The life of Bernd Heinrich, septuagenarian naturalist, ultramarathoner and author, offers lessons for residents of our fractured digital world on the value of reconnecting with nature and staying grounded, even into retirement.
NASA built a satellite designed to track global warming. It never launched, and more than a decade later, it sits in a box in Maryland:
“It has never become entirely clear why the satellite had ended up here. In his 2009 book Our Choice, Gore wrote, ‘The Bush Cheney administration canceled the launch within days of taking office on January 20, 2001, and forced NASA to put the satellite into storage.’ Warren Wiscombe, a senior physical scientist at NASA, blames a Bush-era ‘hostility’ to earth science at NASA. ‘As to who ordered the axing of the mission,’ he says, ‘we’ll never know, but the word we got was that Dick Cheney was behind it.’
“Mitchell Anderson, a Vancouver-based reporter who has obsessively covered the DSCOVR story, also suspects Cheney’s hand, citing an unnamed NASA informant. Over the course of three years, Anderson filed five Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to DSCOVR. After querying NASA in 2006, he waited 11 months to receive the documents. ‘They told me they were consulting with their lawyers,’ says Anderson, who was then writing for desmogblog.com. ‘When they finally e-mailed me the documents, they were scanned sideways. I couldn’t read the top and bottom of the pages.’ The 70-page packet contained mostly letters that prominent scientists had written in defense of DSCOVR. All correspondence relating to the mission’s mothballing was excluded.”
The story of Joe Knowles, who in 1913, ventured into the Maine wilderness in nothing but a jockstrap and allegedly survived without assistance for eight weeks:
“On his own, Knowles kept hiking. It was raining. In bare feet, he slipped in the mud, but still he trudged on over the flank of Bear Mountain. Eventually, he spied a deer. ‘She looked good to me,’ he wrote, ‘and for the first time in my life I envied a deer her hide. I could not help thinking what a fine pair of chaps her hide would make and how good a strip of smoked venison would taste a little later. There before me was food and protection, food that millionaires would envy and clothing that would outwear the most costly suit the tailor could supply.’ Knowles resisted the temptation to kill the deer, deciding to live within the game laws of Maine. He was hungry, wet, and cold, and also still a bit thrilled and agitated about being out there sans jockstrap. He could not sleep. What to do? He tossed off a few pull-ups. ‘On a strong spruce limb I drew myself up and down, trying to see how many times I could touch my chin to the limb. When I got tired of this, I would run around under the trees for a while.'”
In a secluded area on the ground floor, six brave young men (three Russians, an Italian, a Frenchman, and a Chinese national) are simulating a mission to Mars. For 520 straight days—that’s more than 17 months—the volunteers will be sequestered in a tubular steel stand-in for a spacecraft whose 775-square-foot living area is so cramped and spare it might have been designed by Dostoyevsky himself. Mars500, as their mission is called, is jointly sponsored by the Institute for Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency. It seeks to answer a question that looms as the EU, the US, Russia, and India all look to put a man on Mars by the 2030s: Can the human animal endure the long isolation and boredom implicit in traveling to a planet that is, at its closest, 35 million miles—and roughly six months of rocket travel—away? Will one of the volunteers crack before the faux mission’s scheduled conclusion on November 5, 2011?