Archive for August 2012

Scared Sh@#tless   1 comment


The Nightmare’s Fear Factory is a haunted house attraction in Niagara Falls, Canada, and one of the oldest running haunted house in North America. The house has been described as the “scariest and best haunted house attraction” and in case you don’t believe them, the owners of the 30-year old establishment publishes a regularly updated stream of pictures showing terrified visitors shrieking and grimacing with genuine fear. The photos became an internet sensation after they went viral in social media websites.

The house is so frightening that visitors have a ‘safety word’ – Nightmares – which they can utter at any time if they wish to be escorted out. In the last 30 years, about a half-million people have gone through, and many have opted out part-way and had their names added to a public “chicken list”. Over 110,000 people have elected to use the ‘chicken exit’ during the 15-minute tour.

The tour takes from 10 to 15 minutes and is in total darkness, except for small red lights on the floors, walls and ceiling that patrons must follow in order to get through the haunted house. Unlike conventional haunted houses, the Nightmares Fear Factory doesn’t rely primarily on blood and gore in order to induce fear. Rather, there are live actors in scary costumes that come at the patrons out of the darkness and taunt them, scream at them, speak in creepy voices, etc. They have been known to grab, push and pull patrons in order to get a reaction. There are also scary sounds like growls, eerie music, spooky voices, yelling, and so forth.



Highlights of the tour include a shaky drawbridge, a claustrophobic tunnel that visitors must crawl through, and a place where it appears that the walls are closing in on the visitors.

The most notable part of the tour is when the visitors, walking in complete darkness (often holding on to each other) suddenly see a sign that reminds them that they are going to die. At this point their pictures are taken and sometimes posted on the Fear Factory’s Flickr account.

























After doing some research on what exactly is making these people shit their pants I think I discovered what it is.  It is a hologram type image of a screaming demon that comes out of nowhere.  Something like the video below.



Posted August 30, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Top Ten Beaches in Canada   Leave a comment


This is from Reader’s Digest.  Hard to determine what criteria they used to make the list.


10. Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan

100 km southeast of Saskatoon is curious Little Manitou Lake, which a century ago rivaled Jasper and Banff for tourists. The salty water is so buoyant you can lie back in it and read a book. There are three beaches with showers and washrooms, and a children’s playground. The Manitou Beach Village has a mineral spa and resort, and there’s camping and golf in the area. For evenings there’s a drive-in movie theatre, and the Danceland dance hall, with a floor built on horsehair that seems to float.



9. Parlee Beach, New Brunswick

New Brunswick has more than 50 beaches – the most popular is at Parlee Beach Provincial Park, Shediac. On hot summer weekend days 16,000 will make their way here to enjoy the white sand, warm water, supervised swimming, volleyball, touch football. Mondays & Wednesdays at 8:00 am there’s yoga on the beach for all ages. The park has 190 campsites. For a beach break visit the World’s Largest Lobster Sculpture in Shediac, a giant bronze sculpture kids love to climb.



8. Wasaga Beach, Ontario

Wasaga’s 14 km of soft white sand on the southern coast Georgian Bay is the world’s longest freshwater beach. Read a book, build a sandcastle, shop, enjoy the midway, or get out and jet ski, hike, bike, etc. Wasaga Beach Provincial Park has eight beach areas, two have playground areas and all have washrooms, changing facilities, picnic tables, parkland and parking. Two million people make their way here each year for Beachfest, Kitefest and classic car shows, many of them young and spirited.



7. Bennett Beach, Yukon

On the well-travelled 180 km route between Skagway Alaska and Whitehorse YK is a beautiful 2 km soft white sand beach with a spectacular panoramic snow-capped mountain backdrop. Bennett Beach is in the historic village of Carcross, home to some of the oldest buildings in the Yukon. Just 2 km away you can visit Carcross Desert, which Guinness World Records has recognized as the ‘World’s Smallest Desert’.



6. Martinique Beach, N.S.

Just an hour from Halifax is longest beach in Nova Scotia. With summer supervised waters, 3.7 km of golden sands, and excellent surf conditions, it’s a magnet for beachcombers, surfers, paddle boarders, swimmers and picnickers. There are change houses, outhouses, BBQ pits, and tables. Martinique Beach Provincial Park, with its dunes and white spruce forest, is also an important refuge for migratory waterfowl, and habitat for the endangered piping plover (less than 50 pairs breed in the province).



