The Soviets might have landed on two planets to America's one, but the extent of the ultimate U.S. space victory is a sort of metaphor for the Cold War and its resolution.
The Venera 7, left, landed on Venus in 1970. The Venera 13 took this image of the planet in 1982. (Wikimedia)
In the end, when the nuclear warheads were taken off alert and the borders of Europe and Asia redrawn, history recorded the Cold War as a great American victory. It won the arms race and it won Europe; its economic and political models both triumphed; and it won the war of ideology, with democracy displacing communism and totalitarianism across most of the globe. But there's one arena where the Cold War looked a bit closer to a tie: space.
The Soviet Union was the first to put a satellite in space, the first to put a person in space, the first to land a spacecraft on the moon, and the first -- and only -- to land on Venus. The U.S. was the first to put a person the moon, the first to do flybys of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, and the first -- but not only -- to land on Mars, most recently with today's Curiosity. (The European Space Agency later got into the game by landing a probe on Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn, in 2005 with assistance from a U.S. spacecraft.) I don't know whether or how you can declare a winner from those two records, but one thing is clear: 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and all it stood for, the U.S. has not met the Soviet record on number of planet surfaces visited.
Of course, space exploration isn't about beating the Soviets anymore, so the U.S. would have little to gain by visiting another planet just to say we did. And, when it comes to actual scientific knowledge gained and height of technological achievement, the Soviet edge is as broken and gone as the Berlin Wall. Still, this old, unchanged record is a reminder of the Soviet Union's deep mark on history, and that it wasn't so long ago that space, an area of global American leadership today, was closely contested, another front in the all-consuming Cold War.
The first manmade object to ever soft-land on another planet was the Soviet-made Venera 7. It launched from an Earth-orbit satellite on August 17, 1970, just over a year after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and entered the Venusian atmosphere on December 15. The Soviet command received 23 minutes of faint signals, the first data beamed from the surface of another world. In 1975, it landed the more successful Venera 9 and Venera 10, which sent back the first photos. The Venera program returned soil samples and color, panoramic views in 1981 and again in 1985. The U.S. never attempted to land on Venus, but it has sent orbiters, including 1978's Pioneer Venus 1, which dropped three small probes into the atmosphere.
The Soviet Union might have won the race to Venus, but Mars was more contested. In May 1971, as a proxy war in Vietnam raged, the U.S. and Soviet Union hurled five satellites toward the red planet. Mariner 8 and Kosmos 419 fizzled, but on November 13 the American Mariner 9 became the first vessel to enter another planet's orbit. Two weeks later, the Soviet Union's Mars 2 followed into orbit, with the Mars 3 a few days behind. The U.S. satellite took over 100 times as many photos as the two Soviet ships, but Mars 2 and Mars 3 both carried landers. The first crashed; the second achieved the first-ever landing on Mars. But it lasted only 20 seconds, after which its instruments shut down, possibly due to a dust storm.
Both the U.S. and Soviet Union tried a number of Mars landers after that, but the Americans had far more success. In 1974, the Soviet Union had another disappointment with the Mars 6, which landed successfully but sent back bad data due to a computer chip problem, and the Mars 7, which simply missed. The U.S. landed the Viking in 1976, and later upgraded to rovers with the 1997 Sojourner, 2004 Spirit and Opportunity, and 2012 Curiosity. A Soviet vessel never again successfully touched down, despite two 1988 attempts.
In a way, the planetary race can be seen as a metaphor for the Cold War itself. The competition might have been nail-bitingly close at the time, with the Soviet Union taking some historic leaps ahead of the Americans, a few of which are still with us. In the end, though, not only did the U.S. win, but the extent of is victory has surely surpassed even the wildest dreams of either Nixon or Khrushchev.
In closing as in opening, it seems to me that Bernie Sanders was foolish in a Democratic primary to refrain from specifically mentioning the identity groups that Hillary Clinton has just ticked off in her closing statement.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
By announcing the first detection of gravitational waves, scientists have vindicated Einstein and given humans a new way to look at the universe.
More than a billion years ago, in a galaxy that sits more than a billion light-years away, two black holes spiraled together and collided. We can’t see this collision, but we know it happened because, as Albert Einstein predicted a century ago, gravitational waves rippled out from it and traveled across the universe to an ultra-sensitive detector here on Earth.
This discovery, announced today by researchers with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), marks another triumph for Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And more importantly, it marks the beginning of a new era in the study of the universe: the advent of gravitational-wave astronomy. The universe has just become a much more interesting place.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
If Bernie Sanders is serious about a political transformation in America, he needs a better plan.
If there’s one thing that fires up Bernie Sanders supporters—and makes his detractors roll their eyes—it’s his call for a “political revolution.” To his base, it’s the very point of his anti-establishment, anti-elite candidacy. To his critics, it’s the very embodiment of his campaign’s naïve impracticality and vagueness.
But now that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken, it’s time to take the idea of political revolution more seriously—more seriously, indeed, than Sanders himself appears to have. It’s time to ask: What exactly would it take?
It starts with Congress. And here it’s instructive to compare Sanders and Donald Trump. Both rely on broad, satisfying refrains of “We’re gonna”: We’re gonna break up the big banks. We’re gonna make Mexico build the wall. We’re gonna end the rule of Wall Street billionaires. We’re gonna make China stop ripping us off.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Once it was because they weren’t as well educated. What’s holding them back now?
Though headway has been made in bringing women’s wages more in line with men’s in the past several decades, that convergence seems to have stalled in more recent years. To help determine why, Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research parse data on wages and occupations from 1980 to 2010. They find that as more women attended and graduated college and headed into the working world, education and professional experience levels stopped playing a significant role in the the difference between men and women’s wages. Whatever remains of the discrepancy can’t be explained by women not having basic skills and credentials. So what does explain it?
The hit new indie release is the opposite of action-packed, yet it’s compelling in its simplicity.
Solitude, it turns out, can be addictive. So I learned playing the new hit indie game Firewatch, where all the action amounts to you, the player, being alone in the woods. You’re a lookout assigned to a summer posting in the Shoshone National Forest of Wyoming in 1989, meaning your job consists of nothing more than wandering around, clearing brush, and calling in any fires you might spot. Most video games equip you with tools and weapons, complex missions, and action sequences. All Firewatch gives you is a map, a compass, and a walkie-talkie—but it’s still one of the most compelling video games I’ve ever played.
It’s the latest in a quiet movement of video games, more psychological products that tap into the atmosphere and wonder of loneliness rather than looking for the simpler thrills the medium usually provides. It’s tempting to trace this trend’s origins back to Minecraft, which launched in 2009 and became a worldwide phenomenon on the back of its extraordinary simplicity. But in Minecraft, you start armed only with your bare hands in a world of monsters, and can eventually upgrade into a city-builder armed with powerful tools. Firewatch is a more intimate affair: a short story, playable over a few hours, that succeeds first and foremost as an emotional experience.
A new report from the company finds that American daters are growing more traditional in some ways, and more open-minded in others.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was Carrie Underwood’s time. It was the age of wisdom, but also of low-rise jeans. It was only just over a decade ago, but oh, how things have changed since 2005.
The dating site OkCupid had launched the previous year, and it’s been asking its users questions about their relationship preferences ever since. This week, the company released a survey comparing the responses they received in 2005 to those collected in 2015. Though not as rigorous as a truly random survey, the data hint at changing views of sex, love, and gender norms among online daters in the U.S.
Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people have become more sexually conservative in certain ways. For example, fewer people now say they would have sex on the first date: