Astronaut John Young

In 1965, during the first manned flight of the Gemini program, American astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich onto the Gemini 3 spacecraft. One part of the Gemini 3 mission had been to test the effects of food on the astronauts, and also to see how well the two men onboard could work and eat efficiently and how bad the mess and odor would be.

Each official item of food had been specifically prepared as part of the test, however, unbeknownst to NASA (or even to his co-astronaut), Young decided to make an addendum to the prepared menu.

The sandwich did not fare well in space and made such a mess that the effects of the prepared food were largely untestable. Although Young was officially reprimanded for his action, this deviation in the accepted process did not damage his career, and he later landed on the moon in the Apollo 16 mission and piloted the space shuttle.

Rogue – vagrant, tramp, scoundrel; a horse inclined to shirk or misbehave; an individual exhibiting a chance and usually inferior biological variation; to weed out inferior, diseased, or nontypical individuals from a crop plant or a field; used to describe something or someone that is different from others in usually a dangerous or harmful way. First known use in 1766.

Astronaut checklists

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is well-known for its excessive use of checklists. Over the history of this organization, checklists could be found placed all over its spacecraft, and covered everything from launch operations to spacewalk procedures and even to unlikely sudden multiple system failures. In fact, astronauts used so many checklists that Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins called his crew’s mission checklists the “fourth crew member.”

For the first few missions of a particular program (Apollo, Gemini, etc.) the astronauts have always been far less familiar with the checklists and standard procedures than the astronauts for later missions. This is because it was more likely that something unexpected would happen during the earlier missions, and the astronauts might need to “think on their feet” in order to stay alive.

In fact, it was somewhat common for the astronauts to modify their checklists “on the fly,” although they only did so reluctantly. Collins spoke about this reluctance during his post-flight briefing, saying “I don’t enjoy making changes to procedures. It seems like the crew only does that when they feel there’s some good need for it.”

Examples of NASA Checklist deviations:

Gemini 3 – the first manned Gemini mission, which had the primary goal of testing the new Gemini spacecraft. The astronauts deviated from the post landing checklist to accommodate for extra smoke from the thrusters.

Gemini 4 – the second manned Gemini mission, which included the first spacewalk by astronaut Edward H. White. Following White’s spacewalk the hatch initially failed to open, and the astronaut inside the capsule had to deviate from standard procedure in order help White to return to the spacecraft.

Mercury 9 – the last manned Mercury mission, in which the astronaut Gordon Cooper would remain in space for one full day. Electrical problems led to the failure of several systems, and as a result, Cooper prepared a revised checklist to finish his mission.

For Americans, checklists are guidelines more than fixed rules, and often are not taken very seriously. For example, NASA checklists are also places of amusement – for the Apollo 12 mission, the backup crew managed to sneak playboy pictures into the checklists which were attached to the wrists of the moonwalkers’ space suits.

Not in Kansas anymore

In May of 2007, a grade 5 tornado (the highest possible) destroyed the town of Greensburg, Kansas, killing 13 people, injuring more than 60 others and flattening 95 percent of the town structures (while seriously damaging the other 5 percent). The tornado was estimated to be 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide at its base, and traveled almost 22 miles (35 km). Wind from the twister was estimated at 205 mph (330 km/h).

In May of 2011, a grade 5 tornado ravaged the city of Joplin, Missouri. Although this tornado was only .75 miles at its base, and traveled 6 miles on the ground, it also had winds estimated at over 200 mph, and, because this tornado hit a city rather than a small town, it had far more devastating figures of destruction: 158 people died, over 1000 people were injured, and around 7,000 homes were destroyed (not including businesses and public buildings).

According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) an average of 1253 tornadoes occur in the United States every year. Although more common in “tornado alley” (the Midwest), tornados have been documented in every state in the U.S. After the United States, the country with the largest average number of annual cyclones is Canada, with around 100 twisters.

If there’s a relatively high probability that your home will be completely destroyed in a storm, then “long-lasting” won’t be one of your main concerns when buying it or having it build for you.

Death by Robot

The first recorded human death by robot was in 1979, when Robert Williams, a 25 year old Ford Motor assembly line worker, was slammed by a robot arm as he gathered parts in a storage facility. The incident occurred in Flat Rock, Michigan, and Williams’ family was awarded 10 million dollars in damages after the jury agreed that Williams’ death was the result of a lack of safety measures on the part of Ford Motor.

These days, robots have become fairly commonplace, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates believes that robots are likely to become the focus of the next technological frontier. With increasing advancements in the field of robotics, more and more Americans are becoming concerned about these machines. The two primary concerns are that the robots will replace the need for human workers and that robotic intelligence may exceed human intelligence.

Robot: a real or imaginary machine that is controlled by a computer and is often made to look like a human or animal; a machine that can do the work of a person and that works automatically or is controlled by a computer. First known use: 1922. The word “robot” comes from the Czech word for “forced labor.”

