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Thread: Early 1960s bad space technology writing in popular media

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    Early 1960s bad space technology writing in popular media

    While browsing back issues of Popular Science Monthly online, I found a whopper of an article about a proposed space station.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=IS...page&q&f=false

    Scroll down to the index on p. 2 and then follow the link to "Inside Our First Space Station", p. 96.

    While the inflatable one-piece ring proposed by Goodyear went nowhere, that is not my main point here. Late in the article (p. 176) the author asserted that in pre-Sputnik days it was taken for granted that missions to the Moon and beyond would start from a low Earth orbit station "to avoid the fuel draining climb through the Earth's atmosphere." Whoever was taking that for granted did not know their physics. A stop at the station would not have eliminated the need to haul hardware and fuel up from the ground. There surely was no lunar or asteroid mining envisioned to reduce the delta V for missions in the 1960s and '70s. Someone gets an F in physics here, and in my fantasy world I would flog the editors with a wet noodle for missing the fault in the article.

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    But maybe the author was assuming a fuel store at low orbit , supplied from the ground using energy, allowing the moon rocket to carry less fuel? So the moon rocket is lighter but the total energy is split between fuel cargo rockets and the moon rocket. I think even back in the last century it was known the fuel load was a problem and the mission fuel had to be boosted out of the atmosphere. Maybe rocket size was seen as a limit, requiring the two stage approach? The solution of a discarded booster rocket did need the Saturn 5 rocket to be built.
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    Maybe they mean something like “a moonship built and fueled up in orbit bit by bit would require each individual launch to be smaller and carry less fuel than if the vehicle launched in one piece from Earth on a massive rocket”?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hornblower View Post
    While browsing back issues of Popular Science Monthly online, I found a whopper of an article about a proposed space station.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=IS...page&q&f=false

    Scroll down to the index on p. 2 and then follow the link to "Inside Our First Space Station", p. 96.

    While the inflatable one-piece ring proposed by Goodyear went nowhere, that is not my main point here. Late in the article (p. 176) the author asserted that in pre-Sputnik days it was taken for granted that missions to the Moon and beyond would start from a low Earth orbit station "to avoid the fuel draining climb through the Earth's atmosphere." Whoever was taking that for granted did not know their physics. A stop at the station would not have eliminated the need to haul hardware and fuel up from the ground. There surely was no lunar or asteroid mining envisioned to reduce the delta V for missions in the 1960s and '70s. Someone gets an F in physics here, and in my fantasy world I would flog the editors with a wet noodle for missing the fault in the article.
    Yep, delta V is delta V, and all a space station does is let you move it around.

    Delta-v is a scalar quantity dependent only on the desired trajectory and not on the mass of the space vehicle. For example, although more fuel is needed to transfer a heavier communication satellite from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit than for a lighter one, the delta-v required is the same. Also delta-v is additive, as contrasted to rocket burn time, the latter having greater effect later in the mission when more fuel has been used up.
    ETA: Which reminds me of a line from a sci-fi book I read (can't recall the name) in which a character says "if you're in low Earth orbit then you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System." Eh, not exactly. Getting from the Earth to the Moon has a total Delta V budget of ~16 kms/s and that's not including more Delta V needed to stop, land, get back off the surface, return to Earth, etc.
    Last edited by schlaugh; 2020-Apr-29 at 03:57 PM.

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    I see your points, and if the author had described a similar scenario, with the space station as a support facility for the in-orbit assembly, that would have been fine. In principle it would not have reduced the total fuel needs, but it would have been doable with smaller launch rockets. In the 1940s, pioneer Willy Ley was asked how big a rocket would have to be to get a man to the Moon and back, he did the rocket-equation calculations and said about the size of a destroyer, meaning about 300 feet tall and some 3,000 tons at liftoff. I can see how the prospect of building and operating such a monster would have seemed very forbidding back then.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hornblower View Post
    I see your points, and if the author had described a similar scenario, with the space station as a support facility for the in-orbit assembly, that would have been fine. In principle it would not have reduced the total fuel needs, but it would have been doable with smaller launch rockets. In the 1940s, pioneer Willy Ley was asked how big a rocket would have to be to get a man to the Moon and back, he did the rocket-equation calculations and said about the size of a destroyer, meaning about 300 feet tall and some 3,000 tons at liftoff. I can see how the prospect of building and operating such a monster would have seemed very forbidding back then.
    Hmmm...sounds a lot like the Saturn V:

    Height = 111 meters (363 feet)
    Weight = Fully fueled for liftoff, 2.8 million kilograms (6.2 million pounds), or 3100 tons

    Smart guy that Willy Ley...

