Very few enemy generals have captured the imagination of their foes. And of those, none seem to be as interesting as Nazi German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. He was Hitler’s favorite and Patton’s “Magnificent Bastard” at the same time. Perhaps it’s because he never joined the Nazi Party that history gives the bold commander a reprieve or maybe it’s because he was implicated in a late war plot to assassinate Hitler.
No matter what the basis our fascination for the man was, the fact remained that he was a German Field Marshall and the best hope for keeping the Allied invasion of Fortress Europe at bay. He had to go.
To this end, the British hatched Operation Gaff, the plot to kill or capture Rommel behind enemy lines while he was in occupied France. Rommel was posted in France following the Allied victory in North Africa. Though his vaunted Afrika Corps had to evacuate those battlefields, Rommel still returned to Germany with a hero’s welcome. He would soon be posted in France, where he seriously upgraded the coastal defenses that would give the Allies so much trouble on June 6, 1944.
British Intelligence learned that Rommel’s field headquarters was located in La Roche-Guyon, France, the Special Air Service launched its plan. Six commandos parachuted into Occupied France near Orleans on July 25, 1944. They were to track down Rommel at his headquarters building, which they learned was lightly defended. There was just one problem.
Rommel was gone.
The Field Marshall was severely wounded in a car accident just a few days before the launch of Gaff. His staff car was overturned during strafing runs from two British Typhoon fighter planes. Just like a similar plan to kill Rommel in North Africa in 1941, the plot was foiled because Rommel was not in his house as the plan called for. But unlike in the 1941 plan, the commandos sent to kill Rommel in 1944, the commandos of Gaff didn’t just end their mission, they began the long walk back to the Allied lines. Along the way, the wreaked total havoc.
Their first stop was a train station that was ferrying troops to fight the Americans in France. They demolished the tracks at the station with way more explosives than necessary. Once the sabotage was done and German troops were dealing with the aftermath, the commandos engaged the HQ building, clearing it of its 12 Nazi guards. They then moved on from that station, destroying tracks all along the way until they were able to link up with the American forces.
Rommel didn’t live long, however.
The German general, of course, would be implicated by friends in the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler at a military briefing at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters five full days before the SAS commandos ever landed in Europe. The wildly popular Rommel couldn’t just be branded as a traitor, so Hitler gave him the choice to commit suicide or stand before the People’s Court. The Court would have dragged his family through the mud, and the outcome would be the same, so Rommel chose to take cyanide on Oct. 14, 1944.
If Rommel had stayed in France instead, he would likely have been captured by the Americans and survived the war.
It’s been more than 150 years since Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Army Commander Ulysses S. Grant at Wilmer McLean’s Appomattox home, but the legacy of the Civil War still lingers.
From the recent controversies over Confederate memorials to the tens of thousands of hobbyists who dress in grey and blue every summer to reenact key battles, Americans continue to wrestle with the causes and ramifications of the War Between the States.
These nine films, which cover the conflict from the hallways of Congress to the scorched earth of Bleeding Kansas, are packed with insights and (usually) authentic historical details. Just as importantly, they’re guaranteed to entertain.
Widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, this four-hour epic won 10 Academy Awards, broke box office records, and introduced the myth of the Lost Cause to generations of moviegoers. For the role of Scarlett O’Hara, producer David O. Selznick considered nearly every leading lady in Hollywood–from Katharine Hepburn to Tallulah Bankhead to Lana Turner–before settling on Vivien Leigh, a relatively unknown English actress. Her iconic performance immortalized the character of the spoiled, strong-willed Southern belle.
To cast Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Selznick had to delay production and give away half his profits. In return, Gable got the most famous exit line in movie history: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Hewing closely to Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel, the screenplay features insightful period details (Confederate blockade runners, Carpetbaggers bribing freed slaves for their votes, etc.) and an epic recreation of the burning of Atlanta. While Gone with the Wind has been rightly criticized for misleading viewers about the horrors of slavery, its emotional impact and sweeping scale make it a must-see for anyone interested in the legacy of the Civil War.
Denzel Washington won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of a runaway slave turned soldier in this captivating drama about the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, the first all-black regiment in the history of the US Army. Matthew Broderick stars as Robert Gould Shaw, the white officer who commanded the 54th.
The Confederate Army had recently announced that any captured black Union soldier would be enslaved or killed alongside his white officers, and Shaw had doubts about the unit’s chances for success. But he was impressed by the soldiers’ grit and determination in the face of relentless discrimination and eventually joined their protest to be paid the same as white soldiers.
Tasked with the impossible mission to take Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor, Shaw and the men of the 54th fought with incredible courage. Their sacrifice is memorialized in a bronze statue in Boston Common, which inspired screenwriter Kevin Jarre to pay tribute to their story.
Daniel Day-Lewis spent a full year researching Abraham Lincoln’s life in preparation for his Oscar-winning turn as the 16th president of the United States. The result is a tender, lived-in portrayal of the man behind the myth–from his slumped shoulders and high-pitched Illinois twang to his unwavering sense of conviction.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner draws on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivalsto dramatize the political machinations involved in the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln knew that the permanent abolition of slavery was necessary to the nation’s survival but had to race against the clock to get the bill passed before the South could negotiate peace.
By revealing the drama and intrigue behind one of Congress’s most significant pieces of legislation, director Steven Spielberg offers a civics lesson as thrilling as it is necessary.
Originally planned as a TV miniseries, this four-hour epic based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Killer Angelsstars Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen. Director James Maxwell convinced the National Park Service to allow him to film on the actual Gettysburg battlefield, and thousands of Civil War reenactors came from all over the country to recreate crucial moments in the three-day campaign, including the assault on Devil’s Den and Pickett’s Charge.
