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January 15, 2009
Today's crash of a U.S. Airways jet into the Hudson River following the aircraft's collision with birds isn't the first or only problem flying machines have had with flying animals. In fact, NASA has been concerned for years about the possibility of a catastrophic post-launch collision of its shuttles with vultures that live in the area surrounding the launch site.
As I reported for National Geographic News in 2006:
During a launch [in 2005], Discovery's external fuel tank struck one of the birds a few seconds after takeoff. "There happened to be a group of three vultures flying over the vehicle, and we hit one of them," said Steve Payne, NASA's ground-based shuttle test director. Luckily, he said, "We weren't going very fast." The shuttle was still building up speed as it lifted off the launch pad, so the impact wasn't too intense. Also, the collision occurred on the side of the fuel tank opposite the shuttle, or orbiter, so the hapless bird fell away without striking the orbiter's fragile underbelly. "It could conceivably have done damage if it had come over the top side and hit the orbiter," Payne said. In 2003 a piece of foam insulation from the shuttle Columbia fell and fatally damaged the craft.
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January 2, 2009
"Every time Obama comes on television now, the collective blood pressure in the United States goes down 10 points."
That quote, attributed to Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat from Hawaii, appeared today in a Washington Post article on Obama's calm manner and how the president-elect's disposition reflects his upbringing in laid-back Hawaii. It suggests that Obama's cool is contagious is a positive way, that it reassures Americans rattled by the nation's state of crisis.
Rep. Abercrombie may have been speaking figuratively, but imagine for a moment the possibility that Obama's speeches actually do lower listeners' blood pressure. Since high blood pressure contributes to heart attacks and strokes, is it possible that Obama's status as president-elect has prevented some cardiovascular attacks?