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    Rockets Through Space, by Lester del Rey, 1957:

    "In the future, schools will probably have courses in space and space travel, just as boys and girls are now taught all about other lands in their geographies. Unfortunately, teaching of such courses lies several years ahead."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Rockets Through Space, by Lester del Rey, 1957:
    Page 60, re: the weightless conditions in Earth orbit: "A steak could not be fried without some type of clamp to hold it against the pan. Otherwise, the heating of the surface would produce tiny jets of steam from the water present in all meat, and the steam pressure would toss the steak out of the pan immediately."

    Page 61-62: "In the absence of gravity.... we might find ourselves permanently dizzy, with the sickness in our stomachs turning into convulsions that would make survival impossible.... We might not be able to perform the normal movements of our bodies nor undertake the necessary operations of the instruments with only our sense of sight to guide us."
    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2020-Apr-29 at 06:10 PM.
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    Satellite!, by Erik Bergaust and William Beller, 1956.

    Page 130: "The findings {of research aircraft} indicate that a rocket craft employed in a visit to the orbits where man-made moons will be circling might look very much like the current supersonic aircraft, such as the X-3 or F-104. The cockpit will probably be large enough to hold a two-man crew and the aircraft will be streamlined and have wings and control surfaces for return to earth."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Satellite!, by Erik Bergaust and William Beller, 1956.
    page 142: "The absence of gravity means.... a man confined to a small area such as the interior of a sealed cockpit would quickly be surrounded by the deadly carbon dioxide of his own exhaling, and this would eventually cause suffocation."
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    Flight to the Stars, by James Strong (1965).

    Page 79: "For the bulk of the Martian atmosphere is nitrogen [page 84: 96%], and what little water vapour is present is microscopic."

    page 127: "The feat of outfitting interstellar expeditions will be so enormous that the project will have to be sponsored by a World Government."
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    Flight into Space, J.N. Leonard, science editor of Time Magazine (1954).

    page 57: "Even the expansive von Braun admits that these flights to the orbit will be an enormous enterprise. The will require an elaborate base, probably on an oceanic island, which will amount to a sizeable and highly specialized city."

    page 58: "It is this observer's opinion that the lonely satellite under the cold black sky will have one familiar item. The magnesium or plastic walls of the crew's quarters will be thickly papered with pictures of naked women. There is precedent for this. [Long, 2-page discourse on why there must be pictures of naked women aboard male-piloted spacecraft follows. I am not making this up.]

    page 157: "Nearly all astronomers admit that Mars has some sort of vegetation on it, and where plants live, there must be something equivalent to animal life."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Rockets Through Space, by Lester del Rey, 1957:

    "In the future, schools will probably have courses in space and space travel, just as boys and girls are now taught all about other lands in their geographies. Unfortunately, teaching of such courses lies several years ahead."
    I’m pretty sure there were already specialized astronomy classes at the time. At least in the American K-12 schooling system, learning about space travel and other planets tends to be folded into a preexisting “Science” class rather than its own class, but, then, Social Studies is also more than just “geographies of other lands”. In college one can absolutely take specialized classes in planetary science, astrophysics, aerospace engineering, and related fields, although whether college students should be considered “boys and girls” is subjective. I wouldn’t call it an inaccurate prediction.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Page 60, re: the weightless conditions in Earth orbit: "A steak could not be friend without some type of clamp to hold it against the pan. Otherwise, the heating of the surface would produce tiny jets of steam from the water present in all meat, and the steam pressure would toss the steak out of the pan immediately."

    Page 61-62: "In the absence of gravity.... we might find ourselves permanently dizzy, with the sickness in our stomachs turning into convulsions that would make survival impossible.... We might not be able to perform the normal movements of our bodies nor undertake the necessary operations of the instruments with only our sense of sight to guide us."
    1) I don’t know enough to argue with that but I also don’t think anyone has ever tried frying steak in microgravity to see because it would be very difficult for many reasons including those discussed.