The film, like the novel, focuses on the decisions and actions of key players including General Robert E. Lee (Sheen), Lieutenant General James Longstreet (Berenger), and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Daniels). Daniels, in particular, delivers a rousing performance as the commander of 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whose stout defense of Little Round Top against repeated Confederate assaults helped to turn the tide of the battle and the war. With its massive scale, brilliant cinematography, and rigorous attention to historical detail, Gettysburg does justice to the deadliest battle in US history.
When it was first broadcast on five consecutive nights in September 1990, this documentary miniseries drew an average of 14 million viewers per night–the largest audience in the history of PBS. Over the course of nine episodes, director Ken Burns and his team of researchers, video editors, historians, and actors unspooled the full story of the Civil War, from John Brown’s uprising at Harper’s Ferry to Lincoln’s assassination and the capture of John Wilkes Booth.
Inspired by Matthew Brady’s photographs of the conflict, Burns used a panning and zooming technique (thereafter known as the “Ken Burns effect”) to bring to life roughly 16,000 still images. Excerpts from the letters and diaries of Robert E. Lee, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and less-known historical figures such as Mary Chestnut and George Templeton Strong provide an intimate perspective on large-scale events like the Battle of Gettysburg and Sherman’s March to the Sea.
The Civil War reignited popular interest in America’s bloodiest conflict and helped to pave the way for bingeable TV documentaries such as The Jinxand OJ: Made in America.
Based on Charles Frazier’s blockbuster novel of the same name, this Anthony Minghella-directed epic is the story of W.P. Inman (Jude Law), a Confederate deserter trying to make his way home to North Carolina in the final months of the Civil War. Gravely wounded in the Battle of the Crater and recovering in a field hospital, Inman decides to leave the war when he reads a letter from his beloved, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), imploring him to do just that.
While Inman and the other Cold Mountain men have been off fighting, Ada has been struggling to work her deceased father’s farm. Eventually she’s helped in her efforts by Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger in an Oscar-winning performance), an unlettered woman well-versed in the hardscrabble life of a subsistence farmer.
The film brilliantly interweaves Inman’s encounters with all manner of desperate characters–from ribald preachers to villainous Confederate Home Guards –and scenes of Ada and Ruby learning to fend for themselves. Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brendan Gleeson, Donald Sutherland, and Jack White round out the all-star cast of this story of war-torn country and lovers.
Starring Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel, and Jeffrey Wright, this underrated film is based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Woe to Live On. Maguire stars as young Missouri farmer Jake Roedel, who joins the Bushwhackers, a pro-Confederate guerrilla force, when his German immigrant father is killed by pro-Union Jayhawkers from Kansas.
Alongside his best friend Jack Bull Chiles (Ulrich), Roedel roams the border between Kansas and Missouri, skirmishing with Union regulars and irregulars. But when the Bushwhackers, led by militiaman William Quantrill (John Ales), raid Lawrence, Kansas and massacre 150 unarmed men and boys, Roedel must ask himself where his loyalties truly lie.
Jeffrey Wright delivers a stellar performance as a freed slave who fights for the South, and director Ang Lee brings deep sensitivity and impressive historical accuracy to this searing portrayal of a largely forgotten chapter of the Civil War.
This John Ford-directed Civil War Western is loosely based on the real story of Grierson’s Raid, a daring Union cavalry incursion some six hundred miles into hostile territory that set the stage for the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
John Wayne stars as Colonel John Marlowe, a railroad construction engineer who leads his men on a mission to destroy a railroad and supply depot in Newton’s Station, Mississippi. When a Southern belle overhears the brigade’s plans, Marlowe is forced to take her and her slave, Lukey, captive. Legendary tennis ace Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title, was cast as Lukey but objected to the character’s scripted stereotypical “Negro” dialect. Ford had the dialogue changed at her request.
With Ford’s dynamic visual style and a well-matched rivalry between Wayne’s colonel and William Holden as a regimental surgeon haunted by the horrors of warfare, The Horse Soldiers captures the drama and audacity of one of the war’s most brilliant campaigns.
Inspired by real-life rumors of lost Confederate gold, this epic spaghetti Western follows three gunslingers across a southwestern landscape ravaged by the Civil War. Clint Eastwood is Blondie (The Good), a lone-wolf bounty hunter with a sense of justice; Lee van Cleef is Angel Eyes (The Bad), a cold-blooded mercenary who never lets a contract killing go unfulfilled; and Eli Wallach is Tuco (The Ugly), a voluble Mexican bandit wanted for a long list of crimes.
As these drifters cross and double-cross each other in pursuit of 0,000 in buried treasure, Union and Confederate forces clash for control of the New Mexico Territory. In director Sergio Leone’s vision of the Civil War, neither side fights with honor. Greed, violence, and stupidity rule the day. With brilliant cinematography and an iconic score by Ennio Morricone, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of the 20th century’s most unique and influential films.
Since its official field debut in 1983, the MRE has come a long, long way. Today’s current iteration seems like veritable fine dining compared with previous versions, but they’re still widely considered “Meals Rejected by Everyone,” and “Meals Rarely Edible.” Take a look at how MREs have evolved over time and what the DoD is doing to make them more palatable.
1907: The Iron Ration becomes the first individual combat ration issued to military personnel and included three 3-ounce cakes made from beef bouillon powder and cooked wheat, three 1-ounce bars of chocolate, and salt and pepper.
1917: Reserve Rations are issued to soldiers during the end of WWI. These included 12 ounces of fresh bacon or one pound of canned meat, two 8-ounce cans of hardtack biscuits, 1.16 ounces of ground coffee, 2.4 ounces of sugar, and .16 ounces of salt—no pepper in sight.
1938’s C-Ration is closest to what many now think of as the MRE. It consisted of an individually canned, wet, pre-cooked meal. Service members had three choices: meat and beans, meat and vegetable stew, or meat and potato hash.
