First Female Space Tourist

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Anousheh Ansari, 40, has purchased her $20 million ticket and rode the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 spaceship to the international Space Station on September 18, 2006. with her were Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Lopez-Alegria.

She is the fourth tourist to visit the space station.

Ansari, born in Iran, is an American entrepreneur millionaire from Plano, Texas.

As a young girl in Iran, she used to gaze at the stars and dream of some day flying into space. Her opportunity came when the Russians began selling tickets to the International Space Station in 2001 to raise money for their space program.

A Virginia based company, Space Adventures, brokers the tickets for the Russians. She has spent the last few months training for the trip at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center and at Star City outside Moscow.

Ansari is no stranger to space adventures. In 2001, she and her brother-in-law contributed most of the $10 million X-Prize whose objective was to spur commercial space travel. Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne won the prize in 2004.

Ansari can afford the steep ticket price. In 1993, she and her husband, Hamid, quit their jobs at MCI and started their own telecommunications company. They took a big gamble at the time. They cashed out their retirement funds of $50,000 to start the new company. Seven years later they sold the company for $750, 000.

She emigrated to the United Stated in 1984 at the age of 16. The Shah had been overthrown and as a woman she would have no opportunity to study science at an Iranian university. In America she received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science at George Mason University and a master’s degree from George Washington University.

Ansari was listed in Fortune’s Magazine’s “40 under 40” in 2001 and honored by Working Woman Magazine as the winner of the year 2000 National Entrepreneurial Excellence Award.

While in the space station for eight days, she will be conducting blood and muscular experiments for the European Space Agency. She believes that entrepreneurial minds and money will speed innovation. She hopes that her example will spur others to explore space for the future of mankind.

She returned safely on Sept 29 in Kazakhstan.

Lance Armstrong recently won his seventh consecutive Tour de France. In doing so he has become the most accomplished cyclist of his generation and earned a position in the exclusive tier of world athletes who dominate their sport for years.

His speed was the fastest in the 102 years of the tour. He completed the 2,232-mile course in 86 hours, 15 minutes, 2 seconds for an average speed of 25.88 mph.

In Europe, and especially in France, cycling is considered a major sport and Armstrong’s achievement is a tremendous accomplishment. In this country most people consider cycling a minor sport although in recent years because of Armstrong, the Tour de France has become a must-see event for three weeks each summer. OLN-TV reported an average audience of 1.7 million, the largest in the history of OLN.

It wasn’t always that way. A hundred years ago Americans were bicycle crazy. Among those Americans were the Wright Brothers.

There are some common elements that Armstrong and the Wright Brothers share. This is the story.

Wright Brothers Bicycle, Father of the Airplane

The Wrights established a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio in 1892, at a time when bicycles were popular and touted as a “boon to mankind” as well as a national necessity. Orville and Wilbur started the business because many friends were asking them to repair their bikes. Even then the Wrights had a reputation for having exceptional mechanical skills and they were well known in the bicycle community as well as avid bikers.

They were leaders of a local bicycle club and Orville had a number of medals for winning bike races. Wilbur did not race, but he did participate, sometimes serving as a starter.

The bicycle business was so good they decided to drop their existing printing business and concentrate on manufacturing and selling their own brand of high quality bicycles in 1896. Their bicycle business was destined to become the key to inventing the first powered airplane, the Flyer.

The funds from the business financed the construction of their gliders and the Flyer, as well as their trips to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wrights never made more than $3,000 a year from their bicycle shop, but they were frugal with their funds. Inventing flight cost them the grand sum of $1,200.

Possibly even more important, they developed their successful concept for man-flight from their bicycle experience. They were the first to view flying an airplane as comparable to riding a bicycle. They knew that to fly an airplane, balance and control were important. One must learn how to do it just as one must learn to ride a bicycle. A pilot must bank turns just as a rider on a bicycle turns a corner.

The Wrights incorporated many bicycle parts in the Flyer. The propeller sprocket-and-chain drives were modified bicycle parts. So was the chain used in the wing warping linkage, spoke wire, tubular steel, ball bearings and later, bicycle wheels. A bicycle wheel hub kept the Flyer on a wooden rail until takeoff.

