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Monday, March 16, 2020

Pandemic ! ~ or Panic reaction of the globe ~ do you remember Skylab falling !!

In the small town of Oakey Oaks, Chicken Little rings the school bell and warns everyone to run for their lives. This sends the whole town into a frenzy. Eventually, the Head of the Fire Department calms down enough to ask him what is happening. Chicken Little says that a piece of the sky shaped like a stop sign had fallen on his head, but he is unable to find the piece. His father, Buck Cluck, assumes that this "piece of sky" was just an acorn that had fallen from the tree, making Chicken Little the laughingstock of the town.

It is all about people’s reaction – the panic reaction !- WHO has classified COVID-19 as a pandemic.  The outbreak of ‘coronavirus’  has sparked fear and anxiety around the world. The pneumonia-like virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has infected thousands and killed more than 6500 worldwide.  Italy on Sunday announced 3,590 new cases and 368 deaths in just 24 hours amid the worst outbreak outside China.  Yet .. .. the  virus does not seem to be deadly as SARS, which killed 774 people from 2002 to 2003. SARS had a mortality rate of 9.6%, whereas only about 2% of people have died from the new coronavirus. But the number of people infected after one month has already surpassed the SARS outbreak's eight-month total.  Many patients of the new coronavirus have already made full recoveries. According to Chinese officials, most of those who've died were elderly or suffering other ailments that compromised their immune systems. 

Coming to panic reaction of  buying, in  a joint letter, UK retailers have reminded customers to be considerate in their shopping, so that others are not left without much-needed items. "There is enough for everyone if we all work together," it adds. It comes after some shops began rationing the sales of certain products to avoid them selling out completely.  Before you jump to any conclusion – such panic is not anything new !

Decades ago in 1979 – rumours ran so high that most people in globe feared a mighty fall from the sky a la Chicken do little – across India, especially Andhrapradesh, fear was high as according to some reports that object from the sky could hurtle in Karimnagar.  Some of them hid their wealth in the wells and some spent all the money they had saved for their enjoyment since they feared that lives would come to an end soon. Reportedly some sold their property and cattle at low prices ! – eventually some pieces were scattered across Australia, but no one on the ground was hit and no property damage was reported.  It was stated that some even walked with helmets on  to protect themselves from the 2,310-kg airlock shroud.

It was a satellite – ‘skylab’ – in June 1979, as the crash approached, Skylab-inspired parties and products were all the rage in the United States. The imminent crash of Skylab midway through 1979 coincided with Americans’ declining confidence in their government. The stagnant economy and a second oil crisis dropped Congress’ approval rating to just 19 percent that year. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that many people took an irreverent view of the demise of Skylab, a government project.   Mocking NASA’s inability to say precisely where Skylab would land, entrepreneurs across the country sold T-shirts emblazoned with large bullseyes.  While Americans used Skylab’s looming demise as an excuse to party in June 1979, people in other countries didn’t take things quite so lightly. Initially, NASA could not specify when or where Skylab would come down, though the agency mapped out a potential debris field that spanned about 7,400 kilometers across the Indian Ocean and Australia. Even those who lived outside the projected debris footprint were nervous, however.

A report commissioned by NASA calculated that the odds were 1 in 152 of debris hitting any human, and odds of 1 in 7 of debris hitting a city of 100,000 people or more.  A week before re-entry, NASA forecast that it would occur between July 10 and 14, with the 12th the most likely date, and the Royal Aircraft Establishment predicted the 14th.  In the hours before the event, ground controllers adjusted Skylab's orientation to minimize the risk of re-entry on a populated area.  They aimed the station at a spot 810 miles (1,300 km) south-southeast of Cape Town, South Africa, and re-entry began at approximately 16:37 UTC, July 11, 1979.   Debris landed about 300 miles (480 km) east of Perth, Western Australia due to a four-percent calculation error, and was found between Esperance, Western Australia and Rawlinna,  around Balladonia, Western Australia.

The Miss Universe 1979 pageant was scheduled for July 20, 1979 in Perth, and a large piece of Skylab debris was displayed on the stage. Skylab was the first United States space station, launched by NASA, occupied for about 24 weeks between May 1973 and Feb 1974. Major operations included an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, Earth observation, and hundreds of experiments. Unable to be re-boosted by the Space Shuttle, which was not ready until the early 1980s, Skylab's orbit decayed and it burned up in the atmosphere on July 11, 1979, over the Indian Ocean.

Skylab included a workshop, a solar observatory, and several hundred life science and physical science experiments, and was launched uncrewed into low Earth orbit by a modified Saturn V rocket, with a weight of 170,000 pounds (77,000 kg). This was the final mission for the Saturn V rocket, more commonly known for carrying the crewed Moon landing missions. Three subsequent missions delivered three-astronaut crews in the Apollo command and service module (Apollo CSM) launched by the smaller Saturn IB rocket. The station was damaged during launch when the micrometeoroid shield tore away from the workshop, taking one of the main solar panel arrays with it and jamming the other main array. This deprived Skylab of most of its electrical power and also removed protection from intense solar heating, threatening to make it unusable. The first crew deployed a replacement heat shade and freed the jammed solar panels to save Skylab. This was the first time that a repair of this magnitude was performed in space.

Skylab included the Apollo Telescope Mount (a multi-spectral solar observatory), a multiple docking adapter with two docking ports, an airlock module with extravehicular activity (EVA) hatches, and the orbital workshop, the main habitable space inside Skylab. The record for human time spent in orbit was extended beyond the 23 days set by the Soyuz 11 crew aboard Salyut 1 to 84 days by the Skylab 4 crew. Later plans to reuse Skylab were stymied by delays in development of the Space Shuttle, and Skylab's decaying orbit could not be stopped. Skylab's atmospheric reentry began on July 11, 1979,  amid worldwide media attention. Before re-entry, NASA ground controllers tried to adjust Skylab's orbit to minimize the risk of debris landing in populated areas, targeting the south Indian Ocean, which was partially successful. Debris showered Western Australia, and recovered pieces indicated that the station had disintegrated lower than expected. As the Skylab program drew to a close, NASA's focus had shifted to the development of the Space Shuttle.

Riccardo Giacconi shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for his study of X-ray astronomy, including the study of emissions from the sun onboard Skylab, contributing to the birth of X-ray astronomy. Beginning in June of 1979, as Skylab’s re-entry approached, many American newspapers jokingly proposed “Skylab insurance,” which would pay subscribers for death or injury caused by flying orbiter fragments. The San Francisco Examiner went one step further, offering a $10,000 prize to the first person to deliver a piece of Skylab debris to its office within 72 hours of the crash. Knowing the orbiter wasn’t coming down anywhere near the continental United States, the newspaper felt it was making a safe bet. It didn’t count on news of the bounty traveling all the way to Australia. There, 17-year-old Stan Thornton of tiny Esperance awoke to the commotion when Skylab broke apart in the atmosphere and pelted his house with space station fragments. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a few charred bits of material from his yard, hopped on a plane without so much as a passport or suitcase and made it to the Examiner’s office before the deadline. The newspaper good-naturedly paid out the award.

Those opening lines were the plot of ‘Chicken Little’ American 3D computer-animated science fiction comedy film, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation released in 2005.   The 46th Disney animated feature film was directed by Mark Dindal from a screenplay by Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman, and Ron Anderson, based on a story by Mark Kennedy and Dindal. The film is dedicated to Disney artist and writer Joe Grant, who died before the film's release.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
16th Mar 2020.

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