    2) Legitimately unknown at the time of writing, hence the subjunctive tense. He said “it may be”, not “it is” or “it will be”, because it was unknown at the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Satellite!, by Erik Bergaust and William Beller, 1956.

    Page 130: "The findings {of research aircraft} indicate that a rocket craft employed in a visit to the orbits where man-made moons will be circling might look very much like the current supersonic aircraft, such as the X-3 or F-104. The cockpit will probably be large enough to hold a two-man crew and the aircraft will be streamlined and have wings and control surfaces for return to earth."
    Although capsules proved more common, we have had rocket-powered, streamlined spaceplanes both actual (X-15, SpaceShipOne, space shuttle, Buran) and planned but not implemented (X-20, Hermes).


    page 142: "The absence of gravity means.... a man confined to a small area such as the interior of a sealed cockpit would quickly be surrounded by the deadly carbon dioxide of his own exhaling, and this would eventually cause suffocation."
    Obviously there was not an example of a human in a spacecraft at the time they were writing for full verification, but surely the technology to filter air had been proven on submarines by that point? *looks up* Actually, if nuclear submarines were also in the developmental stage at the time, then not for truly long-term submerged periods of weeks and months, so maybe not. Still, it seems weird to just say “it would kill the astronaut” and not “this would be a danger and we would have to develop a way of filtering the CO2”.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Flight to the Stars, by James Strong (1965).

    Page 79: "For the bulk of the Martian atmosphere is nitrogen [page 84: 96%], and what little water vapour is present is microscopic."

    page 127: "The feat of outfitting interstellar expeditions will be so enormous that the project will have to be sponsored by a World Government."
    1) I don’t have other contemporary sources but if this was the state of then-current knowledge of Mars and we know otherwise now, not so much a failed prediction as scientists of the time not having completely accurate information.

    2) Unknown, there has never been an interstellar expedition to date.
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    At my school we did one term of astronomy, built star map cones, and a reflector telescope as volunteers. That was 1960. Next term it was amoeba and single cell life. The contrast was deliberate and 60 years later, I remember that.
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    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
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    Some of my collection of 1950s and 1960s nonfiction space books.

    Interestingly, the word "astronaut" is almost entirely missing from all books in the 1950s. The word "pilot" is used instead.

    The comments from the Time Magazine science editor about prurient photos accompanying (male) spacefarers just goes to show that an education doesn't make you less of a moron.
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    Life on Other Worlds, by (Dr.) Sir Harold Spencer Jones, F.R.S. Astronomer Royal (1956).

    page 129: "As we have mentioned, the colour of the surface of Mars provides sure evidence of the presence of free oxygen.... The presence of free oxygen and carbon dioxide almost certainly demand the existence of vegetation. Combining this argument with the evidence from the changes that occur on the surface, we may conclude that it is almost certain that there is some form of vegetation on Mars."
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    For good giggles, find old descriptions of Venus, "Earth's sister". It reads as the perfect holiday destination. Today we know it also has some similarities to, let's say, a hellhole of the kind that even the devil himself would happily pass for. There's just something unpleasant about being crushed, suffocated, electrocuted, thrown, molten and poisoned all at once, all at level 11. And that's if you're lucky. On a bad day, you'd get a volcano over you to finish it off.
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    Flight into Space, by J.N. Leonard (1954).

    Page 155: "A theory advanced seriously by Dr. Heinz Haber at the University of California at Los Angeles suggests that the mysterious clouds in the atmosphere of Venus may be a "biological airsol," a fog of small living organisms supported at the most favorable altitude in respect to sunlight and temperature. They would be like the plankton that forms the bulk of life in the earth's oceans, and larger flying organisms may have developed to feed upon them, like earth's fish. Perhaps the bodies of all these creatures rain down eventually to the surface of Venus, which is probably dark and may be rather hot. If not too hot, it may be populated by large scavenging creatures that live on the nutritious rain, just like the crabs and mollusks on the bottoms of the earth's oceans."
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    When I was young I got a bunch of NASA tech briefs from my father’s friend, who was going to throw them out. They were the type of things that would go to teachers and so forth, things you would see on the web today.

    Anyway, I remember one was about Venus, speculating what was under the clouds. One possibility suggested was a warm ocean world. Another was a desert. They made the point that they needed a space probe to learn more. No suggestion of life, though.

    It couldn’t have been that long after they printed that when it was determined how hot Venus really was. There was just so much that wasn’t known before a real space program.

