Wednesday, 19 April 2017

World's first tunnel for ship!

Norway has announced its plan to build the world's first tunnel for ships, paving the way for a gigantic 1.7-kilometre (1 mile) passageway to be dug underneath a rocky peninsula in the country's north-west.

The Stad Ship Tunnel, which is expected to cost some US$312 million to complete, will enable cruise liners, freight ships, and smaller vessels to take an underground shortcut through the Stad peninsula – avoiding the rough winds and waters of the Stadhavet Sea, the most treacherous stretch of Norway's coastline.

When complete, the tunnel will stand some 49 metres (160.7 feet) tall, with a width of 36 metres (118.1 feet). Construction could begin as soon as 2019, and if the schedule doesn't blow out, the tunnel might be open for ships by 2023.

If that sounds like a long time to wait, spare a thought for the insane amount of rock and mountain that's going to need to be displaced to carve this thing.

The Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA), the body in charge of the project, says some 3 million cubic metres (106 million cubic feet) of rock will need to be burrowed through to dig the tunnel, weighing approximately 8 million tonnes in total once the passageway is finished.

The NCA says that will take three to four years to do, but once the tunnel is finished, approximately 100 passenger and freight ships every day will be able to skip the tumult of the exposed coastline by sailing through the narrowest point of the peninsula.

Large vessels will be given priority in passing through the tunnel, with smaller boats having to wait for passenger and freight ships, or will only get to use the tunnel at certain times, the planners suggest.

Usually when passageways are constructed for ships they're called canals, and they don't have roofs – but in this case making the canal a tunnel was a far more practical and cost-effective option, given that the mountainous terrain above the tunnel to heights of more than 335 metres (1,100 feet), meaning clearing a canal would have involved blasting through even more rock.

When construction begins, crews will begin drilling from both sides of the mountain and meet in the middle. Thresholds will be put in place to prevent water from entering the tunnel during the drilling.

Both ends of the tunnel will be fitted with concrete blocks and rubber bumpers to withstand the impact of an oncoming vessel, and ships travelling through the tunnel will be forced to observe minimum distances in front and behind, to prevent the risk of collision.

While opponents of the plan have criticised the tunnel for its expense, the NCA says the passage will ultimately save money, by providing a quicker means of travel, which is also safer.

"The advantage is in bad weather conditions, during which you will save a lot of time and fuel," the head of the NCA, Terje Andreassen, told Liz Stinson at Wired.

It's not the first time we've seen Norway notch up impressive firsts in the world of transportation. The country has also made headlines for its ambitious plan to become the first nation to ban gas-powered cars, following moves to exclude cars from its capital, Oslo, while spending big to implement bicycle pathways.

As far as the underground shipping tunnel goes, Norse sailors and fishermen have reportedly longed for such a shortcut since as far back as the late 19th century – but now, after more than a hundred years of sailing the long way around, it looks like we're finally going to see it happen.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Remembering Yuri Gagarin on #AviationAndCosmonauticsDay

On April 12, the World celebrates #AviationAndCosmonauticsDay – to commemorate the first ever flight of human in space. On 12 April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space when he launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1).

The United States and the Soviet Union vigorously competed to push the boundaries of mankind's exploration of space. The Russians scored a victory when they launched a small craft carrying cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to new heights. His 108-minute flight gave him a permanent place in the history books as the first man in space.

With the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first manmade satellite, the Russians took an early lead in the space race. The next step was to send a human off the planet.

The American plan to send a man into space by 1961 created a deadline that the Russian team worked hard to beat. The development of the Vostok spacecraft became paramount. Prior to Gagarin’s historic flight, the Soviets sent a prototype of his spaceship, along with a life-size dummy called Ivan Ivanovich and a dog called Zvezdochka. With these successes, the vessel was considered ready to take a living, breathing human into space. 

More than 200 Russian Air Force fighter pilots were selected as cosmonaut candidates. Such pilots were considered optimum because they had exposure to the forces of acceleration and the ejection process, as well as experience with high-stress situations. Among the pilots was 27-year-old Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin.

The third of four children, Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934, in a small village a hundred miles from Moscow. As a teenager, Gagarin witnessed a Russian Yak fighter plane make an emergency landing near his home. When offered a chance years later to join a flying club, he eagerly accepted, making his first solo flight in 1955. Only a few years later, he submitted his request to be considered as a cosmonaut. 

On April 12, 1961, at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time, the Vostok 1 spacecraft blasted off from the Soviets' launch site. Because no one was certain how weightlessness would affect a pilot, the spherical capsule had little in the way of onboard controls; the work was done either automatically or from the ground. If an emergency arose, Gagarin was supposed to receive an override code that would allow him to take manual control, but Sergei Korolov, chief designer of the Soviet space program, disregarded protocol and gave it to the pilot prior to the flight.