One of the critical considerations of designing an airplane or racing a bicycle is an efficient use of energy to accomplish the work required. The Wrights, unlike their competitors, used the scientific method to achieve this goal with the Flyer.

Their machine only required a 12-horsepower gas engine fed by a 2-1/2 quart fuel tank to propel the 605-pound Flyer. Their competitors, in the meantime, had much more powerful engines, but failed.

The Wrights accomplished this feat by designing a lightweight, but strong structure. The wings were contoured to provide maximum lift. Propellers were shaped to produce maximum thrust and a streamline design, including the pilot in a prone position, were employed to reduce drag (wind resistance).

In contrast, nine days before the Wrights won the race to be the first to fly, Samuel P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, failed to fly his “Great Aerodrome.” An incredible 52-horsepower engine powered the machine but the power was wasted by a poor aerodynamic design and it crashed into the Potomac River like a rock after launching from a houseboat in the Potomac River.

Lance Armstrong, King of the Hill

Things didn’t look good for Armstrong back in October 1996. His doctor’s told him he had testicular cancer that had metastasized to his brain, abdomen and lungs. They gave him a chance of survival of between 40-50%. In reality, they thought his chances were much worse.

Lance Armstrong’s miracle recovery from advanced testicular cancer and his racing achievements are products of his choice of a high-risk form of chemotherapy (ifosfamide) and an intense physical training program. He went on to win the world’s most grueling sport less than three years later.

Efficient use of energy is as vital for Lance as it was for the Wright Flyer. Cyclists use up some 10,000 calories a day while racing.

Here are two vignettes that illustrate Lance’s challenge and success.

One of the key victories in the year 2001 Tour de France was the race up the Alpe d’Huez during stage 10 of the 20-stage race in which Lance beat Jan Ullrich, who won the Tour in 1997 and his main threat every year, by almost two minutes.

Ullrich is a powerful rider, but he weighs more than Armstrong. If two riders produce the same amount of power, but one weighs less than the other does, the lighter rider has the capability of climbing faster.

The strategy of Armstrong was to use his advantage in power to weight ratio to burst past Ullrich just as the riders started up the steep slope of the Alpe d’ Huez.

To set this up, US Postal’s Jose Luis Rubiera set a blistering pace in front of Lance allowing Lance to ride in his slip stream and save energy. Ullrich was next in line, but out of the slipstream, and had to use up additional precious energy to keep up. Once Rubiera could no longer set the pace, he moved aside and Lance, with a burst of speed, left Ullrich behind to win the stage.

The other vignette took place during the just finished Tour’s first stage 19-kilometer time trial.

Armstrong rolled down the starting ramp a minute after Ullrich, who has never been overtaken in a time trial. Armstrong got off to a slow start because his foot slipped off the pedal. No matter, A mile or so later Armstrong passed him on the right without so much as a glance. Ullrich never recovered from the shock.

Armstrong’s high cadence climbing style and strong aerobic engine gives him an advantage in the mountains. He has the ability to produce more power than the other riders do before he reaches his lactate threshold. The lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid, a byproduct of chemical breakdown, accumulates in the muscles faster than it can be cleared, causing fatigue.

Armstrong trains specifically to raise his lactic threshold by endurance training. There are no short cuts. An athlete’s body will slowly change in response to stress placed on it. Fuel utilization becomes more efficient, tendons and ligaments grow stronger and muscle cells increase their ability to store and process glycogen, a source of energy in the body.

Armstrong trains predominately going uphill, keeping the intensity below the lactic threshold. The purpose is to push the threshold up by training just below the threshold. Training above the threshold has the opposite effect and reduces the threshold. Scientifically measuring a number of parameters such as heart rate, blood lactate and power measured in watts, monitors all of this activity.

He rides every day from two to eight hours and spends an hour three days a week in the gym. He also does some trail running.

Challenges become Opportunities

Both the airplane pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright and cyclist Lance Armstrong have had their critics. Critics said the Wright Flyer was too fragile and underpowered. People in Dayton used to mock their kite flying experiments. Many people didn’t believe they had actually flown at Kitty Hawk until years later. The French mocked them as “bluffers,” than cheered Wilbur when he flew in France not far from Paris in 1908.

