Engineering Marvels

There is a difference in the way that we think about largeness.  Astronomically, we see the most massive, expansive spans of matter that exist in the universe.  And they are large, whether measured by the scope or method of their distribution, as when the matter is adrift, spreading across many hundreds of thousands of light years of space, as does a delicate, nebulous veil, or when it is constrained by the incomprehensible forces of mass and gravity that are at the unknown heart of a black hole, with enough contained matter to make a star far larger than the sun, all of it smashed, compressed and so densely packed that it creates a door that closes on the normal universe, where it is caught behind a lightless, colorless, unescapable (at least by way of arrival) barrier of its own creation, within a space so small that a star athlete could cross its span in less than four minutes. In both cases, it is a largeness that stands beyond our ability to touch, physically or intellectually.  We can only appreciate its existence (Elle's too) from a clouded, far-away perspective, one which science and engineering are ever trying to bridge.

But, if we reduce the range of our view of what is large, to a point where we must either dodge or interact carefully to survive or benefit, the universe can seem as small as its parts are distant, compared to the largeness of the barriers that are within our capability to topple.


Elle MacPherson

Bridging the Gaps

Take the bridge NASA has created between the orbs of Earth and our next-door neighbor, Mars .  It is a bridge of communication and investigative control, over which the Red Planet is giving up its far-flung secrets.  Suddenly, that bridge has made Mars seem not so far away, now connected by an enormously long bridge we are capable of undertaking to expand so it will carry more than telemetry, and so we appreciate the difficulty of the challenges.

Or, take terrestrial bridges, aside from the colored-stone span with which Elle is doing her bridging up there. Think of what they must do: think of the weight and forces they must continually bear, the challenges of manipulating the bulk and weight of the elements, the tracks of ground and water they traverse, their construction, and certainly not least, the cost in lives inevitably lost to the building, and those swept away with its spans if it all isn't very well designed and erected.

Future entries in this series will include marvels as damns, offshore oil production facilities, micro and medical robotics, GPS navigation, the SR-71, a deep science submarine, the VLA Radio Astronomy system, the latest high-risk skyscrapers, and maybe Paulina, Claudia, Elle, Kathy, Cindy...and it will attempt to present some triumphs and failures, which are a part of the story of how the gaps we bridge are getting wider and more challenging then ever, and pushing against the limits of our ability to master our expanding environment.

The Golden Gate Bridge - 60 Years Old

Construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge on January 5, 1933, under the direction of Chief Engineer Joseph B. Strauss, and despite the most elaborate safety measures ever enforced, 11 men lost their lives working to complete the span, which occurred almost 4-1/2 years later, on May 27, 1937, when it was opened to the public.  This loss of life, though great, was a vast improvement over the death rates that previously stood for such projects.

The landmark bridge is remotely monitored to detect and allow review of movements caused by earthquakes or other geological or engineering factors.

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