Friday, December 28, 2012

"What is the Human Brain?" from VOA

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we discuss three books that tell about ways the human brain works. One book considers the power of the brain in controlling why some people care about how someone else feels and why others do not. Another book describes how the limitations of the brain can affect our lives. The third book is about how the brain develops in a baby.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Psychology professor and researcher Simon Baron-Cohen wrote a book called “The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty.” His book asks why it is that human beings are capable of evil behavior towards each other. He says the word “evil” is less helpful in offering a scientific explanation. Instead, he chooses to use the word empathy. We spoke with Professor Baron-Cohen about his book using Skype.

Three Books That Explore the Human Brain

SIMON BARON-COHEN: “If we are trying to do science, we should move away from the concept of evil as an explanation of cruelty and instead use the framework of empathy. Because empathy is something you can measure scientifically. And you can measure it at the psychological level using questionnaires or psychological tests. You can also measure it using the new brain scanning technology, MRI. In that respect, you can also move forward and move deeper.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Simon Baron-Cohen defines empathy as the ability of a person to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to react with an appropriate emotion. He says people who do evil acts are showing a lack of empathy. This can be temporary, or part of a more permanent condition.

STEVE EMBER: Professor Baron-Cohen and his research team developed a way to measure individual differences in empathy. They found that most people have average levels of empathy, but some people have extremely low or high levels.

SIMON BARON-COHEN: “In my book I call this the empathy bell curve. And part of what I’m exploring in the book is what determines where an individual scores on this empathy bell curve. Why do some people score much lower or much higher than other people.”

STEVE EMBER: Empathy is linked to physical areas of the brain. Medical imaging technology has identified at least ten parts of the brain that are active when people empathize. And, these areas are less active in people with little or no empathy.

Why would someone lack empathy? Professor Baron-Cohen offers evidence suggesting that zero empathy can be the result of environmental, social and genetic conditions.

The question of empathy is a meaningful one in the field of psychology. Lack of empathy has an influence on borderline personality disorder, narcissism and psychopathy and the developmental disorder autism.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Professor Baron-Cohen says borderline personality disorder, narcissism and psychopathy are described as personality disorders. But he says psychiatric experts could instead define them as empathy disorders. This could open up new ways of studying and treating these disorders. Recognizing the importance of empathy could also change the way legal and psychiatric experts consider and treat people who commit acts of cruelty. But this recognition goes far beyond psychiatry. The writer says empathy is one of the most valuable resources in our world.

SIMON BARON COHEN: “One thing that I think may have been neglected in the past is just recognizing that empathy also has the power to resolve conflicts between people. So if we think about conflicts, it could be a conflict between two people, like two neighbors. It could be a conflict between two nations. For example, nations that go to war.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: That was Professor Baron-Cohen speaking to us with Skype. He says it is important to recognize the value of empathy in areas like politics, education and law, as well as psychiatry.


STEVE EMBER: Dean Buonomano is a brain specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He works in the Departments of Neurobiology and Psychology and the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.

His book “Brain Bugs” explores how the human brain is one of the best pieces of technology ever created. But at the same time, he shows how a normal, healthy brain is also built with weaknesses and limitations. Professor Buonomano borrows the word “bug” from computer programming to describe the errors which the brain can make.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: One reason for these ‘bugs’ is evolution. Human brains developed over hundreds of thousands of years to be skilled at finding food, shelter and protection from threats. Yet evolution did not fully prepare the brain for the many demands of the modern world.

So, our brains are very good at doing some things. But our brains sometimes fail us when we attempt to remember long lists of information, or compute large numbers in our head. Our brains are also not always very good at making long-term decisions.

STEVE EMBER: Professor Buonomano discusses how and why the brain can play tricks on us in decisions involving memory, time and judging threats. Sometimes these mistakes can have serious effects, like a victim who wrongly identifies her attacker to police.

At other times, the mistakes are harmless. For example, one study found that most people choose to receive one hundred dollars immediately over receiving one hundred twenty dollars in a month. While waiting could lead to more money, most people would want the payment now. Dean Buonomano says that, for human ancestors, the immediate need for food was more important than the future need. So, our brains often want an immediate action instead of having to wait for a reward.

Professor Buonomano explains the causes of many kinds of brain bugs and gives examples of their everyday results. And, he offers ideas for how understanding our brain bugs can become a tool for improving our mental powers.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist in Seattle, Washington. His book is called “Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.” The book gives scientific information about how a brain develops from its creation to the age of five years.

John Medina

Professor Medina says parenting is all about brain development. He says what science tells us about the brain gives parents good information for raising smart, happy children.

STEVE EMBER: Many parents ask the professor what they can do to improve brain function before birth. A mother’s actions have a big effect on how her baby develops. He says one of the most important things is for the mother to avoid severe levels of stress.

JOHN MEDINA: “The maternal stress that is felt, that stress hormone -- one of them is called cortisol -- can actually leach into the womb. And, at certain stages of development can actually go into the brain of the baby and rewire the brain of that baby in such fashion that it now becomes stressed.”

STEVE EMBER: John Medina says it is important for a pregnant woman to gain the right amount of weight and eat healthful foods so that her baby will develop normally.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: His book also discusses the science behind a child’s intelligence after birth. He says one of the best things parents can do for their baby has to do with their own relationship. Studies show marriage conflict increases greatly after a baby is born. This can result from new pressures on the parents and lack of sleep. Professor Medina says what conflict the baby witnesses can be important.

JOHN MEDINA: “If you make up in public, by that I mean in front of your child, with the same frequency that you fight in front of your child, the child’s nervous system develops beautifully. It doesn’t matter how much fighting you guys do. In fact, I would argue that if kids could actually see real live conflict going on that is both frank but also resolvable, it teaches the child to begin to have better conflict resolution.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Parents can do other things to help support the mental development of their baby. These include breast feeding and talking and playing with the child. [John Medina says it is wise to avoid television at an early age and not to pressure children to learn.]

STEVE EMBER: As for happiness, Professor Medina says it is important for parents to help children develop language skills to express their emotions.

JOHN MEDINA: “What a parent does when their child’s emotions run hot profoundly influences how that child’s emotional regulation occurs decades later, no kidding.”

STEVE EMBER: He also says parents can help create a healthy emotional life for small children by being watchful and responsive to their needs. He adds that parents need to recognize and not judge the child’s emotions.

Finally, John Medina tells about research that shows the single best predictor of happiness is having friends. He says parents should help children learn to control and understand their emotions because this leads to deeper friendships.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3s at And you can find us at Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"The Tornado" from VOA

This article was orignally published in
April, 2012

BARBARA KLEIN: This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I'm Bob Doughty. This week, we explore the science of tornadoes. These violent storms strike in many parts of the world but happen most commonly in the United States.


BARBARA KLEIN: Tornado season has begun in the United States.

Last Tuesday a series of storms tore across the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. The tornadoes damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes. Yet no deaths were reported.

On March second, more than forty tornadoes moved through the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, and the South. Reports say the storms killed at least thirty-nine people in five states.

A tornado is a violently turning tube of air suspended from a thick cloud. It extends from a thunderstorm in the sky down to the ground. The shape is like a funnel: wide at the top, narrower at the bottom.

A funnel cloud touches down in Orchard, Iowa, on June 10, 2008
Tornadoes form when winds blowing in different directions meet in the clouds and begin to turn in circles. Warm air rising from below causes the wind tube to reach toward the ground. Because of their circular movement, these windstorms are also known as twisters.