The French cheered Armstrong in Paris but some French have hassled Armstrong with spiteful rumors of drug charges. They believe that his heroic achievements were too good to be true without the use of performance enhancing drugs.

The Wrights and Armstrong both challenge the parameters of the physical world. One with machines the other with his body. They both view the physical challenges as opportunities, not boundaries and use the scientific approach to obtain success.

They both exhibited a single-minded commitment and passion that enabled them to succeed. The Wrights built gliders and an airplane that exhibited meticulous workmanship that probably exceeded that necessary for experimental purposes. Their approach mirrored their construction of quality bicycles.

Lance focused on such details as his diet, his training program, bicycle components, Jersey fibers, wattage produced during workout and heart rate.

Armstrong, 165 pounds, pushed his Trek bicycle design team to give him a lighter and more efficient bicycle. The design team used aerospace-pioneered software that predicted how air would pass over the carbon fiber bicycle most efficiently. Armstrong exclaims we’re “fanatics!”

Neither the Wrights or Armstrong have college degrees. Armstrong says that “what we do is hard work and hard works wins it.”

Armstrong recently summed it up: “You have to have a basic gift and then it’s how you work with that gift, how you shape it, the work that you do, the intensity you do it in and then the motivation for the race.”

On Sunday July 24, 2005, Lance Armstrong, 33, stood on the winning platform before an estimated 500,000 people on the Champs-Elysees while the U.S. National Anthem played. In the background were the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. He bit his lip to keep from shedding a tear. He had ridden a total of 15,174 miles in his seven Tour victories. He exclaimed,”Vive le Tour.” Paused and added, “Forever”

President Bush remarked, “Lance is an incredible inspiration to people from all walks of life, and he has lifted the spirits of those who face life’s challenges. He is a true champion.”

Lance says he now has two top priorities – his family and his cancer foundation. The latter has raised some $85 million.

His 5-year old son said at the end of the ceremonies – “Daddy can we go home and play?”

Tough Cycling

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Orville and Wilbur Wright not only manufactured bicycles, they were active cyclists who took long rides and participated in bicycle races. Wilbur describes one fun ride around the Dayton area of 31 miles. Orville won races and medals.

My son Don, is an aeronautical engineer who works for the FAA, enjoys riding bicycles and belongs to a racing team in Seattle.

This year he journeyed to Europe to participate in the 2006 Tour De France pre-race over the Alps. Some 8,000 cyclists took advantage of the opportunity. The route included three beyond category climbs, and one 1st category climb over a 104-mile ride including the leg killing combination of ascents and descents of the massive Galibier and Le Telegraph passes.

The official start of the race was at the bottom of the L’ Alpe d’Huez. As I am wrote this, I watched the Tours 15th stage in which Floyd Landis won the Yellow Jersey on this mountain. The 13.8-kilometer ride to the top includes 21 hairpin switchbacks. An estimated 1 million spectators watched.

Floyd Landis went on to win the yellow jersey in Paris for the Tour.

Here is the story in Don’s words:

“Whoo, I made it! Three beyond category climbs, a 1st category climb and 104 miles – more difficult than any single stage in the Tour. I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve concluded that a 39×27 is not a low enough gear for 16,000+ feet of climbing at grades of 7-11% for miles on end. A compact crank, or at least 38 x 28, would have definitely helped.

The start was pretty disorganized. I stayed in a hotel at the top of the Alpe d’ Huez. The start was in Bourg d’Oisan, at the base of the Alpe at 7:15 AM. We had been told that there was a free shuttle if you sign up in advance, but none of the people I talked to knew anything about it. That turned out not to be a big deal as it gave me the opportunity to descend the Alpe, something I had only done previously in a driving thunderstorm.

I flew down the switchbacks, passing plenty of other riders and a few cars, and was having a great time. It had taken me a little over an hour to go up it a couple of years ago; it only took 15-18 minutes to go down it.