Just four years later, the 1942 K-Ration saw an increase in both calories and options. This MRE included meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the choices (canned ham and eggs, bacon and cheese for lunch, and a beef and pork loaf for dinner) weren’t that appetizing.
By 1958, the Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) included canned wet rations averaging about 1,200 calories each. The majority of all service members disliked the MCI, but this remained the only field option available for almost twenty years.
Adopted as the official DoD combat ration in 1975, large scale production of Meals Ready to Eat began in 1978, and the first delivery went out just three years later. The 25th ID ate nothing but MREs for 34 days, and service members rated the food “acceptable,” but only about half of the meals were consumed. Translation: the food was super gross, and the soldiers only ate them out of necessity. Three years later, the same experiment was performed … with the same results.
(U.S. Air Force Photo)
So, starting in 1988, the DoD made some changes. Entrée size was changed from 5 ounces to 8 ounces, and nine of the 12 entrée options were replaced. Candies were added to four choices, as was hot sauce, and for all 12 menus, cold beverage choices were made available.
But the MREs were still pretty gross.
Field testing and early feedback from Operation Desert Storm (ODS) brought another round of changes. This time, the DoD replaced old mil-spec spray-dried coffee with commercially freeze-dried coffee. Hot sauce was made available to all 12 menus, dehydrated fruits were swapped out for wet-pack fruit, and candy was made available to an additional four menus choices.
During ODS, service personnel ate MREs for as many as 60 days in a row, which resulted in another round of changes. Shelf-stable bread inside an MRE pouch was created, a chocolate bar able to withstand high heat was developed, and flameless ration heaters were developed as an easy method for service members to heat their entrees since the only thing grosser than eating MREs for two months is eating cold MREs for two months.
In 1994, more changes were field-tested. The DoD decided that commercial-like graphics should be added to increase consumption and acceptance. MRE bags became easier to open, and biodegradable spoons were added.
1996 saw MREs available for special diets to help increase calorie intake for service members in the field. Menu counts increased to 16 items and included ham slices and chili. One year later, there were 20 entrée items, including cheese tortellini and boneless pork chops with noodles.
Current menu offerings include southwest style beef and black beans, pepperoni pizza, creamy spinach fettuccine, and vegetable crumbles with pasta in taco style sauce. While none of those sound exceptionally appealing, they’re far better than beef bouillon cakes of 1907.
Ranked as the best MRE available, the chili mac menu comes with pound cake, crackers, a jalapeno cheese spread, and candy. The worst choices tie between the veggie burger (which includes a knockoff Gatorade powder, two slices of snack bread, and a chocolate banana muffin) and the Chicken a la King, which sounds yummy but is, in fact, just a gelatinous goo of shred of “chicken.”
MREs are useful for FTXs and good to have on hand in case of natural disasters. They’re convenient and shelf-stable, so they’re a good addition to emergency preparations. But don’t count on them tasting that great.
In World War II’s Pacific Theater, the United States had a big problem: the operating area was humongous. In one sense, it’s no surprise — the Pacific is the world’s largest ocean and they needed to get across that ocean in order to defeat Japan. But Japan had also occupied a lot of bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands during the inter-war period (and illegally fortified them). Finally, the Allies needed a way to deal with the fierce Japanese force, but they needed to do so without endangering the “Germany first” grand strategy for defeating the Axis.
This problem proved extremely difficult. The Japanese, at Guadalcanal, in the Philippines, and elsewhere, had proven to be fierce fighters on the ground. It was painfully obvious that fighting island to island on a campaign across the Pacific would take a lot of time and cost many lives. But at the same time, the Japanese bases had to be neutralized.
In 1943, after Guadalcanal had been cleared, Admiral William F. Halsey and General Douglas MacArthur began planning the next phase of the offensive in the massive ocean, with the ultimate objective of taking out Rabaul, Japan’s major base in the south Pacific.
The first plan they came up with would have required additional forces drawn from efforts in Europe. That, of course, didn’t fly with politicians.
Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fly over an atoll in the Pacific during the island-hopping campaign.
Instead, the answer to the Pacific question was to grab a few key bases and then use air power and submarines to cut off the other Japanese installations from resupply and reinforcement. The term for this was “island hopping” or “leapfrogging.”
There were two primary benefits to this strategy: First, it could be accomplished with fewer troops. Second, it meant the cut-off enemy forces couldn’t be pulled back to reinforce important objectives, like the Philippines.
Bases seized by the Allies were used to launch strikes that targeted enemy supply lines. One of the most famous actions was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
The targeted bases in the island-happen campaign were selected for two purposes: First, they were the jumping-off points for the next “hops” towards Japan. Second, they served as bases for forces that had the job of plastering the now-isolated garrisons left behind. This was what John Glenn did while serving in World War II.
While plans originally called for capturing Rabaul, the decision was made to bypass it after successfully seizing some other locations where Allied forces could build airfields.
John Glenn’s World War II service included a combat tour striking bypassed Japanese garrisons in the F4U Corsair.
The island-hopping strategy worked. In less than four years, the United States had forced Japan’s surrender. While much of history focuses on the hotly-debated use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the ability for America to deliver those weapons hinged on some very strategic leapfrogging.
In 1917, the horrors of World War I were something entirely new to the world. “The War to End All Wars” inflicted horrible casualties and painful deaths in a way no one had ever seen before in the history of warfare. Mechanized vehicles, poison gas, trench-clearing shotguns, and even the constant mud and water that filled the trenches took its toll on the men who fought the war.
Many of those wounded and dying from the new weapons of war found themselves laying next to Red Cross volunteer May Bradford, who would write what for many of her patients, was the last words they would ever say to their loved ones.
