Aircraft On Mars

I’m assuming that everyone has heard that Ingenuity flew on Mars today, the first controlled, powered flight on another planet. But just in case – here’s the flight, as seen from the Perseverance┬á rover, parked a hundred yards or so away:

The Martian atmosphere is only 0.06% as thick as Earth’s, which is why most experts had always figured this wasn’t possible. But if you make your vehicle light enough and you spin counterrotating blades fast enough…

Powered up, lifted off, climbed to 3 meters (10 feet), hovered, did a 90┬░ turn to the right, hovered some more, got buffeted about a few feet by the wind, corrected and came back, descended, landed, powered down. Perfectly textbook!

Looking straight down underneath Ingenuity, the navigation cam saw the helicopter’s shadow just a split second before touchdown. You can see the tips of the legs in the upper corners.

As always, it is truly a joy watching the team celebrating after they spent years of their lives planning these missions, building these spacecraft, and now seeing the results of their success.

Congratulations to the team at JPL, NASA, and the anthropomorphic spacecraft 153,000,000 miles from Earth and making history!


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The Juncos Have Left The Building!

I knew from researching them that they are migratory, and they most certainly showed up out of nowhere back in October.

The cute little fuzzbuckets had become a real favorite of mine over the winter and I realized this weekend that I hadn’t seen one in a few days. We’re still hip deep in finches (half of them almost as red as cardinals as they try to impress the ladies), the mockingbirds have become more numerous, and the wrens that I like so much have started being so noisy right outside the bedroom that they’re waking me up as they celebrate the freakin’ DAWN at about 05:00 every freakin’ morning. But no Juncos.

“Our” flock should be well fed and fat for their commute to Canada. They didn’t miss any meals in our back yard. So that’s a good thing.

I just hope that they’ll remember where we are come October again.

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Rabbits A-Go-Go

I mentioned a few days back that we have a growing collection of rabbits that hang out on our lawn at sunset and sunrise. Coyotes don’t want to climb the hill – that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Tonight about twenty minutes after sunset (so the pictures are a bit grainy and dark) I went out to check on the sky. (Cloudy? A bit. The moon? Visible, about four days past new.)

As I opened the door, two rabbits that were right outside the door bolted for the neighbors’ bushes across the street.

These three froze, as did I. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s five so far.)

This guy was down by the mailbox. (That’s six.)

There may have been more down around the corner on the side yard – I didn’t check because they ALL would have bolted out into traffic.

Biggest takeaway? Yep, that’s right – don’t walk barefoot on the front lawn!

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No Context For You – April 16th

No, I wasn’t even 10% as happy as I looked, and I didn’t look happy.

It’s been a tough week – let’s hope for a better weekend.

Oh, I’ve got WHAT on my schedule for this weekend?


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Flowers – April 15th

Normally we would all be sweating to get our tax returns (or extensions) filed in the US today – but hey, thanks to that little pandemic thing, we get another 32 days!

So instead, let’s look at what pops out of the ice plant growing along the chain link fence at the edge of our property.

Yes, they really, really are that bright!

They only bloom for a few days around this time of year.

The bees love them – surprisingly to me, the hummingbirds don’t seem to ever touch them.

I figured that before the invention of hummingbird feeders (and, you know, humans) the little buzzbombs would have feasted on something like this!

If so, then they’re doing it in an extremely stealthy fashion.

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Fine Feathered Friends – April 14th

Another new visitor. This one made their presence known first by their call. They’re LOUD and very distinctive. (Listen to the first song recording, credited to “Oklahoma, April 06, 2012 Recorded by Wil Hershberger | Macaulay Library“)

Given the volume, I spent a few days trying to hunt down a larger bird, maybe something the size of a robin or jay, or the California Towhee. No joy.

When I did find them I was delighted – they’re tiny. “Tiny” as in “smaller than the cute little chunky Juncos!” They’re barely bigger than the hummingbirds!

Now that I know what I’m looking for, I’m finding them all over the place. There might not be as many of them as the wrens or the juncos, but there’s at least a dozen or so, maybe double that.

