Monday, October 6, 2008

Astronaut's diary goes on display in Jerusalem

Pages from the diary of astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on the space shuttle Columbia when it broke apart in flames in February 2003, will go on display in Jerusalem.

Pages from the diary of astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on the space shuttle Columbia when it broke apart in flames in February 2003, will go on display in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pages from an Israeli astronaut's diary that survived the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia and a 37-mile fall to earth are going on display this weekend for the first time in Jerusalem.

The diary belonged to Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut and one of seven crewmembers killed when Columbia disintegrated upon re-entering the atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003. Part of the restored diary will be displayed at the Israel Museum beginning Sunday.

A little over two months after the shuttle explosion, NASA searchers found 37 pages from Ramon's diary, wet and crumpled, in a field just outside the U.S. town of Palestine, Texas. The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, and then "was attacked by microorganisms and insects" in the field where it fell, said museum curator Yigal Zalmona.

"It's almost a miracle that it survived — it's incredible," Zalmona said. There is "no rational explanation" for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.

NASA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. space agency returned the diary to Ramon's wife, Rona, who brought it to forensics experts at the Israel Museum and from the Israeli police. The diary took about a year to restore, Zalmona said, and it took police scientists about four more years to decipher the pages. About 80% of the text has been deciphered, and the rest remains unreadable, he said.

Two pages will be displayed. One contains notes written by Ramon, and the other is a copy of the Kiddush prayer, a blessing over wine that Jews recite on the Sabbath. Zalmona said Ramon copied the prayer into his diary so he could recite it on the space shuttle and have the blessing broadcast to Earth.

Most of the pages contain personal information which Ramon's wife did not wish to make public, he said.

"We agreed to do the restoration completely respecting the family's privacy and the sensitivity about how intimate the document is," museum director James Snyder said.

The diary provides no indication Ramon knew anything about potential problems on the shuttle. Columbia's wing was gashed by a chunk of fuel tank foam insulation at liftoff and broke up in flames just 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. All seven astronauts on board were killed.

The diary is being displayed as part of a larger exhibit of famous documents from Israel's history, held to mark the country's 60th anniversary this year. Also on display will be Israel's 1948 declaration of independence, the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and a bloodstained sheet of paper with lyrics to a peace anthem that was carried by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time of his assassination in 1995.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Eight Real-Life Doctor Frankensteins Who Pushed the Boundaries of Life and Death

By Lauren Davis

Mary Shelley helped advance the science fiction genre with her tale of a scientist who brings a man built of corpses to life. But in real life, plenty of mad and not-so-mad scientists have played with human and animal bodies (and body parts) to gain a greater understanding of the limits on life. After the jump, right real-life scientists who have performed shocking experiments on the nature life and death.

Johann Dippel: An actual inhabitant of Castle Frankenstein, Dippel is believed by many to be an inspiration for Shelley’s story. His life’s work was to discover the Elixir of Life, which would make anyone immortal, and created "Dippel’s Oil," an elixir made from bones, blood, and other bodily fluids and widely used as a neurostimulant. He was also rumored to have been an ardent vivisectionalist, frequently stealing corpses from the local graveyard.

Andrew Ure: Ure was also looking for the secrets of life in human corpses. He obtained and experimented on the body of John Clydesdale, a criminal who had been executed by hanging. Ure caused a stir among the scientific community when he revealed the nature of his experiements. He claimed that men who had died of suffocation, drowning, or hanging could be restored to life through the stimulation of the phrenic nerve.

Giovanni Aldini: Luigi Aldini discovered that a frog’s legs would kick as electricity traveled through the muscles. His nephew Giovanni took the discovery a step further. He studied the effects of galvanizing human and animal bodies. He publicly electrified a recently severed dog’s head, giving it the appearance of life. He also performed experiments on recently deceased criminals, churning electricity through them to achieve momentary reanimation. His corpses convulsed, grimaced, and even raised their limbs, much to the shock of onlookers. Aldini was also the first to use electric shocks to the brain in the treatment of neurological disorders, a practice still in use today.