Even those who survived were altered forever by the new weapons of war.
For those that were dying, Bradford recorded their last words. For those that were too injured to write, she informed their families of their loved one’s situation. For those who were simply illiterate, she was happy to take care of them too. She was part of the French No. 26 General Hospital, near Etaples, France during the war. She was there following her surgeon husband, Sir John Bradford.
She had been there for the entire war, watching the dying and wounded roll in and out of the clinics and field hospitals. She immediately took up the mantle of “hospital letter writer” for anyone who might want or need her services. Over the course of Britain’s time in the war, she wrote more than 25,000 letters, averaging 12 or more every day for four and a half years.
Bradford later wrote a book of her experiences.
Rather than wear the traditional uniform of the scores of Red Cross volunteers at English aid stations around the world, Lady Bradford wore her usual clothes, which were usually an impeccably clean and neat dress, which made the men in her care feel less like they were in a hospital with a nurse and more like they were dictating a letter with an old friend.
In her relatively short time as a letter writer for the sick, injured, and mortally wounded, Bradford experienced firsthand the horrors of the First World War – and experienced the emotional rollercoaster of fighting that war secondhand.
The most lasting image of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with a U.S. leader will always be his close relationship with Ronald Reagan. In managing a very tense period toward the end of the Cold War, the image of the two leaders together has been enshrined in Cold War history. But the American President he teamed up to win a Grammy Award with would come to power four years after Reagan’s era ended, President Bill Clinton.
These two leaders never squared off in Cold War weapons agreements or faced a standoff between Russian and American forces. What they shared was the interpersonal foundation of a lasting peace.
Boris Yeltsin was hammered the day they called. And probably every day.
Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s seventh and last President and Communist Party Chairman. He managed the final days of the Cold War as the Iron Curtain came tumbling down. Reagan was gone by then, succeeded by his Vice-President-turned-President, George H.W. Bush, who masterfully handled the U.S. response to the end of the Cold War. Clinton would be the first president to have to deal with the new Russian Federation and its former Soviet client states.
Gorbachev wouldn’t be his Russian counterpart. Boris Yeltsin came to power in the 1990s. But the two men were integral to shaping the post-Cold War relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union. They were also integral to the 2003 children’s album, Wolf Tracks: Peter and the Wolf.
Gorbachev with a decadent Western awards statue, likely sad he missed the chance to meet Christina Aguilera.
Peter and the Wolf is a 1936 children’s story, first written by Soviet Composer Sergei Prokofiev. It originated as a piece of Soviet propaganda, telling the story of a young boy challenging his grandfather who chided him for going out alone into the world, for fear of being devoured by a wolf. When a wolf does appear, the brave boy gets the best of it and makes sure it ends up in a zoo.
Clinton and Gorbachev performed spoken parts of the story, while actress Sophia Loren performed other sections. The album was an international hit, and was soon translated into multiple languages with more celebrity voices, including Antonio Banderas in the Spanish-language version. But the Grammy went to Gorbachev and Clinton, the first of such awards for a former American President or a former Soviet Premiere.
Just a few years later, Clinton would win another Grammy for the narration of his autobiography, My Life. Following that, other American Presidents would win for spoken-word works of their memoirs, including then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama for his memoirs, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams of my Father, and former President Jimmy Carter for his work, A Full Life: Reflections at 90. Carter would win another spoken-word Grammy in 2019 for his personal religious memoir, Faith – A Journey For All.
Carter has nine Grammy nominations, Clinton has four, and Obama has two, though he has won both years he earned a nod.
SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on August 2, 2020, after returning from a 63-day mission to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls/NASA)
SpaceX just achieved a feat that even CEO Elon Musk thought improbable when he founded the rocket company in 2002: flying people to and from space.
On Sunday afternoon, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley safely careened back to Earth after a 27-million-mile mission in orbit around the planet. The men flew in SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon spaceship, landing the cone-shaped capsule at 2:48 p.m. ET in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Florida.
Shortly after 4 p.m. ET, a SpaceX and NASA recovery crew pulled the astronauts from their toasted ship.
“Thanks for doing the most difficult part and the most important part of human spaceflight: sending us into orbit and bringing us home safely,” Behnken said shortly before leaving the spaceship, which he and Hurley named Endeavour. “Thank you again for the good ship Endeavour.”
“It’s absolutely been an honor and a pleasure to work with you, from the entire SpaceX team,” a capsule communicator responded from mission control at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX privately designed, built, and operated the vehicle with about .7 billion in contracts from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The money helped SpaceX create its newfound spaceflight capability and is funding about half a dozen missions — including Behnken and Hurley’s demonstration flight, Demo-2, which launched on May 30.
“These are difficult times when there’s not that much good news. And I think this is one of those things that is universally good, no matter where you are on planet Earth. This is a good thing. And I hope it brightens your day,” Musk said during a NASA TV broadcast after the landing.
“I’m not very religious, but I prayed for this one,” he added.
The mission’s end likely brings SpaceX just weeks from a NASA certification of its Crew Dragon for regular flights of astronauts — and private citizens.
“We don’t want to purchase, own, and operate the hardware the way we used to. We want to be one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, said ahead of the landing.
He added: “This is the next era in human spaceflight, where NASA gets to be the customer. We want to be a strong customer, we want to be a great partner. But we don’t want to be the only ones that are operating with humans in space.”
“It did not seem like this was the first NASA SpaceX mission with astronauts on board,” Michael Hopkins, a NASA astronaut who’s slated to fly on SpaceX’s next mission, Crew-1, said. “It seemed to go extremely smoothly.”
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and CEO, said even SpaceX leadership was a bit taken aback.
“I think we’re surprised — minorly surprised, but obviously incredibly pleased — that this went as smoothly as it did,” she said.