The most severe tornadoes can reach wind speeds of three hundred twenty kilometers an hour or more. In some cases, the resulting paths of damage can stretch more than a kilometer wide and eighty kilometers long.

BOB DOUGHTY: With a tornado, bigger does not necessarily mean stronger. Large tornadoes can be weak. And some of the smallest tornadoes can be the most damaging. But no matter what the size, tornado winds are the strongest on Earth. Tornadoes have been known to carry trees, cars or homes from one place to another. They can also destroy anything in their path.

Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. But experts say they are most commonly seen in the United States. On average, more than one thousand are reported nationwide each year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration keeps records of tornado sightings. It says tornadoes kill seventy people and injure one thousand five hundred others nationwide in an average year.


BARBARA KLEIN: Tornadoes are observed most often in the middle of the United States, where the land is mostly flat. The area where the most violent tornadoes usually happen is known as “Tornado Alley.” This area is considered to extend from north central Texas to North Dakota.

Tornadoes can happen any time of the year. But most happen from late winter to the middle of summer. In some areas, there is a second high season in autumn.

BOB DOUGHTY: Tornado seasons are the result of wind and weather patterns. During spring, warm air moves north and mixes with cold air remaining from winter. In autumn, the opposite happens. Cold weather moves south and combines with the last of the warm air from summer.

Twister, March 2012
Tornadoes can strike with little or no warning. Most injuries happen when flying objects hit people. Experts say the best place to be is in an underground shelter, or a small, windowless room in the lowest part of a building.

People driving during a tornado are told to find low ground and lay flat, face down, with their hands covering their head. People in the path of a tornado often just have minutes to make life-or-death decisions.

BARBARA KLEIN: The deadliest American tornado on record was the Tri-State Tornado of March eighteenth, nineteen twenty-five. It tore across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. About seven hundred people were killed.

Between March and May of last year, there were one thousand one hundred fifty-nine confirmed tornadoes across the United States. Scientists say that is the most on record for any three-month period. The most active month was last April, when seven hundred fifty-eight tornadoes were confirmed. That is the most ever for any month.

Last April, the country also broke a thirty-seven year old record for the largest tornado outbreak. A "tornado outbreak" is often defined as six or more tornadoes produced by the same weather system within a day.

Scientists say the one hundred ninety-nine tornadoes on April twenty-seventh were the most for any single day. They say the storms killed three hundred sixteen people – the most ever in modern records for a twenty-four hour period.


BOB DOUGHTY: No two tornadoes look exactly the same. And no two tornadoes act the same way.

Even a weak tornado requires the right combination of wind, temperature, pressure and humidity. Weather experts can identify these conditions. And, when they observe them, they can advise people that tornadoes might develop. But they are not able to tell exactly where or when a tornado will hit. Tornado warnings still depend in large part on human observations.

Usually a community will receive a warning at least a few minutes before a tornado strikes. But each year there are some surprises where tornadoes develop when they are least expected.

BARBARA KLEIN: The tornado reporting system involves watches and warnings. A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible in the area. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been seen. People are told to take shelter immediately.

Yet tornadoes can be difficult to see. Sometimes only the objects they are carrying through the air can be seen. Some night-time tornadoes have been observed because of lightning strikes nearby. But tornadoes at night are usually impossible to see.

Tornadoes that form over water are called waterspouts. But tornadoes cover a much smaller area than hurricanes, which form over oceans.

Tornadoes can be measured using wind speed information from Doppler radar systems. Tornadoes usually travel in a northeasterly direction with a speed of thirty-two to sixty-four kilometers an hour. But they have been reported to move in other directions and as fast as one hundred seventeen kilometers an hour.

BOB DOUGHTY: In the United States, the force of a tornado is judged by the damage to structures. Scientists inspect the damage before they estimate the severity of a tornado. They measure tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita scale or the EF scale.

Ted Fujita studying the
physics of the tornado
Ted Fujita was a weather expert who developed a system to rate tornados in the nineteen seventies. The EF scale is a set, or collection, of wind estimates. They are based on levels of damage to twenty-eight different kinds of structures and other objects. Tornadoes that cause only light damage are called an EF-zero. Those with the highest winds that destroy well-built homes and throw vehicles great distances are called an EF-five.


BARBARA KLEIN: Some people make a sport out of watching and following tornadoes. They are called tornado chasers or storm chasers. Their work can be seen in the extreme weather videos that are increasingly popular on television and on the Internet.

Some chasers do it just because it is their idea of fun. Others do it to help document storms and warn the public. Still others are part of weather research teams.

Two years ago, an international team of scientists completed a tornado research project called VORTEX2. More than one hundred researchers traveled throughout America’s Great Plains in two thousand nine and two thousand ten. They used weather measurement instruments to collect scientific information about the life of a tornado. The goal of the project was to examine in detail how tornadoes are formed and the kinds of damage they cause.

Last year, a film about the VORTEX2 project was released. The film includes never before seen images of tornadoes. To safely capture up-close film footage of tornadoes, some project participants traveled in a seven-ton, armored tornado intercept vehicle directly into tornadoes as they formed.

BOB DOUGHTY: The National Weather Service says the United States gets more severe weather than any other country. For one thing, it is also bigger than most other countries. And it has many different conditions that create many different kinds of weather.

There are seacoasts and deserts, flat lands and mountains. The West Coast is along the Pacific Ocean, which is relatively calm. The East Coast is along the Atlantic Ocean, which is known for its hurricanes. These strike mainly the southeastern states.


BARBARA KLEIN: This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Brianna Blake and George Grow. June Simms was our producer. I'm Barbara Klein.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I'm Bob Doughty. Read and listen to our programs at Join us again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"The Valley of 10,000 Smokes" from Edcon Publishing

A place you will read about: Mount Katmai a mountain in Alaska.

Something you will read about: algae a group of plants, which usually live in water, that do not have true roots, stems, or leaves.

Following its eruption, Mt. Katmai has become a national monument visited by thousands of tourists. In June 1912, explosions boomed across Alaska. Centering near Mt. Katmai on the upper Alaskan Peninsula, they frightened Eskimos from nearby villages, and not a moment too soon. A new volcano had formed on Mt. Katmai's slope and began to erupt. Tons of ash and rock poured out, spreading an enormous dark cloud across the sky and a blanket of ash over the summer landscape. A cloud of smoke overtook the steamer Dora, at sea 55 miles away, and ashes sifted down on the boat. Soon, those aboard could not see their hands before their faces. Through the gloom, lightning flickered and thunder crashed. A fierce wind began to blow and the temperature rose.

Children in Kodiak, 1912. They're
making volcanic ash pies.
People on land fared little better. At Kodiak, 100 miles southeast of Mt. Katmai, the sky was inky dark at noon. Ash fell so abundantly that its weight made roofs collapse all over town. People coughed and choked as they groped their way about; birds died trying to fly through the black ash-filled air. It was all over in three days.

But what happened in the region around Mt. Katmai? No one knew the Eskimos had fled for their lives and did not wish to return.
Not until three years after the event did someone finally undertake to investigate the result of the 1912 eruption. In July of 1915, Dr. Robert Griggs set out with a party of explorers to visit Mt. Katmai. He and his crew made the trip by boat. As they approached Katmai Bay due south of the mountain, they could see that the water was still filled with the floating wreckage of trees and bushes. Over the land, the sky was still dark, filled with ash. The darkness made the barren landscape even more desolate.

