Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Monday, 18 January 2016

Cosmic first: Zinnia flower blooms aboard space station -

Cosmic first: Zinnia flower blooms aboard space station - 

Successfully growing flowers in space brings explorers one step closer to growing fresh produce on long space missions.

For the first time, a zinnia flower has bloomed in space, aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Successfully growing flowers brings cosmic explorers closer to growing flowering food crops, like tomatoes, on longer space missions in the future.  

On Saturday, American astronaut Scott Kelly, who has been working since March 2015 on the space laboratory and has become its resident gardner, gleefully announced on Twitter that he successfully coaxed the brightly colored zinnia to blossom.

This wasn’t the first time flowering plants have blossomed in space, though. There have been many, according to NASA, from wheat, to barley, to brassicas and peas, grown more than a decade ago on the Russian Mir space station and on the ISS.

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Regardless, the zinnia bloom was a big accomplishment, as less than a month ago, the plants were moldy and shriveled. 

But even the space mold held some interest to researchers, so it was collected and frozen so it can be returned to Earth for study. 

For NASA scientists back on Earth, the flowering experiment, called “Veggie,” will allow them to better understand how plants grow in microgravity. For the astronauts in space, growing the quick-sprouting zinnias is important practice for growing produce on a future mission to Mars.

“I think having this fresh food source available is going to be critical,” Gioia Massa, a project scientist at NASA Kennedy Space Center and the brainchild behind Veggie, told The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview in November.

Astronauts eat mostly food that has been freeze-dried for long storage. Fresh fruits and vegetables do show up occasionally at the space station with other supply deliveries, but they run out quickly.

"The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits," Massa said in a NASA announcement.

Astronauts started experimenting with Veggie in 2014, when they grew red romaine lettuce in the same system that’s now growing the zinnias: trays of water with bags of seeds in a type of calcined clay used on baseball fields, used to increase aeration to help the plants grow. The growing plants are lit by LED lights and fertilized by an automatic release.

The first batch of lettuce didn’t grow due to “drought stress,” as the Veggie team reported. But astronauts learned from their watering mistakes and grew another batch of lettuce successfully in summer 2015. Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, with Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, celebrated in August by indulging in their freshly harvested space lettuce.

The lettuce experiment was an important precursor to the flowering zinnia, which is more challenging to cultivate.

“The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce,” said Trent Smith, Veggie project manager, in a NASA blog post.

“It is more sensitive to environmental parameters and light characteristics. It has a longer growth duration, between 60 and 80 days. Thus, it is a more difficult plant to grow, and allowing it to flower, along with the longer growth duration, makes it a good precursor to a tomato plant,” he said.

Astronauts are planning to try growing tomatoes in 2018.

Until then, they will keep experimenting with other crops. This year a SpaceX spacecraft will deliver seeds for two sets of Chinese cabbage, and one set of red romaine lettuce, said NASA.


El Chapo's craving for Tacos may have led to his capture - doomed by a suspiciously large taco order -

El Chapo's craving for Tacos may have led to his capture - doomed by a suspiciously large taco order - 

Actor and just all-around enigma Sean Penn might not have lead to the downfall of Joaquín Guzmán Loera (a.k.a El Chapo). Instead, it might have been his craving for tacos. The notorious Mexican drug kingpin was recently captured after escaping prison and leading local authorities on a six-month country-wide man hunt. According to the New York Times, after months hiding out in the “remote wilds,” he arrived in the city of Los Mochis to a home. However, the authorities had trailed one of the men who had helped Guzmán escape prison to the area.

The Mexican marines were already suspicious of the house where “construction crews had been hard at work” and telephone intercepts appeared to show that someone “big was about to arrive.” It was a very, very large taco order, however, that officially tipped authorities off that El Chapo was in town. Two blocks away from the house, a “big order of tacos was picked up after midnight… by a man driving a white van, like the one believed to be driven by” one of Guzmán’s associates. The next morning they raided the house.

There’s no details regarding what kinds of tacos El Chapo went H.A.M. on, but perhaps it was one of these regional specialities. Regardless, can you really blame the man? Tacos might be one of a handful of foods that taste better than freedom. If you need some convincing, here’s a good list of tacos to start with.