5. Havre-Aubert Beach, Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec

Enjoy 12 km of sand and The World’s Biggest Sand Castle Contest! Hundreds compete, thousands watch, at this annual event (August 10-12, 2012.) Havre-Aubert Island also has a community of sand artisans with studio, gallery, and craft shop. The Magdalen Islands, spread across 85 km of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, offering 300 km of long sandy beaches. There’s swimming, hiking, kayaking, and robust breezes for windsurfing and kitesurfing. You can reach the islands by plane, by cruise ship from Montreal, or by daily ferry from Souris, P.E.I.



4. Singing Sands, Basin Head Provincial Park, P.E.I.

PEI has more than 800 km of the warmest beaches north of the Carolinas. What makes Basin Head Beach (known as Singing Sands) so special is that it seems to sing, or sqeak, when you walk on it – an intriguing phenomena scientists still don’t completely understand. Located at the eastern tip of P.E.I. near Souris, the supervised beach is in a day use (summer) park that has a play area, food, washroom, shower facilities, and the Basin Head Fisheries Museum.



3. Grand Bend, Ontario

Thirty miles of beautiful beaches along this Lake Huron coast are equaled only by the spectacular sunsets. ‘The Bend’, just 45 minutes from London, has been attracting tourists since the 1800’s. Young sun worshippers strut their stuff on the beach at the foot of Main Street, while families looking for a quieter environment often gravitate to the beach south of the river mouth. Busy bars, fast food, miniature golf, live theatre – it’s fun. The very popular Pinery Provincial Park has 1,000 campsites just south of the village.



2. Grand Beach, Manitoba

An hour north of Winnipeg on the shore of Lake Winnipeg (Canada’s sixth largest lake) is Grand Beach, an enticing 3 km of fine white sand with dunes that can tower 12 metres. Part of Grand Beach Provincial Park, there’s volleyball, kite boarding, and a boardwalk where teens like to see and be seen. For bird watchers, the beach is a sanctuary for the rare, endangered Piping Plover. In June 2012 this beach received the internationally-recognized Blue Flag designation for ‘extraordinary and safe beaches’.



1. Long Beach, Vancouver Island, B.C.

Long Beach is the longest sandy beach on Vancouver Island. In Pacific Rim National Park Reserve between Tofino and Ucluelet, it’s 16.6 km of pristine sand washed by a cool pounding surf. Look for joggers, kayakers, sea lions and sun worshipers, with backdrop of rainforest and mountains. There’s a summertime Tofino Beach Bus, and if you’re an inexperienced surfer, you can get lessons. Twenty thousand grey whales migrate up this coast each spring and summer – tours operate from Tofino and Ucluelet.


I don’t know about that Yukon beach.  Could shrivel up some body parts staying in that ice water too long.

Glad to see Grand Beach made number 2.  It is an amazing beach.  Two photos of Grand below.



One of my favourite beaches is Patricia Beach located right at the south end of Lake Winnipeg.  It is less crowded than Grand and it also has a nudist section.





Posted August 30, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Downtown Winnipeg is definitely safer   1 comment



The Free Press had a story today where is was purported by a spokesperson from the Winnipeg Police Service that the downtown has become safer.  Part of the story below:

Winnipeg Police say they are making progress on developing a downtown safety strategy.

Staff Sgt. Andy Golebioski said that while the strategy, which was announced in November 2011, remains a work-in-progress, the WPS has implemented some initiatives towards that goal, including:

– A 16-person foot patrol unit.

– Expansion of the Closed Circuit Television network (CCTV).

The downtown safety initiative was part of an overall crime-reduction strategy that Chief Keith McCaskill promised to implement last November.

Golebioski said the downtown safety component has not been fully completed but added the WPS wanted the public to know that they are continuing to work on it and have some components, while not all the pieces.

“What this is is the first public education effort of what’s going to be a number of components that are going to be tasked with over time,” Golebioski said. “We could have waited until everything was all done, but we thought why not start with getting the message out to the public now.”

Downtown is undergoing a dramatic change, Golebioski said, adding it’s important that the area be considered safe and be safe if business is going to continue to invest there and if people are going to visit and live there.

I live, work and for the most part play downtown.  It most definitely has become safer over the last 2 years.  The major reason for this I contend was the introduction of the police Cadets into the mix.  The Downtown Biz Redshirt security patrols do a good job but they don’t have the teeth the Cadet Blueshirts have.  The Blueshirts have police arrest powers, and they use them.  Any obnoxious drunken individual spotted downtown is immediately cuffed, thrown in the Cadetmobile, they also have a paddy wagon, and hauled off to the notoriously infamous Drunk Tank on Henry Ave.






Before the Cadets arrived on the scene there was a constant problem with a Disadvantaged Troublesome Ethnic Group, we all know who I am referring to here, so I will just refer to this group as the DTEG.  Ninety percent of the problems downtown come from individual DTEG’s.  Two years ago I would be constantly approached by intoxicated DTEG’s who wanted a smoke, were panhandling, would be urinating on the side of a building, screaming at each other in the middle of the street and were just basically hell raising all over the place.  You do not see these types of people anymore.

