Do Pilots See Anything During a Night Flight?

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iStock

Ron Wagner:

On clear nights going east somewhere around Oklahoma City and Tulsa I have seen the lights of Dallas (180 miles) and Houston (420 miles) in one direction and Kansas City (300 miles) and St. Louis (460 miles) in the other direction, all at the same time. No matter how many times I saw that, it always blew me away that I could see that much of the U.S. at once.

EAST COAST VISTAS

Passing over New York City while flying south from Boston at night, I’ve seen Philly, Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond. Flying north to Boston while over New York City, I’ve seen the aurora borealis. Only once, as it’s a rare condition to see them that far south, and they weren’t visible on the ground. But they were visible at jet altitude. And, for whatever reason buried in my ancestral amygdala, they gave me the creeps.

ST. ELMO’S FIRE

Speaking of things that gave me the creeps in jet cockpits at night was when we got St. Elmo’s Fire dancing all over the windshield. Sometimes it would come into the cockpit and dance on the glare shield. Despite being a smart guy with an aerospace engineering degree, St. Elmo’s Fire always creeped me out. Something in my unconscious gets weirded out at the sight of dancing electricity at night.

THE GREEN FLASH

Then there’s the infamous and elusive green flash that is visible at the exact instant the sun sets below the horizon. I know, this isn’t at night, but it’s the beginning of night, so bear with me. I’ve only seen it twice while on the ground, both times on Kauai, in Hawaii. It cannot be seen without super clear skies and a razor sharp horizon without the slightest hint of haze, which is rare on the ground. But in the air, it’s a much more common sight. In the air, I missed it the first two or three times when the other pilot said he saw it because the event is ridiculously named. I was looking for some large event, worthy of the term flash. But finally, a more experienced jet jockey explained to me that it’s really just a green blip when the last tiny dot of the sun flashes green for less than a second. So, I guess it can technically be called a green flash, but don’t be fooled by the name.

So, those are some of the things we see at night.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

What's the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

iStock/flySnow
iStock/flySnow

It may not be easy for some people to admit, but certain national holidays often get a little muddled—namely, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sees the confusion often enough that they spelled out the distinction on their website. The two days are held six months apart: Veterans Day is celebrated every November 11, and Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday of May as part of a three-day weekend with parades and plenty of retail sales promotions. You probably realize both are intended to acknowledge the contributions of those who have served in the United States military, but you may not recall the important distinction between the two. So what's the difference?

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. It was first observed on November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution making it an annual observance in 1926. It became a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to recognize veterans of the two world wars. The intention is to celebrate all military veterans, living or dead, who have served the country, with an emphasis on thanking those in our lives who have spent time in uniform.

We also celebrate military veterans on Memorial Day, but the mood is more somber. The occasion is reserved for those who died while serving their country. The day was first observed in the wake of the Civil War, where local communities organized tributes around the gravesites of fallen soldiers. The observation was originally called Decoration Day because the graves were adorned with flowers. It was held May 30 because that date wasn't the anniversary for any battle in particular and all soldiers could be honored. (The date was recognized by northern states, with southern states choosing different days.) After World War I, the day shifted from remembering the fallen in the Civil War to those who had perished in all of America's conflicts. It gradually became known as Memorial Day and was declared a federal holiday and moved to the last Monday in May to organize a three-day weekend beginning in 1971.

The easiest way to think of the two holidays is to consider Veterans Day a time to shake the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedoms. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who are no longer around to receive your gratitude personally.

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What Is the Kitchen Like on the International Space Station?

iStock/Elen11
iStock/Elen11

Clayton C. Anderson:

The International Space Station (ISS) does not really have a "kitchen" as many of us here on Earth might relate to. But, there is an area called the "galley" which serves the purpose of allowing for food preparation and consumption. I believe the term "galley" comes from the military, and it was used specifically in the space shuttle program. I guess it carried over to the ISS.

The Russian segment had the ONLY galley when I flew in 2007. There was a table for three, and the galley consisted of a water system—allowing us to hydrate our food packages (as needed) with warm (tepid) or hot (extremely) water—and a food warmer. The food warmer designed by the Russians was strictly used for their cans of food (about the size of a can of cat food in America). The U.S. developed a second food warmer (shaped like a briefcase) that we could use to heat the more "flexibly packaged" foodstuffs (packets) sent from America.

Later in the ISS lifetime, a second galley area was provided in the U.S. segment. It is positioned in Node 1 (Unity) and a table is also available there for the astronauts' dining pleasures. Apparently, it was added because of the increasing crew size experienced these days (6), to have more options. During my brief visit to ISS in 2010 (12 days or so) as a Discovery crewmember, I found the mealtimes to be much more segregated than when I spent five months on board. The Russians ate in the Russian segment. The shuttle astronauts ate in the shuttle. The U.S. ISS astronauts ate in Node 1, but often at totally different times. While we did have a combined dinner in Node 1 during STS-131 (with the Expedition 23 crew), this is one of the perceived negatives of the "multiple-galley" scenario. My long duration stint on ISS was highlighted by the fact that Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov, and I had every single meal together. The fellowship we—or at least I—experienced during those meals is something I will never, ever forget. We laughed, we argued, we celebrated, we mourned …, all around our zero-gravity "dinner table." Awesome stuff!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Clayton "Astro Clay" Anderson is an astronaut, motivational speaker, author, and STEAM education advocate.

His award-winning book The Ordinary Spaceman, Astronaut Edition Fisher Space Pen, and new children's books A is for Astronaut; Blasting Through the Alphabet and It's a Question of Space: An Ordinary Astronaut's Answers to Sometimes Extraordinary Questions are available at www.AstroClay.com. For speaking events www.AstronautClayAnderson.com. Follow @Astro_Clay #WeBelieveInAstronauts

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