It used to be that whenever there was a space insurance conference being held, there always seemed to be a major launch or in-orbit failure at the same time or very soon after. That trend seems to be carrying on, for just hours after the delegates at the World Space Risk From set off for home from Dubai on 15 May, a Proton M/Breeze M did the business…and fell from the sky, along with its Express AM-4R satellite payload, after its third stage thrust was cut off prematurely.
The occurrence was especially surprising for what should have been a divinely-favoured launch. For when asked by this writer whether he or his firm had any pre-launch religious or superstitious routines like praying, carrying a rabbit’s foot or wearing lucky underpants, Phil Slack, President of International Launch Services (ILS) which markets the Russian Proton rocket for commercial flights, revealed that a Russian Orthodox Bishop blesses each Proton launch vehicle one or two days before each flight.
The latest launch failure is reported to have cost insurers US$217 million. As such, you can imagine that some of the space underwriters involved, and indeed, ones who have also covered many Proton failures previously, might well now be wanting to blame or even bash the aforementioned Bishop! 🙂
While that might not quite be Phil Slack’s style, one can still imagine him asking the Bishop to bless harder next time. Well that, and trying his best to get Proton manufacturer Khrunichev (ILS’ holding company) and its suppliers to improve their quality control. Phil might even go the extra mile and get some lucky launch underpants for himself and the rest of his launch crew…just to make sure that his thrust always remains nominal and that his rocket always stays on course you understand.
Of course, the concept of “lucky underpants” might depend on whether you are the wearer or the receiver. While he has just returned to Earth after being commander of International Space Station, on his previous trip, JAXA astronaut, Koichi Wakata, wore a pair of special Japanese-designed J-Ware underpants for one month during his stay on in space in 2009. The pants were made out of a material containing threads of anti-bacterial polymers that reduce the smells that build up in normal clothing. The underpants have also been designed to absorb human sweat and other in order to keep the body dry. Japanese scientists back on Earth were the “lucky” recipients of the dirty pair on which they had to perform a complete examination. Hopes of incinerating the underpants were later dashed by the fact that they were designed to be fire proof.
Of course, while you can often make, or rather, improve your own luck, sometimes it is positively advantageous to have flame proof underpants if not lucky ones. In a gambling scam several years ago involving predictive Newtonian Mechanics, a small battery operated calculating computer was strapped to a gambler’s leg and shoe to improve the odds of winning at roulette in a Las Vegas Casino.
By timing speed of the wheel and the ball by clicking and a tapping a toe or leg switch, the system would calculate which 1/8 of the wheel the ball would fall, indicating this using a series of physical nudges. While it did not work every time, the system worked well enough to significantly improve the chances of winning. Everything was going swimmingly with the gambling team steadily winning large sums of money until the frenetic clicking and nudging got too much for computer’s wiring. The result was that it caught fire with smoke seen to be billowing from the legs of one the gamblers’ trousers. Thankfully the fire was put out before any important bits got singed, although understandably the gambling syndicate was subsequently barred from the casino. Nice try lads.
Update on 29 May 2014: New ways of employing physics and statistics to win at gambling are now underway. In a bid to publicise gambling opportunities in the FIFA World Cup football which is to start in June (to the benefit of gambling dens and satellite sports broadcasters around the world) the bookmaker Paddy Power has sponsored for charity the world famous physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, to work out the chance of England winning the competition. Having modelled their chance into an equation, Hawking noted that the task was both difficult and fascinating even though he is not a big football fan himself.
Hawking examined several variables including air temperature (England’s chance apparently drops 59% per five degree Celcius rise), length of travel (short haul destinations are 22% better for England), colour of shirt (red is apparently best to play psychologists and Feng Shui luck practitioners would tell you), referees (a European ref would help), and formations (4, 3, 3 is apparently best). As a result of all this, while he will be supporting the England team, Hawking’s prediction is that, sadly, England will probably not win the World Cup this year.
Still, if they do have to face the Germans in a penalty shoot out (as England normally do and usually go out of the competition as a result) Hawking does at least give them his tips to improve their chances. That is, there is only a 58% chance of scoring if a penalty taker’s run up is three steps or less – considerably less than the normal 87% probability of scoring otherwise. In other words, have a big run up lads! More strangely, Hawking found that 84% of penalties by fair-haired players went in, compared to 71% for bald players and only 69% for dark haired players. One wonders here what Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant counts as?
As to which team will actually win it, Hawking notes that Brazil has won 30% of all World Cups. Well tell us something we didn’t know Stephen! It is a pity here that the World famous clairvoyant tank specimen, Paul the Octopus, is no longer alive. In the last World Cup he had an uncanny ability to choose the match winners by selecting which food he wanted to eat. With his tips we might have become rich beyond our wildest dreams (and they are pretty wild in your correspondent’s case).
Despite all of this, your ever hopeful small-time gambling correspondent will still be having a small wager on England – mainly because under manager Roy Hodgson most of the less desirable elements in the England team have now left. As such, in common with this writer’s own newly found good wishes for these young but stout English yeomen, it does feel like the heavens just might smile upon them now. And, of course, your correspondent will also have some “lucky red” underpants on as he watches them on TV – though just for key games and not for the whole championship you will be relieved to know! :).
Post script: While England currently have odds of 28-1, Toddy’s outsider tip is Cameroon at 1000-1. Despite the fact that they are in the “group of Death” with Brazil, sooner or later an African team like Cameroon will win the World Cup.