Tag Archives: history

The technology of Star Trek

On this, the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of the first Star Trek episode, here is a fascinating look at the fictional technology of the series.

I remember that Thursday evening fifty years ago very well. As a teenager I had been suffering for years watching very bad and stupid television science fiction, like Lost in Space, written as if its audiences were five year old children and thus insulting them. Still, as an avid reader of science fiction that knew the genre was sophisticated and intelligent, I held onto the hope that some new science fiction show might finally do something akin to this.

Star Trek did this and more. That first episode had all the best elements of good drama and great science fiction: a mystery, an alien, a tragic figure, and an ancient lost civilization. From that moment until the series was cancelled, I would be glued to my television set when it aired.

You can watch that first episode if you wish, though with commercials. Click on the first link above to do so. In watching it recently when Diane and I decided to rent the original series from Netflix and watch them again, I was surprised how well this episode, as well as the entire first series, has stood up over time. It is not dated. Its drama remains as good. And you know, the writing is sometimes quite stellar, to coin a phrase.

Want to buy a used NASA robot? You can!

Link here. The robot was developed in the 1960s to test spacesuits, though because it leaked oil it was never used.

In fact, this particular 1960s NASA project appears to be a perfect example of “engineers gone wild!” The website explains that the robot was an attempt to replace human test volunteers.

Unfortunately, pressure suits aren’t like coveralls. They’re complex pieces of engineering. A human can provide qualitative information about how (un)comfortable a suit is, but cannot gauge the forces involved with the precision and accuracy that an an engineer needs. In addition, testing pressure suits with volunteers can be grueling, unpleasant and even painful.

In the end, however, the robot didn’t work and the testing was done by humans, probably for a lot less than the $175,000 they spent (in 1960s dollars) to build two of these robots. One however is now being auctioned off, and could serve wonderfully as a great piece of interesting artwork in someone’s home.

Take a 3D tour of the Apollo 11 capsule

The effort by the National Air & Space Museum to create a 3D model of the interior of the Apollo 11 capsule has now resulted in a 3D player where you can take a detailed interior tour.

The actual tour is here When you click on the image you can then use the mouse to pan about and see the whole interior..

Another da Vinci discovery

A historian doing a detailed study of Leonardo da Vinci’s research on the nature of friction has discovered his first notes on the subject, where da Vinci outlined the laws of friction two hundred years before they were finally documented by a French scientist.

“The sketches and text show Leonardo understood the fundamentals of friction in 1493,” says Hutchings. “He knew that the force of friction acting between two sliding surfaces is proportional to the load pressing the surfaces together and that friction is independent of the apparent area of contact between the two surfaces. These are the ‘laws of friction’ that we nowadays usually credit to a French scientist, Guillaume Amontons, working 200 years later.”

It is an unfortunate thing that da Vinci lived and worked in Italy. Though this was where the Renaissance blossomed, it is also the place where some scientists at the time were persecuted for being too honest about their research. To protect himself da Vinci confined his scientific genius to his private diaries, written in a backwards script he created so that no one could easily understand what he wrote. Thus, while his brilliance as a painter was recognized in his lifetime and after, the discoveries he had made about engineering and science were lost for literally centuries.

I wonder if there are individuals, especially in the climate field, who are now experimenting with similar techniques to hide their work.

A brief history of the nuclear defence triad

Link here.

The essay is a fascinating look at the origins in the 1950s of the U.S.’s defense triad of ground-launched ICBMs, submarine-launched ICBMS, and bombers. The section on the history of ICBMs describes nicely the roots of the Atlas 5 rocket as well as many of the federal government’s contracting policies for its big government projects like SLS.