Robert Griggs' photo of Katmai
Valley, 1915
Before the eruption, Katmai Valley had been green in the summertime, a place where trees grew tall and wildlife could be found in abundance. Now it was a place of death, where neither plant nor animal life had been able to survive. Griggs and his party tramped through the valley across a layer of sticky mud past skeleton forests of dead trees. A great wind blew up, stinging the weary travelers with the glass-sharp pieces of volcanic rock. They were forced to drink water thick with bits of rock; they forded patches of treacherous quicksand, sinking to their knees, never able to touch solid bottom. They struggled up hills where, for each step they took, they slid back a little through the fine volcanic sand.

Even solid ground could not be trusted, for ash had fallen on snowfields and then been packed down. Afterward, the snow had melted out from beneath the crust of ash, leaving hollows beneath the valley floor. The explorers knew the ground could collapse beneath their feet at any moment.

As the mountain peaks loomed ahead, Griggs' party came across a fantastic, geological feature - a colossal chasm. It was nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon - 4,000 feet from rim to floor.
The explorers camped and waited for the clouds over Mt. Katmai to move off, for Griggs was determined to see what had happened to Katmai's three-pointed peak. When the sky began to clear, Griggs was astonished to see not a peak but a flattened stub. Mt. Katmai had caved in on itself, becoming shorter by some 800 feet!

Griggs returned again in 1916 for another look. During this expedition, he and his party climbed Mt. Katmai. The mountain was covered by clouds and not until the party had reached the top did the cloud cover thin out. At Mt. Katmai's summit the explorers stopped short, for they were perched on the edge of a huge chasm. In its depths they saw a lake of milky blue cradling a small horseshoe-shaped island. The mountain had a huge hole at its core where solid rock had once been. Now the hole was filling with water from melting snowbanks on its steep sides. The chasm was 4,460 feet deep and three miles long.

The party went around the lake to look down at the valley on the landward side of Mt. Katmai, where a fantastic scene met their gaze. The valley floor was covered with thousands of cracks and vents, and from each a column of steam arose. Some were no more than threads of white, but others roared hundreds of feet into the air. Griggs later wrote, "The whole valley, as far as the eye could reach. was full of hundreds, no thousands ... of smokes, curling up ... Sleep that night was impossible ... I had seen enough to know that we had accidentally discovered one of the great wonders of the world." And so Griggs decided to name the place the "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes."

The Valley of 10,000 Smokes
This steaming valley so fascinated Griggs that he returned in 1917 to descend to the valley floor. The explorers were cautious as they reached their destination, for they knew that the ground was treacherous, underlain with cracks and hollows. They feared the boiling-hot steam and poisonous fumes that rose from the vents all around them. Nevertheless, they camped among the valley's "smokes" and even learned to use the rising steam in place of campfires for their cooking. They discovered that a stick thrust into some columns of steam would burn. The very ground they walked on was so warm that they were forced to sleep on top of their bedding. Yet around the steam vents they found a trace of life. Tiny, simple plants called algae could survive the heat and even thrive in this fantastic place.

Today, the area surrounding Mt. Katmai, including the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and the cluster of volcanic mountains nearby, has become a national monument. Katmai National Monument covers more than 4,000 square miles, the largest wilderness area in the park system. Much has changed since the Griggs expeditions.

G-23 In the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the "smokes" have all but disappeared, but it is a desolate place still. Layers of yellowish ash have been eroded to form weird, fluted slopes, as if giant's fingers had clawed through an enormous pile of clay. Life is beginning to return to the valley. Mosses, bushes and young trees have sprung up here and there, and visitors to the monument may spot bears, moose and wolves.

The Valley today, at sunset.
Over the years, Mt. Katmai has changed, too. In 1922 a geologist who had been with Griggs on his 1919 expedition returned to Mt. Katmai. He found the chasm empty, the lake gone. All he could see was a muddy bottom with a few pools of water and a vent through which a column of mud spurted into the air. But the lake soon filled again. Since then, the lake water has bubbled and steamed, giving early warning of brief eruptions in nearby volcanoes. The lake water has been rising, and the horseshoe-shaped island has disappeared. Year by year, the lake is growing deeper.

If you ever have the opportunity, visit Katmai. You'll find it a fantastic place, where skeleton forests shelter struggling young trees, where the rivers run thick with volcanic ash and the snow slides past steaming vents into a lake at the heart of a mountain. And then, of course, there's always the chance that, as one explorer put it, "Some other mountain will blow up." Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to see it when it does!


1. The explosion on the Alaskan Peninsula was caused by
a. enormous black cloud.
b. thunder.
c. an erupting volcano.
d. a deep chasm.

2. Falling ash made roofs collapse
a. at Dora, 100 miles to the southeast.
b. at Kodiak, 100 miles to the southeast.
c. at an Eskimo village in Anchorage.
d. a mile away from Mt. Katmai.

3. In July of 1915, Dr. Robert Griggs
a. coughed and choked as he groped his
way about.
b. tried to fly through the ash-filled air.
c. set out to explore Mt. Katmai.
d. fled for his life with the Eskimos.

4. Three years after the eruption, Katmai Valley
a. became more beautiful.
b. remained unchanged.
c. received little sunlight.
d. was settled by Eskimos.

5. The chasm discovered in 1915
a. was nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon.
b. was twice as large as the Grand Canyon.
c. was barely noticeable.
d. was filled with boiling lava.

6. Dr. Griggs found that the three-pointed peak had changed
a. on his first visit.
b. on his second visit.
c. after he had discovered the columns of steam.
d. after he descended to the valley floor.

7. The story of the Mt. Katmai explosion would probably be found in a book about
a. great monuments of the Eastern
United States.
b. great wonders of the world.
c. great explorers from 1850 to 1900.
d. population changes in Alaska.

8. Dr. Griggs traveled to Mt. Katmai
a. four times.
b. once.
c. twice.
d. three times.

9. Another name for this selection could be
a. "Alaska's Explosions."
b. "Kodiak National Monument."
c. "The Life of Robert Griggs."
d. "Katmai National Monument."

10. This selection is mainly about
a. the Eskimos.
b. how a volcano erupts.
c. camping near Mt. Katmai.
d. a fantastic place in Alaska.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"We're In Trouble" The Apollo 13 Disaster, from VOA

I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we continue the history of the American space program with the flight of Apollo Thirteen, the flight that almost did not return home.

American astronauts in Apollo Eleven landed on the moon July twentieth, nineteen sixty-nine. A second landing was made four months later. Both flights were almost perfect. Everything worked as planned. Everyone expected the third moon-landing flight, Apollo Thirteen, would go as well as the first two. But it did not.

Apollo Thirteen roared into space on Thursday, April eleventh, nineteen seventy. The time was thirteen-thirteen, one-thirteen p. m. local time. Navy captain James Lovell was commander of Apollo Thirteen. He had flown on Apollo Eight, the first flight to orbit the moon. The two other crew members were civilians -- John Swigert and Fred Haise. Apollo Thirteen was their first space flight.

The Apollo Thirteen spacecraft was like the earlier Apollos. It had three major parts. One was the command module. The astronauts would ride to the moon in the command module and then ride back to Earth in it. It was the only part of the spacecraft that could survive the fiery return through the Earth's atmosphere.