The FBI and Memphis Police Admit Their Involvement in the Assassination of MLK -

The FBI and Memphis Police Admit Their Involvement in the Assassination of MLK - 

Nearly 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI and Memphis Police Department have sparingly released information implicating themselves or members of their agencies in facilitating and directly causing the untimely death of Dr. King. Although the Justice Department officially claims James Earl Ray assassinated MLK, a civil suit later determined that a Memphis cop was involved in a conspiracy to murder the civil rights leader.

During a rainstorm on February 1, 1968, two black sanitation workers in Memphis lost their lives when the truck’s compactor accidentally triggered. On that same day, 22 black sewer workers were sent home without pay while their white coworkers received compensation. Less than two weeks later, over a thousand black sanitation workers went on strike wearing placards reading, “I AM A MAN.”

On March 18, 1968, Dr. King spoke at a rally in Memphis promising to lead a march later in the month supporting the striking sanitation workers. According to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, a black civil rights group named the Invaders sabotaged the March 28 demonstration by distributing hundreds of two by two sticks attached to placards into the hands of impressionable black children caught breaking store windows. The Invaders allegedly incited violence against Dr. King’s orders of peaceful resistance.

Because of the violence perpetrated during the March 28 demonstration, the city of Memphis filed a formal complaint against Dr. King and his associates within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). On the last day of his life, Dr. King spent most of his time with Dr. Ralph Abernathy of the SCLC. While Rev. Andrew “Andy” Young of the SCLC had convinced U.S. District Court Judge Bailey Brown to allow Dr. King to organize a peaceful march scheduled for April 8, Dr. King was preparing for dinner with Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. King’s Memphis PD security detail had been withdrawn, a black Memphis PD detective posted near the Lorraine Motel had been removed, and two black firemen in a station near the Lorraine Motel were transferred shortly before the assassination. Former Memphis PD Detective Jerry Williams had been assigned to Dr. King’s security detail twice before his final visit in 1968. Det. Williams asserted on Dr. King’s final visit that no black officers had been assigned to his security detail. The day before Dr. King’s death, Inspector Don H. Smith requested to remove his detail. The request was granted.

Accounts differ regarding Dr. King’s final words. According to FBI documents, Dr. King was discussing the weather with his chauffeur, Solomon Jones Jr., when the fatal shot struck. Rev. Jesse Jackson instead recalls Dr. King chastising him for not wearing a tie. Dr. King then turned to musician Ben Branch, who was standing beside Jackson, and said, “Make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord.’ Play it real pretty.” According to Jackson, those were his final words.

Since revealing its illegal COINTELPRO harassment of Dr. King and the existence of at least 5 paid informants who reported to their Memphis Field Office, the FBI also disclosed that Dr. King’s trusted friend and renowned photographer, Ernest Withers, had been secretly working as an FBI informant. In addition to the FBI informants, a black undercover Memphis PD officer named Marrell McCollough had infiltrated the Invaders in 1968. McCollough stood in the parking lot of the Lorraine Motel on the night Dr. King died. He claimed to have been the first person to reach the body.

Although the Invaders had been removed from the Lorraine Motel a few hours earlier, undercover MPD officer Marrell McCollough remained on the premises until Dr. King’s death. McCollough claimed he spent the day shopping with Rev. James Bevel and Rev. James Orange of the SCLC. Standing in the parking lot of the Lorraine Motel, McCollough witnessed Dr. King’s assassination then ran up the stairs to view the body. ABC News confirmed McCollough went on to join the CIA, and he later testified on March 12, 1978, to the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

While recalling Dr. King’s final moments, Rev. Billy Kyles who was standing beside Dr. King on the balcony admitted decades later, “Only as I moved away so he could have a clear shot, the shot rang out.” Kyles has denied working as an FBI informant, even though he was accused of being a confidential Memphis PD informant.

In 1999, civil trial King v. Jowers determined former Memphis PD officer Loyd Jowers had been complicit in a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. King. In December 1993, Jowers appeared on ABC’s Prime Time Live confessing to his participation in Dr. King’s assassination. Jowers admitted he believed MPD Lt. Earl Clark fired the shot that killed Dr. King, not James Earl Ray. Although the U.S. government claims that Jowers fabricated his allegations, they have also admitted responsibility in attempting to ruin Dr. King’s marriage and persuading him to commit suicide.

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