American astronauts, rockets, and spaceships launching from US soil
Before Demo-2, the United States hadn’t launched humans into space from American soil since July 2011, when NASA flew its final space shuttle mission.
During the following nine years, NASA had to rely on Russia’s Soyuz launch system to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station. But that became increasingly expensive.
Also, with just one to two seats for NASA astronauts aboard each Soyuz flight — compared to the space shuttle’s seven — the arrangement limited American use of the ISS, which has housed as many as 13 people at once (though space-station crews are typically six people).
Most concerning to mission managers, the arrangement left NASA reliant on a single launch system. That became especially worrisome when high-profile issues arose with Soyuz over the past few years, including a mysterious leak and a rocket-launch failure that forced an emergency landing. After these incidents, NASA and other space agencies had nowhere else to turn.
With SpaceX’s successful Demo-2 flight — and the upcoming test flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship — that insecure footing for US astronauts is now in the rearview mirror.
“This is the culmination of a dream,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told “CBS This Morning” ahead of the mission’s launch in May. “This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal.”
In addition to giving NASA better access to the space station, having a spacecraft and launch system enables the agency to use the space station’s microgravity environment to conduct more science experiments — in pharmaceuticals, materials science, astronomy, medicine, and more.
“The International Space Station is a critical capability for the United States of America. Having access to it is also critical,” Bridenstine said during a briefing on May 1. “We are moving forward very rapidly with this program that is so important to our nation and, in fact, to the entire world.”
Artist’s concept of astronauts and human habitats on Mars. (JPL / NASA)
Demo-2 brings SpaceX one step closer to the moon and Mars
With the completion of Demo-2, SpaceX has also gained operational experience flying people to and from space for the first time. That’s hugely important to Musk, who has big plans for SpaceX.
NASA shares some of Musk’s ambitions to send humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars. Sending astronauts to the space station aboard the Crew Dragon represents a major milestone toward those goals.
Bridenstine also said that he’d eventually like to see entire commercial space stations in the future.
“The next big thing is we need commercial space stations themselves. And in order to create the market for commercial space stations, we have to have these transformational capabilities,” Bridenstine said ahead of the landing.
‘I doubted us, too’
During a briefing following the launch of Demo-2, Business Insider asked Musk if he had a message for those who ever doubted him or the company.
“To be totally frank, I doubted us, too. I thought we had maybe — when starting SpaceX — maybe had a 10% chance of reaching orbit. So to those who doubted us I was like, ‘Well, I think you’re probably right,'” Musk said.
He added: “It took us took us four attempts just to get to orbit with Falcon 1 … People told me this joke: How do you make a small fortune in the rocket industry? ‘You start with a large one’ is the punch line.”
Musk said SpaceX “just barely made it there,” adding, “So hey, I think those doubters were — their probability assessment was correct. But fortunately, fate has smiled upon us and brought us to this day.”
Even after decades of observations and a visit by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, Uranus held on to one critical secret — the composition of its clouds. Now, one of the key components of the planet’s clouds has finally been verified.
A global research team that includes Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has spectroscopically dissected the infrared light from Uranus captured by the 26.25-foot (8-meter) Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. They found hydrogen sulfide, the odiferous gas that most people avoid, in Uranus’ cloud tops. The long-sought evidence was published in the April 23, 2018, issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.
The detection of hydrogen sulfide high in Uranus’ cloud deck (and presumably Neptune’s) is a striking difference from the gas giant planets located closer to the Sun — Jupiter and Saturn — where ammonia is observed above the clouds, but no hydrogen sulfide. These differences in atmospheric composition shed light on questions about the planets’ formation and history.
“We’ve strongly suspected that hydrogen sulfide gas was influencing the millimeter and radio spectrum of Uranus for some time, but we were unable to attribute the absorption needed to identify it positively. Now, that part of the puzzle is falling into place as well,” Orton said.
The Gemini data, obtained with the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), sampled reflected sunlight from a region immediately above the main visible cloud layer in Uranus’ atmosphere.
“While the lines we were trying to detect were just barely there, we were able to detect them unambiguously thanks to the sensitivity of NIFS on Gemini, combined with the exquisite conditions on Mauna Kea,” said lead author Patrick Irwin of the University of Oxford, U.K.
No worries, though, that the odor of hydrogen sulfide would overtake human senses. According to Irwin, “Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius [392 degrees Fahrenheit] atmosphere made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane would take its toll long before the smell.”
Read more on the news of Uranus’ atmosphere from Gemini Observatory here.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
The Civil War Marine Corps usually had just a little over 3,000 men but manned the guns at vital points in the Union war machine, helping usher in the victory.
First, in the immediate aftermath of the Articles of Secession, Marine detachments were sent to reinforce federal garrisons in seceding states, including Fort Sumter. While the Marines were unable to reach Sumter, they did reinforce Fort Pickens in Florida which, though threatened by Florida secessionists throughout the war, never fell from Union control.
But the Marines didn’t just defend backwater outposts. A battalion of 348 Marines under the command of Maj. John Reynolds fought at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The Marines were credited for brave action through most of the day but were routed with the rest of the Union forces in the afternoon.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Marines to the war effort was their manning guns on Navy ships and guarding Union positions on America’s rivers, helping ensure the success of the Anaconda Plan, which called for the Confederacy to be split in two and starved for supplies.
One of the most stunning naval battles the Marines took part in was the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of iron vessels in the history of naval warfare. The Marines manned guns on the Union Navy ships USS Cumberland, USS Congress, USS Minnesota and others.
The Cumberland fought bravely against the ironside CSS Virginia, pumping cannon rounds through open portholes on the Virginia, destroying two cannons and killing 19 of the crew. But the Cumberland was eventually doomed by a ram strike from the Virginia. The USS Monitor, also an ironside, arrived and drove off the Virginia from the other wooden-hulled ships.