You can’t just call up a new weapons system from nothing by sheer will alone. As [Thomas Hughes, in his history of Project Atlas] explains, there were severe doubts about how one might organize such a work. The first instinct of the military was to just order it up the way they would order up a new plane model. But the amount of revolutionary work was too great, and the scientists and advisors running the effort really feared that if you went to a big airplane company like Convair and said, “make me a rocket,” the odds that they’d actually be able to make it work were low. They also didn’t want to assign it to some new laboratory run by the government, which they felt would be unlikely to be able to handle the large-scale production issues. Instead, they sought a different approach: contract out individual “systems” of the missile (guidance, fuel, etc.), and have an overall contractor manage all of the systems. This took some serious effort to get the DOD and Air Force to accept, but in the end they went with it. [emphasis mine]

Sounds remarkable like the way the SLS rocket program is organized, with different contractors building different engines and stages and one contractor (Boeing) acting as top manager. More interestingly, the way the military used to do things — put out a request and let the private sector build it — is similar to the way NASA is doing things in today’s commercial cargo/manned program. What forced the transition from having the private sector design things to having the government entirely in charge? I have highlighted the key phrase, “the scientists and advisors running the effort.” They might have been sincere and they might even have been right, at the time, but nonetheless their approach was still a power grab, taking control of design and construction from the private sector and shifting it to them and the government entities building the rockets.

When construction actually started, the government ended up with six different rocket programs, Redstone, Atlas, Thor, Titan, Polaris, and Minuteman.

The redundancy was a hedge: the goal was to pick the top two of the programs and cancel the rest. Instead, Sputnik happened. In the resulting political environment, Eisenhower felt he had to put into production and deployment all six of them — even though some were demonstrably not as technically sound as others (Thor and Polaris, in their first incarnations, were fraught with major technical problems). This feeling that he was pushed by the times (and by Congress, and the services, and so on) towards an increasingly foolish level of weapons production is part of what is reflected in Eisenhower’s famous 1961 warning about the powerful force of the “military-industrial complex.”

Once again, this history illustrates the power grab that took place in Washington in the 1950s, something that Eisenhower did not like. Sixty years later, the rocket industry is struggling to transition back to the old way of doing things, because it actually works better. Before the 1950s, our innovative, competitive, and fast moving technological private sector made the United States an unbeatable powerhouse. Afterward, we increasingly lost the ability to innovate and compete, because the system created by these scientists and advisors did not encourage competition. Instead, they instituted a top-down centralized command approach, ironically quite similar to the Soviet model, the very philosophy the United States was opposing during the Cold War.

The failures of that top-down approach — illustrated starkly by SLS’s gigantic budget, interminable delays, and little produced — might finally be coming home to roost, allowing a new power grab by a competitive private sector. The change I think will be generally beneficial, not only to the needs of the federal government but to the needs of the general population, as it will generate a lot more wealth, a lot more innovation, and a lot more excitement, as it once again makes the U.S. a powerhouse, this time out among the planets.

Want to get a close look at the Russian spaceport during a launch? You can!

The space tourism company that has partnered with the Russians to fly tourists to ISS is now offering a nine-day tour of Russia’s launch facilities, including watching a Soyuz manned launch for the bargain price of $14,495.

Guests will get to see the launch of the Soyuz spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station and experience the live Soyuz-International Space Station docking at Mission Control Center. “We will observe the early morning roll-out of the Soyuz Rocket and follow it to the launch pad site together with the press, military personnel, cosmonauts, and their relatives,” said MIR Corporation President Douglas Grimes. “The following day we will gather in a VIP seating gallery at Mission Control Center for the live satellite feed of the Soyuz docking.”

Guests also have the option to participate in cosmonaut training themselves: They can experience up to 4 Gs on the world’s largest centrifuge, take a parabolic zero-G simulation flight, don a spacesuit, and learn how to handle “typical space tasks.”

Most of America’s elite universities do not require history majors to study U.S. history

The coming dark age: More than fifty American universities do not require history majors to take a course in United States history.

This bears repeating: The universities allow history majors to get a degree in history without having to study American history. The article also includes lots of interviews from lots of academic types, all making excuses for this dismal policy.

No wonder no one seems to know what the Bill of Rights is. Our universities, run almost exclusively by leftwing hacks, have sent it down the memory hole to be forgotten and ignored.