Air conditioning

Air conditioning in the U.S. is present in almost every home and building. It is often run 24 hours a day in commercial buildings. Large airports are air-conditioned 24 hours a day throughout the entire year. Americans often use substantial amounts of money during hot summer months and cold winter months to keep the temperature in their home around 70 degrees Farenheit. These practices represent a focus on the output – comfort – over other considerations such as environmental toll, cost, etc.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently passed increased standards for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment used in homes. These new standards will gradually take effect over the next several years and will require newly installed heating and cooling equipment to be higher efficiency equipment. Although this act shows that the government is serious about curbing energy use in American homes, enforcement will be difficult.

Some companies have realized that they spend large amounts of money heating, cooling, and lighting empty offices during nights and weekends. Many have adopted technologies that program equipment to automatically switch off at certain times of the day.

Reconstructing Memories

“The uncritical acceptance of eyewitness accounts may stem from a popular misconception of how memory works. Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. 

On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” 

Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.”

From: “Why Science Tells Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness Accounts”, Hal Arkowitz and Scott Lilienfeld. Scientific American magazine, January 8, 2009.

Life on Mars

In January of 2014, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity took a picture of a location that it had recently photographed (12 Martian days earlier), but now there was a new object in the image. 

Nicknamed “The Jelly Donut” NASA assumed that the rover had caused a nearby rock to move, but because of the odd appearance of the rock, decided to conduct a short investigation of the object.

However, neurologist and author Rhawn Joseph didn’t believe that NASA was doing enough to investigate, and demanded that NASA perform a much more thorough examination of what he called “a biological specimen on Mars.” 

When the organization didn’t respond, Joseph filed a lawsuit to compel NASA “to perform a public, scientific, and statutory duty which is to closely photograph and thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate a putative biological organism.”

Additionally, because NASA referred to the object as a rock, not a biological lifeform, Joseph also made sure to claim that the discovery of life on Mars was done “by Petitioner” (a.k.a. Joseph himself).

If you get killed, at least you won’t know it.

In some cases, Americans are willing to take risks even if no corrective measures are possible. This has been particularly evident in Americans’ willingness to risk death during air and spacecraft testing and early use.

Apollo engineer Jerry Woodfill once said “Among the early space missions, I’ve always believed that the greatest courage was needed by their first crews. Whether it was Al Shepard, the Apollo 1 crew, or shuttle astronauts John Young or Bob Crippen, the most likely danger would be the first time any new space craft was launched into space. Flaws in design or manufacture could very well be fatal during maiden missions.”

American Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, once said “It’s your duty to fly the airplane. If you get killed in it, you don’t know anything anyway.”

Some examples of Americans who knew they were risking death to go into space include:

On April 13, 1970, two days after its launch, an oxygen tank aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft exploded. 

This led to a desperate attempt for the astronauts to return to earth alive – one that nearly didn’t succeed. Less than a year later, despite having just witnessed an almost-fatal mission, the Apollo 14 spacecraft launched with three crewmembers on board.

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members on board. However, prior to the launch, the astronauts were warned that some of the engineers were worried about the effect of unusually low temperatures on the seals for the solid rocket boosters. 

Although they were not told the extent of the engineers’ concerns, they were warned that launching on January 28th would be more dangerous than waiting for the next available launch date, and asked if they wanted to postpone. All seven decided that their mission was worth the risk of launching on schedule.

Fracking

Fracking is a way of mining underground gas, but it has been linked to earthquakes and tap water that burns (at least when you run it over a lit match). 

The method was first discovered during the American Civil War, when Union Colonel Edward Roberts noticed the effects of explosive Confederate artillery plunging into the narrow millrace (canal) near the battlefield.

Americans, who enjoy using any potential resource once it becomes apparent, soon began experimenting with the new procedure, and these days there are several fracking operations taking place in the US. 

Although there have been attempts to legalize fracking in Germany, so far it seems like Germans would prefer not to risk the potentially dangerous method in order to gather new resources.

Intuition vs. Analysis

According to a report in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes by researchers from Boston College, George Mason University and Rice University: Intuition may be just as effective in decision-making as an analytical approach. And sometimes more efficient and effective, depending on the decision-maker’s level of expertise on the subject at hand.

“What we found demystifies a lot of the information out there that says intuition isn’t as effective as if you sat down and walked through an analytical approach.”

Testing intuition against analysis, the study found that people can trust their gut and rely on intuition when making a broad evaluation in an area where they have in-depth knowledge of the subject. As people move up in organizations, they’re often required to make judgments that may not be readily solved by rational analysis. 

Intuition has long been viewed as a less effective approach to critical reasoning when compared to the merits of analytical thinking. Yet as society and businesses place a greater emphasis on the speed and effectiveness of decision-making, the intuitive approach has been identified as an increasingly important tool.

Analytic decisions are great for breaking things down into smaller parts, which is necessary for a math problem. But intuition is about looking at patterns and wholes.