This Day in Geek History: May 6
The Aerodrome No. 5 makes the first successful flight of an unpiloted, engine-driven, heavier-than-air craft of substantial size. Its inventor, Samuel Pierpont Langley, launches the craft using a spring-actuated catapult mounted on top of a houseboat on the Potomac River, near Quantico, Virginia. In its first flight it travels 3,300 feet (1,005 meters), in its second flight, later the same afternoon, it travels 2,300 feet (700 meters). In both instances, it travels at a speed of about 25mph.
John Logie Baird is granted a British patent for a spiral scanning disc which makes his mechanical television possible.
At 7:25pm, the giant German airship Hindenburg explodes into flames and crashes after failing to dock with a mooring mast at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey at the conclusion of its first transatlantic voyage from Frankfurt, Germany. Thirty-six people die in the incident after sixteen hydrogen-filled cells ignite and destroy the zeppelin in just 34 seconds. Though the true reason behind the disaster will never be precisely determined, the incident, dramatically captured on film for newreels, will put an end to the use of Zeplins as a means of travel. Prior to the incident, Zeplins had been widely considered to be the future of air travel, having earned a reputation for being incredibly luxurious. The Hindenburg itself is 803 feet long and had private rooms for 50 passengers.
The Electronic Delayed Storage Automatic Computer (EDSAC), the first practical stored-program computer, runs its first program, a piece of software written by Maurice Wilkes for calculating a table of square. EDSAC was assembled by Wilkes of Cambridge University in England. It features a paper tape I/O, has a high-speed memory (mercury delay lines), three thousand vacuum tubes, and will be the first stored-program computer to operate a regular computing service. For programming the EDSAC, Wilkes established a library of short programs called subroutines stored on punched paper tapes. It performs 714 operations per second. The computer also runs a program for calculating a sequence of prime numbers, establishing the EDSAC as the first user-friendly stored-programed computer to run software.
Philadelphia surgeon John H. Gibbon Jr. performs the first successful human-heart surgery assisted by a heart-lung machine.
In the first test of its kind, a U.S. nuclear warhead is launched from a submerged Polaris submarine. The USS Ethan Allen test-fires a Polaris A-2 missile with a live nuclear warhead across the Pacific Ocean toward Christmas Island, 1,700 miles (2,700 km) away. The test, code-named “Frigate Bird,” is the only test the U.S. ever conducts with any nuclear ballistic missile from launch through detonation. After a 12.5 minute, 1,200 mile (1,900 km) flight, the warhead explodes in the air at an altitude between 10,000 and 15,000 feet (3,000 and 4,600 meters) with a yield of 600 kilotons. Thirty miles from the air burst, the USS Carbonaro captured the mushroom cloud on film from periscope depth.