A few weeks back I saw two extremely drunk DTEG’s urinating in the bushes across Graham Ave. from the Millenium Library.  After they finished their nature call they trogged off towards CityPlace.  Within minutes the Blueshirts had them up against the wall and were handcuffing them.  Off to the drunk tank for those mid-day party boys.  I have never been in the drunk tank myself, but I know people who have.  And to call it a hell hole is an understatement.  Soiled mattresses on a cement floor with a sewer hole in the middle of the room.  A great deterrent to keep the drunken bums from committing indiscretions downtown.

I have also noticed more police officers on foot patrol, which is another good deterrent.  During the day downtown is more relaxing to walk around in.  You don’t have to worry about being hassled by the drunk DTEG’s who used to wonder aimlessly from potential victim to potential victim.  Nighttime in the downtown still needs work.  The wrong place at the wrong time and trouble could ensue.  But overall I give the new downtown safety reality a 4 out of 5 star rating.



The downtown can be a very enjoyable place to be.  It has many plants and flower beds strewn across the area, good restaurants and bars, nice patios and many very attractive ladies walking around.  And with the Cadets at the helm it is now a much safer place to be.










Winnipeg Crime Stat Update


After a blistering start the homicide rate in Winnipeg has levelled off.  It looked like Winnipeg was going to surpass last years record 41 homicides hands down.  But many of the stabbing victims from the DTEG’s drinking parties did not have life threatening wounds.  Either that or they are so tough and have hides like leather that a knife stab that would take down a wild hog only maims them.  And life in The Peg goes on.


Posted August 29, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Floating Cities of the Future   1 comment


National Geographic


The Seascraper

Illustration by William Erwin and Dan Fletcher, eVolo

Touted as an eco-friendly floating city, the Seascraper (pictured in an artist’s conception) is among a raft of concepts for  sustainable offshore settlements. With more than seven billion people on  the planet, mass migrations to cities, and increased risks of flooding  and sea level rise, more and more architects and innovators seem to be  weighing anchor.




Illustration by Mathias Koester, eVolo

With only its stabilizing floating ring and transparent dome protruding above the sea, the Waterscraper is envisioned as a tubelike underwater residence and lab—all designed to withstand crushing water pressures.

Natural  light would filter down from the dome as the Waterscraper drifts from  one destination to the next. Beaches, restaurants, a marina, and a dive  center would cater to luxury-apartment dwellers and hotel guests.

Concepts like the Waterscraper are being touted as potential solutions to the planet’s urban population pressures.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,  half of humanity currently calls an urban area home. And before we  reach 2050, India’s cities will grow by 497 million people, China’s by  341 million, Nigeria’s by 200 million, and the United States’ by 103  million.



Oil Rig Reimagined

Illustration by YoungWan Kim/SueHwan Kwun/JunYoung Park/JoongHa Park, eVolo

The Water Circles concept would convert old oil platforms into water-treatment plants  that transform saltwater into fresh water. Remaining fossil fuel  extraction infrastructure would be used to channel seawater into the  floating desalination plant.

Spherical  modules would distill saltwater and store fresh water bound for  water-poor countries. The old oil rigs would also house researchers and  sustain on-site food production, according to the South Korea-based  design team.



Floating Cruise Ship Terminal

Illustration courtesy Koen Olthius and Dutch Docklands

This  5-million-square-foot (490,000-square-meter) floating cruise-ship  terminal could host three large vessels while providing passengers a  novel offshore experience, complete with open-ocean hotel stays,  shopping, and dining, according to designers.

An  inner “harbor” would allow smaller vessels to dock and would provide  natural light for the interior of the terminal. Ten percent of the roof  would be covered in photovoltaic cells that harvest solar power,  according to Dutch architect Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.NL.

The  terminal is just a vision now, but Olthuis’s firm, which is committed  to buildings that both adapt to and combat the challenges presented by  climate change and sea level rise, has made other floating fantasies  come to life.

Waterstudio.NL,  based in the Netherlands, has worked on a floating city near The Hague  and has started projects in the Maldives, China, and the United Arab  Emirates.



The Citadel

Illustration courtesy Koen Olthius

Scheduled  for completion in 2014, the Citadel could be Europe’s first floating  apartment building, according to architect Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.NL.  The 60-unit complex is to be built in the Dutch city of Westland, near  The Hague, and is meant to protect people from flooding in a country  that sits, to a large degree, below sea level.