Gabriel Beaurieux: France’s use of the guillotine led to Beaurieux’s fascination with severed heads. He examined heads immediately after decapitation and noted that the heads would open their eyes, fix their pupils on the objects before them, and even respond to their own names for several seconds before appearing to completely lose consciousness.

Robert Cornish: Building on the work of George Washington Crile, who pioneered the blood transfusion, Cornish worked in resuscitating dead animals. After asphyxiating dogs in a lab, Cornish would place the bodies on a teeterboard while infusing them with saline, oxygen, and adrenalin. The fourth and fifth dogs in the experiment (named Lazarus, as were their less fortunate predecessors) were successfully revived, although they never fully recovered. Cornish went on to play himself in Life Returns a film about a doctor who works to revive the dead.

Sergei Bryukhonenko: We have mentioned Soviet scientist Sergei Bryukhonenko before. Another fan of canine experimentation, Bryukhonenko invented the autojektor, a heart and lung machine, and proved its efficacy by attaching it to a severed dog’s head, which stayed alive, eating and drinking.

Vladimir Demikhov: We can credit Demikhov with many modern advances in organ transplants, but he is perhaps best remembered for his work in two-headed dogs. Demikhov transplanted the head and front legs of one dog onto a second dog’s body. Both dogs were awake, aware, and hungry. He made 20 of these two-headed creatures, but, tragically, due to tissue rejection, none of them lived longer than a month.

Robert White: Following the revelation of the Soviet Union’s two-headed dog program, the United States began working on some mad transplant programs of its own. During the 1970s, surgeon Robert White successfully transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. Because he was unable to repair the resulting nerve damage, the monkeys were paralyzed from the neck down, but the heads themselves could see, taste, think, and feel. It was believed the monkeys could survived this way indefinitely, although they were ultimately euthanized.

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'Taxing' farts and burps

Committed to the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand promised to cut its emissions to 1990 levels. The country's biggest source is methane from cattle, and as Stephen Evans discovers, the issue is raising a stink among local farmers.

A farm in South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand's climate means sheep and cows can graze outdoors all year
Frank Brenmuhl is a bluff New Zealand farmer who could talk the hindlegs off a donkey and, more to the point, off a politician proposing to tax the gas that comes out of his cows.

Mr Brenmuhl has just turned 60 and he has been a dairy farmer on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand since he was 29.

He worked his way up from farm labourer to farm manager to farm owner, five generations after his great-great-grandfather fled as far as he possibly could from the politics of Poland and Germany in the 1870s.

Now, Frank has encountered a different sort of politics: the environmental politics of New Zealand. And he is not happy about it.

So much so that he now spends much of his time away from the farm, lobbying in Wellington on behalf of the country's dairy farmers.

Gas 'tax'

There has been much to lobby about.

Could a vaccine reduce the amount of methane sheep and cows produce?
First, the New Zealand government came up with the idea of putting a levy on the global-warming emissions of sheep and cows.

These ruminant animals, as they are called, these hoofed beasts which chew the cud in the various compartments of their stomachs - produce methane which they then emit.

And this methane is by far the biggest global warming polluter in New Zealand, about half the total, in fact, there being little manufacturing to speak of.

And New Zealand, seeing itself as a good global citizen, committed itself to reduce its global warming emissions to 1990 levels.

Hence the levy, or "tax" as farmers like Frank immediately called it. In fact, a "Fart tax" - Fart, standing of course, for the Fight Against Ridiculous Taxes. This is a handy acronym for the bumper stickers that were soon as numerous as, ruminant animals in New Zealand.

Partly funded by farmers, research is now going on into whether a vaccine might stop cows and sheep passing wind

With this powerful publicity campaign, farmers led by Frank Brenmuhl saw off the tax in return for promising to put up money for research into how to stop cows and sheep belching. I suppose in the interests of accuracy, I should tell you that 95% of the methane emerges from the front end.

The so-called "Fart tax" was a bit of a rhetorical device, a bit of poetical - or at least political - licence.

