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20 Facts About the Russian Tsars

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In 1613, Russia was mired in turmoil. Having witnessed a succession of wannabe Tsars attempting to take the throne, the country was plagued by rampant famine, disease, and chaos. The people were in want of a ruling hand to bring back order. They chose for the task a timid sixteen-year-old boy named Michael Romanov, thus beginning the three-hundred-year rule of the Romanov dynasty, which wielded (mostly) absolute power over Russia until the March Revolution of 1917.

With great power comes great ridiculousness, of course, and each emperor or empress exhibited his or her own brand. Below is a select list of Romanov tomfoolery, as chronicled by Michael Farquhar’s Secret Lives of the Tsars.

1. Russia’s second Romanov Tsar, Alexis, was known as gentle and mild tempered. But when a peasant was charged with leading a failed revolt in 1670, the peasant was whipped, branded with hot irons, tortured, and cut into quarters while still alive. Reputation changed.

2. Alexis's wife Natalya was especially bold. At a time when most women stayed hidden behind closed doors, she dared open the window of her carriage slightly.

3. While young brothers Ivan V and Peter I co-Tsared at the behest of a people’s revolt in 1682, older sister Sophia (who may have maneuvered the revolt) was behind them whispering instructions. Literally. She sat in a chair behind their thrones and whispered orders.

4. Peter the Great was a "hands-on" Tsar and was known to hack off his enemies’ heads himself. Most Tsars just hired executioners.

5. Peter the Great also had an affinity for education, and he took the opportunity of his mistress Mary Hamilton’s beheading in 1719 to show the crowd where her vertebrae, windpipe, and carotid arteries were.

6. Peter the Great loved dwarfs and kept many around at a time. He was even known to have a naked dwarf jump out of a giant pie for his amusement.

7. Even a Tsar can't escape the consequences of wild behavior: Peter the Great had gonorrhea.

8. Empress Anna was especially fond of firearms, and wild beasts were collected around Russia and brought to her estates so she could shoot them at will (along with any birds that might have been flying by).

9. Empress Anna had absurd inclinations, and she would force her noblemen to act as fools and sit in giant nests while covered in feathers. This was her idea of a fun time.

10. Gorgeous Empress Elizabeth at times ordered men to dress like women and women like men. She was fond of cross-dressing herself, but no one ever pulled it off as well as she did.

11. After a botched dye job, Empress Elizabeth had to shave her head. The empress would not have others walking around with full heads of hair, so all women in the court were made to cut theirs, too.

12. Catherine the Great, like many of her lusty predecessors, had a procession of young lovers into her sixties (when she died) — several of them were younger than half her age.

13. Catherine’s deepest and longest-lasting relationship was with one Gregory Potemkin, whom she showered with a string of pet names. These included “dear plaything,” “lion of the jungle,” and “golden cock.”

14. Tsar Paul had a dog named Spitz.

15. In pretending to buddy up to Napoleon, Alexander I showed interest in an actress participating in a performance the two attended. Bonaparte advised against it, explaining that within a week, all of France would know the Tsar’s measurements.

16. For Nicholas I, the Third Department (a secret police force that surveilled the citizenry) was not enough. He’d travel the country to snoop on his subjects himself. In one instance, he visited a high school and scolded the director for having ugly pupils.

17. Alexander II had the audacity to free Russia’s serfs, ultimately leading to seven assassination attempts made against him. There were only seven attempts because the last one, in 1881, proved successful.

18. Though not a monarch himself, self-proclaimed holy man Grigori Rasputin was held in high esteem by Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Many feared Rasputin's control over the throne, and he was subjected to many assassination attempts.  According to some accounts, when his assassination was finally successfully carried out in 1916, it wasn’t the poisoning or gunshot wounds or blunt force trauma that killed Rasputin, but the drowning that followed.

19. Despite being crowned emperor, Nicholas II was not ready to ascend the throne. Thus, when asked about crucial government matters, his response was, "Ask my mother."

20. Before the Romanovs came to power, Ivan the Terrible ruled Russia with a gory fist. Known for ordering that his enemies be skinned, boiled, burned, and broken, he was the favorite Tsar of Joseph Stalin.

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Space
NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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History
15 Fascinating Facts About Amelia Earhart
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Amelia Earhart was a pioneer, a legend, and a mystery. To celebrate what would be her 120th birthday, we've uncovered 15 things you might not know about the groundbreaking aviator.

1. THE FIRST TIME SHE SAW AN AIRPLANE, SHE WASN'T IMPRESSED.

In Last Flight, a collection of diary entries published posthumously, Earhart recalled feeling unmoved by "a thing of rusty wire and wood" at the Iowa State Fair in 1908. It wasn't until years later that she discovered her passion for aviation, when she worked as a nurse's aide at Toronto's Spadina Military Hospital. She and some friends would spend time at hangars and flying fields, talking to pilots and watching aerial shows. Earhart didn't actually get on a plane herself until 1920, and even then she was just a passenger.

2. SHE WAS A GOOD STUDENT WITH NO PATIENCE FOR SCHOOL.

After working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Toronto, Earhart took pre-med classes at Columbia University in 1919. She made good grades, but dropped out after just a year. Earhart re-enrolled at Columbia in 1925 and left school again. She took summer classes at Harvard, but gave up on higher education for good after she didn't get a scholarship to MIT.

