This Day in Geek History: February 20
US President George Washington signs the Postal Service Act, creating the United States Postal Service. Under the act, letters can be delivered within thirty miles for six cents and within one hundred fifty miles for twelve and a half cents.
The first successful automobile-airplane hybrid, the Arrowbile, is completed. Its first flight will take place the next day, February 21, 1937. The vehicle has a top speed of 120mph in the air and 70mph on the ground. The Arrowbile was designed by aeroengineer Waldo Dean Waterman and five were built by the Westerman Arrowplane Corporation of Santa Monica, California. The Studebaker Corporation, which supplied the hundred horsepower engines, will eventually take delivery of the Arrowbiles. Read more about Waldo Waterman.
American movie studio executives agree to allow the Office of War Information to censor movies.
The Batman and Robin comic strip by Bob Kane first appears in US newspapers. The strip, which is a forerunner of the later Batman comic book, runs on weekdays and Sundays.
Mathematician Alan Turing suggests testing artificial intelligence with the game of chess in a lecture to the London Mathematical Society. He argues that computers, like humans, must be given training before their “IQ” is tested. The concept is the basis of the “Turing test,” which Turing will describe in depth in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”
John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7. Glenn orbits the Earth three times in four hours, fifty-five minutes, at a maximum altitude of about one hundred sixty-two miles, at an orbital velocity of approximately seventeen thousand five hundred miles per hour. NASA accomplishes the landmark using an IBM 7030 Stretch supercomputer. During the orbit, residents of Perth, Australia greet Glen by switching their house lights on in unison as the capsule passes overhead. A four-cent US stamp commemorating the event goes on sale, becoming the first US stamp issued on the same day as the event it commemorates.
A television receiver and transmitter operated by laser beam is demonstrated by the General Telephone and Electronics Co. in Bayside, New York. The laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radion) provides a narrow high-intensity light beam that can be focused and directed over long distances.
According to Twin Galaxies, Ken Chevalier, age 16, scores 12,900,000 points playing the Atari arcade game BattleZone after playing for twelve hours at the Star Station 101 arcade in Atascadero, California. Visit the official Twin Galaxies website.
The Soviet Union launches the core module of the Mir space station. Mir has six docking ports and special laboratories for scientific research. Later, a veteran crew will be sent to man the fifty-six foot long, nearly fourteen foot wide station. The core module will provide living quarters for the cosmonauts, including a galley, cooking elements, storage, individual crew cabins and personal hygiene area. It also has a working compartment for monitoring and commanding the core systems supported by an electric power system, thermal control system, computer systems, environmental control and life support, communications, and tracking systems. Five additional modules will be launched between March 1987 and April 1996. Read more about the structure of the space station at the Russian Space Web. View a large photo of the Mir space station. Watch a Quicktime movie of the launch.
Judy-Lyn del Rey, publisher and editor-in-chief of Del Rey Books, dies at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, after suffering a brain hemorrhage on October 16, 1985, from which she never recovered. According to the editors of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the longest-running science fiction magazine of all time, del Rey did more than any other single person to bring science fiction into widespread acceptance among the public as a major branch of publishing. Del Rey Books, an imprint founded by Judy-Lynn and her husband, Lester del Rey, produced a steady stream of bestsellers, beginning with The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks in 1977. Before the founding of Del Rey Books, bestselling science fiction had been nearly unheard of. Judy-Lyn got her start in publishing at Galaxy magazine. Later in the year, she will be posthumously awarded the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor, but her husband will decline the award in her name, saying that she would have objected to the award being given to her just because she had recently died. Prior to her death, Philip K. Dick said the following in reference to Judy-Lynn’s work on his novel, A Scanner Darkly: “Judy-Lynn del Rey is probably the greatest editor since Maxwell Perkins. She went over that novel page by page and showed me how to create a character. I’ve been selling novels for 22 years and she showed me how to develop a character. Now I know what to do when I write a book. She was a master craftsman.”
In Salt Lake City, Utah, a bomb explodes in a computer store. It will later be discovered that the bomb was created and delivered by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who argued in his manifesto (“Industrial Society and Its Future“) that his actions were a necessary to attract attention to the dangers of modern technology.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Dauphin” first airs. (No. 210) In it, the Enterprise transports a young leader and her guardian to their homeworld, but complications arise when Wesley falls in love with the girl. Memory Alpha entry
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