They’re constantly flitting about through the bushes and hedges that separate our neighbors’ yards from ours, along with the juncos and finches and towhees. Those hedges are turning into quite the little aviary.

I’ve also seen them hanging out in the small bushes behind the roses that line the driveway. That was surprising. There’s not that much cover there, but they make the best of it. But at the slightest hint that I’ve seen them and might take a step in their direction – “poof!” There’s a cloud of them heading across the street into the big hedges in the neighbor’s yard over there.

Tiny, loud, with that BIG tail sticking up like a flag or the rudder on a 787 or C-5. Welcome to the aviary!


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Flowers – April 13th

Where was I before I went off on a rant? Flowers or birds? Lizards?


Not from Texas. These are next to the driveway.

The first of the season to pop out – won’t be the last if this year is anything like last year.

No secrets of the universe here, nothing profound. Just a tiny bit of a reminder that beautiful things exist in the world and we need to pay attention to them every now and then, even if it’s just for a minute while spending the day battling the Forces of Evil.

Fight on!

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The Light & The Tunnel

We like the metaphor “the light at the end of the tunnel,” especially these days when the entire freaking world has been going through years of various levels of hell.

Thinking about that tonight, it occurs to me that a problem with that particular metaphor is that we assume we know where the end of the tunnel is.

We don’t.

We see some light and we’ve been in the dark for a long time. So in our need for hope, in our desperate grasping for straws, we assume without data that the end of the proverbial tunnel must be near! Right?

But we don’t know how far it is, how fast we’re going, or even if there might be other side tunnels that we get sidetracked down before we get to exit the tunnel.

And when we start thinking about that, and start thinking about how long we might still have to go before we get out, and that some of us won’t ever make it out but will fall here without ever seeing that light…

But we keep going, even if we’re not particularly happy about it. As Frost said, “The only way out is through.” (I might have quoted that more than just a few times here in the past. It keeps getting more and more true.)

And the only way to make it better in the long run is to get out and then hunt down the bastards that built the tunnel and trapped us in it. And make sure that they never do it again.

How was your day?

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Sixty Years Ago This Minute

Sixty years ago this minute, at 06:07 UTC, 23:07 PST, 02:07 EST, the first human being left the planet.

It was the height of the Cold War and the Space Race was 1% about exploration and 99% about ideology, superiority, and world domination. The Russians had shocked the world by putting the first satellite in orbit in 1957, leaving the Americans in the dust. Everyone knew that the next step would be to put a man into space. (And make no doubt, while today we talk about “crewed” spacecraft and “piloted” spacecraft, in 1961 it was a “manned” spacecraft.)

The Americans had introduced the Mercury 7 astronauts on April 9, 1959, but progress on the launch of the first Mercury astronaut had been troublesome, and public. American rockets blew up on national television.

The Russian space program was cloaked in secrecy. If they had problems, no one knew about it. But when they had success? Yuri Gagarin launched on Vostok 1 for a 108 minute flight, one orbit around the Earth, and became an international star and a name that would go down in human history.

We’ve come a long way. Tonight, ten humans from the US, Russia, and Japan, men and women, black and white, are on the ISS, and it’s been 20+ years of constant habitation.

Happy 60th!!

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Not An Aircraft You See Every Day

Out at the CAF hangar today we were taking delivery of an unusual aircraft.

It’s a Fieseler FI-156D Storch, a German designed WWII aircraft.

This one was partially disassembled for transport to us from San Bernardino County, with the fuselage on one truck, the wings on another, and the propeller, horizontal stabilizer and other parts coming in separately.

It’s a fixer-upper (as many CAF aircraft are) but that’s what we do, and this aircraft will probably be flying again in 2-5 years, depending on our volunteer manpower, workload, and of course, funding.

To be honest , this aircraft is in MUCH better shape than some we’ve gotten. Some are 15-20 year projects, if we’re lucky. Here we at least have an engine and all of the major parts.

A peak inside the floor of the cockpit, showing the foot controls for rudder and brakes.

And the big picture at the firewall, engine mounted to the left, controls and cockpit on the right.

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