ODA can operate independently behind enemy lines for long periods of time without supervision.
In 1970, Flaherty was reassigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, where he commanded another ODA and then an Operational Detachment Bravo (ODB), a headquarters element. The following year, 1971, he was discharged from active duty and transferred to the Army Reserves, where he served until 1983.
Flaherty was unfazed by the criticism he continued to receive throughout his life.
In a contemporary interview, he had said that “I’ve taken a lot of kidding about my size. I just tell them I’m 35 pounds of muscle, 14 pounds of dynamite and one pound of uranium-238, and it gets a lot of laughs.”
Flaherty was killed during a hit and run attack on May 9, 2015, in Miami. He had spent his last years alive homeless. In his death, however, he found his home next to the woman he had loved, Lisa Anness Davis.
Former police officer David Yuzuk has written a superb book on Flaherty and his amazing life. You can check it out here.
Of all the nuclear weapons in all the world, quite possibly the weirdest, most ridiculous is the nuclear torpedo which has been envisioned and developed as everything from an anti-submarine weapon to a city-ending doomsday weapon. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even claims that he’s brought it back (more on that later).
After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world realized that a new paradigm existed. It was like the morning the first Dreadnought battleship was built. Once the Dreadnought existed, every ship built before it was essentially obsolete. Same with the nuclear bombs. Your massive armored corps don’t mean jack when a single bomb could’ve won the Battle of Kursk.
Another weird weapon on that list: the nuclear torpedo. The Soviet Union was the first to investigate the concept and came up with two designs dubbed the T-5 and T-15 from 1951 to 1952. The T-5 was a sort of tactically useful weapon, fitting in standard 21-inch torpedo tubes but featuring a nuclear warhead with a 5-kiloton payload.
But the T-15 was supposed to be an absolute beast. It would require a specially modified submarine with a 61-inch diameter torpedo tube elongated to carry the weapon. Inside its shell would’ve been a thermonuclear warhead capable of creating a tsunami at a targeted shore, destroying the city or naval base there.
But the project was kept secret, even from the Soviet Navy, until July, 1954. When Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Fleet Adm. Nikolai Kuznetsov, was briefed on the concept, he reportedly said, “I don’t need that kind boat.” One of his major sticking points: Most U.S. cities were either too well protected or too far inland for the T-15 to work.
Apparently, purpose-building a submarine with a large crew in order to carry a weapon that likely could never be used in combat is a bad idea. Who knew?
The weapon was primarily aimed at destroying surface ships, but was thought to be plenty capable of taking out enemy subs by compressing their hulls. One of these torpedoes was almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian sub was bombarded with training depth charges by U.S. destroyers trying to force it to surface.
If the nuclear torpedo had been launched, it likely would’ve destroyed the American warships and could’ve pushed the crisis into a full war.
The U.S. developed their own nuclear torpedo, the Mark 45. The Mk. 45 was designed in 1957 and first produced in 1959, though the design was tweaked in 1960. These torpedoes fit in standard tubes but had an 11-kiloton W-34 warhead on the front. They were made to travel up to 12,000 yards before being triggered by an operator.
At the moment of the blast, the weapons would crush the hulls of ships and submarines as well as crack the keels of enemy ships if detonated properly. This is like breaking a ship’s back, and it drastically increases the speed at which a ship will typically sink.
Russia later developed an even more powerful nuclear torpedo. The Autonomous Special Combat Warheads boasted a 20-kiloton warhead. Luckily, neither it nor its U.S. and Russian predecessors were ever used in combat.
But, of course, Russia once bragged that it has a new nuclear torpedo, a city killer that could wipe out U.S. coastal cities and make their surrounding area radioactive for decades. It was originally announced during a speech by Putin where he bragged about a number of supposedly functional doomsday weapons.
While the hypersonic nuclear missile famously was lost in a failed launch soon after the announcement, the nuclear torpedo isn’t nearly as technically challenging as the nuclear hypersonic missile.
The torpedo was called Status Six, later renamed Poseidon, and is remotely guided. So, it’s basically a drone and carries a warhead of up to 100 megatons. And it has an insane range and speed, capable of being launched from 6,200 miles away and swimming at 56 knots, faster than most U.S. torpedoes. And, it’s supposedly stealthy to boot, nearly undetectable.
The good news is, though, that a strategic nuclear torpedo isn’t actually a game-changer, anyway. Russia has a history of overestimating U.S. missile defenses, and so they compensate by trying to create weapons that can pierce them. The nuclear torpedo is one of those, a city-killer designed to keep us from firing out city killers.
But it’s just a different flavor of mutually assured destruction, similar to ballistic missile silos and nuclear missile subs or nuclear bombers. Except nuclear torpedoes are, actually, just a little weaker since they can only engage coastal cities.
In 1917, due to changes in the medal’s regulations, her award was rescinded because she did not engage in direct combat with the enemy.
Walker refused to return her medal and continued to wear it.
According to one legend, when federal marshals attempted to retrieve it in 1917, she opened the door holding a shotgun — and wearing her medal.
She died in 1919 — one year before women were finally allowed to vote.
Dr. Mary E. Walker, circa 1911.
(Library of Congress)
Walker also attracted public scrutiny for her views on women’s rights, which were seen as radical. She reportedly voted as early as 1871 — a half-century before women were legally allowed to do so in the US.
President Jimmy Carter reinstated her medal in 1977 to honor her sacrifice and acknowledge the sexism she fought.
In 2012, the town Oswego dedicated of a statue in her honor, drawing people from around the country remember her, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York.
“I have got to die before people will know who I am and what I have done. It is a shame that people who lead reforms in this world are not appreciated until after they are dead; then the world pays its tributes,” Walker once said. That quote is inscribed on part of the statue.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.