The day is Thursday, February 24, 1949; the pens on the automatic plotting boards at South Station are busy tracking the altitude and course of a rocket, which just moments before had been launched from a site three miles away on the test range of the White Sands Proving Ground.
What's inside a planet? What instruments do scientists use to figure it out? And what clues does a planet's surface give us? On Saturday, April 21, Lisa Walsh and I, scientists from the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, invited visitors to the National Air and Space Museum's Explore the Universe Family Day to think about these questions, through two hands-on activities relating to our research into tectonics on Mercury.
Jobs made a donation to the Museum to support the Beyond the Limits Gallery. He also gave us a NeXT workstation, which we promised him we would use to develop a flight simulator for the gallery. But after some efforts, we eventually gave up. I regret we were not able to make his NeXT donation work. The NeXT computer was tricky to work with, but it did have its fans. One researcher at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland got one, and while we were struggling to program ours, he used his to write a program for the Internet that he called the World Wide Web. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
Since Howard McCurdy and I co-authored Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), I have been interested in the possible merger of humans and robots into a single entity to undertake space exploration.
The announcement last year that Bill Moggridge was selected to be the new head of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York gave me pause. In my daily work I tend to stay on a narrow path of aerospace-related topics, but that name sounded familiar. A glance at my bookshelf gave me the answer: before joining the Cooper-Hewitt, Moggridge was a co-founder of the international design firm IDEO, and while there he played a crucial role in the design of the world’s first laptop computer: the GRiD Compass, first marketed in 1982. The unusual capitalization of “GRiD” was a trademark of the company that developed it.
A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, born in 1882, Goddard earned a B.Sc. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1908) and an M.Sc. (1911) and a Ph.D. (1912) in physics from Clark University. After some important early work in electronics, the young professor began his work on rocketry and spaceflight. In 1914 he patented the design of both a multistage and a liquid propellant rocket and conducted an experiment demonstrating the ability of a rocket to function in space. The work was becoming ever more expensive, he explained to Abbot, and wondered if the Smithsonian could offer any support.
If you don’t already own one, you’ve no doubt seen advertisements for them on television. I am referring to so-called “smartphones,” which can change the orientation of their display, from Portrait to Landscape, depending on how you hold them. They can do that because they contain a fingernail-sized chip inside, which senses the acceleration of gravity, and adjusts the display accordingly. Resourceful programmers have come up with a number of other applications, or “apps,” for these phones, which take advantage of the on-board ability to sense acceleration. If you only use a plain old-fashioned cell phone, you still have a number of these devices around you. Automobiles use them for airbag deployment, stability control, and braking systems.
On August 7, 1980, 30 years ago today, Janice Brown flew the Penguin almost 3.5 km (two miles) that day in 14 minutes, 21 seconds. This was the first sustained flight of a solar-powered aircraft and the longest Penguin flight since development had started on the aircraft two years earlier.