Thursday, April 4, 2013

Failure on the ground, triumph above

So our veterinarian says he needs a urine sample from our seventy-pound, six-year-old dog Lucy to properly diagnose her sudden, occasional incontinence. Yeah, sure, Stew said, without considering the logistics: How do you collect pee from a large dog used to roaming a seven-acre-plus ranch?

After considering a small sauce pan and other options, Stew settled on a longish plastic container that he would cleverly slip under Lucy just as she squatted. Can't imagine how you would collect the stuff from male dogs, with their merry spritz-here-and-there approach to peeing.

During the past two days Stew has been stalking Lucy like a pervert, trying to slip the container under just at the right time, but so far no luck.

Last night we went out again, with the container, a flashlight and the two other dogs who kept meddling in this tricky procedure as if they were missing out on something. They peed merrily but poor Lucy kept cowering and looking over her shoulder, as if she was being punished.

Finally Stew just let her off the leash and she ran off, relieved to be free and freely relieve herself in some dark spot of the ranch, in privacy, away from the expectant eyes of her two masters. The indignities pets we have put up with, pets would say, but they don't know what owners have to suffer too.

This morning, at exactly 6:08 a.m., a far happier event: A flyover by the International Space Station, slicing the northeastern skies just as the sun was readying to rise from behind the mountains. The sighting lasted only three or four minutes but it was unmistakable, a tiny but very bright LED light, steadily going east as if seeking cover.

A beautiful metal bird, even from 300 miles away. (Thanks to NASA or whoever for the photo)
Though our main bedroom has a straight-on view of the sun rising, we've almost taken the spectacle for granted. Today we got to sit on the back terrace and enjoy a double feature: the majestic natural sunrise and a fleeting sighting of the man-made station. The air was light-jacket cool and the only sounds came from a couple donkeys braying in the distance.

Sunrise shortly after Space Station flyby.
Because the space station flew by for only a few minutes some might say "big deal." They would be people with no imagination. You need to look at that artificial meteor and imagine the rest.

This twelve-year-old wonder flies overhead at an average altitude of three-hundred miles and a speed of over seventeen thousand miles per hour. Its altitude is pretty low compared to some man-made satellites that cruise thousands of miles above the earth. It has been populated by scientists from fifteen countries. Friction from the atmosphere slows down the station and causes it to lose altitude, so boosters periodically have to goose it back up to the proper levels of each.

The station looks like a gawky Erector Set bird, with wings approximately three-hundred-fifty-five feet long and covered with solar panels. It's constantly being expanded with sections and modules supplied by the U.S., Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, and launched from a space station in Russia. It's present weight is almost one million pounds.

[Russia: Has someone informed freshman U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about this? There might some communists lurking around in all that labyrinth of hardware overhead.]

Exactly what the space station does is admittedly hard for average European or Canadian taxpayers to figure out though they are footing the bill. The combined station budget has to be a giant pot of tens of billions of euros, dollars, rubles and yens.

The latest addition to the station is the two billion dollar Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment to determine the origin and nature of antimatter.

Indeed. I diligently tried to find out a bit more about the station's various experiments and gadgets. All I can figure is that antimatter must be what fills my head with when I try to think about this stuff.

Nevertheless I figure this contraption probably cost a hell of lot less than the Iraq war cost U.S. taxpayers—more than two trillion dollars and still counting—while promoting international cooperation and science, however obscure. At least it doesn't go around destroying things and people and pissing everyone off.

Back on earth the Lucy dilemma remains unsolved. After a couple of antibiotic pills, variously concealed in a mixture of dog food, cat milk and pieces of hot dogs, she seems to be getting better. So the urine sample may be unnecessary, a great relief for her and Stew.

In fact we hope she can join us tonight at 8:14 p.m. when that beautiful spaceship and its six astronauts will go over the ranch again. This morning the two cats paced the terrace meowing while the station flew over their heads. We thought it was excitement about space exploration but no. They were just hungry.

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