This Day in Geek History: December 14
A meteorite falls in Weston, Connecticut at 6:30am, making a hole five feet long and 4.5 feet wide. It is the first meteorite to be seen falling in the New World since the arrival of European settlers. Yale Professor Benjamin Silliman will write a description of the event and perform a chemical analysis of recovered meteorite, the first performed in the U.S. As such, it receives a great deal of press attention.
German physicist Max Planck presents his ideas on quantum physics to a meeting of the German Physics Society in Berlin. The theoretical derivation of his black-body radiation law will revolutionize scientists’ understanding of physics. His theory demonstrates that, in certain situations, energy exhibits characteristics of physical matter. It predicts the spectral intensity of electromagnetic radiation at all wavelengths from a black body at a given temperature. Part of the theory suggests that energy exists in discrete packets, which he calls “quanta.” Planck will be rewarded the Nobel Prize in in Physics 1918 for his work on blackbody radiation.
The British cable ship Silvertown begins laying the first transpacific telegraph cable, which will reach from San Francisco to Honolulu. The ship will lay cable across 2,277 nautical miles in two weeks, until it lands near Honolulu on January 1, 1903. The first test message will be sent the same day, and transmission of public messages through the cable will begin on January 5, 1903.
The Wright Brothers make their first attempt to fly the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
George Albert Smith holds the first exhibition of the Kinemacolor motion picture process to the general public, in London. Kinemacolor is a two-color additive color process for photographing and projecting a black-and-white film behind alternating red and green filters.
The United States Navy issues a formal Letter of Intent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) regarding the development of the Airplane Stability and Control Analyzer (ASCA) program, a flight simulator for training bomber crews. The Navy envisions a fairly simple system that could continually update a simulated instrument panel based on pilot inputs. Unlike older systems, such as the Link Trainer, a flight simulator developed in the early thirties through the early fifties, the system envisioned would involve a considerably more realistic aerodynamics model. The letter marks the beginning of Project Whirlwind. The project will result in the Whirlwind, the first high-speed electronic digital computer able to reliably operate in real time. Constructed under the leadership of Jay. W. Forrester, the computer will contain 12,500 vacuum tubes and 23,800 crystal diodes.
The NASA space probe Mariner 2 becomes the first spacecraft to encounter another planet, as it passes within 34,800 kilometers of Venus. Mariner 2 scans the surface of the planet with infrared and microwave radiometers, capturing data that shows Venus’s surface to be about 425°C (800°F). Three weeks after the Venus flyby, Mariner 2 will stop transmitting a signal on January 3, 1963. The space probe is also the first to measure the composition, density, and velocity, of the solar wind.
Arthur Kornberg announces the first successful synthesis of biologically active DNA in a test tube. The accomplishment was achieved in cooperation with Mehran Goulian of Stanford University and Robert L. Sinsheimer of M.I.T. The DNA is a relatively simple chain of the Phi X174 virus, which has a single strand of DNA with about eleven genes only about 5,500 nucleotides long.
Eugene Cernan becomes the last person to walk on the Moon, after he and Harrison Schmitt complete the third and final Extra-vehicular activity (EVA) of Apollo 17. It will be the last manned mission to the Moon of the 20th century.
Voyager, an experimental aircraft piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, takes off from Edwards Air Force Base in California. It will become the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling over a nine day long voyage that will cover twenty-five thousand miles at an average speed of 115.8mph. The aircraft’s design and light-weight structural materials allow it to carry an unprecedented amount of fuel, and it’s flight will nearly double the previous distance record set in 1962 by an United States Air Force (USAF) Boeing B-52H.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command (Part 1)” first airs. (No. 610) In it, Captain Jellico is assigned command of the Enterprise, while Picard is sent on a covert mission deep into Cardassian territory. Memory Alpha entry
The first meeting of the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The W3C was founded by Albert Vezza and Tim Berners-Lee to development and maintain international standards for the World Wide Web. Visit the organization’s official website.
During a company Christmas party, employees of Kingston Technology learn that their employer will split US$100 million in bonuses between the 523 employees. The shares will average US$75,000 each. For some, their share of the bonus will amount to three times their annual salary. The windfall is the result of a transaction in which Softbank Corporation of Japan acquired eighty percent of Kingston from David Sun and John Tu for US$1.5 billion.
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