The CIA Declassifies Documents Outlining Incredible Deep-Sea Recovery of Spy Satellite Capsule

It was July 10, 1971 and we were in the heart of the cold war. The U.S. was running a super secret satellite spying operation code-named Hexagon. This was long before the days of digital cameras and Google earth. Spy photos were stored on Kodak film and when the time came for them to be sent back to earth, they were jettisoned from the satellite via a capsule called a Hexagon recovery vehicle. Unfortunately, on this particular day things went very wrong. The parachute carrying the RV didn’t deploy correctly and literally tore off at the swivel. The RV hit the surface of the ocean at 2600 g’s and sank in 16,000 feet of water. This is just a piece of a riveting story that can be found in newly declassified CIA documents. What follows is a story of a rescue mission that reaches record depths and is mingled with excitement and disappointment.

According to the CIA “Memorandum for the Record“, it was decided to bring in the Navy for a recovery attempt. This was no easy task. There were several challenges outlined in the memorandum:

a. The ability to locate the impact area accurately.
b. The amount of damage caused by the impact and the corrosive
effects from sea water.
c. No object of this size had been actively searched for and
located by sonar.
d. The Trieste II had not gone below 10,000 feet.

Three recovery attempts were made. The first failed attempt was November 3, 1971. The second failed attempt was November 30, 1971. The third attempt was a little more successful. On April 25, 1972, the Trieste II successfully found and grasped the RV capsule. Unfortunately, due to the pressure changes while rising to the surface, the film basically shredded and they were only able to recover a remnant. The end result was not ideal but the CIA remained pretty optimistic despite the circumstance. It appears what the Navy was able to accomplish in the midst of much turmoil proved to be an encouraging turn of events. The memorandum ends with the following.

In summary, the significance of the objective of recovering the film for intelligence use was considerably reduced after the 1202 mission,
and the motivating force became the demonstration of the capability to effect a deep sea recovery. This was successfully accomplished with the
recovery of the two film stacks on the third dive. All of the men involved remained enthusiastic and determined throughout the many frustrations and
are to be commended for their fine efforts.

Below, I have included a photo gallery with some of the amazing underwater photos from the recovery effort.


It’s Shark Week on Discovery Channel!

It’s hard to believe, but Discovery Channel is celebrating 25 years of Shark Week! All of Discovery’s programming is turned on its head as their prime time slots swallowed whole by these fearsome creatures of the deep. In a press release, Discovery promises their viewers “eight all-new shark-filled specials that get you so close to the action, if you were any closer you’d be bait!” Now that is close my friends!

Shiyam ElkCloner via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to know everything you could possibly imagine about sharks, then Shark Week is for you. Discovery has a website dedicated to Shark Week at There is a ton of trivia, videos, show previews, games, and lots of teeth! Embedded below, you can see a preview of tonight’s episode called “Sharkzilla”.

[Video Link]

If TV isn’t enough for you, fear not, Discovery has you covered. You can download the “Discovery Channel HD” app that let’s you in on all the action via your iPad. It is available in iTunes via this link. When you download this app, iPad users will have exclusive access to “Shark Week Plus”, an interactive second screen experience, synchronized to select shows from Shark Week’s 25th Anniversary! You can also play along with your Facebook friends while you’re watching Shark Week with Shark Week Bingo. Pictured below, you can pick which episode you are watching and you can click on game pieces as you see them come across your TV screen.

Shark Week Bingo

Somewhere in all the horror, fun and games, and the sheer amazement of Shark Week; hopefully, the most important message comes across. Sharks are extremely misunderstood and are suffering from both natural and man-made stressors that threaten their very existence. Perhaps the most important aspect of Discovery’s website is the link where you can support shark conservation efforts. For more information, visit

Record Breaking Python with 87 Eggs Found in the Florida Everglades

A record breaking Burmese python has been found in the Florida everglades. The snake was a record breaking 17-foot-7-inches long and weighed 164.5 pounds. It was also full of eggs which numbered 87, another record breaker.

Burmese Python
Gigantic Burmese python being examined by researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History (University of Florida photo by Kristen Grace/Florida Museum of Natural History)

The snake has been handed over to the Florida Museum of Natural History by officials from Everglades National Park. Burmese pythons are native to southeast Asia, but have become quite an invasive species in the Florida everglades as many people tried to keep them as pets. Once the pet owners realize how large these guys can get, they often release them into the wild. Unfortunately, due to the size of this particular find, it is becoming apparent that they are thriving in their new home. “This thing is monstrous, it’s about a foot wide,” said Florida Museum herpetology collection manager Kenneth Krysko. “It means these snakes are surviving a long time in the wild, there’s nothing stopping them and the native wildlife are in trouble.”

