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Weird News from Above

November 28, 2017

When you think about it, it’s kind of weird and amazing that humans have created machines that allow us to travel through the sky and into space. It makes sense then that there are going to be some weird stories about what happens when humans take to the skies.


The U.K.’s Prince Philip, the recently retired consort of Queen Elizabeth, was an aviator for decades. He served with the Royal Air Force in 1953, and thereafter logged almost 6,000 hours over the next 44 years, when he retired from the pursuit. He’s not the only airborne royal. King Willem-Alexander ascended to the throne of the Netherlands in 2013. He served with the country’s air force more than 20 years ago, and then obtained his pilot’s license. Even after he became king, he continued to use that license. When he’s not doing his kingly duties, Willem-Alexander has apparently been working as a part-time pilot for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. That’s a regular commercial airline. He’s been on the books as a co-pilot with the company since 1996, manning the cockpit about twice a month. Before increased airplane security in recent years, the cockpit doors were generally left open, but the king says he was rarely recognized. Nor was he when he said his name during flight announcements.


Elysium Space is a “memorial spaceflight” company founded by a team of ex-NASA personnel and funeral industry veterans. Its mission statement is to “change the vision of death from the underground to the celestial.” To that end, Elysium Space has contracted with SpaceX, the private spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors. Whenever SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket into space from Vandenberg Air Base in California, it will carry with it a capsule containing the cremated remains of Elysium Space’s departed customers. Once in orbit, the capsule will detach, orbit the Earth for two years, and then re-enter the atmosphere where it will burn up as it descends, an act Elysium compares to “a shooting star.” So far, 100 people have arranged to have their ashes shipped to Elysium. The cost: $2,490—which isn’t much, considering the average funeral costs more than $10,000. (Book passage before it’s too late—or really too late.)


Air travel is very tiring, particularly a long or red-eye flight. But, hey, the flight attendants offer coffee throughout the trip, so why not have a cup or two, right? Maybe stay away from the java. Coffee is made with water of course, but planes don’t exactly have a fresh supply of water available when it’s time to brew a pot. Every plane has a small tank of “potable water.” That’s water that’s clean enough for handwashing and for use in hot beverages, such as in the brewing of coffee. And one person’s definition of “clean enough” varies from another’s, because according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report, 12 percent of airplane water tested has coliform bacteria present, a nasty bug on its own, but which is also found in tandem with the potentially deadly E. coli. It’s probably because while those tanks are refilled on the ground, they’re likely only thoroughly cleaned once or twice a year.

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