Aerogel, Smuf communism, ferrofluids, the Nazi rocketplane, the Bobbits, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, a nuclear car, carbon nanotubes, and the Kalinin K-7

Today, we will look at three wondrous technological materials, a couple of unusual aircraft, the man who lived in a Paris airport for 18 years, communism in The Smurfs, the Ford Nucleon, and the wife who sliced off her husband's genitalia.

Nuclear technology was in its pioneering heydays in the late 1940s and 1950s, with idea after idea being pitched. Luckily, most of the crazy or unsafe ones weren't really tried out, given the disastrous potential of the atom. Many different ideas for nuclear powered vehicles were theorized, but ground vehicles and aircraft proved impractical, with only a few prototypes of the latter being tested before safety concerns shut them down. However, the Ford Nucleon was a design made to put this not in the hands of militaries, but in the common driver. The scale model concept car was built in 1958 in Michigan, and while it didn't actually have a functional reactor, it was designed to accept a uranium-fission reactor in the rear. Luckily, the technology wasn't around at the time to actually make a reactor small enough, because the thought of one of those being on an American highway scares the crap out of me.
That's Ford Motor Company, folks: death on wheels.

The Germans were known to have been the pioneers in jet-powered aircraft and rocketry for military purposes during World War II, even though they couldn't do so with any significant numbers due to the fact that they were losing when the technology matured. In fact, they were so desperate in 1945 that they designed the Bachem Ba 349: a rocket-powered suicidal death machine. Though it was classified as an interceptor (a fighter aircraft meant to catch and shoot down enemy bombers before they could reach their targets), it was essentially a manned surface to air missile. To save on limited resources, the pilots were supposed to be untrained (one source said that leaders were looking at the Hitler Youth, essentially the Third Reich's version of Boy Scouts), it was made from cheap materials (such as wood), and the rocket motor was reusable if it survived. It would launch vertically, intercept the enemy, fire its armament of unguided rockets, and then the pilot would eject himself and the engine. On March 1, the only manned test promptly killed Luftwaffe test pilot Lothar Sieber, probably due to a faulty cockpit design that broke his neck. The cheap canopy latch and headrest were corrected, but tests continued only on unmanned flights. Estimates on how many prototypes were made range from a dozen to 36, and only a few survive to this day.
"Yeah, sure, let's put a 12-year old in this. Sounds good!"

The Russians had their share of wacky experimental designs as well. The Kalinin K-7 was built in the early 1930s, using an unusual design for a cargo aircraft: twin booms, large underwing pods for landing gear and defensive armament, and passenger seating inside the unusually thick wings (roughly seven and a half feet). When the original design for six propeller engines proved insufficient, they added a seventh in a pushing configuration. When a 1932 test showed instability in the airframe due to engine frequency and vibration, the engineers slapped on some reinforcing plates, failing to understand how dangerous mechanical resonance really was. An early test flight in 1933 proved this in a fiery crash that killed fourteen. The project was scrapped in 1935, and Kalinin was executed three years later (probably not a coincidence).
"Majestic" is not a term that comes to mind here.

The article on Smurf communism was deemed unworthy and redirected long ago, but the July 2010 revision remains a fascinating read. The popular children's comic book/cartoon had more in common with Marx than you might think, though it's generally though more as a humorous coincidence (and thus an internet meme) more than any deliberate socio-political message. The 1991 film Slacker mentions that the colony isn't quite as Utopian as it seems, and the analysis in the article ranges from the uniformity in dress, Gargamel representing capitalist greed, the tyranny of Papa Smurf, and the strong group identity (such as appending the word "smurf" as often as a soviet citizen would use the term "comrade"). And, ironically enough, the show lost syndication at about the same time that communism fell in eastern Europe.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri (مهران کریمی ناصری) is a 69-year old refugee who lived in the international terminal of Charles de Gaulle Airport from August 1988 to July 2006. His Iranian father met his Scottish mother as a physician for an oil company, and the young lad spent several years in the United Kingdom as a student before being expelled in 1977 for protests against the Shah. The UN awarded him refugee status while residing in Belgium, and permitted him to settle in any nation in Europe. He elected Great Britain due to his heritage, and boarded a flight from Paris to London in 1988. However, his papers had been stolen in France, and British immigration officials promptly sent him back to Paris. Arriving there, he could not be permitted to enter French soil, lacking a passport and visa, but had no country of origin to be returned to, and begun his 18-year stay. French courts ruled his entry legal, but denied permission to leave the airport; Belgian authorities offered to let him return, but he remained adamant about his final destination. Like any other passenger, he spent his time reading and napping, as well as diary-writing and correspondence courses in economics; he lived and ate under the generosity of airport employees. He was likely the inspiration behind the 2004 film The Terminal, though never explicitly mentioned. In 2006, he was hospitalized, and now resides in a shelter near the airport in the hopes of being allowed to return to Scotland.
I nearly lost my mind staying in the Philadelphia International Airport once, on a standby ticket... but this guy takes the cake.

When I think about my ruined marriage, I can take comfort that it wasn't as bad as was that of John and Lorena Bobbitt. On June 23, 1993, five days after their four year wedding anniversary, John arrived home from a party intoxicated. After an altercation that Lorena would later accuse as being rape (though John was acquitted, the circumstances strike me as suspicious), John fell asleep while Lorena went to get a drink of water. While in the kitchen, she grabbed a knife and attempted to sever her husband's penis, cutting about half of it off and leaving with it. After throwing it out of her moving car, she stopped and reported the incident to the authorities, who found the cut off member and reattached it in a nine hour surgery. During the trial for assault, Lorena detailed about years of abuse and infidelity from John, and the jury easily found her not guilty due to insanity. After forty-five days of evaluation from a state hospital, she was released, and the couple finalized divorce in 1995. What strikes me the most was that John used the event for notoriety, appearing in a couple of porn movies (one subtitled Frankenpenis), a night of Monday Night Raw, and some jobs in Vegas, as well as more run-ins with the law, such as two cases of abuse on his third wife. Despite the nature of the incident (either gruesome or hilarious, depending on your point of view), the case brought to public attention the issues of martial rape and domestic abuse, a topic which had long struggled against general apathy in America.

Welcome to the 21st Century! Though the term "space-age" is kind of antiquated itself, I will use it to describe the kind of revolutionary awesomeness portended by three new technologies. Carbon nanotubes and carbon fibers have amazingly novel properties of durability, tensile strength, light weight, and thermal properties that will change everything from body armor to consumer electronics. Due to the way the atoms link, the bonds are very tough to break by mechanical means, and lend themselves to applications where durability is a must. Ferrofluids have plenty of wow factor, being liquids that become magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field. More importantly, they are already being used in many ways, such as seals in electronic devices, frictionless surfaces, attitude control devices for aviation and spacecraft, optics, and in MRI machines. Aerogel is, as the name suggests, a gel where the liquid components were replaced by gasses through supercritical drying. It is a very thermal resistant, low-density solid (despite the appearance of smoke), and has a high strength compared to its mass. It's thermal properties make it an excellent translucent insulation, as thickening agents, and NASA uses it to trap space dust on probes.

That's all for today, constant readers. Happy reading!

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