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    Satellite!, by Erik Bergaust and William Beller (1956).

    Page 176: "The psychologists might be called upon to make up a new name for people suffering neuroses when left alone in space, and might have to devise means for entertaining people seeing nothing around them for long periods of time but vast volumes of blackness."

    Completely missed how busy actual astronauts would be, and how interesting the Earth and Moon would be from space.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Satellite!, by Erik Bergaust and William Beller (1956).

    Page 176: "The psychologists might be called upon to make up a new name for people suffering neuroses when left alone in space, and might have to devise means for entertaining people seeing nothing around them for long periods of time but vast volumes of blackness."

    Completely missed how busy actual astronauts would be, and how interesting the Earth and Moon would be from space.
    To be fair, it still might be the case for longer-term spaceflights that involve long transit times with both the Earth and the destination shrinking to only dots, and astronaut psychology is something the space programs have a concern for— Popular Science had a recent article about a psychologist who did a long-term study of ISS crew where he asked them to keep journals of their feelings and emotions over the course of their missions.
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    In the 1950s and some 1960s books, there is a strong view that space travel is exclusively a male activity. It is how outsiders viewed test pilots, all male. What would a woman do on a space voyage, you can imagine the writers asking, why even bother. It is disturbing that, having been raised since childhood on this notion, I found myself falling back on it at times--not lately, thank heaven. It is easier for people younger than me to imagine women as astronauts, and embarrassing for me to have any trouble doing it.
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    Steel yourself.

    From a science paper called "The Conquest of Space," by Harold B. Pepinsky, published in American Psychologist, Vol 13(6), Jun 1958, pages 285-291. It is adapted from an address to the Division of Counseling Psychology, in New York City, September 3rd, 1957, right before Sputnik I went up. (I have access to a copy of this paper. It is real. Remember my comment about an education not freeing you from being a moron.)


    "The past two years, I have had the pleasure of serving annually on a panel on "space travel," in the company of two physical scientists and a physiologist. Our audience on each occasion has been composed of the members of a training seminar on research, predominantly physical and natural scientists.

    "One of the questions that we have dealt with will be familiar to would-be-space travelers: "Who will make the first trip to the moon?" Pooling available evidence, we have arrived at a set of specifications, the likelihood of whose joint manifestation in a single person is improbably low: the person must be a midget, a woman, and a PhD in physics from, say, MIT. Our audiences, however, have not been, and seemingly can not become, interested in the personality organization that this person will need for optimal chance of survival. The physical and biological scientists, in particular, have taken a depersonalized attitude toward this problem. As one member of the audience, an attractive WAVE, put it: "If the pilot of the craft becomes emotionally upset, he can take tranquilizer pills!" And that was that....

    "Suppose.... it turns out that the only kind of person who can survive long periods of extreme isolation in extraterrestrial space is an extreme deviant in personality—that our first surviving traveler to the moon will have had to be, not only a female midget with a PhD in physics, but a psychotic as well!"


    COMMENT: It is my guess that a little person was preferred (in the joke) for taking up less space and consumables in the spacecraft than an average-sized person. Why a woman was picked when the rest of the paper refers exclusively to male space travelers is beyond me. Physical resistance to disease and pain? Anyway, a tasteless tale from the 1950s.
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    I hope when that scientist was an old man, one of his doctors in the hospital was a woman with dwarfism who had gone to MIT.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    I hope when that scientist was an old man, one of his doctors in the hospital was a woman with dwarfism who had gone to MIT.
    When I got my Masters in Psychology (2002), I met and shook hands with a woman with dwarfism who had a Ph.D., at the University of Louisville. She was on the graduate faculty in the "shaking hands with the new graduates" line.

    What eliminated women, minorities, and many others from astronaut selection in the U.S. was the following list of requirements set in January 1959 for the newborn NASA. The test pilot thing took a lot of people out right away, although being short was oddly not a drawback. Grissom was the shortest astronaut for a long time, at slightly over 5 feet. He could fit into anything.