The lunar module was the second part. It would carry two of the astronauts to the moon's surface. It would later launch them from the moon to rejoin the command module.

The third part of the Apollo spacecraft was the service module. It had a rocket engine that the astronauts fired to begin circling the moon. They fired it again to break out of moon orbit for the return flight to Earth. The service module carried tanks of oxygen for the flight, and the fuel cells that produced electricity and water the astronauts needed to survive.

There was what seemed to be a minor problem during the ground tests before launch. Two large tanks in the service module held liquid oxygen. The oxygen was the fuel that provided water and electricity for the command module. One of the oxygen tanks failed to empty normally during the ground test. Engineers had to boil off the remaining oxygen by turning on a heater in the tank. Commander Lovell said later he should have demanded the oxygen tank be replaced. But it seemed to be fixed. So no change was made.

After launch, Apollo Thirteen sailed smoothly through space for two days. Controllers on the ground joked that the flight had gone so well they did not have enough to do. That changed a few hours later. The first sign of trouble was a tiny burst of light in the western sky over the United States. It looked like a far-away star had exploded.

Near the space center in Houston, Texas, some amateur star-watchers were trying to see the Apollo spacecraft through telescopes. One of the group had fixed a telescope to a television set so that objects seen by the telescope appeared on the television screen. The spacecraft was too far away to be seen. But suddenly, a bright spot appeared on the television screen. Over the next ten minutes it grew into a white circle. The observers on the ground had no reason to believe the white spot they saw was made by the spacecraft. They thought it was a problem with the television. So they went home to bed.

It was not a problem with their television. It was a serious problem with Apollo Thirteen. It happened a few minutes after the three astronauts completed a television broadcast to Earth.

The astronauts heard a loud noise. The spacecraft shook. Warning lights came on. Swigert called to mission control.

JOHN SWIGERT: "Houston, we've had a problem here."

The number two oxygen tank in the service module had exploded. The liquid oxygen escaped into space. It formed a huge gas ball that expanded rapidly. Sunlight made it glow. Within ten minutes, it was almost eighty kilometers across. Then it slowly disappeared. The cloud was the white spot the observers in Houston had seen on their television.

The loss of one oxygen tank should not have been a major problem. Apollo had two oxygen tanks. So, if one failed, the other could be used. But the astronauts soon learned that the explosion had caused the other oxygen tank to leak.

The astronauts were three hundred twenty thousand kilometers from Earth with little oxygen, electricity and water. Their situation was extremely serious. No one knew if they could get the spacecraft back to Earth, or if they could survive long enough to return.

The astronauts and the flight control center quickly decided that the lunar module could be their lifeboat. It carried oxygen, water, electricity and food for two men for two days on the moon's surface.

But there were three astronauts. And the trip back to Earth would take four days. The men greatly reduced their use of water, food and heat. And they turned off all the electrical devices they could.

Back on Earth, space scientists and engineers worked around the clock to design and test new ideas to help the astronauts survive.

Getting enough good air to breathe became the most serious problem. The carbon dioxide the astronauts breathed out was poisoning the air. The lunar module had a few devices for removing carbon dioxide. But there were not enough to remove all the carbon dioxide they created.

Engineers on the ground designed a way the astronauts could connect air-cleaning devices from the command module to the air system in the lunar module. The astronauts made the connector from a plastic bag, cardboard and tape. It worked. Carbon dioxide was no longer a problem.

Now the problem was how to get the astronauts back to Earth as quickly and safely as possible. They were more than two-thirds of the way to the moon on a flight path that would take them to a moon landing. They needed to change their flight path to take them around the moon and back toward Earth. They had to do this by firing the lunar module rocket engine for just the right amount of time. And they had to make this move without the equipment in the command module that kept the spacecraft on its flight path.

Five hours after the explosion, flight controllers advised firing the rocket for thirty-five seconds. This sent the spacecraft around the moon instead of down to it. Two hours after Apollo Thirteen went around the moon, the astronauts fired the rocket for five minutes. This speeded up the spacecraft to reach Earth nine hours sooner.

The lunar module was extremely uncomfortable. The astronauts had very little to drink and eat. But the cold was the worst part of the return trip. The temperature inside the lunar module was only a few degrees above freezing. It was too cold for them to sleep much.

They used the electrical power in the lunar module to add electricity to the batteries of the command module. They would need the electrical power for their landing.

The crew moved back to the command module a few hours before landing. They turned on the necessary equipment and broke away from the damaged service module. As the service module moved away, they saw for the first time the damage done by the exploding oxygen tank. Equipment was hanging from a huge hole in the side of the module.

One hour before landing, Lovell, Swigert and Haise said thanks and goodbye to their lifeboat, the lunar module. They separated from it and sent it flying away from them.

Now, the command module of Apollo Thirteen headed alone toward Earth. It fell through the atmosphere. Its parachutes opened, slowing its fall toward the Pacific Ocean, near Samoa. Ships and planes were waiting in the landing area.

And millions of people around the world were watching the live television broadcast of the landing. People everywhere cheered as the cameras found the spacecraft floating downward beneath its three parachutes. They watched as it dropped softly into the water.

The Apollo Thirteen astronauts were safely home.

Our program was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Turbulent 1960s" from VOA

Woodstock, 1969

This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Stan Busby with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Today, we tell about life in the United States during the 1960s.

The 1960s began with the election of the first president born in the twentieth century -- John Kennedy. For many Americans, the young president was the symbol of a spirit of hope for the nation. When Kennedy was murdered in 1963, many felt that their hopes died, too. This was especially true of young people, and members and supporters of minority groups.

A time of innocence and hope soon began to look like a time of anger and violence. More Americans protested to demand an end to the unfair treatment of black citizens. More protested to demand an end to the war in Vietnam. And more protested to demand full equality for women.

By the middle of the 1960s, it had become almost impossible for President Lyndon Johnson to leave the White House without facing protesters against the war in Vietnam. In March of 1968, he announced that he would not run for another term.

In addition to President John Kennedy, two other influential leaders were murdered during the 1960s. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior was shot in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. Several weeks later, Robert Kennedy--John Kennedy's brother--was shot in Los Angeles, California. He was campaigning to win his party's nomination for president. Their deaths resulted in riots in cities across the country.

The unrest and violence affected many young Americans. The effect seemed especially bad because of the time in which they had grown up. By the middle 1950s, most of their parents had jobs that paid well. They expressed satisfaction with their lives. They taught their children what were called "middle class" values. These included a belief in God, hard work, and service to their country.

Later, many young Americans began to question these beliefs. They felt that their parents' values were not enough to help them deal with the social and racial difficulties of the 1960s. They rebelled by letting their hair grow long and by wearing strange clothes. Their dissatisfaction was strongly expressed in music.

Rock-and-roll music had become very popular in America in the 1950s. Some people, however, did not approve of it. They thought it was too sexual. These people disliked the rock-and-roll of the 1960s even more. They found the words especially unpleasant.

The musicians themselves thought the words were extremely important. As singer and song writer Bob Dylan said, "There would be no music without the words," Bob Dylan produced many songs of social protest. He wrote anti-war songs before the war in Vietnam became a violent issue. One was called Blowin' in the Wind.