3. ANOTHER PIONEERING FEMALE AVIATOR TAUGHT EARHART HOW TO FLY.

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Neta Snook was the first woman to run her own aviation business and commercial airfield. She gave Earhart flying lessons at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California in 1921, reportedly charging $1 in Liberty Bonds for every minute they spent in the air.

4. EARHART BOUGHT HER FIRST PLANE WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF HER FIRST FLYING LESSON.

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She named it The Canary. The used yellow Kinner Airster biplane was the second one ever built. Earhart paid $2000 for it, despite Snook's opinion that it was underpowered, overpriced, and too difficult for a beginner to land.

5. AMY EARHART ENCOURAGED HER DAUGHTER'S PASSION. HER FATHER, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS AFRAID OF FLYING.

Earhart's mom used some of her inheritance to pay for The Canary. She was a bit of an adventurer herself: the first woman to ever climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.

6. EARHART HAD A LOT OF ODD JOBS.

In addition to volunteering as a nurse's aide, Earhart also worked early jobs as a telephone operator and tutor. Earhart was a social worker at Denison House in Boston when she was invited to fly across the Atlantic for the first time (as a passenger) in 1928. At the height of her career, Earhart spent time making speeches, writing articles, and providing career counseling at Purdue University's Department of Aeronautics. Oh, and flying around the world.

7. SHE WASN'T SURE ABOUT MARRIAGE, BUT SHE DEFINITELY BELIEVED IN PRE-NUPS.

When promoter George Putnam contacted Earhart about flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, it was her first big break ... and the beginning of their love story. The two began a working relationship, which soon turned into attraction. When Putnam's marriage to Dorothy Binney fell apart, he eventually proposed to Earhart. She said yes, albeit reluctantly.

Earhart wasn't worried about safeguarding financial assets so much as she wanted the two of them to maintain separate identities. Earhart asked Putnam to agree to a trial marriage. If they weren't happy after a year, they'd be free to go their separate ways, no hard feelings. He agreed. They lived happily until her disappearance.

8. SHE WROTE ABOUT FLYING FOR COSMOPOLITAN.

In 1928, Earhart was appointed Cosmopolitan's Aviation Editor. Her 16 published articles—among them "Shall You Let Your Daughter Fly?" and "Why Are Women Afraid to Fly?"—recounted her adventures and encouraged other women to fly, even if they just did so commercially. (Commercial flights date back to 1914, but they wouldn't really take off until after World War II.)

9. FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT WAS SO INSPIRED BY EARHART THAT SHE SIGNED UP FOR FLYING LESSONS.

The two became friends in 1932. Roosevelt got a student permit and a physical examination, but never followed through with her plan.

10. EARHART WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO GET A PILOT'S LICENSE FROM THE NATIONAL AERONAUTIC ASSOCIATION (NAA).

That was in 1923, when pilots and aircrafts weren't legally required to be licensed. Earhart was the sixteenth woman to get licensed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which was required to set flight records. Still, the FAI didn't maintain women's records until 1928.

11. SHE ACCOMPLISHED A LOT OF "FIRSTS."

Earhart eventually became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger (1928) and then solo (1932) and nonstop from coast to coast (1932) as a pilot. She also set records, period: Earhart was the first person to ever fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, Los Angeles to Mexico City, and Mexico City to Newark, all in 1935.

What do John Glenn, George H.W. Bush, and Amelia Earhart have in common? They all earned an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. But only Earhart was the first woman—and one of few civilians—to do so.

12. SHE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CELEBRITIES TO LAUNCH A CLOTHING LINE.

Amelia Earhart Fashions were affordable separates sold exclusively at Macy's and Marshall Field's. The line's dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats were made of cotton and parachute silk and featured aviation-inspired details, like propeller-shaped buttons. Earhart studied sewing as a girl and actually made her own samples.

13. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT SPENT $4 MILLION SEARCH FOR EARHART.

At the time, it was the most expensive air and sea search in history. Earhart's plane disappeared July 2, 1937. The official search ended a little over two weeks later on July 19. Putnam then financed a private search, chartering boats to the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

14. THE SEARCH ISN'T OVER.

There are several theories about what happened to Earhart's plane during her last flight. Most people believe she ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Others believe she landed on an island and died of thirst, starvation, injury, or at the hands of Japanese soldiers in Saipan. In 1970, one man even claimed that Earhart was alive and well and living a secret life in New Jersey.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has explored the theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan lived as castaways before dying on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the western Pacific. Over the years, they've found a few potential artifacts, including evidence of campfire sites, pieces of Plexiglas, and an empty jar of the brand of freckle cream that Earhart used.

In early July 2017, a photo surfaced that seemed to confirm the theory that Earhart and Noonan crashed and were captured by Japanese soldiers, but that photo was quickly debunked.

15. TODAY, ANOTHER AMELIA EARHART IS MAKING HISTORY.

In 2014, another pilot named Amelia Earhart took to the skies to set a world record. The then-31-year-old California native became the youngest woman to fly 24,300 miles around the world in a single-engine plane. Her namesake never completed the journey, but the younger Earhart landed safely in Oakland on July 11, 2014. We think "Lady Lindy" would be proud.

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