Shad goes to Space and Under the Sea

My New York adventure has taken me to the jungle, the Jurassic period and the top of a skyscraper.  Now I would feel like I was boldly going where no cat had gone before as John and I made our way across the deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise.  We walked through a dark entrance to the sound of real-life conversations between mission control and the Enterprise pilots during their flight tests and through a shadowy corridor decorated with eerily lit signs stating “Houston is go for take-off”, “Nothing endures but change” and “All engines running, we have lift-off”.  The corridor led to a large chamber and I emerged cautiously, looking intently around expecting to see an astronaut hopping along the floor in a puffy white space-suit or a green eight-tentacled alien creeping out from behind one of the concrete pillars in the centre of this mystical space.  I started to imagine a planet of cats that each lived in a house with a garden and had all their meals and entertainment provided by miniature purple people.

 

I started to wonder if such a place existed on the other side of the moon when I looked up and saw the vast white-tiled silhouette of the space shuttle Enterprise suspended directly above me.  The engines, rocket boosters and fuel tank had been removed leaving the orbiter section which would have housed the orbital manoeuvring systems, science lab and sleeping areas for the astronauts.  The Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after a fictional star-ship on John’s favourite TV series Star Trek (he’ll grumble at me for telling you that!).  Unveiled in 1976, it was the first NASA orbiter and paved the way for the space shuttle program by performing test flights and acting as a prototype.  There were stairs at the far end of the room that led to an elevated platform for a better view of the space-craft where I could picture the crews’ faces pressed against those tiny windows as they orbited the earth and experienced the intense vibrations that would represent the different stages of launch.  All around the room were displays of flight instruments, photos, films and other original artefacts depicting the design of the space shuttle, as well as an orbital Soyuz space capsule designed by the Soviet space programme.  I was flabbergasted to read on the information board that this small spherical space at around 2½ metres in diameter was the habitat module which carried equipment and cargo and even housed a toilet.  It is just large enough to accommodate 3 people as long as they don’t want to lie down!

 

Now to the bottom of the briny deep in Submarine Growler, the only American guided missile submarine that is open to the public.  When John suggested we get on board, I agreed but only because I thought he’d say no!  I was worried about fitting my ample frame through the restrictive hatches or lost in its endless parallel corridors that all looked the same.  But I had made a commitment and I’m not one to take that lightly so with my ears swivelling madly I lifted my nose in the air and strode up the bouncing metal staircase to the entrance hatch on the hull.  With a secret sigh I climbed down the steep steps into this metal casket and imagined the bulkheads bending and creaking as the captain ordered the boat into a deep dive.  We moved through various compartments including the aft torpedo room, the attack centre, the galley and crew’s mess.  The Growler’s two periscopes were located in the centre of the control room and the cramped crew quarters were packed with small bunks from floor to ceiling.

It must have been hard for the sailors on board to have no contact with the outside world for months at a time, not to mention climbing all those ladders between decks which must have been exhausting.  With so many doorways to get through, John and I soon got into a rhythm with John sashaying through each hatch sideways (his narrower aspect) and ducking so as not to hit his head while I developed a rather graceful leap over the high ledge at each access point only slipping once on a grease patch (which wasn’t my fault).  As I headed up the almost vertical steps to the exit hatch and felt the fresh sea air rippling past my whiskers, I spared a thought for those who fought and died in submarines just like this one.  It’s a piece of history and history should never be forgotten.

Shad does the American Museum of Natural History

John knows I hate those revolving doors having almost caught my tail in one in the past so when it started rotating I scuttled through with my ears back and my tail tucked between my back paws expecting to make a dignified recovery the other side.  Instead I dropped my ample belly down to the ground and slowly lifted my worried face towards the ceiling until my bright green eyes met the huge empty ocular sockets of a giant.  I crept gradually towards it sniffing eagerly to check if it was friend or foe and decided that it was safe to continue on this weird and wonderful journey through the Museum of Natural History in New York.  And if I thought the guy in the lobby was big, I was soon to face the titanosaur, a 122 foot long 70 ton dinosaur so big it won’t fit into one room so its head pokes through to the next gallery.  Based on a fossil found in Argentina in 2014, titanosaur was the largest creature to ever have walked the earth and I was soon to sit right next it!

 

John and I entered the North American Hall of Mammals and Hall of African Mammals which displays many mammal species preserved forever behind glass and to be honest I wasn’t sure whether to be enthralled or horrified.  I was full of mixed emotions about the educational value of the museum against the frozen faces of my feline cousins looking at me with lifeless eyes.  John told me that during the nineteenth century, the trade in exotic animals was rife and this sadly resulted in hundreds of thousands of animals being taken away from their natural environments and forced to live in unsuitable conditions before meeting unhappy endings.  Yet this macabre practice gave people of science the chance to study animals for scientific advances.  In another paradox, this caused the suffering of many animals used for experimentation but also facilitated a better understanding of the natural world.  I resolved my ethical dichotomy by accepting that the historical collections in the museum represent the best and the worst of humanity and I cannot change the past but only look to improve the future.  I would start by appreciating the beauty of the bears lured to the river by salmon, the course-haired bison roaming the prairies and the glistening beavers busy building their damns.  The gorilla standing before me looked like a ferocious hunter but ironically he is a vegetarian who spends his day feeding on leaves, bark and fruit.

