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Most Apollo Astronauts Had Tattoos

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My Gemini-Rogallo wing tattoo. Pretty sure none of the Apollo astronauts took this one to the Moon!

My Gemini-Rogallo wing tattoo. Pretty sure none of the Apollo astronauts took this one to the Moon!

When we think of Apollo astronauts, we think of hot-shot pilots who dared to ride rockets to the Moon! But who, at their core, were straight-laced military men who followed the rules. So it might come as a surprise that most Apollo astronauts had tattoos. 

This wasn’t something I expected to find. It’s also something that I came across pretty recently. Which in itself was a shock — I’ve spent the better part of my adult life digging into every aspect of the Apollo era. I even named my cat after Apollo 12’s commander Pete Conrad. Fittingly, it was a picture of Pete Conrad that started me down this path. 

NASA.

NASA.

It’s in this picture. That’s Pete in the red shirt having just refilled his coffee cup. I’ve looked at this picture so many times. I’ve posted it. I’ve looked at the whole Apollo 12 catalogue and all the crew pictures. But I guess I was always distracted by the “fourth crew member,” the giant stuffed gorilla in the background, to notice the tattoo on Pete’s inner left forearm.

It’s not entirely surprising. I hunted down more Pete pics after seeing this and in most pictures he’s wearing short sleeves with his arm bent or he’s wearing a suit… or a spacesuit as the case may be.

Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon sorting rocks after returning from the Moon. You can see his tattoo again! NASA.

Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon sorting rocks after returning from the Moon. You can see his tattoo again! NASA.

You can tell it’s an anchor with what looks like stars and initials around it. Well, as luck would have it, I had a chance to ask his wife Nancy about it the other week over lunch. She confirmed that it is an anchor. Which isn’t surprising. Pete was a Navy man after all and it wasn’t uncommon in that era for Navy men to get a nautical tattoo. The initials, she told me, are his: P and C. But the most surprising part? He didn’t get it in the Navy, he got it when he was 14! 

I tried to hunt down some other astronaut tattoos, but the only ones I could confirm are tattoos that they all got in common: the ones that marked their biomed sensors.

Beginning with the Mercury days, flight surgeons wired astronauts to gather biomedical data in flight as a way to see the effects of spaceflight on the human body. Sensors measured body core temperature, respiration rate, and electrical activity in the heart. To make sure the sensors were always placed in the same spots for accurate readings, the astronauts were tattooed with tiny dots to mark the correct placement.

John Glenn tells the story in his memoirs. Before his Friendship 7 mission, flight surgeon Bill Douglas roughed up his skin, made the dots with a scalpel, and dabbed some India ink he got from someone’s desk to make the mark. Those tattoos lasted the rest of his life. Most astronauts ended up with similar marks on their torsos for the sake of accurate biomedical readings. 

Gus Grissom getting his boomed sensors put on. The mark on his ribs looks like a mole to me. The marks were, from what I've read, much smaller. NASA.

Gus Grissom getting his boomed sensors put on. The mark on his ribs looks like a mole to me. The marks were, from what I’ve read, much smaller. NASA.

So there you have it! The astronauts didn’t have full back pieces or sleeves — I mean, it’s possible someone who’s been to space has since gotten a big commemorative tattoo — but they did have group tattoos!

 

Sources: Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story By David Hitt; Sky Walking: An Astronauts Memoir by Tom Jones; Biomedical findings from NASA’s Project Mercury: a Case Series by William Carpentier et al; John Glenn: A Memoir by John Glenn and Nick Taylor.

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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