In addition to songs of social protest, rock-and-roll music continued to be popular in America during the 1960s. The most popular group, however, was not American. It was British -- the Beatles -- four rock-and-roll musicians from Liverpool.

That was the Beatles' song I Want to Hold Your Hand. It went on sale in the United States at the end of 1963. Within five weeks, it was the biggest-selling record in America.

Other songs, including some by the Beatles, sounded more revolutionary. They spoke about drugs and sex, although not always openly. "Do your own thing" became a common expression. It meant to do whatever you wanted, without feeling guilty.

Five hundred thousand young Americans "did their own thing" at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. They gathered at a farm in New York State. They listened to musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Joan Baez, and to groups such as The Who and Jefferson Airplane. Woodstock became a symbol of the young peoples' rebellion against traditional values. The young people themselves were called "hippies." Hippies believed there should be more love and personal freedom in America.

In 1967, poet Allen Ginsberg helped lead a gathering of hippies in San Francisco. No one knows exactly how many people considered themselves hippies. But twenty thousand attended the gathering.

Another leader of the event was Timothy Leary. He was a former university professor and researcher. Leary urged the crowd in San Francisco to "tune in and drop out". This meant they should use drugs and leave school or their job. One drug that was used in the 1960s was lysergic acid diethylamide, or L-S-D. L-S-D causes the brain to see strange, colorful images. It also can cause brain damage. Some people say the Beatles' song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was about L-S-D.

As many Americans were listening to songs about drugs and sex, many others were watching television programs with traditional family values. These included The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies. At the movies, some films captured the rebellious spirit of the times. These included Doctor Strangelove and The Graduate. Others offered escape through spy adventures, like the James Bond films.

Many Americans refused to tune in and drop out in the 1960s. They took no part in the social revolution. Instead, they continued leading normal lives of work, family, and home. Others, the activists of American society, were busy fighting for peace, and racial and social justice. Women's groups, for example, were seeking equality with men. They wanted the same chances as men to get a good education and a good job. They also demanded equal pay for equal work.

A widely popular book on women in modern America was called The Feminine Mystique. It was written by Betty Friedan and published in 1963. The idea known as the feminine mystique was the traditional idea that women have only one part to play in society. They are to have children and stay at home to raise them. In her book, Mizz Friedan urged women to establish professional lives of their own.

That same year, a committee was appointed to investigate the condition of women. It was led by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a former first lady. The committee's findings helped lead to new rules and laws. The 1964 civil rights act guaranteed equal treatment for all groups. This included women. After the law went into effect, however, many activists said it was not being enforced. The National Organization for Women -- NOW -- was started in an effort to correct the problem.

The movement for women's equality was known as the women's liberation movement. Activists were called "women's libbers." They called each other "sisters." Early activists were usually rich, liberal, white women. Later activists included women of all ages, women of color, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. They acted together to win recognition for the work done by all women in America.

This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Stan Busby. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.


1. Timothy Leary, a former university professor and researcher urged a crowd in San Francisco to "_____________________ ."
a: get a good job in a university
b: tune in and drop out
c: avoid the brain damaging drug, LSD
d: write a letter to their parents to thank them for their role in bringing them into the world

2. As children grew up in the 1960s, they began to question their parents' 1950s style middle class values. These values included _______________________ .
a: a strong belief in hard work
b: a strong patriotic support of the United States
c: strong religious values
d: all of the above

3. The Feminine Mystique ___________________.
a: was a highly erotic novel
b: argued that women have no professional lives
c: argued that women should spend more time with their children
d: stated that it was completely impossible to understand women at all

4. The Beatles song that became enormously popular at the end of 1963 was "______________________" .
a: I Want to Hold Your Hand
b: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
c: Blowin' in the Wind
d: Yesterday

5. In March of 1968, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for another term because ______________________ .
a: he wanted to write his memoirs instead
b: there were so many protests against the Vietnam War
c: he felt that he had successfully created the Great Society
d: his party didn't support him

6. Probably the greatest influence on the emerging value system of the 1960s was __________________ .
a: literature
b: philosophy
c: music
d: communism

7. Young people such as the group that celebrated music at the Woodstock music festival were called "hippies". They believed _______________ .
a: only violent action could stop the war
b: smoking grass was the best thing to do
c: in more love and personal freedom
d: in getting a haircut as soon as possible

8. Two assassinations took place in 1968 within weeks of each other. They were ____________________ .
a: John Kennedy and Martin Luther King
b: Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy
c: John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson
d: Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy

9. John F. Kennedy __________________________________ .
a: was the first president born in the Twentieth Century
b: was the oldest man to be elected president
c: served two terms as president
d: defeated Lyndon Johnson to become president

10. In 1963, many people were deeply pessimistic about the future and lost hope largely because of __________________________ .
a: changes in society
b: the threat of communism
c: the assassination of John F. Kennedy
d: the beginnings of the rebellion of young people against their parents' generation

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"The Roaring Twenties" from Voice of America

THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.

As we have seen in recent programs, the administrations of President Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge were a time of economic progress for most Americans. Many companies grew larger during the 1920s, creating many new jobs. Wages for most Americans increased. Many people began to have enough money to buy new kinds of products.

The strong economy also created the right environment for many important changes in the day-to-day social life of the American people. The 1920s are remembered now as an exciting time that historians call the "roaring twenties". The 1920s brought a feeling of freedom and independence to millions of Americans, especially young Americans. Young soldiers returned from the world war with new ideas. They had seen a different world in Europe. They had faced death and learned to enjoy the pleasures that each day offered.

Many of these young soldiers were not willing to quietly accept the old traditions of their families and villages when they returned home. Instead, they wanted to try new ways of living. Many young Americans, both men and women, began to challenge some of the traditions of their parents and grandparents. For example, some young women began to experiment with new kinds of clothes. They no longer wore dresses that hid the shape of their bodies. Instead, they wore thinner dresses that uncovered part of their legs.

Many young women began to smoke cigarettes, too. Cigarette production in the United States more than doubled in the ten years between 1918 and 1928.

Many women also began to drink alcohol with men in public for the first time. And they listened together to a popular new kind of music: jazz.

Young people danced the Fox Trot, the Charleston, and other new dances. They held one another tightly on the dance floor, instead of dancing far apart. It was a revolution in social values, at least among some Americans. People openly discussed subjects that their parents and grandparents had kept private.

There were popular books and shows about unmarried mothers and about homosexuality. The growing film industry made films about all-night parties between unmarried men and women. And people discussed the new ideas about sex formed by Sigmund Freud and other new thinkers.

An important force behind these changes was the growing independence of American women. In 1920, the nation passed the 19th Amendment to the constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

Of equal importance, many women took jobs during the war and continued working after the troops returned home. Also, new machines freed many of them from spending long hours of work in the home washing clothes, preparing food, and doing other jobs. Education was another important force behind the social changes of the 1920s. More and more Americans were getting a good education. The number of students attending high school doubled between 1920 and 1930. Many of the schools now offered new kinds of classes to prepare students for useful jobs.

The Charleston
Attendance at colleges and universities also increased greatly. And colleges offered more classes in such useful subjects as teacher training, engineering, and business administration.

Two inventions also helped cause the social changes. They were the automobile and the radio. The automobile gave millions of Americans the freedom to travel easily to new places. And the radio brought new ideas and experiences into their own homes.