    Project Mercury: A Chronology (NASA SP-4001), prepared by James M Grimwood (1963).
    1959, January 5: Qualifications were established for pilot selection in a meeting at the NASA Headquarters. These qualifications were as follows: age, less than 40; height, less than 5 feet 11 inches; excellent physical condition; bachelor's degree or equivalent; graduate of test pilot school; 1,500 hours flight time; and a qualified jet pilot.
    [Memo, George Low to NASA Administrator, subject: Status Report No. 6, Project Mercury, Feb. 3, 1959.]
    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2020-Apr-30 at 06:42 PM.
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    I'm sure there was some (likely not very strong) objective reason for proposing a female midget. The midget part for the reduced size of the cabin, I assume. The female part, not sure. I'm still too tall for modern jet fighters or horse racing, so it's not so extreme to have a size limit for certain jobs. They wouldn't like to build an F1 car around me either. And in space travel where, especially early on, every gram counted to reach the moon, why not propose a midget. They want someone really smart and really good with stressful situations, it's not any less politically correct to look for someone really small. Again, I don't know why they'd prefer male or female as I don't see a straightforward reason for that. But if there would be an objective reason, why not.

    I could not enter the European astronaut selection because I'm left handed. Never mind that I was top 1 in right-handed simulator control for the entire aerospace faculty (400 students) and on first attempt top 3 (with number 1 being a professional astronaut...) in an equally right-handed Canadarm simulator as I have used mice and control sticks right-handed all my life. I was left handed and that was end of discussion. Now that is slightly short-sighted. OK, I'm also slightly short-sighted, my back isn't straight and my legs a bit long, so I likely wouldn't have made the selection anyway. The good news is that I don't get to go to Venus. And before you ask me if Europe would want to send astronauts to Venus, listen to The Final Countdown.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    When I got my Masters in Psychology (2002), I met and shook hands with a woman with dwarfism who had a Ph.D., at the University of Louisville. She was on the graduate faculty in the "shaking hands with the new graduates" line.

    What eliminated women, minorities, and many others from astronaut selection in the U.S. was the following list of requirements set in January 1959 for the newborn NASA. The test pilot thing took a lot of people out right away, although being short was oddly not a drawback. Grissom was the shortest astronaut for a long time, at slightly over 5 feet. He could fit into anything.

    Project Mercury: A Chronology (NASA SP-4001), prepared by James M Grimwood (1963).
    1959, January 5: Qualifications were established for pilot selection in a meeting at the NASA Headquarters. These qualifications were as follows: age, less than 40; height, less than 5 feet 11 inches; excellent physical condition; bachelor's degree or equivalent; graduate of test pilot school; 1,500 hours flight time; and a qualified jet pilot.
    [Memo, George Low to NASA Administrator, subject: Status Report No. 6, Project Mercury, Feb. 3, 1959.]
    My bold. Your source appears to be mistaken. From numerous sources dating back to the days of Project Mercury I find he was 5'7" and 150-155 lb. Smaller than average for American men but by no means extreme.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hornblower View Post
    My bold. Your source appears to be mistaken. From numerous sources dating back to the days of Project Mercury I find he was 5'7" and 150-155 lb. Smaller than average for American men but by no means extreme.
    I defer to your judgment.
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    I notice that it is very hard to find anything even slightly ignorant if Willy Ley wrote it, or Arthur C. Clarke, or G. Harry Stine. I'm giving them a pass for funny statements.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    I'm sure there was some (likely not very strong) objective reason for proposing a female midget. The midget part for the reduced size of the cabin, I assume. The female part, not sure. I'm still too tall for modern jet fighters or horse racing, so it's not so extreme to have a size limit for certain jobs. They wouldn't like to build an F1 car around me either. And in space travel where, especially early on, every gram counted to reach the moon, why not propose a midget. They want someone really smart and really good with stressful situations, it's not any less politically correct to look for someone really small.
    Yes, I remember some speculation from old books on the cusp of space travel (I would guess from the mid 50s) that suggested small people would be best because payload mass was a big deal at the time, and a small person didn’t need as big a capsule, or as much air, food or water. I think that was even a plot point in a Lester del Rey book I read once. Incidentally when I was young (‘60s) I would scour the public and school libraries for both non-fiction (but often speculating on future development) and fiction about entering space. I remember Lester del Rey had a whole series, with a story about the first (fictional) orbital flight, first space station, first moon flight, etc. I looked for them sometime back, with some other books along the same lines, but they’ve pretty much disappeared since they were so hopelessly overtaken by real events even in the ‘60s. Probably few people beyond some historians would care about them now.

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