Auction of first published book describing Copernicus’ heliocentric theory

Got some spare cash? On July 13, the auction house Christies in London will be selling a first edition of the first book ever published describing Copernicus’ theory that the Earth orbited the Sun.

De Libris Revolutionum Eruditissimi Viridoctoris came not from Nicolaus Copernicus, but from his only student, Georg Joachim Rheticus, and when published in 1540, provided the momentum needed for Copernicus to finally have his landmark De revolutionibus orbium coelestium published in 1543.

Rheticus (1514-1574) published this first book on the subject based on his studies under Copernicus, all the while imploring his master to finally publish the master work which had been finished for 25 years. Copernicus resisted publishing De revolutionibus orbium coelestium for 30 years due to his fear of the Catholic Church, but when Rheticus published this book in 1540, Copernicus finally gave Rheticus the go ahead to publish the major work for him.

The American Revolution, as reported by modern reporters

To better understand how the teaching of American history is being distorted by modern leftist historians, one need only read this description of the beginnings of the American Revolution, written as it almost certainly would be by today’s ignorant and leftwing anti-American journalists:

Boston – National Guard units seeking to confiscate a cache of recently banned assault weapons were ambushed by elements of a Para-military extremist faction. Military and law enforcement sources estimate that 72 were killed and more than 200 injured before government forces were compelled to withdraw.

Speaking after the clash, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage declared that the extremist faction, which was made up of local citizens, has links to the radical right-wing tax protest movement.

Read it all. It will sound sadly very familiar.

The Declaration of Independence

It behooves every American to read at least once a year the document that outlined the principles and reasons why the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. These words remain its most profound statement:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

It seems that the Fourth of July seems the most appropriate day for that reading.

The story of the writing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic

Some more Civil War history on this July fourth.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic became one of the most popular songs in the North during the Civil War, and was also an important rally song used during the 1950s/1960s civil rights movement. And its central theme is stated by its last stanza:

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom
That transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy,
Let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.

That stanza in many ways encompasses much of American history, since many of the original colonies were formed by deeply religious Christians who had made their religion and its moral rules central to their lives. That faith ended up being seeped in much of American culture for the next four hundred years, and guided the country’s actions both in domestic and foreign policy.

Auction of silver medals flown on Apollo brings in $800K

Coins in space: An auction in May of silver medals carried by astronauts on a variety of Apollo missions has brought in nearly $800,000.

Robbins medallions were minted by the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass. These .925 fine silver medals have been produced for every manned U.S. mission since Apollo 7. The medals were paid for by the crews and available for purchase only by NASA astronauts at the time. Medals that were actually flown on missions are especially coveted.

The history of the stopwatch

Link here. The most fascinating part of this story is the recent discovery of the very first stopwatch, previously unknown, built in 1816, and remarkably similar to the standard analog stopwatches used for decades until the arrival of digital equipment.

The layout of the compteur also makes one suspect it ended up in 1816 via a time machine. Instead of inking paper, it has a silvered and frosted metal dial dominated by a large fraction-second hand like later stopwatches, and three subdials for marking hours, minutes, and whole seconds Along with this, the stopwatch has a button at 12 o’clock to start and stop it, plus an 11 o’clock button to instantly reset the dials. This is a feature common to modern stopwatches and one not thought to be invented until 1862 by Adolphe Nicole.

President Roosevelt’s announcement of D-Day, June 6, 1944

An evening pause: On this anniversary of D-Day, it is worthwhile to go back in time and relive that time to understand better what our country then stood for. Below is President Roosevelt’s radio speech to the nation, announcing the D-Day invasion and its apparent initial success. What is striking is that he spends little time talking about what happened, nor does he spend any time extolling the triumph of his administration. Instead, he humbly turns his speech into his heartfelt prayer for the lives of the soldiers, the people at home, and the people in Europe who are suffering under Hitler’s rule, reminding everyone of the nation’s real goal: “A peace that will let all men to live in peace, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.” He then ends the prayer with these words, “Thy will be done, almighty God. Amen.”