Probably the most important force behind social change was the continuing economic growth of the 1920s. Many people had extra money to spend on things other than food, housing, and other basic needs. They could experiment with new products and different ways of living. Of course, not all Americans were wearing strange new "flapper" clothes or dancing until early in the morning. Millions of Americans in small towns or rural areas continued to live simple, quiet lives. Life was still hard for many people including blacks, foreigners, and other minority groups.

The many newspaper stories about independent women reporters and doctors also did not represent the real life of the average American woman. Women could vote. But three of every four women still worked at home. Most of the women working outside their homes were from minority groups or foreign countries.

Douglass Fairbanks
famous 1920s film actor
The films and radio stories about exciting parties and social events were just a dream for millions of Americans. But the dreams were strong. And many Americans -- rich and poor -- followed with great interest each new game, dance, and custom. The wide interest in this kind of popular culture was unusually strong during the 1920s. People became extremely interested in exciting court trials, disasters, film actors, and other subjects.

For example, millions of Americans followed the sad story of Floyd Collins, a young man who became trapped while exploring underground. Newsmen reported to the nation as rescue teams searched to find him. Even the "New York Times" newspaper printed a large story on its front page when rescuers finally discovered the man's dead body.

Another event that caught public attention was a murder trial in the eastern state of New Jersey in 1926.

Newsmen wrote five million words about this case of a minister found dead with a woman member of his church. Again, the case itself was of little importance from a world news point of view. But it was exciting. And Americans were tired of reading about serious political issues after the bloody world war. The 1920s also were a golden period for sports.

People across the country bought newspapers to read of the latest golf victory by champion Bobby Jones. "Big Bill" Tilden became the most famous player in tennis. And millions of Americans listened to the boxing match in 1926 between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. In fact, five Americans reportedly became so excited while listening to the fight that they died of heart attacks.

However, the greatest single sports hero of the period was the baseball player, Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth: 1920s Sports Hero
Ruth was a large man who could hit a baseball farther than any other human being. He became as famous for his wild enjoyment of life as for his excellent playing on the baseball field. Babe Ruth loved to drink, to be with women, and to play with children.The most famous popular event of the 1920s was neither a court trial nor a sports game. It was the brave action of pilot Charles Lindbergh when he flew an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping. He was the first man in history to do this.

Lindbergh flew his plane alone from New York to France in May, 1927. His flight set off wild celebrations across the United States.

Newspapers carried story after story about Lindbergh's success. President Coolidge and a large crowd greeted the young pilot when he returned to Washington. And New York congratulated Lindbergh with one of the largest parades in its history.

Americans liked Lindbergh because he was brave, quiet, and handsome. He seemed to represent everything that was best about their country. The 1920s was also a time of much excellent work in the more serious arts. We will take a look in our next program at American art, writing, and building during the exciting "roaring twenties".

You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English. Your reporters have been Harry Monroe and Kay Gallant. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.


1. One reason social change in the 1920s occurred was because __________________ .
a: many women married and had children
b: there was a struggle by women for the right to vote
c: there was continued economic growth during the 20s
d: minority groups found life very difficult economically

2. In the 1920s, young people wanted to increasingly _______________________ .
a: break with the traditions of their parents
b: conform to the values of their parents
c: listen to the kind of music their parents enjoyed
d: live quiet and solitary lives

3. Most people in the 1920s were less interested in reading or hearing stories about ___________________ .
a: Calvin Coolidge
b: Charles Lindbergh
c: Babe Ruth
d: Jack Dempsy

4. The two American presidents during the 1920s were ______________ from 1921 to 1923 and _______________ from 1923 to 1929.
a: Theodore Roosevelt ... Warren Harding
b: Woodrow Wilson ... Calvin Coolidge
c: Warren Harding ... Calvin Coolidge
d: Calvin Coolidge ... Herbert Hoover

5. "Flapper" refers to a type of ___________________________ .
a: military hardware
b: machine for making work at home easier
c: switch for turning on and off an electric heater
d: style of clothing worn by young women

6. The following fact is generally not true of the period of the 1920s: _______ .
a: Many companies grew
b: Wages for most Americans decreased
c: More women smoked than before
d: It was a good time for retailers

7. In the 1920s, the young soldiers who returned from World War One wanted more _______________________ .
a: conservatism
b: freedom of ideas and experimentation
c: peace and quiet home on the farm
d: new opportunities for war experiences

8. This era was called the "Roaring Twenties" because _________________ .
a: it was a time of excitement and prosperity
b: it was a time when people played their radios as loudly as they could
c: it was the beginning of electric guitar music
d: it was a time when more people had lions and tigers as pets

9. In the 1920s, a young woman's grandmother often felt _______________ her grand daughter's behavior.
a: fascinated by
b: interested in
c: shocked by
d: influenced by

10. Two inventions helped cause social changes in the 20s. They were the ______________ .
a: washing machine and the video game
b: telephone and the telegraph
c: automobile and the radio
d: printing press and the collection plate

The Charleston was the dance that captured the spirit of the 1920s. It was danced with wild abandon by a new generation of independent young Americans, to the new hot jazz that was flooding the country. The dance began in Charleston, South Carolina, the city from which it takes its name. In 1923, The Charleston was featured in the Broadway show Runnin' Wild, one of the biggest hits of the decade. The song from the show - James P. Johnson's tune "The Charleston" - spread the fad across the nation and onwards to the rest of the world. Josephine Baker became famous for performing the Charleston in Paris in the 1920s. The Charleston is both a solo and partnered dance, both wildly exuberant and exciting to watch.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"The Sixty-Seventh Balloon Flight" from Edcon Publishing

Young Colette had come to the Tivoli Gardens of Paris to await a performance by the notable and beautiful balloonist, Madame Marie Blanchard. It was the night of July 6, 1819 and the park was filled with an assembly of thousands of people. Unlike most of those present in the crowd, Colette had actually ascended in a hot-air balloon. Her ambition was to someday become a professional balloonist like Madame Blanchard. Madame Blanchard was the first woman known to pilot her own balloon, and to Colette, she was a heroine. The girl had hoped to meet Madame Blanchard after the performance. Now she awaited the balloon flight of Madame Blanchard with great excitement. As Colette stood in the midst of the assembly she overheard a man say, "I think she's crazy. She'll kill herself." Then a woman answered, "Madame Blanchard is a professional. She knows what she's doing."