Skip Snow, a park wildlife biologist, said, “I think one of the important facts about this animal is its reproductive capability…There are not many records of how many eggs a large female snake carries in the wild. This shows they’re a really reproductive animal, which aids in their invasiveness.”

The researchers hope they can examine this specimen to find out what its eating habits are and hopefully discover some way they can curtail the spread of this deadly invasive species. As it stands now, the Burmese python has no known predators and one this size can eat just about anything it wants.

According to a University of Florida press release, “Florida has the world’s worst invasive reptile and amphibian problem.” Most of this is due to the pet trade. For more information about Florida’s wildlife program, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History at

Editorial: Curiosity Killed the Planet, Why Now is Not the Time to Explore Mars

The face of Curiosity

As I sit here wearing my NASA t-shirt, I feel like I am back in my old college speech class when the professor asked us to give a persuasive speech about something we didn’t believe in. You have to understand that I am a huge fan of NASA. I am fascinated by the idea of space exploration. Ever since I was a tiny boy, I can always remember looking up at the Milky Way and just being overcome by the feeling that I was adrift in space. I totally understand why some believe the stars can tell the future. The Universe is so vast, so amazing, it’s easy to look up and think, “The answers must be out there somewhere.” Unfortunately for me lately, I have reached a new stage in my life that when I look at the world around me, I suddenly come to the conclusion that we seriously need some answers down here before we go searching for answers up there. Of course, this stage in my life just happens to coincide with one of NASA’s crowning achievements, which is putting the Mars Curiosity Rover on the ground. Believe me when I say that I am extremely proud of the work the NASA team did to put Curiosity on the surface of Mars, but I have to say that now is not the time.

Prestige and Politics

NASA is fighting for its life right now. The political climate in the U.S. is the worst I have seen in my 40 years of living. There are many who reminisce about a time when the U.S. could really flex its muscle and do something that no other country could do. After World War II, the U.S. was filled with euphoria. Full of confidence and pride, the U.S. was more than willing to join in the international pissing match by joining the arms race. No way were we going to be outdone by the likes of the Soviet Union. Putting a man on the moon made us the best of the best. Now, fast forward to today. The baby boomers have inherited the country. They are the spoiled brat children of the so called “greatest generation”, having little if any clue what it was like to strap on a pair of work boots and really earn anything. They were the hippies, free lovers, draft dodgers, the “me” generation. They are something to be mocked by most of the world. Even our European neighbors have seemingly forgotten who it was that bailed them out of the grip of tyranny. I guess the point I am making here is that as incredible as it is to land this rover on Mars, the prestige factor just isn’t there like it was for the NASA of the 60’s and 70’s. If you don’t believe me, test yourself. Think back to where you were when the U.S. launched the first space shuttle into space. Think about the fascination and the hoopla surrounding that event. Try to match the events of this recent trip to mars with the excitement of that day. If it’s about prestige then consider this mission a fail.

Life on Mars?

NASA’s Mar’s Exploration Program Page details some of the history and the driving forces that lead NASA to explore Mars to begin with. Here is an excerpt from their website which I believe tells it all:

Among our discoveries about Mars, one stands out above all others: the possible presence of liquid water on Mars, either in its ancient past or preserved in the subsurface today. Water is key because almost everywhere we find water on Earth, we find life. If Mars once had liquid water, or still does today, it’s compelling to ask whether any microscopic life forms could have developed on its surface. Is there any evidence of life in the planet’s past? If so, could any of these tiny living creatures still exist today? Imagine how exciting it would be to answer, “Yes!!”

That my friends is truly the driving force is it not? The quest for life elsewhere is like a maddening life’s purpose for some. It confounds me sometimes when I try to reason out why we are so driven to find life somewhere else in the Universe. Are we really that lonely down here? I am no fool. I realize there are hundreds of reasons to want to find life on Mars, but let me ask this question; What has humanity done for life on this planet to deserve the distinction of finding life on another? Could it be because we are such good stewards of the world we live in? Does life not thrive everywhere we set our feet? I say this facetiously. In my opinion, we humans excel in selfish ambition, mindlessness, and destruction. Just think for a moment and imagine if we absolutely find evidence of life on Mars. Do you think that it will draw humankind closer together and improve life here on earth? Frankly, I don’t feel humanity is ready to find life elsewhere. As humanity stands today, and if we find life on Mars, I believe all of the traits which I previously stated we excel in will come to the forefront. The religious zealots will deny it. The atheists will revel that God is a man-made concoction. Braggarts will brag and the ambitious will start their money making engines. I don’t even want to imagine the political rhetoric. In the shadow of all this will be the poor who cannot get a hand up, the diseased who are waiting on miracles to save their lives, endangered species of whom humanity is both their biggest threat and only hope, and a world that groans for peace.