So, partly funded by farmers, research is now going on into whether a vaccine might stop cows and sheep passing wind.

To this end, the genome, the exact genetic make-up, of microbes in the ruminants' stomachs has been mapped in a lab on the North Island.

Scientists are also identifying cows which burp less, with a view to breeding these low emitters to produce calves which burp less.

If science does not come to the rescue, the other possibility is just having fewer cows and sheep. And this, you may imagine, is causing much chatter in the shed meetings that New Zealand farmers hold.

Economic loss

Shed meetings are a delightful concept.

Farmers gather in a cattle shed, usually with cases of beer or, more likely in my experience, with fine local wine.

They argue and gossip in the stark electric light, their voices echoing into the serene rural silence of a black New Zealand sky, speckled with the sparkle of the southern stars.

In the great global warming debate, much of the attention has been on industrialised countries, but it is relatively easy to cut emissions in a factory, let us say, or an office
Farmers have been calculating the pluses and minuses of New Zealand's emissions trading scheme. Polluters, like the owners of ruminant methane expellers, pay. Those who, say, plant trees that soak up carbon dioxide, get money back.

Frank reckons that cutting the herd from the typical 350 cows to 275, and then planting a quarter of the farm with trees - all to meet the Kyoto commitment - would mean running the farm at a loss.

Bigger issues

Farmers think much of this is crazy.

A map of New Zealand
And it is true that if you wanted to find the ideal place on this planet for grazing cows to produce milk, it would be New Zealand.

Cattle can stay out on abundant grass for 12 months of the year.

In harsher climates for dairying, farmers use what is called cut and carry - cut the grass and carry it to the cattle in sheds in winter.

As farmer Frank Brenmuhl says of any plan that involves fewer cows and sheep: "It does not make sense.

We know that the world needs food production. We are very good at it".

There is a wider issue here.

In the great global warming debate, much of the attention has been on industrialised countries, but it is relatively easy to cut emissions in a factory, let us say, or an office.

New materials emerge. Technology helps. People organise themselves differently with relatively little pain.

But for countries with large populations of ruminant emitters of global warming gases - like New Zealand, but also Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, Australia, Latvia - what is the answer? Perhaps they should think of a tax - but what to call it?

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New iJET Solar Cell is as Easy to Make as Pizza

Cheney: Wildlife Conservation Has Been A ‘High Priority’ Of Bush Administration

20081003-15_g0l4702w-515h.jpg Yesterday, Vice President Cheney spoke at the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy in Reno, NV, claiming that the Bush administration has championed wildlife preservation:

As all of you know very well, President Bush made wildlife conservation an early and a high priority of his administration. We’ve carried out that commitment in these eight years — and we’ve been proud to have people like you as partners in the enterprise.

The men and women in this room understand what conservation is all about. It means reverence toward creation, and a commitment to faithful stewardship. It means guarding our spectacular wildlife populations — not just for our own time, but for all time.

In fact, the League of Conservation Voters concludes that the Bush administration “has arguably been the most anti-environmental in our nation’s history.” Some highlights of officials putting special interests over wildlife:

– Rules proposed by the Bush administration would effectively gut the Endangered Species Act, no longer requiring federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project would harm an endangered species.

– Earlier this year, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used his power to waive federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, in order to expedite building the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

– In September, a federal judge dealt the Bush administration a setback by ruling that its plan “to allow more than 500 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks was not in keeping with the National Park Service’s responsibility to protect the parks” and would disturb wildlife.

– Officials have repeatedly refused to acknowledge and protect wildlife threatened by global warming.

– In March 2007, Salon reported that the Bush administration had “granted 57 species endangered status, the action in each case being prompted by a lawsuit. That’s fewer than in any other administration in history.”

– In a 2005 survey, Fish and Wildlife scientists reported that they had been “forced to alter or withhold findings that would have led to greater protections for endangered species.”

Bush had originally been scheduled to speak at the conference but sent Cheney instead at the last minute. “In my place I have sent my favorite hunter,” Bush explained, alluding to Cheney’s 2006 hunting accident.

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