Holland  is home to more than 3,500 inland depressions, which can fill with  water when it rains, when tides come in, or as seas rise overall. These  so-called polders are often drained by pumps to protect residents.

Floating  single-family homes are not uncommon in this soggy country, but the  Citadel—to be built on a flooded polder—will be the first high-density  floating residential development. The complex’s floating concrete  foundation will be connected to higher ground via a floating road.

Olthuis  predicts the Citadel—and its five planned neighbors—will consume 25  percent less energy over its life span than a conventional building.



Green Sea Star

Illustration courtesy Koen Olthius

Slated to open in 2014, the Greenstar is to be a floating hotel and conference center off the Maldives in the  Indian Ocean. The island nation is the world’s lowest-lying country,  making it among the most threatened by anticipated climate  change-induced sea level rise.

Designed  by Waterstudio.NL to blend in with its ocean surroundings, the  Greenstar will have room for 800 overnight guests and 2,000 conference  attendees.

Intended  to be highly efficient, the development’s small environmental footprint  is a tribute to the country’s determination to fight global warming,  according to Waterstudio.NL architects. Appropriately enough, organizers  intend the Greenstar to be the number one meeting place for global  climate change discussions.


Posted August 29, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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The other Royals are following suit   Leave a comment




Posted August 29, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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New Orleans ready with Steel Resolve in the face of Hurricane Isaac   1 comment





Posted August 28, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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The Little Rover That Could   Leave a comment



Curiosity rover’s intriguing geological find

The Mars rover Curiosity is indulging in a flurry of multimedia activity ahead of its science mission proper.

It sent the first image from its 100mm telephoto lens, already spotting an intriguing geological “unconformity”.

Nasa also released a colour panorama of Mount Sharp, the rover’s ultimate goal.

On Monday, the rover relayed “the first voice recording to be sent from another planet”, and on Tuesday it will broadcast a song from artist as part of an educational event.

But alongside these show pieces, Curiosity – also known as the Mars Science Laboratory – is already warming up its instruments for a science mission of unprecedented scope on the Red Planet.

The rover has spotted an “unconformity” in the layers of Mount Sharp, towering
above Gale Crater

But alongside these show pieces, Curiosity – also known as the Mars Science Laboratory – is already warming up its instruments for a science mission of unprecedented scope on the Red Planet.

Nasa said that the rover was already returning more data from Mars than all of the agency’s earlier rovers combined.

It will eventually trundle to the base of Mount Sharp, the 5km-high peak at the centre of Gale Crater, in which the rover touched down just over three weeks ago.

For now it is examining the “scour marks” left by the rocket-powered crane that lowered the rover onto the planet’s surface, giving some insight into what lies just below it.

The rover will now employ its Dan instrument, which fires the subatomic particles neutrons at the surface to examine levels of hydrogen- and hydroxyl-containing minerals that could hint at Mars’ prior water-rich history.

Another tool in its arsenal, the ChemCam, which uses a laser to vapourise rock and then chemically examine the vapour, will also have a look at the scour marks.

And the Sample Analysis at Mars or Sam instrument, itself a package of three analysis tools, has now been switched on and is being run through its paces ahead of “sniffing” the Martian atmosphere; the tests include analysing a sample of Earth air that was left in it at launch.

Next stop for the rover will be Glenelg, 400m to the east, which appears to be the intersection of three distinct geological regions – potentially rich pickings for the rover’s suite of tools.

It will then set off for the base of Mount Sharp in a journey that will take several months.



  • (A) Curiosity will trundle around its landing site looking for interesting rock features to study. Its top speed is about 4cm/s
  • (B) This mission has 17 cameras. They will identify particular targets, and a laser will zap those rocks to probe their chemistry
  • (C) If the signal is significant, Curiosity will swing over instruments on its arm for close-up investigation. These include a microscope
  • (D) Samples drilled from rock, or scooped from the soil, can be delivered to two hi-tech analysis labs inside the rover body
  • (E) The results are sent to Earth through antennas on the rover deck. Return commands tell the rover where it should drive next


Posted August 28, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Bigfoot hoaxer gets whacked on Montana highway   Leave a comment



Pity the fool!

Montana man trying to create Bigfoot sighting in “Ghillie suit” struck and killed by cars

Associated Press

A man dressed in a military-style “ghillie” suit and apparently trying to provoke reports of a Bigfoot sighting in northwest Montana was struck by two cars and killed, authorities said.

The man was standing in the right-hand lane of U.S. Highway 93 south of Kalispell on Sunday night when he was hit by the first car, according to the Montana Highway Patrol. A second car hit the man as he lay in the roadway, authorities said.