Watch London Olympics Closing Ceremony Online

London Olympics 2012

NBC has succombed to pressure and is going to stream the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremonies live via its website It will will also be streaming via its NBC Olympics Live Extra app. Live streaming coverage for the closing ceremonies will begin at 4PM EST. NBC does still plan to show its tape-delayed coverage for its regular viewers. Also, keep in mind that the live streaming website and app require you to verify that you are a satellite, cable, or telco customer.

NBC has taken a beating for its delayed coverage of the London Olympics. So bad in fact, it even garnered its own hashtag “#nbcfail” on Twitter. In an age of instant media, NBC chose to take the old fashioned tape-delay route for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and they have paid dearly for it in the arena of public opinion. It appears that there was some fear on the part of NBC execs that the live streaming coverage would somehow interfere with the ratings of its top shows. Quite the opposite has happened, however. The description regarding this year’s Olympics ratings usually has “unprecedented” somewhere in the sentence.

This year’s closing ceremonies promises to be an exciting one. According to the London 2012 website, “‘We want it to be the best after-show party there has ever been.” Kim Gavin, who has masterminded spectacular stage shows for acts including Take That in the past, explains its focus: ‘It is about British creativity in the arts. There is a hell of a lot of talent and music and a hell of a lot of show in the show.’ Let’s hope it lives up to all the hype!


Update: Diseased Trees are Potential Source for Greenhouse Gas

Recently, I shared an article with you called “Diseased Trees are Potential Source for Greenhouse Gas“. You may want to take a moment and familiarize yourself with the original article before going any further. In a nutshell, the article laid out some interesting new research by Yale Ph.D. candidate Kristofer Covey. His research centered around the amount of methane gas, well known for its contribution to the greenhouse affect, that trees were putting out. His research found that trees that were diseased with a common fungus had conditions favorable to the production of greenhouse gases. Most of the trees were pretty old between 80-100 years old.

Red Maple
Red Maple which is a significant source of methane. (© Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

The reason I am updating this article is because I was able to get in contact with Kris and found out a couple pieces of information that I thought might be worth sharing with you the reader. I had two questions for Kris and he was kind enough to respond. Below, you can see the questions I asked with his answer following.

Question #1. – I am curious how you or the authors feel this affects the global warming debate?

I think the most important thing here is that although it appears as though trees may be producing and releasing significant amounts of methane, they still offer significant climate benefit. Our results indicate that in the stands studied the methane being released is equivalent in it’s climate warming effect to 18% of the carbon sequestered annually. If, as we suspect, this phenomenon is widespread then there would be implications for carbon markets and other programs that make use of forests as a mitigation tool in climate change action.

Question #2. – What potential remedies could be put in place to eliminate the source of this fungal activity?

While there aren’t practical ways to limit fungal infection in forest trees (these fungi are normal and essentially ubiquitous agents); however, we did find species level differences (red maple seems to produce far more than the other species studied ex.) indicating that there may management strategies that could optimize the tradeoff between carbon sequestration and methane production. That said, there’s a great deal of questions to ask before specific recommendations could be made. We are only now recognizing this pathway exists!

I thought it was important to share this information because it clears up some concern that trees aren’t destroying our atmosphere. Basically, even the diseased trees still clean up bad carbon but just not as much as a healthy one could.

For more information about Forestry studies at Yale, visit

Google Play Music Celebrating the Phonograph with $2.99 Albums

Google Play is running an interesting promotion right now. Pictured below, you can see a few famous album covers pictured with the heading “50 Classic Albums From $2.99″. They say they are celebrating “Edison’s Invention”.


When you click on their link, it will take you to a page with some pretty famous albums that you’ll recognize right away. Curiously however, if you look at the picture below, they have the top of their page labeled with “The Phonograph’s Birthday”. I am not sure where they are getting their information. Wikipedia refers to Edison’s phonograph being invented between May and July 1877. makes mention of August 12, 1877 as being the potential invention date but also says there is some skepticism about it. Whatever the case, Edison came up with a really cool idea and one worth celebrating.

Phonograph's Birthday

It seems to be a pretty eclectic selection of albums and most of them are going for $2.99. However, be aware there are a few that are a little more expensive. Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” is going for $4.99 as well as, Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the Google Play team went about selecting what they refer to as the “50 Vinyl-Era Classics”. Pink Floyd’s the “Dark Side of the Moon” album is a no brainer in my opinion, but Jethro Tull??? Hmmm… not so sure about this one.

So what do you think? For me, I can’t help but wonder where is AC/DC, or Black Sabbath? Go take a look at the albums and tell me what you think would be worthy of your all time vinyl-era classics.

