Did you know…about Passchendaele?

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle…
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells…
This paraphrasing of the opening stanza of Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen sums up the tragedy that was the battle of Passchendaele.
ChateauwoodFought in Belgium, the goal of the campaign was to gain control of the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres, putting the Allies  within striking distance of the vital rail junction at Roulers.
Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the campaign began on the 31st July, 1917, making  Monday this week its centenary. The battle saw approximately fifty Divisions from Britain and her Empire, support by a further six French Divisions engage more than eighty German Divisions and lasted until mid-November 1917 with the capture of the village of Passchendaele before being called off, having failed to produce the breakthrough desired.
Both sides suffered huge casualties for very little gain. Though there are conflicting reports on the final casualty figures, the minimum figure given is in excess of half a million with the higher estimates approaching 900 000 killed and wounded for an advance of less than 10km.
Along with the Somme and Verdun, Passchendaele has become synonymous with the ‘blood and mud’ misery of the First World War.
Want to know more? Check out the books on the Passchendaele Campaign or other accounts of the First World War.

Did you know….about Harry Potter

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverWell…who doesn’t know about Harry Potter, right?

Seriously though, did you know that Monday June 26th 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? That’s right, the series about the boy wizard is turning 20!

The book was author JK Rowling’s debut novel and was far from an overnight success. Indeed, Rowling began writing the novel in 1990 while riding on a train. According to an interview the author gave in 2009, the idea just hit her of a boy riding a train to wizard school. The death of her mother influenced much of the writing process.

The book was not well received by publishers and agents who felt that it was too long for a children’s book. That is, until Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury recommended the publishers accept the book based on the recommendation of his eight-year-old daughter.

With seven books, eight films, a stage play and now a spin-off series of films, the rest, as they say, is history.

The library will be holding events from 10:00-1:00 this Saturday to celebrate the occasion so why not come along or maybe re-read the books, play or films.

BTW – Did you know that the books are actually set in the early-to-mid 1990s? You can work this out from information provided by Gryffindor ghost Nearly Headless Nick. In the Harry Potter and the Chamber of  Secrets, he celebrates his 500th ‘Death Day’ which occurred on October 31st, 1492, meaning that book takes place during 1992-1993!

Did you know…about the Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny?

Everyone knows the Easter Bunny, right?

Cute little fuzz-ball that delivers chocolate eggs on Easter…but…rabbits don’t lay eggs! Where, then, did this idea come from?

It would appear that the tradition comes from Germany, with one of the earliest references to the Easter Bunny turning up in a mid-late 16th century text. Another text from the late 17th century entitled ‘About Easter Eggs’ by Georg Franck von Franckenau makes reference to the German tradition of a Hare or Rabbit bringing eggs for children.

The eggs themselves tie into the tradition of the fast of Lent, during which ‘rich’ foods such as butter, sugar and eggs are forbidden (see Did You Know…About Pancake Day for more). As part of the tradition people would decorate eggs (usually by boiling them with flowers to change the colour which was typically red, representing the blood of Christ) and give them as gifts.

But how does one link a rabbit and eggs?

In ancient times it was believed (by the likes of Pliny the Elder and Plutarch, among others) that rabbits and hares were actually sexless and reproduced by laying eggs! This sexless reproduction was linked to the Virgin Mary by the early church with rabbits and hares appearing in paintings with Mary and the Christ Child.

So there you have it!

Why not checkout some more Easter Traditions, or pick up some cute Easter Bunny stories to read to the kids?

Anstey’s Diary – Operation Echidnanaut – Entry VI

Pow, pow, pow! Take that!

Pow, pow, pow! Take that!

So…according to New Scientist it turns out ELVES is actually a reference to Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency and not actual pointy-eared creatures…that’s a little disappointing…

Anyway, here we are, the final week before launch. I’ve spent more time in the simulator and even got the chance to get behind the stick of an F18 simulator at the end of last week which was great fun. I managed to shoot down eight enemy planes…unfortunately, landing is still a problem…

I also got to have a look at my launch vehicle!

Most of this week however has been spent in quarantine. Apparently astronauts can get sick in space as microgravity appears to weaken the immune system. Standard NASA practice is for Astronauts to undergo a physical exam 10 days before launch to make sure they’re not already infected and then go into quarantine about seven days before launch.

In the pilot seat...a little more exposed than I was expecting!

In the pilot seat…a little more exposed than I was expecting!

It’s very boring, but I have a good selection of books and some of my favourite movies to watch like 2001: A Space Odyssey, episodes of Star Trek and of course the full Star Wars saga! Lord Quokka suggested Alien but I’m not trusting him again after that Apollo 13 fiasco!

I have another medical check today and then a final pre-flight check right before launch.

It’s hard to believe that after all this time, all the planning and training we’re almost ready. I hope to see you all on Saturday for the launch. I’m really excited…and more than a little nervous…

Wish me luck!

Anstey’s Diary – Operation Echidnanaut – Entry V

What was Lord Quokka thinking, recommending a film like Apollo 13?

