Tag Archives: travel

191. All Aboard The British Rail Space Express!

In 1970, Charles Osmond Frederick was drafted in by British Rail to design a lifting platform. Mr Frederick took on the challenge but after some revisions and a few edits it seemed he had gone rather off track. In December 1970 British Rail filed a patent application for the affectionately named ‘space vehicle‘. The official British Rail Flying Saucer.

Instead of a lifting platform the result of the design work was a large interplanetary passenger spacecraft designed for the pan-planet traveller. It was a truly preposterous proposition and in March 1973, the patent was granted.

The design named nuclear fusion as the source of lift and thrust. To start the engines one or more high-powered pulse laser beams are required the material. The pulses of nuclear energy generated would occur 1000 times a second to prevent any chance of resonance which might damage the vessel. To provide extra comfort for those traversing the notoriously low gravity of space, the acceleration of the ship could simulate that wholesome gravity feeling, a weight off the minds of those unaccustomed to zero-g travel. As an added comfort the patent even goes to the trouble of including a thick layer of metal above the fusion reactor to shield passengers from the deadly levels of radiation.

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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Articles


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185. Up Up and Away

In 2009 a helicopter hovered 900m above the Mojave Desert, Andrew Petro was watching. Beneath the helicopter was a steel cable tethered to the ground, as he watched a small, square robotic device rose upwards, racing towards the helicopter along the cable, at 600m it slowed to a crawl and then stopped. At the base of the cable was a tripod-mounted laser pointing at the robotic device, no longer powering it upwards, the limits of its power had been met. On behalf of NASA, Andrew Petro handed the semi-successful team behind the robotic square a cheque for $900,000 – they had just won a competition for the future of space travel.

Getting to space is expensive, but it becomes a lot cheaper when you don’t use rocket fuel. How to do that though. The answer involves a powerful laser, a cable 8 times the diameter of the earth, a large steel ball and finally a very big metal box. It was first described in 1895 as a ‘celestial castle’ attached to earth by a tether on the top of something like the Eiffel tower. It was more accurately presented in 1979 by Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Fountains of Paradise.’ The way to reach space, is with a Space Elevator.

The competition was the 2009 Space Elevator Games, a NASA-run competition to encourage innovation that could lead to more advanced prototype space elevators. The reasons for the sudden interest and investment are two-fold. In 1990 the first carbon nanotubes were successfully manufactured; and high-strength lasers are rapidly increasing in power. The thing is becoming possible. So now, it seems, the space elevator concept could finally be getting off the ground.

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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Articles


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169. Flying Back in Time

A small shock awaits anyone who flies from Tonga to Samoa these days.

The flight takes two hours in the air, but crosses the international date line. Meaning you arrive before you left. Therefore the flight takes a total of negative 22 hours were you to trust the watches.

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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Trivia


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151. From A to B, Literally

The shortest place name in the world can be claimed by a small fishing village in Norway. The name is – Å.

It is pronounced ‘aw‘ and it means river in Scandinavian languages. It lies inside the arctic circle and is the proud location of the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum.

There are other places called Å, but this one is special. It is special thanks to a new cycling route that started there and went, from Å to the hamlet of Bee in Nebraska, USA. From A to B, literally, or at least as close as you can get without founding your own settlement, which is cheating.

The route is 5600 miles long and goes through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and America. The result of the curious route is that Å has now become a minor tourist spot, attracting those who love brevity in place names, or quite like cycling. for this increased fame ,Å has paid the price. The road sign for the village is a bit of a novelty; and is frequently stolen.

Further Reading

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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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104. Space Reimbursement

Michael Collins, Joker and Astronaut

A travel voucher is a simple form, fill it in before you go on a business trip and it allows you to get money back on the ‘wasted time’ spent actually traveling.

Michael Collin was an astronaut, and a joker. Before shooting off into space in the Gemini 10 rocket he submitted a travel voucher. This entitled him to $8 for every day in space. Unfortunately for his get-rich-quick scheme the Gemini 10 Rocket only stayed in orbit for three days, netting him a paltry $24.

In his autobiography Mr Collins does note that he could have claimed on an alternate option, 7 cents per mile traveled. If he had done this he would have earned himself a neat $80,000. So why didn’t he?

The trick was that, the trick had been done before. One previous astronaut had tried this little game on a trip in one of the Mercury Rockets. NASA let him have his $80,000 but also sent him a bill for “a couple of million dollars” for the rocket he used. That astronaut decided, wisely, to return his money, and NASA kept the bill for the rocket.


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52. The Brazil Nut Problem

FACT: As you may well know from experiences with muesli or similar mixtures such as varying sizes of Lego bricks an odd thing happens when you shake them. the odd thing is that the largest, heaviest objects sit on the top. If they are not then they miraculously rise up through the mixture when it is all shaken. This is a problem, specifically the Brazil Nut Problem. It is a problem still, because it has not been solved.

Named after the large nuts which rise up to the top of Muesli the Brazil nut problem has bothered physicists for decades.

In 1987 Anthony Rosato tried to explain it by suggesting that when larger nuts rose it left opportunities for the smaller oat flakes to infiltrate the gap, causing the large nut to land further up each shake. However according to Sidney Nagel of the University of Chicago the explanation is incorrect. After studying the physics of the everyday for many years he has come up with his own slant on the Brazil Nut problem.

He believes that both larger nuts and the oat flakes rise up when shaken but then in the ensuing gaps between the objects the oat flakes can slide down the sides whereas the large nuts cannot do so as the gaps are too small. Meaning that after successive shakes the largest nuts end up on the top.

This, while a good explanation, is incomplete and Mr Nagel confirms it himself, saying that the problem always brings something new which ,’comes along to knock us out of our complacency.’

There you go, simple nuts confound even the best of us.

Click here for a video explaining this in greater depth

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Posted by on March 12, 2011 in Trivia


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24. Snake Island


Just off of the coast of Brazil lies a currently uninhabited tropical island called the, Ilha da Queimada Grande. This fairly large tropical island is a rare thing, for it is uninhabited. There were plans to build a banana plantation there once however they fell through. There is but one thing that has, and still to this days halts the development of human settlements, plantations and everything else that could possibly tame the island. The problem is that the island in question plays host to some rather… troublesome wildlife.

When I say troublesome, I mean poisonous snake. Specifically the Golden Lancehead Pit-viper, one of the most poisonous snakes on Earth. A snake that is (fortunately) found nowhere on earth except for the island, it is also the only species of snake on the island, presumably having scared every other snake away. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Articles


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