 

In the Hall of Human Origins I met Lucy, a quiet lass, petite and with a few bits missing, but she’s allowed to be what she wants considering she lived in Ethiopia around 3 million years ago and is potentially the oldest ancestor of modern humans.  The Human Origins exhibition tells the story of human-kind through the fossil record and genome science and showed me just how creative and fortunate you humans have been to get this far.  I imagine this would not have been the case if everyone were at the same intellectual level as the Easter Island head who sniggered at me as we made our way through the Polynesian People section.  I reminded him that he was known as the monolithic statue that demanded chewing-gum from Larry the lead character in the movie Night at the Museum and kept calling him Dum-Dum. I suggested that as someone famous for requesting large amounts of gum-gum, he might want to consider giving a better impression to visitors by making himself useful, providing directions or helpful hints about the museum.  He wanted to know why I couldn’t walk on my back legs and why I didn’t have thumbs so I enquired as to whether he was related to Neanderthals and why he was constantly pouting.  I think John got fed up with listening to me arguing with this disproportionatey sized lump of stone and moved on.  I knew he couldn’t wait to check out the mighty tyrannosaurus-rex with its two-fingered forearms and serrated teeth, probably the most famous of dinosaurs.

 

Mounted in a stalking position, head low, tail extended and one foot slightly raised, Rexy and his 6 inch long teeth stood proud in the gallery surrounded by a multitude of bizarre looking relics from the Mesozoic Era that covers the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods up to 245 million years ago.  I was encircled by the skeletons of pterodactyl and other winged reptiles that hung from the ceiling whilst horned, crested and domed skulls stared at me from every angle.  Enough with the monsters, it was time to admire the most colourful and sparkly part of the museum, the Halls of Meteorites, Minerals and Gems.  Imagine my ecstatic face as I swooned over the biggest collection of twinkling things I’ve ever seen in my life, just like Scrat the squirrel who goes to acorn heaven in the movie Ice Age 3 or Dory from Finding Nemo when she’s winning at a game.  There were diamonds, rubies, garnets, quartz, gold, platinum, opal, amber and emeralds in the simplest and most elaborate of forms, from smooth polished egg shapes to jagged gemstones that refracted the light into miniature rainbows.  Some pieces looked like snow-flakes, while others were flat, hexagonal or shaped like a rose.  John liked the Star of India, a mesmerising jewel that is the world’s largest blue-star sapphire.  I rubbed my cheek on the Cape York meteorite, a 34 ton iron mass that collided with the earth some 10,000 years ago.  It was magical!

Shad goes to Innsbruck

I am very proud of my fur coat.  It’s glossy, black and silky soft to the touch.  A cloak like that must have provided my ancestors with a great camouflage in the forests and John tells me I blend in quite nicely on a dark carpet which must be why I can stalk my mousey so well.  But on the crispy white snow of Innsbruck I stood out like a sore thumb.  With my jet black fur and John’s tomato red ski jacket we looked a right pair!  Luckily most peoples’ attention was focussed on the sturdy metal bathtubs that kept sliding at full velocity down a sloped twisting ice chute.  John said it was the 2017 World Cup Bobsled competition and the humans dressed in shiny Lycra cat suits with protective helmets were deliberately descending the ice chute to see who could do it the best.

 

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Bobsleigh or bobsled (not sure what the difference is) involves teams of two or four people pushing the sled down a narrow, banked ice track before leaping into it just as gravity powers it along and they rocket down the track at around 120mph.  This is a popular winter sport in Innsbruck which is known fondly as the Capital of the Alps.  It’s the fourth largest city in Austria yet its small enough to get around on foot.  The Olympic Winter Games in 1964 and 1976 were held here and it is a hub of snow-based activity including skiing, snowboarding, skating, mountaineering and snowshoeing.  The bravest of all compete in the luge competition where one or two people lay face up on a skateboard literally inches from the hard ribbon of concrete beneath them and thunder down the track without even being able to see where they’re going.

Innsbruck is known for its imperial architecture with gothic attributes like the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) building, a landmark structure completed in 1500 and decorated with 2,738 fire-gilded copper tiles for Emperor Maximillian 1 who was King of the Romans from 1486. We also did a bit of celebrity spotting when we went out for dinner and saw some of the cast of reality TV show The Jump relaxing in an Austrian restaurant in the old town.  One of them kept rubbing John’s hair which is admittedly extremely bouncy and curly and grows at an alarming rate.  One time I heard tweeting coming from his head and a twig fell out!  Anyway, I’m not sure if this is an Austrian tradition or simply a quirk of this particular eating establishment but as we got to the end of the meal, there was a commotion.  Apparently one of the photographers on the trip, didn’t finish all her food and was punished with a smack on the bottom with a fish!  Everyone roared with laughter but I thought it was a waste of a perfectly good sea bass!

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