Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Security, and moon dust

Two unrelated things: there are fewer sky marshals than you think. I haven't seen one on a flight for a long time. I would rather have sky marshal than a pilot who's supposed to be flying the landing approach discharge his gun (Wired has a funny picture, the Associated Press has pictures of the bullet hole, and Bruce Schneier has a post about something even scarier :). But, Mythbusters busted the following idea:
Boyd said Saturday's incident could have been much worse.

"At that altitude, you puncture the skin of an airplane, it's going to go down. They were very lucky," Boyd said.
But certainly a plane that's miles off course and unresponsive near Hawaii would certainly attract a military escort, wouldn't it?
“Air shuttle 1002, I've been trying to contact you for the last 90 to 100 miles. I understand you've passed Hilo. I'm going to turn you back to the northeast bound to get you back to the Hilo airport. Is there some kind of emergency situation going on?”...

None of Hawaii Air National Guard's F-15s was alerted, said Capt. Jeff Hickman, spokesman for the Guard.

In fact, the Guard has not responded to any calls for emergency scrambles for civilian flights in Hawaii since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Changing subjects to something less scary, NASA studied why moon dust smells funny in space but not on earth:
Moondust on Earth has been "pacified." All of the samples brought back by Apollo astronauts have been in contact with moist, oxygen-rich air. Any smelly chemical reactions (or evaporations) ended long ago.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Astronauts took special "thermos" containers to the moon to hold the samples in vacuum. But the jagged edges of the dust unexpectedly cut the seals of the containers, allowing oxygen and water vapor to sneak in during the 3-day trip back to Earth. No one can say how much the dust was altered by that exposure.