The start was supposed to be in waves of a thousand every fifteen minutes or so. With a number of 3726, I figured that I would be starting around 8 AM. They directed all the riders down this side road into a big disorganized mass. At one point there was a diversion for numbers higher than 600. (There were more than 8,000 riders registered for this insanity.)

I saw a number of riders less than 600 take that lane, as it was not backed up like the main lane was. We progressed forward very slowly, then finally were able to get on our bikes and ride forward, still very slowly. At one point, the lane for the riders with numbers greater than 6,000 re-merged with the main lane – all the riders who went down that lane actually got a shortcut!

Suddenly, I was riding under what looked to be the start banner and realized that I had just started! Sure enough, it was around 8 AM.

We had about 10-15 miles of flat road before the first climb. People were generally going pretty slow, so I spent a lot of time trying to find my way around and through large groups of cyclists. We went by a couple of intersections with median strips where they had a policeman waving yellow triangular flags over their heads like at the Tour de France. Pretty cool.

When we started up, my plan was to take it easy up the first two climbs, hopefully saving something for the Galibier and the finish up Alpe d’Huez. Even though I was trying to go easy, I was steadily passing scores (hundreds) of riders who were basically spread across the entire width of the narrow road. Motorcycles with the race kept going up the left side of the road, trying to maintain a little space over there for any traffic that might be foolish enough to be coming the other way.

At the top of the Col du Glandon (which we did instead of Col de la Croix Fer because of road maintenance), things came to a halt. I followed some other cyclists who had gotten off their bikes and were hiking over the Glandon on foot above the road. There was a water stop at the top of the mountain, and I thought that was what had caused the jam-up. When we got back to the road on the other side of the mountain, there were police blocking the road.

The descent off of Glandon is very steep and tricky, with a sheer drop-off on one side. The police said that there had been an accident involving 5 cyclists. I never heard what had happened or how the cyclists were.

I ended up being delayed over an hour. I later heard a number of cyclists called it quits at that point and turned around. I was worried about how they would start us going again, and did not relish the thought of descending the Glandon with thousands of other cyclists at the same time. Fortunately, they let us off in small groups. As on Alpe d’Huez, I was not impressed with the descending skills of the other cyclists. I flew down that thing, again passing hundreds of cyclists on the long descent. The switchbacks were tight and unforgiving, but they were easy to see and slow down for.

On the flats between the Glandon and the Col du Telegraph, I again could not find a group going the speed I wanted to go. I couldn’t even find a group that was maintaining 20 mph. Finally, after passing a lot of groups, one group latched on to me, then some of their guys took some pulls. (Most of the riders were content to let anyone pull forever.) One guy finally came up and pulled for the last few miles at 25 mph – just what I was looking for. And he didn’t mind staying up there. At one point, I went up alongside him and told him we were doing a great job –- he just said that he flats.

At the base of the Telegraph, I was out of water, so I stopped at a bar to get some. It took me about 10-15 minutes just to get a water bottle filled. I started up the Telegraph, thinking that it was the shortest and easiest of the climbs, again passing other cyclists at a good clip. After a little bit, I came upon a sign that said 10k to the summit. I was hoping it was going to be more like 5k at that point, as I was starting to feel it. At 3k to go, I was really running low on energy, and for the first time, although I was still passing a good number of cyclists, I was also being passed by several groups.

Finally, the summit, and another good, though much shorter descent before the next climb, the monster Galibier (above 9,000 feet in elevation). I knew I was in need of some solid food (gels and Power Bars just weren’t cutting it at that point). I stopped at a little kind of drive-in food stand that was selling sandwiches and pizza. Pizza sounded good to me, so I ordered one. When it came, I didn’t realize how big it was going to be. I wolfed down half of it, then offered the rest to the other emaciated riders waiting in line for food. Then it was time to start the Galibier.

I remembered the Galibier from having ridden it a few years ago as very long, but not very steep. However, with the amount of energy I’d already expended, and the heat, which was making it very difficult to stay hydrated, it seemed a lot harder this time. It was here that I decided that my gear selection was inadequate – my normal cadence in my lowest gear resulted in a speed of about 7 mph, 6 mph was okay, but I was starting to get bogged down. 5 mph was a really slow cadence, and if I was under 5 mph, I felt like it was time to stop.