This speech tells us as much about the nation that Roosevelt lived in as it does about Roosevelt himself. He knew his audience, and he knew they believed deeply in freedom, truth, human rights, and moral commitment. He also knew they would be honored to join him in this prayer, with the same humbleness as he was expressing. He knew they would not be offended, whatever their faith, because the important thing was to have good will and to strive for a just conclusion of the war.

If only such things could happen today.

Hat tip Wayne DeVette.

The doodles of a 7-year-old in 1300

Historians have uncovered the remarkable modern-looking doodles of a 7-year-old boy on bark paper used in Russian in the 13th century.

The sketches we are talking about hark back to circa 13th century AD, and they were made by a child named Onfim. It seems daydreaming and heroism-fueled reveries intervened with this 7-year old boy’s spelling lessons, so much so that he went on to draw himself as an imposing warrior with a sword and spear, after just writing the first eleven letters of his alphabet in the upper-right corner. And on closer inspection, one could also discern the horse upon which the ‘hero’ is mounted, along with the extended spear slaying his adversary – while the label of ‘Onfim’ makes the artist’s name clear.

But of course, the imagination of 7-year old Onfim was not just limited to portraying himself as a hero. At times he took the fantastical route to depict himself as a ‘wild beast’ (as made clear by another label proclaiming – ‘I am a wild beast’). The beast also seems to have a friendly attitude, as it carries a sign saying ‘Greetings from Onfim to Danilo’ – with Danilo possibly being Onfim’s schoolmate.

Take a look at the pictures at the link and tell me you haven’t seen these sketches on someone’s refrigerator recently.

50 year old time capsule in Houston reveals space artifacts

In opening a time capsule from 1966 at a Houston library, workers discovered a flag flown in space by Pete Conrad on Gemini 5, and a model of the Gemini capsule and Titan rocket that launched it.

The capsule unfortunately had gotten water-logged, so that many of the paper items inside were damaged.

I must admit it seems strange to me to open a time capsule when people are still alive (like myself) from the time the capsule was sealed, as the basic purpose of the capsule should be to pass information on to future generations, long after its builders are gone.

Merle Haggard – Okie From Muskogee

An evening pause: Someone who did not live through the 1960s cannot imagine the violent reactions to this song when it came out in 1969. It was either loved or hated, expressing the polarization of the times. Sadly, not much has changed in half a century, other than the poles have grown farther apart, with the side Haggard is gently criticizing here so filled with hate that it would not surprise me if they would to try to prevent the song’s performance if someone wanted to sing it on a college campus today.

Hat tip Diane Zimmerman, in honor of Merle Haggard’s passing last week.

Video of Falcon 9 first stage barge landing

This is so incredible to watch that I must post it on the webpage. I think I’ve already seen it a dozen times, and still cannot get over how the rocket, coming in fast and on an angle, rights itself, lands, bounces slightly, and then settles upright into place.

The future here is rushing up on us, fast, in the best way possible.

It’s the Beatles

An evening pause: Broadcast on December 7, 1963 by the BBC, this excerpt from the 30 minute television show before 2,500 members of The Beatles’ Northern Area Fan Club gives us a glimpse into the craziness that heralded the Beatles arrival on the world scene. The clip includes the last third of the show.

Why do these teenage girls remind me of modern voters attending rallies for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?

Hat tip Rocco.

The Irish not of Celtic origin?

The uncertainty of science: The discovery of a burial site in Ireland has thrown into doubt all theories concerning the Celtic origins of the Irish.

“The DNA evidence based on those bones completely upends the traditional view,” said Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford who has written books on the origins of the people of Ireland. DNA research indicates that the three skeletons found behind McCuaig’s are the ancestors of the modern Irish and they predate the Celts and their purported arrival by 1,000 years or more. The genetic roots of today’s Irish, in other words, existed in Ireland before the Celts arrived.

The article is quite detailed and outlines the overall scientific problem of the Celts, which is now quite unclear about who they were, where they came from, and where they went.

In related news: Scientists have found new evidence of a human presence in Ireland as far back as 12,500 years ago.

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