Over the course of 108 minutes, Vostok 1 traveled around the Earth once, reaching a maximum height of 203 miles (327 kilometers). Over Africa, the engines fired to bring Gagarin back to Earth. The craft carried ten days worth of provisions in case the engines failed and Gagarin was required to wait for the orbit to naturally decay, but they were unnecessary. Gagarin re-entered Earth's atmosphere, experiencing forces up to eight times the pull of gravity, but remained conscious.

Vostok 1 had no engines to slow its re-entry or a way to land safely. About four miles up (seven kilometers), Gagarin ejected and parachuted to Earth. In order for the mission to be counted as an official spaceflight, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the governing body for aerospace records, had determined that the pilot must land with the spacecraft. Soviet leaders indicated that Gagarin had touched down with the Vostok 1, and did not reveal that he had ejected until 1971. Regardless, Gagarin still set the record as the first man to leave Earth's orbit and travel into space. 

Upon his return to Earth, Gagarin was an international hero. He was cheered in Red Square by a crowd of hundreds of thousands. A national treasure, he traveled around the world to celebrate the historical Soviet achievement.

On returning home, he became a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and was appointed Commander of the Cosmonauts' Detachment. Because Russia did not want to risk such a public figure, they were hesitant to allow him back into space. He continued to make test flights for the Air Force, however.

On March 27, 1968, Gagarin was killed in while test-piloting a MiG-15. He was survived by his wife, Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva, and two daughters.

When Apollo 11 touched down on the moon in July 1969, the crew left behind a commemorative medallion bearing Gagarin’s name, as well as medallions for another cosmonaut and three Apollo astronauts who lost their lives in accidents.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The science behind sarin

The chemical bomb attack that killed at least 86 people, including 28 children, in Syria on April 4 likely involved sarin, a deadly nerve agent.

Sarin is a highly poisonous chemical that kills because it interferes with signaling within the nervous system. Here is the science behind this deadly gas.

In its liquid form, sarin is clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless. The liquid form of sarin can evaporate into a vapor, which people may then breathe in. During the attack in Syria on April 4, the chemical was spread during a bomb attack, according to news sources.

Like other nerve agents, sarin targets an enzyme within the body's neuromuscular junctions, where nerves meet muscles. Usually, this enzyme deactivates the nerve-signaling molecule acetylcholine. But sarin stops this deactivation by blocking the enzyme. Without the enzyme to switch it off, acetylcholine will repeatedly stimulate nerve cell receptors. This can lead acetylcholine to build up in the muscles, cause excessive twitching and then result in paralysis, said Dr. Lewis Nelson, chairman of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. If the muscles that control breathing become paralyzed, the person can die, he said. 

Organophosphate pesticides and nerve agents can also target the same enzyme in glands, which can lead to excessive fluid release. For this reason, people who are exposed to sarin, whether through skin-to-skin contact or inhalation, may experience diarrhea, along with excess fluids running from their eyes, noses, mouths, sweat glands and urinary tract. People who are exposed to sarin may also experience seizures and pinpoint (constricted) pupils

Sarin can cause symptoms within seconds to minutes, depending on its route and exposure levels. 

People who are exposed to sarin should quickly decontaminate themselves by removing their clothing and washing their skin with soap and water, Nelson said. They should also flush out their mouth and eyes with water. 

People who become paralyzed may benefit from an oxygen mask attached to a device that will help them breathe. But sarin affects so many of the body's organs that, usually, an antidote is needed to help people who are exposed to it live. 

One antidote, atropine, blocks acetylcholine receptors, sparing the body's muscles from overstimulation. The other, pralidoxime, or 2-PAM, removes sarin from the enzyme that stops acetylcholine from accumulating, Nelson said. However, both antidotes must be given within about 10 minutes of exposure in order to be effective, he said.

Sarin and other nerve agents are banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. More than 190 counties worldwide participate in the convention.

To date, nearly 95 percent of declared chemical-weapon stockpiles in countries participating in the convention have been destroyed, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which enforces the rules of the convention.

A deadly attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 made sarin one of the best-known nerve agents in the world. 

Members of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo used sarin in their attacks. Their first victims died in 1994, when the cult poisoned people in Matsumoto, Japan. These people happened to be living near three judges who were overseeing a lawsuit that involved the cult. Later, in 1995, Aum Shinrikyo members filled plastic bags with liquid sarin and placed them under the seats of Tokyo subway cars. The perpetrators punctured the bags and then exited the trains. 

The subway attacks resulted in 13 deaths and injured at least 5,500 people, news sources reported. 

Syria had used sarin as a weapon prior to the April 2017 attack. In 2013, the Syrian government reportedly used the gas in the suburbs of Damascus, killing more than 1,000 people, according to The New York Times.