Colette agreed with the woman. Madame Blanchard had been flying a balloon as a special attraction for large and small crowds of people all over Europe for the past ten years. Madame Blanchard had even crossed the Alps in a balloon and had given a special performance before the Emperor Napoleon. Colette then heard the same woman say, "I wonder what it's like to float in the sky in a balloon." Colette turned to her and said, "I can tell you. I've been up in a balloon." The man turned and looked at her in amazement and said, "You're just as crazy as Madame Blanchard." The woman asked Colette, "What was it like to ride in a balloon? How did you get to ride in one?" "Well," Colette began, "I was very nervous at first. The man who owned the balloon was looking for someone, who weighed very little, to fly in it. So, 1 was chosen. The balloon was held to the ground by two strong ropes. 1 was the only passenger. .. ," Colette stopped speaking. She and everyone around her had noticed that it was time for Madame Blanchard's flight. As Colette gazed at the magnificent and mammoth balloon being prepared for its ascent, she recalled her own thrilling flight in a balloon barely six months before. The unusual sight of a hot-air balloon had been a special attraction for the small assembly of people who had come to see its flight. Colette had felt frightened when she climbed into the balloon's basket and awaited her own ascent. But more notable than her fear had been her fascination with the excitement of doing something which few women, or men for that matter, had ever done. Colette recalled the thrilling, trembling feeling that traveled through her body as the balloon silently and effortlessly rose into the air. It was as if the balloon were standing still and the land was moving away. The gentle rocking of the balloon felt as if she were on a raft afloat on an ocean. Colette had grasped the basket's sides tightly as she saw the crowd of people seem to shrink in size and heard their voices change to distant sounds from below. The distance to the ground seemed enormous from such a height. The only sound was that of the creaking ropes that had once anchored her to the ground. Colette had felt totally alone, a solitary figure in the balloon's car. She was 'nervous, but also joyous. It had been an unforgettable experience, one she hoped to repeat. Since that day; Colette had collected every bit of information about balloon flying that she could. She knew that she would be able to earn money as a balloonist. After all, she had read of the fortune that Madame Blanchard had made in her free-flying balloon. '

It was now time for Madame Blanchard's flight. Colette saw the solitary figure of Madame Blanchard getting into the basket. Colette wondered if Madame Blanchard ever felt frightened. She would ask her when they met. Colette felt a rush of excitement as she watched Madame Blanchard's balloon rise above the ground. Colette had read that Madame Blanchard's balloon, which was now overhead, was not filled with hot air, but with hydrogen. Why did Madame Blanchard use hydrogen rather than hot air? Colette wondered. Hydrogen was known to burst into names when exposed to fire or even a spark. She would ask Madame Blanchard that question. too, after the performance. Madame Blanchard knew how to entertain a large assembly of people. She always managed to offer a notable performance. Colette had seen posters advertising tonight's flight of Madame Blanchard as an amazing event. Her special feature for this attraction was to be an elaborate fireworks display. Colette saw the long wire attached to the balloon with a small wooden platform holding fireworks at the end. Once the balloon was off the ground, the fireworks were lighted. The balloon resembled a ship afloat on a gently rocking ocean. The brilliant colors of the fireworks dazzled and delighted Colette. The crowd cheered. Madame Blanchard was magnificent. Colette knew that Madame Blanchard must be feeling as excited as Colette had felt when she had flown in a balloon. Madame Blanchard was floating in the sky. The last firework had faded and the smoke had cleared. Colette was watching Madame Blanchard carefully. She seemed to be lighting a firework from inside the balloon's basket. Colette saw a spark of fire, but instead of growing into a lovely burst of color, it seemed to form itself into a small ball of fire.

Colette remembered reading how easily hydrogen could catch fire and was worried. Yet she felt sure in her heart that all would go well for the great Madame Blanchard. Suddenly, the ball of fire surged upwards like a torch. Colette gasped. Some people thought it was part of the performance and cheered wildly; others were trying to move out of the crowd. Colette stared wide-eyed in horror at Madame Blanchard's balloon. A sick feeling spread through her stomach and her feet turned ice-cold. Madame Blanchard's balloon was now covered with flames and drifting over nearby rooftops. Madame Blanchard was crouched low inside the basket. Colette had read of many ballooning accidents where the balloonist had escaped alive. Even Madame Blanchard had survived ballooning accidents. She had to survive this one. There was confusion in the crowd. Some people were afraid that the balloon would crash on top of them and Colette was being pushed from all sides. Then she heard someone ahead shouting, "Madame Blanchard is alive! She is safe!" Colette felt a tremendous sense of relief after hearing that news. Slowly, she pushed and weaved her way through the large crowd and headed for her home. She knew she would not be meeting Madame Blanchard that night.

Colette was anxious to learn more about the accident and read the first news report as soon as she could. She could not believe what she read and she started to cry. The report stated that Madame Blanchard had died in the accident. She had planned to light one last firework from inside the balloon's basket and send it down in a parachute as a final act of the performance. Apparently, some hydrogen had been escaping from the balloon. The spark from the last firework had set the hydrogen on fire and caused the balloon to go up in flames. Madame Blanchard could probably have survived the accident had the balloon not struck a rooftop, hurling her into the street. She had been untouched by the flames, but the crash had killed her. It had been her sixty-seventh flight in a balloon.


1. People had come to Paris to see a performance by _________
a. Colette.
b. Tivoli.
c. Madame Blanchard.
d. an amazing magician.

2. Colette's first balloon flight took place _________
a. before Madame Blanchard's last flight.
b. after Madame Blanchard's last flight.
c. at the same time as Madame Blanchard's flight.
d. in England.

3. Ballooning was an activity which Colette found _________
a. slightly interesting.
b. not at all interesting.
c. too frightening to repeat.
d. very interesting.

4. Madame Blanchard's balloon was filled with __________
a. cool air.
b. oxygen.
c. hot air.
d. hydrogen.

5. As the crowd watched, the balloon became covered with __________
a. hydrogen.
b. hot air.
c. Ice.
d. flames.

6. Madame Blanchard's story would most likely appear in a magazine article on ____________
a. the use of fireworks in ballooning.
b. famous balloonists of America.
c. famous balloonists of Europe.
d. the dangers of using hot air In balloons.

7. Madame Blanchard's sixty-seventh balloon flight took place _____________
a. less than one hundred years ago.
b. over one hundred years ago.
c. over two hundred years ago.
d. less than fifty years ago.

8. The accident had been caused by _____________
a. a high roof.
b. escaping hydrogen.
c. a parachute.
d. the many fireworks in the sky.

9. Another name for this story could be ______________
a. "Hot-Air Balloons."
b. "The Last Flight."
c. "Colette Flies Alone."
d. "The Tivoli Gardens of Paris."

10. This story is mainly about ____________
a. the life of a famous balloonist.
b. a young girl's hopes to fly.
c. a ballooning accident.
d. the use of hydrogen in balloons.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"A Princess of Mars" Part Four by Edgar Rice Burroughs, from VOA

Welcome to the fourth and last part of our program, "A Princess of Mars." The story is from a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Last week, we told how John Carter observed a fierce battle between the green Martians and a race of red, human-like creatures. He also saw the beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris being captured after the battle.

A short time later, John Carter, the Princess and their friend, the green Martian woman Sola, attempt to escape rather than face death. The Princess and Sola must flee while John Carter tries to slow the green warriors who are chasing them. John Carter continues to tell what happens in Edgar Rice Burroughs' story, "A Princess of Mars."


The huge green warrior Tars Tarkas came slowly toward me with his thin sword. I backed away. I did not want to fight him. I did not wish his death. He had been as kind to me as a green Martian can be.

As I stood watching him, a rifle fired in the distance, then another and another. Tars Tarkas and his warriors were under attack from another tribe of green warriors.


Within seconds, a terrible battle raged. As I watched, three of the attackers fell on Tars Tarkas. He killed one and was fighting with the other two when he slipped and fell.

I ran to his aid, swinging my sword. He was on his feet. Shoulder-to-shoulder, we fought against the attackers. They finally withdrew after an hour of fierce fighting.


Water Ice discovered on
Mars, 2008.
John Carter, I think I understand the meaning of the word "friend." You saved my life when I was about to take yours. From this day, you are no longer a captive among our people, but a leader and great warrior among us.


There was a smile on his face. Once again, he took off a metal band from his arm and gave it to me.