It was a horror story of everything that could go wrong in a space mission. Yes they got back safe and sound in the end, but oh my lord!

After watching that, I’m wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go anymore. Fortunately, I have now seen the vehicle and it is a lot less…complicated…than an Apollo capsule.

No, I will be going up using a High Altitude Balloon. This will take me up to anywhere between 25 and 38 kilometres. To put that into perspective, the highest flying commercial aircraft don’t go higher than 15 kilometres, so bare minimum, I will be 10 000m above them, even the USAF’s High Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft, the Lockheed U2 only flies up to 21 kilometres. In fact, most likely, the only people higher than me will be the three astronauts in the International Space Station.

Posing for the media with some of my friends…and a human…

Posing for the media with some of my friends…and a human…

At that height I will be operating in what is known as ‘Black Space’ and able to see the curvature of the earth and even Transient Luminous Events (AKA Ionospheric Lightning or Blue Jet Phenomena). I’ve even heard that there are ELVES up there!

I’ve also heard that a special song to commemorate my flight has been recorded! I stopped in at the studio after training yesterday to have a listen. It was pretty amazing, I especially liked the line “Greatest of Monotremes“! Take that Platypus…think you’re so great with your swimming and poison sting…

I also did a photo shoot for the press today. Apparently they needed a human as well, but I was able to invite some of my friends to participate. I think the results were pretty good!

Anstey’s Diary – Operation Echidnanaut – Entry IV

Hi everyone,

Exciting times, I got to try on my helmet for the first time today. Not sure about it

Trying on my helmet...it's a bit tight!

Trying on my helmet…it’s a bit tight!

though,there really isn’t any room for my snout.

I also had to start doing some High-G training. Apparently a “G” represents the normal force of gravity a body is subjected to here on earth. During space launches of flying jet fighters, the amount of “G-Force” the body is subjected to can cause something called G-Induced Loss of Consciousness or G-LoC. Obviously, losing consciousness is not something you want to do when at the controls of a spacecraft!

In order to train for this, one spends time in a something called a Centrifuge.These devices spin out around at high speeds in order to help you build up your tolerance for the G-Forces. Normally, they look something like this one here:

NASA Centrifuge

NASA Centrifuge

 

Now, that looked pretty scary, but I figured I could handle it, and the machine looked pretty sturdy and it was built by professionals with decades of experience.

 

Unfortunately this is what I was subjected to:

Get me out of here!!!

Get me out of here!!!

It was possibly one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life! All those extra termites were not a good idea! Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin or Andy Thomas were never suck in a bag and spun around over someone’s head!

I have decided to take my mind of the whole experience by watching that Tom Hank’s movie Lord Quokka suggested Apollo 13. Apparently it’s about one of the moon missions in the 1970s. I won’t be going that far, but I’m sure I will learn a thing or two from it.

Anstey’s Diary – Operation Echidnanaut – Entry III

Hi all, it’s your favourite Monotreme Astronaut here.

Sorry it’s been a while since I updated my space mission diary, but there have been a few snags. Apparently Civic Park can’t be used as a launch site due to it being in a major flight path for the Adelaide Airport.

While Mission Chief David Brooks entered negotiation and searched for a new launch site, I decided to go on a journey of self-discovery down Route 66 in the United States. You can check out some of my photos on the library Facebook and Instagram pages.

After much searching, a new launch site has been found and the mission has been given a green light, of course the mission has now had to be pushed back. Our new launch date is December 3rd.

Since the green light was given, I have been hard at work training. Space travel can be

Pushing iron! Feel the burn!

Pushing iron! Feel the burn!

quite traumatic, particularly the launch and the landing. Space Adaption Syndrome or Space Motion Sickness as it is more commonly known is a real problem and can be triggered just by a subtle change in gravity! Some of the symptoms include drowsiness, headaches and nausea. Apparently three out of four astronauts experience Space Motion Sickness.

Another danger is loss of muscle mass and bone density due to exposure to a ‘weightless’ environment. Without the effects of gravity, astronauts put almost no weight on the muscles in their spine and legs to maintain posture. To counter this, I am working out every day and eating a high protein diet. I’m not sure if eating all those extra termites is actually going to help, but it is a sacrifice I am willing to make!

Apparently there are dangers from exposure to radiation as well, the levels in low orbit are 10 times what we receive down here on Terra Firma and could cause all kinds of damage to the body…but I’ve seen the Fantastic Four movies, maybe I’ll get superpowers!

Don'tcrashdon'tcrashdon'tcrash!

Don’tcrashdon’tcrashdon’tcrash!

I’ve also been spending a lot of time in the simulator practicing take-off, flight and landing. I still don’t know exactly what vehicle I will be piloting, so I am covering all of the basics, from an Apollo mission Saturn V to the Russian Soyuz series to the Space Shuttle. Take off is pretty easy, as is controlled flight in the upper atmosphere and orbit, but landing is proving to be a bit…bumpy…

I’m going to take some time off this weekend and watch a movie to relax. My friend Lord Quakka has suggested Apollo 13