Flathead County officials identified the man as Randy Lee Tenley, 44, of Kalispell. Trooper Jim Schneider said motives were ascertained during interviews with friends, and alcohol may have been a factor but investigators were awaiting tests.

“He was trying to make people think he was Sasquatch so people would call in a Sasquatch sighting,” Schneider told the Daily Inter Lake ( on Monday. “You can’t make it up. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like this before. Obviously, his suit made it difficult for people to see him.”

Ghillie suits are a type of full-body clothing made to resemble heavy foliage and used to camouflage military snipers.

“He probably would not have been very easy to see at all,” Schneider told KECI-TV.

Tenley was struck by vehicles driven by two girls, ages 15 and 17, who were unable to stop in time, authorities said.


A ghillie suit, also known as a (yowie suit, or camo tent) is a type of camouflage clothing designed to resemble heavy foliage. Typically, it is a net or cloth garment covered in loose strips of burlap, cloth or twine, sometimes made to look like leaves and twigs, and optionally augmented with scraps of foliage from the area.

Snipers and hunters may wear a ghillie suit to blend into their surroundings and conceal themselves from enemies or targets. The suit gives the wearer’s outline a three-dimensional breakup, rather than a linear one. When manufactured correctly, the suit will move in the wind in the same way as surrounding foliage.

Ghillie suits




Posted August 28, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Green on Blue attacks increasing in Afghanistan   2 comments



The mess that has become the Afghanistan quagmire is spiralling downward as every month passes by.  The place is in a state of complete chaos.  It is a country stuck in the middle ages.  The West made a huge mistake getting stuck in that backward land.  The Afghans seem to love killing each other, so I contend the West pull out its soldiers as soon as possible and let the Afghans slaughter themselves.

The Long war journal

August 23, 2012

Attacks on Coalition forces by Afghan forces — the so-called green-on-blue  attacks — are emerging as a major threat in the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan.  These attacks from within have increased dramatically within the past two years,  and so far this year account for over 13% of Coalition casualties.

As the United States prepares to complete the withdrawal of its combat troops  from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the US military and its Coalition partners  are increasingly shifting security responsibilities to Afghan forces. The  success of this security transition depends greatly on the strength and  competence of the Afghan military and police. Accordingly, the training of the  newly-mustered Afghan forces has become a linchpin of Coalition strategy, which  in turn hinges upon the work of  trainers with Afghan security forces. This  situation has placed Coalition troops at increasing risk as the drawdowns  continue and Taliban efforts to infiltrate Afghan forces are being ramped  up.

In recent months, attacks by Afghan forces on Coalition forces have surged;  they account for 13% of Coalition casualties so far this year. In 2011,  green-on-blue attacks accounted for 6%; in 2010, 3%; in 2009, 2%; and in 2008,  less than 1%.

Although NATO commanders have stated that an estimated 90% of the attacks are  due to cultural differences and personal enmity, the attacks began spiking in  2011, just after President Barack Obama announced the plan to pull the surge  forces, end combat operations in 2014, and shift security to Afghan forces. The  Taliban also have claimed to have stepped up efforts at infiltrating the Afghan  National Security Forces.


U.S. troops in the middle of a bad situation



Disagreeing with NATO’s analysis, the Afghan government has blamed the  problem on “infiltration by foreign spy agencies,” including those of  “neighboring countries,” The  Guardian reported. The Afghan government also predicted that vetting of  recruits to the Afghan military and police would soon improve as the forces were  reaching their target capacity after a rapid buildup.

While cultural and personal differences may play a role in the increase in  attacks, Taliban infiltration and defections by Afghan security personnel who  have decided to ingratiate themselves with the Taliban by attacking NATO forces  likely play a far more significant role in the green-on-blue attacks than NATO  admits. Without a complete study of the attacks, including those that do not  result in casualties, it is impossible to have a full understanding as to what  motivates Afghan security personnel to turn on their foreign partners.

ISAF responses

In May of this year, ISAF commander General John Allen said that about half  of the green-on-blue attacks have been carried out by Taliban infiltrators. In  August, General Allen said that approximately 25% of the green-on-blue attacks  were due to Taliban infiltration and/or coercion of Afghan forces,  according to The New York Times. The Taliban routinely take credit  for the attacks.

The US military has become so concerned with the green-on-blue attacks that  it has ordered units to designate “guardian angels” in each unit whose job is to  provide security for troops working with Afghans. In mid-August, field  commanders were told they can increase the number of “guardian angels” depending  on the tactical situation, Reuters  reports.



Green-on-blue attacks in 2012:

Aug.  27, 2012: An Afghan soldier killed two ISAF soldiers in an  attack in Laghman province.