The next month, Marines took part in Navy Capt. David Farragut’s attack on New Orleans. On April 24, 1862, Farragut led his flotilla through a gauntlet of Confederate guns and gunships and captured the city. At one point in the naval battle, Marines stabbed Confederate sailors through the gunports on two ships jammed together and exchanging cannon fire.
Marines later stood guard as the state banner in New Orleans was cut down and the American flag raised.
The Marines under Farragut’s command distinguished themselves again when then-Vice Adm. Farragut sent his ships past Confederate torpedoes and Fort Morgan to threaten Mobil Bay, Alabama. It was in this battle, with Marines firing their muskets into enemy portholes, that Farragut uttered his famous curse, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” The attack was ultimately successful.
Finally, the Marines helped close the Confederacy’s last major port through which it received supplies from blockade runners. Fort Fisher held open the port at Wilmington, North Carolina. In January 1865, a naval brigade of sailors and 400 Marines assaulted the fort under heavy fire. While their attack was easily beaten back, it served as a diversion for a second attack by the Army.
The Army was able to take the fort in large part due to the sacrifice of the Marines and sailors. The fall of Fort Fisher closed Wilmington’s port and shut down the last major supply route into the Confederacy. The surrender of Confederate units came faster after this loss of supplies and Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia at Appomatox Court House only three months later.
As Russian propaganda blows up the internet with the unveiling of a new laser weapon, this is just a friendly reminder of a couple things. First, Russia lies about new tech all the time. Second, it hasn’t shown the weapon fire. And, most importantly, this weapon was originally announced in a press conference filled with other over-hyped weapons.
Russia originally released footage of its Peresvet Combat Leaser System a few months ago, and it actually showed the weapon in more detail than what came out in December. Neither video actually shows the weapon in action.
(YouTube/Russian Ministry of Defence)
That’s not to say that the Russians can’t build a functioning laser weapon or that America shouldn’t be prepared for its enemies to deploy lasers, but it is to say that we should take our time while pricing mirrored caps for our bomb shelters (save money by cutting old disco balls in half!).
Peresvet has been teased one time since the annual address but is now receiving a lot of publicity as Sputnik, a Russian propaganda outlet, has released a new video of the laser “in service.”
Except, as everyone buzzes about the laser, we all seem to forget that the video is only showing the foreskin of a tent being pulled back to reveal a shiny laser head as a Russian with no face takes a firm grasp of the stick. That is literally as sexily as I can possibly describe this actually very boring video.
Is this a new laser weapon? Probably, but it could just as easily be the trailer for a professional gamer who only uses Apple keyboards and discount joysticks while playing his flight sims on the road.
Assuming it is a weapon, could it tip the balance in a ground war with the U.S. as it shoots down incoming missiles, drones, jets, and helicopters by the thousands? Again, sure. Anything is possible. But lasers are actually super hard to make work as weapons, and they require a ton of energy per each shot.
A U.S. Air Force C-130 flies with an experimental laser in 2009. The laser was later canceled because it couldn’t engage enemy missiles at a significant range.
(U.S. Air Force)
They require somuch energythat America’s first few laser prototypes barely used electricity because the battery and power-generation requirements were technically infeasible. Instead, we filled a C-130 with vats of chemicals that could, yes, create a laser of sufficient strength to down a missile, but not at ranges sufficient to work in a real-world scenario.
With advances in electronics, it is now possible to create lasers powered by electricity that have sufficient strength to bring down objects in the sky or destroy targets on the ground. How can I be so sure? Well, the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Army prototypes have all been publicly demonstrated and fired.
A target at sea is destroyed by the prototype laser mounted on the Navy’s USS Ponce during a 2015 test. Note that the fireball comes from explosives in the target, not the energy from the laser.
(U.S. Navy video screenshot)
They’ve even been demonstrated working on actual combat platforms like the Army Stryker and the Navy’s amphibious transport dock, USS Ponce. The Air Force demonstrated the aforementioned chemical laser on a C-130 years ago and currently has a contract with Lockheed for high-energy lasers for fighter jets, a weapon it wants combat ready by 2021.
So yeah, there’s no reason to think that Russia can’t develop a similar weapon. And warfighters, especially drone operators, should begin training to operate in environments where Russian lasers can shoot them down (but only when using massive trailers). But America still, obviously, has the edge in laser technology. And we don’t need to panic because Russian propaganda has made an impressive claim.
Remember, Russian leaders also claimed that the Su-57 and T-14 Armata were game-changing weapons that they could build relatively cheaply and would tip the worldwide balance of power. Spoiler: Both weapons are too expensive for Russia to afford and neither appears to work as well as advertised.
After forty years of sanctions and arms embargoes, Iran’s air force has slowly become an eclectic mishmash of aging platforms sourced through various channels. If war were to break out between Iran and the United States today, U.S. pilots would find themselves squaring off with Iranian pilots in a swarm of old American, Soviet, and Chinese jets. Some of these planes, like the Northrop F-5 Tiger II, have seen update efforts over the years. Others, however, are thought to be barely sky-worthy.
While there’s little doubt that advanced American fighters like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the F-22 Raptor would have a long list of advantages over Iran’s ragtag fighters, that isn’t to say that the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force lacks any teeth whatsoever. In fact, some of Iran’s jets actually boast capabilities that would put even America’s fifth-generation fighters to shame.
Of course, combat isn’t about who can put the best numbers on paper, and even Iran’s best jets likely wouldn’t even see the American fighter that put them down until long after they pulled their ejection seat levers, but America’s pilots should remain cautious: Some of Iran’s jets were actually the best America had to offer at one point. While Iran has more than a dozen combat-aircraft in service (in varying numbers), these are some of the first aircraft American pilots might run across in a war with Iran.