Google Now Includes Gmail in Search Results

Yesterday, in a blog post titled “Building the search engine of the future, one baby step at a time“, Google unveiled some interesting information about the future of its search engine. Perhaps its most surprising announcement, is that it plans to include information from your Gmail account in your search results.

gmail result
Gmail Search Results (Courtesy Google Blog)

At the moment, this program is voluntary and you have to join their field trial to participate in the service. The link for the trial is Pictured above, you can see an example of what the Gmail results might look like. In Google’s example, they imagine that you may be going on a biking trip. When you type the search query “biking in tahoe”, you will get the typical search results, but out to the side you will see email results from friends where they may have suggested good trails or eateries nearby.

Some other cool features they’re considering involves organizing information from Gmail in a very readable way. The example they used was typing the query “my flights” into the search box. Pictured below, you can see they pull the pertinent information from your email and display directly on your search results page.

(Courtesy Google Blog)

Google is trying to make its search more relevant. One of the ways it wants to do this is by making information more personal. The biggest threat to Google search is Facebook. Simply put, Facebook has ridiculous amounts of personal information on its users and if it ever figures out a way to “monetize” this information, look out Google! Another point that Google made was about its voice recognition service. Below, you can watch a sample of Google’s enhanced speech recognition for search.

[Video Link]

Google is trying to do everything it can to enhance its search. It seems that most of its diversification attempts haven’t been very successful which leaves it in the vulnerable position of being a one trick pony. Unfortunately, past endeavors to tap into user data exposed some serious privacy issues. It appears that Google is being a little more cautious with this attempt as it currently is an opt-in service.

Diseased Trees are Potential Source for Greenhouse Gas

Just when you thought the global warming debate or (depending on the mood that week) climate change debate, couldn’t get any more complicated, new research suggests that trees may be a significant source of the greenhouse gas, methane. That’s right folks, I said trees. You know, those things we plant in droves every Earth Day while singing some happy tune about saving the environment and making the world a better place to breathe. I really don’t mean to sound snarky here, but the poor global warming debate is already hopelessly mired in political rhetoric as it is. Now, we have to contend with research suggesting that trees may be a significant contributor of methane, which is a greenhouse gas.

Red Maple
Red Maple which is a significant source of methane. (© Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Now, before you go get the chainsaws and start deforesting the neighborhood, let’s put this new study in context. Researchers at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies examined 60 trees at Yale Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut. They tested for concentrations of methane and found that these particular trees had concentrations 80,000 times ambient levels. It is important to note that the trees themselves weren’t the culprit rather, it was a fungus that was eating them from the inside out. This resulted in favorable conditions for methane producing microorganisms called methanogens. Most of these trees were between 80-100 years old and were diseased. Red maples showed the highest concentrations of methane but other significant contributors were oak, birch and pine. Methane levels were also more than 3 times higher during the summer which suggests that summer heat and higher methane output could create a spiral of elevating temperatures.

According to a Yale press release, “These are flammable concentrations,” said Kristofer Covey, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate at Yale. “Because the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests, we believe we have found a globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas.” “No one until now has linked the idea that fungal rot of timber trees, a production problem in commercial forestry, might also present a problem for greenhouse gas and climate change mitigation,” said Mark Bradford, a co-author and Assistant Professor of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology at F&ES.

This is groundbreaking research because no previous studies have made the correlation between fungal timber rot and increased green house emissions. These findings present a new target for scientists interested in climate change and the potential that aging forests may have on greenhouse gasses. This study was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Google’s Self-Driving Cars Log Big Miles

Google’s self-driving cars have reached a new milestone. According to their official blog, their fleet of self-driving cars have logged more than 300,000 miles of testing. Google began this project back in 2010 to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use”. The World Health Organization, at the time this project was introduced, announced a staggering statistic that 1.2 million lives are lost due to traffic accidents. This has been one of the driving factors behind Google developing a safer way to travel.

The newest member of the Google Car team, the Lexus RX450h (Courtesy Google Blog)

Not only has Google logged more than 300,000 miles on their computer controlled cars, not one accident has occurred under computer control. While Google is proud of this accomplishment, they admit they have a long road ahead of them. “To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter.” This sounds like a pretty tall order considering most humans don’t even handle these situations very well.

The next phase for the Google car is to let the driving team go solo rather than in pairs. Up to this point, there has been one team member ready to take the wheel just in case of problems, while the other team member managed the car’s software applications. Moving to just one team member pushes the development of the Google car that much closer to the average commuter. “One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars.” I guess this means you’ll be able to put on your makeup on the way to work without fear of being in a wreck, or maybe finish up that last minute report while your Google car gets you where you’re going.

Pictured above, you can see the new Lexus RX450h that Google has recently added to its fleet of self-driving cars. “With each breakthrough we feel more optimistic about delivering this technology to people and dramatically improving their driving experience.” I just hope one day I can get an extra nap in on my way to work in the morning. Happy driving!