Aug.  19, 2012: An Afghan policeman turned his weapon on a group of  ISAF soldiers in southern Afghanistan, killing one soldier. The incident  occurred in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province, and the district  police chief has since been fired for negligence and lack of control over his  personnel, according  to AFP.

Aug.  17, 2012: An Afghan Local Police officer killed two US soldiers  during a training exercise on an Afghan base in Farah province. The two soldiers  were with Marine Corps special operations; one of the soldiers was a Marine and  the other was a Navy corpsman, according  to Marine Times.

Aug.  17, 2012: An Afghan soldier shot and wounded two NATO soldiers  in Kandahar province; the attacker was killed.

Aug.  13, 2012: A policeman wounded two US soldiers in an attack in  Nangarhar province.

Aug.  10, 2012: Three US soldiers were killed an attack by an Afghan  police commander and his men in Sangin district in Helmand province.

Aug.  10, 2012: Three US Marines were killed in an attack in Sangin  district in Helmand province.

Aug.  9, 2012: US troops killed an Afghan soldier who was attempting  to gun them down at a training center in Laghman province.

Aug.  7, 2012: Two Afghan soldiers killed a US soldier in the east  before defecting to the Taliban.  According  to the Army Times, the attack took place a military base in Paktia  province.

July  23, 2012: Two ISAF soldiers were wounded in an attack in Faryab  province.

July  22, 2012: A member of the Afghan National Security Forces killed  three civilian trainers who work for ISAF in Herat province.


Now the U.S. military has to keep watch on the Afghan security forces as they conduct joint operations.  Any one of the ragtag bunch of desert nomads shown below could turn his rifle on a coalition soldier.


U.S. soldiers have to be vigilant and alert.

Posted August 27, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Mars Rover Curiosity’s Siblings: A Short History of Landings On Alien Planets   1 comment



Luna 9, the First Lunar Soft Landing, February 1966


The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 spacecraft was the first to achieve a lunar soft landing and survive to transmit photographic data back to Earth. Launched on the last day of January 1966, Luna 9 truly made a crash landing, bouncing several times (it impacted at roughly 14 miles per hour, slowed by a retrorocket and then four onboard engines) before coming to rest in a region known as Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) on February 3, 1966. Several minutes later its four “petals” opened up and stabilized the spacecraft on the surface. It’s sensor payload consisted only of a radiation detector and a small upward facing camera. A turret-mounted rotating mirror mounted above the camera allowed it to capture 360 imagery from its stationary position on the lunar surface.

Luna 9 transmitted data to Earth in seven radio sessions totaling just more than 8 hours. These transmissions included three series of TV pictures–the first taken from the moon’s surface–as well as panoramic views of the lunar frontier. Radiation data was also returned. Three days later the batteries died and Luna 9’s mission was terminated.

But despite its short duration, by simple virtue of its landing Luna 9 settled something that was previously uncertain–that the lunar surface could support a spacecraft (Luna 9 weighed about 220 pounds). Some models at that point in time showed that the lunar regolith wasn’t load-bearing; any spacecraft that landed there would sink into the moon’s powdery surface. Luna 9 placed a manned mission to the moon firmly within the realm of possibility.


Surveyors: America’s First Moon Landers, June 1966


The Surveyor missions were the first attempts by the United States to make soft landings on the moon, and five of the seven spacecraft proved American technology up to the task, including the very first one (Surveyor 1). The Surveyors were originally intended to be their own stand-alone science missions but were quickly folded into support missions for the Apollo program as the space race heated up.

Surveyor 1 marked the first soft landing for the U.S. on June 2, 1966 (four months after Luna 9), but all seven Surveyor spacecraft served to develop and validate NASA’s ability to put a spacecraft on a lunar intercept trajectory, make the proper maneuvers to place a spacecraft at a predetermined point on the lunar surface, and to communicate with mission control on Earth across a quarter-million miles. They also all served as scouts for potential Apollo landing sites. All except Surveyors 2 and 4, that is–those two crashed upon arrival.

Pictured: Surveyor 3.


Lunokhod 1, the First Moon Rover, November 1970


Though by this time Americans had already walked on the moon, the Soviets launched a series of lunar rovers to the moon between 1969 and 1977 under the program heading Lunokhod (or “moonwalker”). The first Lunokhod didn’t make it through launch (it was given the designation “1A”) but the second, Lunokhod 1, touched down at the moon’s “Sea of Rains” on November 17, 1970, aboard the spacecraft Luna 17.

Though the Soviets had lost the race to the moon, they did have something novel in Lunokhod 1. It was the first remote-controlled rover to land on another planetary body. Luna 17 deposited Lunokhod 1 on the lunar surface via dual ramps that deployed from the spacecraft. Once on the surface, Lunokhod 1 demonstrated many of the rover technologies that are still employed today: special lubricants that keep moving parts working at different atmospheric pressures, electric motors, a radioisotope heater to keep it warm during the lunar night, and solar panels that charge its batteries during the day.

