Interstate 180, a secret nuclear test, MacQuariums, Space Shuttle rescue, and a naughty street name

Today, we will examine Gropecunt Lane, the Wyoming Interstate that isn't even a highway, the desecration of a Macintosh computer, the Vela Incident, and the Space Shuttle's Launch On Need missions.
Let's face it: you can't be a geek unless you every fantasized about going into outer space. Sci-fi and modern space exploration is the granddaddy of all geek stereotypes, and any adolescent nerd worth his or her salt has built a model rocket and wanted to work for NASA. For me, it's more about the aeronautical engineering than the astronomy or exploration that had it's appeal (let's face it, we aren't going to boldly go to a galaxy far far away in our lifetime), so my interest tends to be in the equipment and operations themselves. For example, after the Columbia disaster, NASA started having a backup plan in case re-entry is not possible: a second shuttle on standby, called the "Launch On Need" or STS-3xx missions. Ideally, if there were an issue and re-entry might be dangerous, the crew can take refuge at the International Space Station, and if repairs can't be readily made, a second shuttle will launch and bring everyone home. During STS-125, Atlantis's orbit would have been out of range of the ISS (being higher to make repairs on the Hubble), so it had STS-400 planned for it. I suppose that beats the previous idea, the Personal Rescue Enclosure, which was a 36 inches (86 cm) ball that would be ferried to the rescue vehicle on a pulley.
It's rare for two shuttles to be on the launch pads simultaneously. Atlantis (fore) and Endeavour wait at LC-39A and LC-39B on 23 September 2008.

Unlike a lot of other computer guys, I'm not really passionate about the PC vs. Mac holy wars. I find Macs awkward to use, but if that's what you prefer, then go nuts! Most programs that aren't cross compatible favor the PC anyway, so I couldn't care less. However, I'm a bit appalled that anyone could convert a Mac into an aquarium... even if it's not a computer I'd like to use, it still galls me a bit to see it gutted and humiliated like that. They were first made in the early 1990s as the Compact form factor was becoming obsolete (such as the Mac 512K). The term "MacQuarium" was coined by Andy Ihnatko as he sought to develop one without "water lines", and thus appear as if it were a screen saver.
Oh, the humanity! At least there aren't gonna be any BSODs here.
The English (indeed, most Europeans) sometimes have a reputation for being much less sexually inhibited than Americans. This can be exemplified by that fact that many streets in Middle Age England could be found with the name Gropecunt Lane. First and last recorded uses in 1230 and 1561 (respectively), it was blatantly in reference to areas of prostitution ("grope" being an act of sexual touching and "cunt" referring to the female genitalia). Of course, as sensibilities changed, the latter word changed from a mere vulgarity to and outright obscenity, the names have been altered or simply fully changed. These streets were typically located near the busy part of a town, especially a market, but lives on simply as a footnote of the scandalous past.
This 1605 map of Oxford, England highlights Gropecunt Lane in blue. Oddly, north is to the bottom.

The Vela Incident refers to a double flash of light recorded by an American Vela nuclear monitoring satellite on September 22, 1979, near the Prince Edward Islands. This kind of flash is a signature characteristic of an above-ground nuclear detonation, and was recorded at 00:53 GMT. While many have disregard the event as equipment malfunction or a meteorite impact (after all, no radiation or fallout was detected), it's often regarded as a weapons test done in secret. Since the islands were owned by South Africa at the time, they are a likely candidate, but a CIA report estimated that they were months away from a test detonation (and post-apartheid disclosures don't mention it). It could also have been Indian or French, as both nations had territories within naval range of the flash, but probably not practical. The more likely scenario was that it was an Israeli weapon (it's now an open secret that they possess nukes, even if they've never admitted it), probably done jointly with South Africa.
In case you didn't know where the Prince Edward Islands were, they're about midway between Africa and Antarctica.

Transportation geeks are a somewhat overlooked sub-genre, who devote their attentions to road- and railway-related study. Again due to my reverence of engineering, I have a small interest in the American Interstate Highway System, one of the greatest projects ever undertaken and the envy of worldwide infrastructure. To summarize what was going to be a long explanation, most north-south interstates are numbered in multiples of 5, increasing from the West Coast to the East; the east-west highways are multiples of 10 and increase from Mexico to Canada. The triple digit interstates are local spurs and loops, each assigned by the individual state, meaning that there are multiple Interstate 180s. The Interstate 180 in Wyoming was interesting to me because it's not an interstate at all. While there are plenty of spots where the highways are briefly exempted from Interstate Highway standards (usually from being a pre-existing road that was grandfathered in), this particular spur in Cheyenne isn't even a freeway at all on its one mile length. It's simply a city street, divided but at-grade, with five traffic lights along its route and a speed limit of 45mph. How the hell does this thing get federal funding? See it on Google Maps.

That's all for this post. Happy reading!

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