Weekend Reading: SpaceX, a Fossil Discovery, and More

SpaceX CRS-8 / Image © Wikimedia

Editor's Note:

This weekend, keep up on space travel, wonder at a new fossil discovery and what it may tell us about life on Earth, and keep an eye on tropical storm Hermine.

Leaving Orbit: At Cape Canaveral this week, a launch-pad malfunction caused a SpaceX rocket to explode as it prepared to carry a communication satellite for customer Spacecom. The satellite, intended to provide home Internet for parts of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, was a partnership with Facebook. 

To take a closer look at the current state of the U.S. space industry, pick up Leaving Orbit: Notes From the Last Days of American Spaceflight. Inside, Margaret Lazarus Dean covers the space industry’s earliest days, in the 1960s, when space appeared endlessly explorable. She also covers the negative: staffed spacecraft disasters and ever-tightening financial constraints on today’s much-reduced program, with words from NASA workers, astronauts, and writers like  Norman Mailer and Oriana Fallaci.

The Fossils of Florissant: In 2012, in a once-ice-and-snow-covered stretch of land in Greenland, an Australian research team found fossils that they now say are the oldest we have, dating back almost 4 billion years—200 millions years further in history than what we have now. In a story published in Nature magazine, the researchers note the samples may show that life on Earth appeared soon after the planet formed. 

For a more recent look that’s closer to home, there’s Herbert W. Meyer’s The Fossils of Florissant, on the 34-million-year-old richly diverse site that makes up Colorado’s Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Ashes from long-ago volcanoes, fossils of animals from mammals to insects, and warm-climate plants give a picture of a United States from a very long time ago.

Superstorm: Hurricane season starts now, and this week the National Hurricane Center is tracking Hermine, a tropical storm gathering force and expected to both become a hurricane and make landfall in Florida — the first time a hurricane would do so since 2005’s Wilma — by this weekend.

When Sandy hit New York City and surrounding areas almost four years, ago, it appeared no less immense to scientists aboard the International Space station; taking up almost 2 million square miles, it was the largest storm they’d ever seen. In Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, Kathryn Miles details the rapidly changing storm that outpaced meteorologists, emergency managers, and scientists at National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service as they struggled to understand and react to what they were seeing, as it gathered strength and then hit land.

From the Web:

How the Upright Citizens Brigade Improvised a Comedy Empire: Writer Emma Allen explores the art of improvisational comedy, via a series of classes with New York City’s venerable improv center, the Upright Citizens Brigade.

The Audacious Plan to Save This Man’s Life by Transplanting His Head: Inside the world’s first head-transplant — if it happens.

Ichibanzumi, Japan’s Finest Nori: A look at top-quality nori, or Japense seaweed, harvested from the Ariake Sea.