I have a question for you John Carter. I understand why you took the red woman with you. But why did Sola leave her people and go with you?


She did not want to see me or the Princess harmed. She does not like the great games held by your people where captives are led to die. She knows if she is caught, she too will die in the games. She told me she hates the games because her mother died there.


What? How could she know her mother?


She told me her mother was killed in the games because she had hidden the egg that produced her. Her mother hid Sola among other children before she was captured. Sola said she was a kind woman, not like others of your tribe.

Tars Tarkas grew angry as I was speaking. But I could see past his anger. I could see pain in his eyes. I immediately knew Sola's great secret.

I have a question for you, Tars Tarkas. Did you know Sola's mother?


Yes… and if I could have, I would have prevented her death. I know this story to be true. I have always known the woman who died in those games had a child. I never knew the child. I do now. Sola is also my child.


Rover image.
The rock looks like
For three days, we followed the trail left by the Princess Dejah Thoris, Sola and poor ugly Woola. At last, we could see them in the distance. Their animal could no longer be ridden. They were talking. When we came near, Woola turned to fight us. I slowly walked to him with my hand out.

Sola was standing nearby. She was armed and prepared to fight. The princess was lying next to her feet.

Sola, what is wrong with the princess?


She has been crying much these past few days, John Carter. We believed you died so we could escape. The thought of your death was very heavy on this woman…my friend Dejah Thoris. Come and tell her you are among the living. Perhaps that will stop her crying.


I walked to where the Princess Dejah Thoris was lying on the ground. She looked at me with eyes that were red from crying.

Princess, you are no longer in danger. Tars Tarkas has come with me as a friend. He and his warriors will help to see you safely home.

And..Sola! I would have you greet your father -- Tars Tarkas -- a great leader among your people. Your secret no longer means death to anyone. He already knows you are his daughter. The two of you have nothing to fear.

Sola turned and looked at Tars Tarkas. She held out her hand. He took it. It was a new beginning for them.


All these Earth men are
alike. Wait until she
finds out!
I know our world has never before seen anyone like you, John Carter. Can it be that all Earthmen are like you? I was alone, a stranger, hunted, threatened. Yet you would freely give your life to save me.

You come to me now with a tribe of green warriors who offer their friendship. You are no longer a captive but wear the metal of great rank among their people. No man has ever done this.


Princess, I have done many strange things in my life, many things much smarter men would not have done. And now, before my courage fails, I would ask you, to be mine in marriage.

She smiled at me for a moment and then her dark eyes flashed in the evening light.


You have no need of your courage, John Carter, because you already knew the answer before you asked the question.


And so Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, a daughter of the Red Planet Mars, promised herself in marriage to John Carter, a gentleman of Virginia.



Several days later, we reached the city of Helium. At first, the red men of Helium thought we were an attacking army. But they soon saw their Princess. We were greeted with great joy. Tars Tarkas and his green warriors caused the greatest excitement. This huge group of green warriors entered the city as friends and allies.

I soon met Tardos Mors, the grandfather of Dejah Thoris. He tried several times to thank me for saving the life of the Princess. But tears filled his eyes and he could not speak.


For nine years, I served in the government and fought in the armies of Helium as a Prince of the royal family. It was a happy time. The Princess Dejah Thoris and I were expecting a child.

Then, one day, a soldier returned from a long flight. When he landed he hurried to the great meeting room.

Tardos Mors met with the soldier and reported that every creature on the planet had but three days to live. He said the great machines that produced the atmosphere on the planet had stopped producing oxygen. He said no one knew why this had happened, but there was nothing that could be done.

The air grew thin within a day. Many people could do nothing but sleep. I watched as my Princess was slowly dying. I had to try something.

Aerial drone on Mars
A photoshop image
I could still move with great difficulty. I went to our airport and chose a fast aircraft. I flew as fast as I could to the building that produced the atmosphere of the planet.

Workers were trying to enter. I tried to help. With a great effort I opened a hole.

I grew very weak. I asked one of the workers if he could start the engines. He said he would try. I fell asleep on the ground.

It was dark when I opened my eyes again. My clothing felt stiff and strange. I sat up. I could see light from an opening. I walked outside. The land looked strange to me. I looked up to the sky and saw the Red Planet Mars. I was once again on Earth in the desert of Arizona. I cried out with deep emotion.

Did the worker reach the machines to renew the atmosphere? Did the air reach the people of that planet in time to save them? Was my Princess Dejah Thoris alive or did she lie cold in death?

For ten years now, I have watched the night sky, looking for an answer. I believe she and our child are waiting there for me. Something tells me that I shall soon know.

You have been listening to the Special English program, American Stories.

Shep O'Neal was the voice of John Carter. Steve Ember was Tars Tarkas. Barbara Klein was Sola. And Gwen Outen was Princess Dejah Thoris. This story was adapted for Special English by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Paul Thompson and Mario Ritter. Listen again next week for another American Story in VOA Special English.


1. Dejah Thoris was crying in the desert because _____________________ .
a: she was frustrated by John Carter's inability to communicate
b: she knew that John Carter would soon return to Earth
c: she thought John Carter had died in the battle with the green Martians
d: she realized that John Carter was in love with Sola's mother

2. John Carter was released from his captivity mostly because he ______________________ .
a: learned Martian as a Second Language
b: knew how to jump very high in the air
c: was loved and admired by Dejah Thoris
d: saved the life of Tars Tarkas

3. One detail from this story is confirmed by modern science. It is the fact that _______________________ .
a: Mars doesn't have a breathable atmosphere
b: Mars atmosphere is dependent on special machines
c: giant frogs like Woola are very ugly
d: the Martian language is more complex than English

4. Tars Tarkas makes an amazing discovery. He finds out that ______________________ .
a: Sola is actually his daughter
b: Sola's mother died in the terrible games
c: Sola escaped with John Carter and Dejah Thoris
d: Sola's mother hid the egg containing Sola

5. After John Carter and Dejah Thoris got married, ________________________ .
a: they moved to a big mansion in Virginia and were visited on holidays by green Martians
b: they spent their honeymoon on the moon
c: they lived very happily in Helium and were expecting a child
d: they flew in an airship to other planets in the solar system

6. John Carter didn't want to kill Tars Tarkas because the green warrior _______________________ .
a: was Sola's brother
b: had been kind to him
c: was from Helium
d: was James Powell's friend

7. When the machines producing oxygen failed to work, all the creatures on the planet Mars _____________________ .
a: left for Earth
b: began to fall asleep
c: put on their oxygen masks
d: began to breathe hydrogen instead

8. As soon as John Carter became aware of the emergency, he ____________________ .
a: took an aircraft to the building that produced oxygen
b: took an aircraft to the Earth
c: gave his wife artificial respiration
d: told Tardos Mors to stop making up weird stories

9. When John Carter woke up from his sleep in the Oxygen factory, he ____________________ .
a: found himself in bed with Sola
b: found himself in the desert of Arizona
c: found himself breathing again because the oxygen machines were working
d: found that his iphone was no longer in contact with Mars

10.Tardos Mors was the ___________________ of Dejah Thoris.
a: enemy
b: grandfather
c: servant
d: body guard

This is the "John Carter" premier, 100 years after "A Princess of Mars" was published. The actors and director speak about the influence this book has had on later science fiction novels and films.

"A Princess of Mars" Part One
"A Princess of Mars" Part Two
"A Princess of Mars" Part Three