Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

The Winter Olympic Games never fail to inspire. You have about 2500 athletes all vying to win 258 possible medals in 86 events. Maybe 1 out of 10 participants will win a medal. Almost all of the athletes will fail to achieve their goal. So why do they do it?

These athletes devote the prime of their lives to one brief moment in time every four years. They pour out their hearts as they train to reach their physical limits. "One more, one more, one more," they chant as they lift more weight, add more reps, and perfect their technique. Imagine the dedication necessary to match their Olympic dreams.

Some will not even qualify for the finals of their event. Some will be unlucky. Some will experience injury, and some will suffer possible embarrassment. I think of Lindsey Jacobellis who had the lead in the snowboard cross event in the 2006 Winter Olympics and impulsively decided to pop an unnecessary ollie grab with her snowboard as she was sure to win with only 140ft to go. She came down off balance, wiped out and lost the gold medal. She later admitted she was just trying to have fun.

There's so much sacrifice. The odds are stacked against them. There's no guarantee their hard work will pay-off. And, in Lindsey Jacobellis's case, when you take your eyes off the prize even for a split second the slightest miscue can spell disaster. So why do they do it?

Commitment and passion can only be understood by those who dare to dream.

Today's book is about 13 who dared to dream. These 13 individuals all wanted to be astronauts, not olympic atheletes. Most of us recognize names such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. These men were part of the original Mercury 7. The Mercury Space Program's mission was to put the first man into space. Not all the guys who applied had the right stuff, however. According to NASA at the time, neither did women.

The Mercury program conducted a battery of tests that would prove if an astronaut had the right stuff. For example, astronauts were put into the MASTIF. The MASTIF, or multiple-axis space test inertia facility, was a gyroscope as big as a house. This was used to give an astronaut the experience of sitting inside a space ship that had lost control. [p.33]

Could you do the Dilbert Dunker test? This was the water survival test the astronauts had to pass. [p. 48] The Dilbert Dunker was a capsule that would speed into a pool and then flip upside down as it entered the water. Rescue divers waited above in case you couldn't get out.

How about the isolation tank? [p.22] One way to measure if someone could survive the stresses of space was to put the astronaut in isolation for a long period of time.

"Picture this: You are surrounded by complete and utter darkness, pitch black. All you can hear is your heart beating, your breath as you inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. You are floating in a tank of water the exact same temperature as your body. Where does your body end and the water begin?" [How long can you go just counting your breaths?]

At first this might seem peaceful, but think about how much silence a person can actually take without going crazy. Some subjects start hallucinating after awhile. They might hear voices, smell smoke, or start to cry because of a sad childhood memory. One subject actually lasted nine hours and forty minutes in the isolation tank.

Surprisingly, NASA never tested the Mercury 7 men in the isolation tank. Did NASA suspect that men couldn't last very long in complete isolation? Yet, thirteen women were secretly tested in the tank. One of the first women to be tested was Jerrie Cobb. Jerrie Cobb impressed NASA scientists with her ability to equal or surpass what the Mercury 7 men could do. She was the one that lasted 9 hours in the isolation tank. She proved that women could endure the stresses of space as well as or better than men. Unfortunately, NASA didn't take their test accomplishments seriously.

The Mercury 13 knew their chances were slim. They knew most NASA officials were against women joining the Mercury Space Program. They knew they shouldn't have gotten their hopes up, but they took the tests anyway.

Why did they do it? The odds were stacked against them. Why did they risk disappointment and embarrassment?

Commitment and passion can only be understood by those who dare to dream.

Read the fascinating and relatively unknown story of thirteen women who dared to dream in Tanya Lee Stone's book: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vintage Snowmobiles by Jon D. Bertolino

Vintage Snowmobiles: The Golden Years 1968-1982

Ever broken a bogie? Ever lose your recoil? Ever seen machine parts scattered on the ground like a trail of bread crumbs?

If so, then you must be familiar with the world of vintage snowmobiles.

This is a great book for those who love old snowmobiles. A couple of my favorites are in this book. Back when I was a middle school student, our family had the candy-apple red Northway 340. The Northway could climb, it could pull, but boy was it slow. The Northway was ideal for pulling your fish house off the lake, but when you had it wide open the Northway could throw you off like a wild horse.

Then there was the Yamaha Enticer 250. I loved that machine. It only went about 60mph, but it was great on trails. If you ever got stuck in deep snow, the machine was light enough even for a middle school student to lift back onto the trail. Great vintage snowmobiles like these are sometimes cheap to buy, but expensive to run.

Take a look at the past in this great book about vintage snowmobiles by Jon D. Bertolino. And remember, oil is sometimes cheaper than parts!
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