It operated for just short of one year, traveling more than 34,000 feet and transmitting 20,000 pictures during that time. It also created the modern paradigm for rovers that would be followed for decades.


Venera 7, Interplanetary Explorer, December 1970

Vladimir I U L via Flickr

Venera 7 was part of a series of probes designed to study the atmosphere and surface of Venus. Some were crushed on the way to the surface by the immense pressure present there (93 times that of Earth), but seventh time’s a charm. Venera 7 entered the Venusian atmosphere on December 15, 1970 and jettisoned its landing capsule, which this time made it all the way to the surface for a successful soft landing via aerodynamic braking and a parachute.

The capsule extended its antenna as designed and beamed signals back to Earth for 35 minutes before suddenly going silent. Then, mysteriously, another 23 minutes of very weak signal were recorded from Venera 7’s lander a few weeks later. It was the first man-made spacecraft to successfully land on another planet and transmit data back to Earth.


Mars 3, Almost a Perfect Mars Landing (Orbiter Pictured), December 1971


The Soviet Mars Program was a string of mixed successes and failures launched between 1960 and 1973 in an attempt to put unmanned spacecraft in orbit around and on the surface of Mars. Some found orbit but failed to soft-land their descent modules. Some missed orbit completely. But Mars 3 should be recognized for making the first successful soft-landing on the Martian surface even if the mission lasted all of 20 seconds.

After the failure of the identical Mars 2 mission to soft-land its descent module just a few days prior, Mars 3 managed to put its descent module on the proper downward trajectory. Atmospheric braking, parachutes, and retrorockets combined to slow the lander adequately, and after a 4.5-hour descent it landed–in the middle of a massive dust storm. No one can be sure, but mission controllers speculate that these storms were the reason the Mars 3 lander was only able to establish a line of communication with Earth for a mere 20 seconds before its instruments stopped working.

The Mars 2 and Mars 3 orbiters continued to ring the planet for the next year, returning a wealth of topographic and atmospheric data, so the missions weren’t a total loss for the program. And Mars 3 proved that, with a little better luck, the Martian surface was within reach of robotic spacecraft.


Viking 1 Lands on Mars, July 1976


The first really successful robotic exploration of Mars came in 1976, when the Viking 1 and Viking 2 spacecraft, launched the year before, each successfully deposited their landers on the Martian surface via soft landing. The orbiters continued to orbit, measuring atmospheric water vapor and thermally mapping the planet in infrared. On the surface, the landers took 360-degree pictures of the Martian surface, took temperature readings, analyzed soil samples, and otherwise gave planetary scientists the bulk of their body of knowledge of Martian geology and geography that would serve them for the next two decades.

Unlike Mars 3, these missions were not short-lived. The entire Viking program wasn’t shut down until May of 1983. The Viking 1 lander operated for more than six years on the Martian surface, and even then only ceased function after human error during a software update caused critical parts of its communication programming to be overwritten, terminating its link with Earth.

Pictured: the view from Viking 1


Mars Pathfinder Lands, July 1997


Post-Viking, NASA turned its attention to Earth orbit and its newly commissioned space shuttles, but in on July 4, 1997, NASA landed the first mobile rover on the Red Planet. The Mars Pathfinder mission placed both a stationary lander (renamed Carl Sagan Memorial Station upon landing) and a small robotic rover (named Sojourner for civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth) on the Martian surface via an untried soft landing system that relied on parachutes to slow the spacecraft down and a casing of airbags to allow it to bounce (at least fifteen times) and roll to a stop on the Martian surface. Though designed to right itself, the spacecraft happened to come to a rest right side up.

The lander then deployed the rover and both proceeded to outlive their operational lives several times over–the lander by three times its designed lifetime of 30 days, and the rover by 12 times its designed lifetime of seven days. From landing to the final transmission of data on September 27, 1999, the Pathfinder mission delivered 2.3 billion bits of information back to earth, including more than 17,000 images, 15 chemical analyses from soil and rock samples, and myriad weather and atmospheric data. Pathfinder provided the strongest evidence yet that Mars was once warm and wet, and informed the design of future Mars missions that would follow.


NEAR Shoemaker, the Unintended Asteroid Lander, February 2001


NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Shoemaker (NEAR Shoemaker, named for planetary scientist Gene Shoemaker) was designed to study asteroid 433 Eros, one of the largest asteroids in Earth’s orbital neighborhood. It was not designed to land on it. But after orbiting 433 Eros for nearly a year, snapping some 160,000 images along the way and creating the first real body of data about asteroid composition and properties, the opportunity was too good for mission handlers to pass up.