All those people I’d been passing had lower gears that would allow a higher cadence at lower speeds, saving their legs a bit for the distance. I ended up having to stop 2 or 3 times on the way up the Galibier. It was at this point that I started wondering if I was going to complete the ride. (Actually, I’d been wondering that since the day before when I took a little recon ride that my legs didn’t like too much, and started wondering about my gearing.) At the top, I took a quick stop for more water and some orange and banana slices that they had. I knew that it would be pretty much all downhill from there until Alpe d’Huez.

Again, the descent was loads of fun. The first part is more technical (and more exposed). I remember that the other time I’d done it, I thought I would never want to do it in a race because of the exposure – if you missed a turn on some of those turns, it was a long way down. But this time, maybe knowing what to expect, I didn’t think it was bad at all. The descents were definitely the most fun part of the whole event and well worth the price of admission by themselves.

I was again passing large number of riders, but when the road finally straightened out a bit, a group latched onto me and we started riding together. It was a good thing, too, because it was a headwind the whole way back. Even though it was downhill, when the grade lessened, the headwind was making it a bit difficult to go it alone. After a slight uphill that detached a number of in our group, five of us finally started riding in a continuously rotating paceline, which was necessary due to the wind.

We all stopped at the final food stop at the base of Alpe d’Huez. It was about 4:15 PM. If I hadn’t been delayed an hour at the Col du Glandon, I would have still had a shot at a gold medal if I could get up the Alpe in about an hour. Well, I could do that on fresh legs, but not on toasted ones like I now had. I was kind of glad that I didn’t have a shot at that because all I wanted to think about now was surviving.

It took me about a ½ hour to eat, drink, fill water bottles, and convince myself that I had better get started. I knew that the first 4 switchbacks were the hardest, at grades over 11%, so I set a goal of making it to switchback 17 before thinking about stopping (The numbers get smaller as you ride up the Alpe).

I didn’t make it. I had to stop at 18. Then I started having some chain skipping problems, so I had to stop a couple more times to deal with that. The places that I had remembered it as being less steep were still very difficult. What had taken me over an hour a few years ago (when I was not trying to go real hard) took me nearly 2 hours (1:45 to 1:50) this time, including about 3 or 4 stops. Some riders were walking their bikes, but most had those infuriating low gears that they could continue to ride in even though they were going just slightly faster than a walking pace. It was sure faster than I was going while I was stopped, though!

It eases off in the last couple of kilometers as you go through the alpine village at the top. The last kilometer really eases off, then it goes a little downhill through a roundabout, then around a left hand to an uphill finish. I was waiting for that and really kicked it up for the finish, jumping to the big ring for the little downhill and sprinting past some riders on the finishing uphill.

It was kind of cool in that they had the final 1 k blocked off with the Tour de France type fencing, and there was a grandstand set up with people cheering you on. There wasn’t any 1 k kite or banner, but the finish banner was pretty neat.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I stopped and bent over my bike. Then I noticed that the place where your timing chip actually recorded your finish was a few feet further on, and all the people I had just passed were going by me to the electronic finishing lanes.

Oh well, what else? I rolled forward to the electronic finish and got my official time – 10 hours and 33 minutes – good enough for a silver medal (which you had to purchase).

Well, that’s it for my excellent adventure (for the old guy from Newcastle, Washington).”

Comment: I would say so! For a guy in his late 40s, his performance was simply amazing.

Flight Safety – June 2006

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Two significant events concerning space flight and commercial aviation occurred in June 2006.

The first concerns the Space Shuttle. The next flight of the shuttle is scheduled for July 1. Two NASA engineers voiced their concern that the shuttle isn’t ready to fly.

Bryan O’Connor, NASA’s lead safety official, and Christopher Scolese, its chief engineer voted “no go” when agency officials met recently at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In an unusual move the rest of the officials voted yes for an ontime launch including NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

The concern of the two officials, who voted against the launch, was that the insulating foam that covers 34 metal brackets on the shuttle’s external fuel tank might dislodge during launching and damage the spacecraft’s protective heat shield beyond repair.