Iranian Air Force Grumman F-14A Tomcats in 1986
Iran’s Top Gun: The Grumman F-14 Tomcat
Prior to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the United States was working hand in hand with the nation’s monarch, even agreeing to sell them 80 of the U.S. Navy’s top tier intercept fighters, the F-14 Tomcat. A total of 79 of these jets were delivered. With a top speed of Mach 2.34 and a combat radius of 500 miles, these air superiority fighters are faster and carry more weapons than America’s fifth-generation fighters like the F-35.
Iran claims to have upgraded two F-14s to F-14AMs since then and says 24 of the fighters are mission capable, though that seems unlikely. The U.S. has gone to great lengths to stop Iran from getting F-14 parts (even shredding our own retired platforms), which means Iran has had to cannibalize parts off some jets to keep others in the air. Even if their F-14s are operational, their pilots almost certainly have limited flight time with them–meaning this “Top Gun” dogfight likely wouldn’t be as dramatic as the movies.
Mig-29 being operated by the German Air Force
(USAF Photo taken by TSGT Michael Ammons)
Russian Steel: The Mig-29
Rounding out Iran’s air intercept fighter numbers are as many as 30 operational Mikoyan Mig-29 Fulcrums. These fighters were sourced in small numbers through Russia and as a result of Iraqi pilots fleeing destruction from American forces during 1991’s Operation Desert Storm.
With a top speed of Mach 2.25, these fighters are also faster than America’s stealth platforms, though, like the F-14, the Mig-29 would lose a drag race to America’s F-15. With seven hardpoints for air-to-air missiles, these Migs were purpose built to stand and fight with America’s fourth-generation fighters (like the aforementioned F-15 and the F-16 Fighting Falcon). Iran has reportedly updated these platforms to support Nasr-1 anti-ship missiles as well, making them a concern for the U.S. Navy in waterways like the Strait of Hormuz.
If these pictures look old, just imagine how old the planes themselves must be.
Iran’s “Home-built” Fighter: The Northrop F-5 Tiger II
In August of this year, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani sat in the cockpit of what he described as the nation’s new “home-built” fourth generation fighter… the thing is, the fighter was neither new nor home-built. Rouhani was posing with a Northrop F-5F — a platform Iran had purchased from the United States more than forty years ago. It is presumed, however, that these jets have received a good deal of updating over the years, much of which was concocted internally. Iran’s truly home-built HESA Saeqeh is based on reverse engineered F-5s as well, despite first taking to the skies in 2007.
Unbeknownst to many, the Northrop F-5 also appeared in 1986’s “Top Gun,” as both the menacing (and fictional) Mig-28 and as an aggressor aircraft utilized by instructors at the Top Gun school. It’s believed that Iran maintains a fleet of 60 operational F-5s in varying trims (mostly F-5Es fighter bombers along with around 16 F-5F dual seat training fighters), making it one of Iran’s workhorse platforms. With a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, seven total hardpoints for missiles or bombs, and a great deal of maneuverability, these long-dated platforms are still capable of causing a good amount of trouble.
Su-22 operated by the Czech Republic
Iraqi Leftovers: The Su-22 Fitter
As American F-15s headed in Iraqi airspace to kick off the Persian Gulf War in 1991, more than 40 Iraqi Su-22 fighter bombers frantically took to the sky. They weren’t looking to engage the inbound Eagles, however… they were running for their lives. American fighters brought down two, but the rest managed to make it into Iranian airspace. Some crash landed, some came down gently, but few were considered operable once they reached the tarmac.
It didn’t take long for Iran to claim these (and nearly a hundred other Iraqi aircraft) as their own, but making their newfound Su-22 fighter bombers sky-worthy again proved a lengthy (and costly) undertaking. Nearly 30 years after the already-dated jets arrived in Iran, it’s believed that something like 20 of these jets are operational today. Ten have even seen significant upgrades that allow them to carry precision-guided munitions and share data with nearby drones. These Fitters would pose little threat to American fighters, but would likely be relied on to engage ground forces instead, alongside their small number of Su-25 Grachs.
He was asked if the US should reinstate the draft.
Yes, he replied, but not to grow the size of the armed forces.
He argued that since only 1% of Americans serve their country, America lacks in shared experience — there’s almost no common background between the upper class and the middle class, the educated and the uneducated, the rural and the urban.
The solution, then, wouldn’t be mandatory military service, but national service — programs like Teach for America and City Year, but made accessible to a full quarter of a yearly cohort rather than an elite few.
Since that conversation, McChrystal has campaigned for making a “service year” a part of young Americans’ trajectories. The goal is to “create 1 million civilian national service opportunities every year for Americans between the ages of 18 and 28 to get outside their comfort zones while serving side by side with people from different backgrounds.”
In an interview with Business Insider, McChrystal, who has held positions as head of US Joint Special Operations Command and as the top commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, explained his plan for making that happen, and the effects national service could have on American society.
Business Insider: What does the word “citizenship” mean to you, and how does national service inform it?
Gen. Stanley McChrystal: When I think of citizenship, I think of a nation as a covenant. It’s an agreement between a bunch of people to form a compact that does such things as common defense, common welfare, whatnot. The United States is not a place; it’s an idea, and it’s basically a contract between us.
BI: So if a nation is an agreement, then citizenship is putting that agreement into action?
SM: That’s exactly what it is.
BI: What does citizenship have to do with having a common experience?
SM: We’ve become a nation that’s split 50 ways.
There are fewer ties to the community today than when you lived in a small town, and everybody had to get together to raise a barn. You knew your neighbors because you had to. Grandparents tended to live in the same town as parents, and kids grew up there. Nowadays, we don’t live that way.