As it approached the end of its life in 2001, NASA mission handlers chose to attempt a landing on the asteroid’s surface. NEAR Shoemaker continued snapping images all the way down, gathering pictures from as close as 400 feet that clearly resolved features the size of a golf ball. The spacecraft touched down moving a mere 4 miles per hour on February 12, 2001 and continued transmitting data to Earth until the end of that month, making it the first spacecraft to successfully orbit, land upon, and transmit data from an asteroid.


Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, January 2004

NASA/JPL/Cornell University

Following the success of Mars Pathfinder, NASA crafted the Mars Exploration Rover Mission around dual rovers launched in tandem in summer 2003, named Spirit and Opportunity. The two rovers were designed as robot geologists, tasked with seeking clues to Mars’ terrestrial and hydrological history. Both landed successfully on opposite sides of the Red Planet within weeks of one another in January of 2004 and began exploring. Then they just kept going.

Both Spirit and Opportunity have far outlived their three-month planned lifespans by more than two dozen times, returning from “hibernation” over and over again (during the Martian winter they power down and rely on internal heaters to keep their circuitry intact). Spirit’s mission was finally terminated last year after it failed to wake up from its hibernation state after more than six years of exploration (Spirit was already rendered immobile back in 2010 after becoming stuck in a sand pit near the Martian equator). And as of this writing Opportunity continues roving, exploring the Endeavour crater and preparing for another Martian winter. Between the two of them, Spirit and Opportunity have by far generated more and better data about the Martian surface and geology than any other exploratory mission–and far more than even the most optimistic NASA mission planner could have expected.


Huygens, The Outer Solar System Explorer, January 14, 2005


Mars exploration is amazing, but the oft-forgotten Huygens probe could very well be the most interesting planetary lander humankind has ever sent into space. Carried by the Saturn-exploring Cassini spacecraft for seven years all the way to the outer solar system, the ESA-designed Huygens was jettisoned from Cassini in January of 2005 and made the first and only spacecraft landing in the outer solar system on the surface of the Saturnalian moon Titan.

Mission designers had little idea what to expect for this landing, so Huygens was designed to land on both dry land or in an ocean. Ideally, it would transmit data for a few hours during its descent through the atmosphere and–if mission handlers were lucky–for a short time from the surface. Not only did it beam back two-and-a-half hours worth of data and images during its descent through the atmosphere, but after landing in the mud along a shoreline Huygens beamed back data from Titan’s surface for a full 70 minutes. It remains the most distant spacecraft landing ever achieved.


Hayabusa Lands on Itokawa, November 2005

NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker made the first landing on an asteroid, but it was the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa probe that actually lived to tell the tale. Launched in 2003 on a trajectory to intercept the asteroid Itokawa, Hayabusa landed on the asteroid’s surface in November 2005, collected samples from the surface of the asteroid (a first), and returned them to Earth, providing the only samples of asteroid material scientists have ever seen.

But it almost didn’t happen. Upon landing on Itokawa, the projectiles designed to blast dust from the surface up into Hayabusa’s collection chambers didn’t fire. Only the dust kicked up upon landing was available for collection, and mission controllers had no idea if any of it had actually been contained aboard the spacecraft. For five years researchers were left wondering whether Hayabusa had been a bust as they waited for it to make its return journey to Earth. Sure enough, their patience paid off. Hayabusa returned some 1,500 particles from the asteroid, marking only the third time a space exploration mission has returned samples from another planetary body.


Mars Phoenix Lander Touches Down, May 2008


With two robot geologists already roving the Martian surface and a handful of orbiters overhead, NASA (along with several partners including the University of Arizona, which led the mission) sent the Mars Phoenix Lander to a region near the Martian north pole to search for environments suitable for microbial life and research the historical hydrology of the planet. In May 2008 it landed and operated until November of that year.

During that time, the stationary Phoenix lander examined deposits of underground water ice detected by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and found several interesting things hiding in the Martian soil and near-surface ice, including evidence for the occasional presence of thawed water near the surface and traces of perchlorate, an oxidizing agent found on Earth that is sustenance for some kinds of microbial life (and toxic to others). It also observed snow falling from cirrus clouds.

Phoenix was never meant to survive the Martian winter however. Though it outlasted its three-month life expectancy by two months, it sent its last transmission in November of 2008, and upon the return of sunlight to the region the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to observe severe ice damage to Phoenix’s solar panels. The mission was formally terminated in May of 2010.

Posted August 27, 2012 by markosun in Uncategorized

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