The July 1 launch was approved despite the objections because in the event of a damaged heat shield, the astronauts could stay in the International Space station until rescued by another shuttle.

The loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew on Feb. 1, 2003 was caused by foam debris. NASA engineers have redesigned the fuel tank and removed most sources of large pieces of potentially damaging debris.

However, during the shuttle Discovery launch last July, a hazardous amount of foam fell from its tank. As a result NASA engineers have further reduced the amount of foam used.

O’Connor and Scolese believe that the foam issue is still not fully resolved. They note that their concern is with the fate of the shuttle and not the safety of the seven-man crew of Discovery who can remain in the International Space Station in an emergency.

Update: Charlie Camarda, a member of the astronaut corps and long time NASA engineer, was removed from his job for his safety views. He wrote an e-mail to his engineering team saying that he was most proud of all of them at the flight readiness review meetings “when you stood up and presented your dissenting opinions and your exceptions/constraints for flight.”

Camarda told colleagues that he was forced out as director of engineering at Johnson Space Center after praising colleagues who dissented about going forward with the next flight of Discovery. He said he refused to step down from the high-level mission management team and “asked that if I would not be allowed to work this mission that I would have to be fired from my position and I was.”

For his work at NASA, Camarda received seven patents and more than 21 NASA awards for his technical innovations and accomplishments.

Update: (July 6) NASA engineers and managers are optimistic that the shuttle has reached orbit with no damage and substantially less shedding of foam debris from the external tank than in previous flights. There will be additional examinations over the next few days.

The second event concerns commercial airplanes landing in wet or icy weather.

On Dec. 8 last year, a Southwest Airlines jet (Flight 1248) skidded off the runway on to a highway while landing at Midway Airport, Chicago and crushed a car, killing a 6-year-old boy.

At a two-day FAA hearing last week new regulations were announced that would require pilots to add a buffer of at least 15% to their stopping-distance estimates on wet or icy runways.

The new rules, according to FAA airplane performance engineer Don Stimson (my son), mandate that when conflicting or mixed assessments of runway conditions are issued, pilots must use the worse case scenario, effectively erring on the conservative side.

The pilots of Flight 1248 had calculated much shorter stopping distances for their landing at Midway, 5,778 feet under poor runway conditions to 5,253 feet under fair conditions. Midway’s longest runway is 6,522 feet long, but obstructions outside the airfield prohibit landing on the first 696 feet.

Under the new rules, a stopping distance of 8,535 feet must be available for a plane comparable in weight and landing speed to the Southwest 737-700 involved in the Dec. 8 accident based on conditions of the runway that day.

Pilots and safety board investigators rated the first half of the Midway runway as fair and the second half poor just before the accident.

The final report and safety recommendations are expected to be released in early 2007.


New York Times, “In Opposing Launching, 2 NASA Officials Feared Shuttle’s Loss, Not Crew Safety,” June 22, 2006.

Chicago Tribune, “Midway gets U.S. warning on snow; More runway needed in wet or icy weather,” June 22, 2006.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, ” NASA Official says his safety views cost job,” June 28, 2006.

People were still trying to invent the airplane five years after the Wrights had flown.

The story of one such attempt August 8 was published in August 9, 1908 by the Inter-Mountain Republican newspaper in Salt Lake City.

Here is the article:

Opined That He Also Could Sail The Air

Finds His Wings Are Good Life Preservers But Not For Flying

Arioch Wheeler of Mianus, Conn., after weeks of reading about Count Zeppelin and Henri Farman, who are conquering the air, opined that he, Arioch, would make a flight, so he constructed for himself a pair of paper wings and today he suddenly left his turnip patch and made a wild dash for Hiram Johnson’s barn.

He clambered to the roof and blithely adjusted the wings.

Arioch then posed gracefully, took in the wind situation and then laid his course across the Mianus River, a stream 12 feet from the barn.

Some farmers were near by and saw the man perched on the roof. They yelled to him to come down but he merely stretched out his hands and shrieked,

” I am Count Zeppelin. I am going to fly.”

In an instant Arioch had flung himself into the air — and also into the Mianus River. The wings kept him afloat till he was rescued.

He has been advised to patent his wings and dub them life preservers.