BI: But service programs today are unreachable for most people, so how can they serve as a common link? Teach for America, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps — these programs have acceptance rates comparable to Ivy League schools. How do you make service more accessible?
SM: What has happened is that many of our service practices have become almost elitist programs. They do it because they can, and also it protects their brand and their reputation so they can survive in tough times. But it’s not solving the problem because most of people who go do those kinds of things, I think they come out better citizens, but it’s too small a number — it’s less than 200,000 kids a year.
BI: There are a ton of social structures at work here. How do you make a change?
SM: We’ve got 4 million young people in every year cohort in America, so we think that in the next 10 years we’ve got to get to about a million kids every year to do a year of national service. That would be 25% of the year group.
Now, I can’t prove this, but our sense is that if we get to 25%, you probably get the critical mass, because what we’re trying to do is get this into the culture of America so that service is voluntary but it’s expected. Meaning if you go to interview for a job, you go to apply to a school, you go to run for congress, people are going to naturally ask, Where did you serve?
BI: OK, so how do you make that happen?
SM: Creating a big government agency isn’t the mechanism to do this.
We’re trying to take existing organizations like Teach for America and expand those. Then Cisco, the corporation, has donated money and helped to develop a digital platform that is going to give us a 21st-century ability to match opportunities and people looking for a service year opportunity.
I think we create a marketplace to do this that obviously starts slowly and then builds up momentum. And then once we get to the point where people really believe that service is not only a good thing to do — in an altruistic sense as citizen — but it also advantages them.
BI: There seems to be a lot of anxiety around doing “a gap year.” Are any programs already in place that take away that anxiety?
SM: There’s a program that Tufts University rolled out that’s called 1+4. And I was up there when they announced it. And what you do is, you apply for Tufts — I think there are 50 slots for the class that came in last September — but you do your first year doing national service, kind of like you’re red-shirted for football, and then you do your four years.
You’re already accepted, so the family doesn’t worry, Is Johnny going to go to college? If you’re on financial aid, Tufts pays for it. They pay for the national service. Tufts believe they get a more mature freshman. We’re pushing this in a lot of universities now because it’s a win-win for a university.
They do get a more mature person, and parents don’t worry about the vagaries of the gap year. There could be a lot of different permutations of that kind of thing, but those are the kinds of things that we see as practical steps.
BI: How will you know when the plan has succeeded?
SM: The key part of the ecosystem is the culture that demands national service. At some point, my goal is to get it so that nobody would run for Congress who hadn’t served, because they think they’d get pummeled for not having done a service year.
Chaplains are some of the most misunderstood troops in the formation. While they’re exempt from the minor stresses of the military, like going to the range or pointless details, they’re not above doing the one thing every troop is expected to do: deploy.
This puts them in a unique position. Sure, they have an assistant that’s kind of like a mix between an altar boy and an armed bodyguard, but they themselves are not allowed to pick up a weapon of any kind to remain in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
But that minor detail has never held any chaplains back from serving God and country on the front lines.
It doesn’t matter which religion is on your dog tag, everyone gets the same respect.
Their main objective is to facilitate the religious and emotional needs of all troops within their “flock.” Even if a chaplain was, say, a Roman Catholic priest back in the States, they accept anyone from any faith into their makeshift place of worship down range. They remain faithful to their personal denomination and preach in accordance with their own faith, but they must also learn enough about every religious belief in the formation to properly accommodate each and every troop.
This is because there is no alternative for deployed troops. Chaplains are few and far between in a given area of operation. When the worst happens and a soldier falls in combat, that Catholic chaplain needs a complete understanding of how to perform funeral rites in accordance with that troop’s faith, no matter what that faith may be.
“Oh father, who art in Heaven, have mercy on this F-16’s enemies, for it shall not.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Eugene Crist)
Given that there are so few chaplains deployed, and even fewer of any single denomination, they will travel the battlefield — sometimes an entire region command will be under the care of a single chaplain.
It’d be far too costly to send each and every troop around theater each week for a single religious service, so chaplains will come to them. It’s not uncommon for a chaplain to travel to a remote location to give a sermon to just three or four troops. And since there’s only one chaplain performing the ceremonies across the theater, this often means that Easter Mass won’t be given exactly on Easter Sunday, but sometime around then.
Being named as a Servant of God by the Pope means he’s on the first step to sainthood. If the church canonizes the miracles done in his name or designates him as a martyr, he could become the Patron Saint of the Soldier.
(Father Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar, Oct 7, 1950, Col. Raymond Skeehan)
A chaplain and their escort never go out looking for trouble, but trouble often finds them. They’re constantly on the move and, as a result, many chaplains have been tragically wounded or killed in action over the years. To date, 419 American chaplains have lost their lives while on active duty.
Captain Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain, was said to be one of the few Catholic chaplains in his area during the Korean War. He personally drove around the countryside to administer last rites to the dead and dying, performed baptisms, heard confessions, offered Holy Communion, and conducted Mass — all from an altar that rested on the hood of his jeep. He’d often dodge bullet fire and artillery just to make it to a dying soldier in time to give them their final rites.
He was captured and taken prisoner by the Chinese during the Battle of Unsan in November, 1950. While prisoner, he often defied orders from his captors to lift the fighting spirits of the troops in the prison with him. Even while captive, he’d perform ceremonies — but was also said to have swiped coffee, tea, and life-saving medicines from guards to give to his wounded and sickly troops.
Father Emil would die in that prison, but not before giving one last Easter sunrise service in 1951. For his actions that saved the lives of countless troops in captivity, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He became the ninth military chaplain to be bestowed the Medal of Honor, along with being named a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II.
For more in the dangerous, righteous life of an Army chaplain, be sure to catch Indivisible when it hits theaters on October 26, 2018.