December 17, 2014
Here in Vermont it’s a drizzly, cold, cloud-covered day. However, 111 years ago in Kitty Hawke, North Carolina, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing steadily from the north. Perfect conditions for flying.
The first airplane soared for 12 seconds over 120 feet (about 37 meters) of sandy ground just outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. This is a famous photograph of the moment the airplane lifts into the air with Orville Wright at the controls and Wilbur Wright running alongside.
Nowadays, we don’t think too much about hopping a plane to a distant city. Air travel is statistically safer than car travel, and it’s much faster. A trip that took a week by train a hundred years ago now takes only hours. And while we might complain about long security lines, the cost of a package of peanuts, and the inconvenience of checking baggage, it’s still far easier that strapping your steamer trunk to the back of a buggy and wrapping up in wool blankets for a long, uncomfortable trip to Grandma’s house for the holidays.
If the airplane had never been invented, would our world be as connected as it is via communication satellites? Perhaps not. Innovators first visualize a concept and then try to achieve that vision through engineering and technology. Could anyone have visualized the extent of our world before we could fly around it? If the airplane hadn’t come first, would we have ever invented spaceships? What might we have invented instead? And what are the Wright brothers of today busy inventing that will show us an entirely new part of the world that we never expected to see?
Thanks to the Wright brothers, people can travel to see the people they love, even if they’re on the other side of the earth. The Wrights took the physics of lift, thrust, and drag and used them to make a flying machine that revolutionized the way people perceived the world and our place in it.
This holiday season, if you’re one of the 5.4 million travelers expected to fly, take a moment to appreciate the Wright brothers for making your journey possible.
You can read Orville Wright’s diary entry for December 17, 1903 here. Did you learn anything surprising?
Friday, January 30, 2015, 5:00
McCormick Place, South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL, United States
Join us for the ALA Midwinter conference in downtown Chicago. Visit Nomad Press and take advantage of our show specials.
Show runs January 30 – February 2, 2015.
November 13, 2014
It’s not every day you get a tweet from a comet, but on November 12, that’s exactly what came from Comet 67P, located about 310 million miles from Earth. “Touchdown! My new address: 67P!”
Photo credit: ESA
The Rosetta Mission took a giant step forward on Wednesday when the Philae lander settled, or perhaps bounced, onto the surface of a comet far, far away. This is the first time scientists have managed to land a space probe on a comet. European Space Agency scientists and executives traded high fives and hugs, and even the news that there may have been a landing glitch did little to subdue their celebration.
Because gravity is very weak on Comet 67P, Philae was equipped with anchors that were supposed to bolt the lander to the surface of the comet. But those harpoons failed to fire, so the spacecraft isn’t secure.
Despite this, the Rosetta mission is a success.
Scientists hope to find answers about the evolution of our solar system through experiments done by Philae, including testing the surface of the comet, measuring the magnetic field and interaction between the comet and solar wind, and even gathering deeper samples of the comet for testing.
Rosetta traveled 6.4 billion miles over ten years to come to this point. The Philae lander weighs about 220 pounds and is about the size of a washing machine. The comet is about 2 ½ miles in diameter. Getting a spacecraft onto a piece of rock that small, so far away is a huge accomplishment! One scientist described it as hitting a golf ball all the way onto the moon.
The name of the spaceship may sound familiar. The Rosetta Stone was a piece of rock found in Egypt in 1799 that had three different languages on it—two forms of Egyptian and Greek. Historians were able to finally decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and as a result, they discovered the culture of Ancient Egypt, which had been previously wrapped in mystery.
Will the Rosetta Mission provide the same insight into our current astronomical mystery? Will we learn how our solar system formed, how life on Earth began? This is a very exciting first step on the long road of space exploration.
October 27, 2014
If you weren’t listening very closely to the news these past few days, you might have missed it. Remember Felix Baumgartner and his historic jump from approximately 24 miles in space? Someone beat his record.
photo credit: Rico Shen
I know, this doesn’t look like a guy who would voluntarily skydive to Earth from 25 miles in space, but looks are almost always deceiving.
Alan Eustace, a Google executive who has the best professional title ever (Senior Vice President of Knowledge) detached himself from a helium balloon 25 miles above New Mexico and fell back to the planet’s surface, reaching speeds of 1,300km/hour and breaking the sound barrier, which people on the ground could hear even though for him it was quiet.
What’s almost more impressive than his fall down to Earth is his trip up into space, which did not take place in any kind of capsule or space ship. Instead, he dangled at the end of a long tether attached at the other end to a helium balloon that carried him until he freed himself and began his descent. All that separated him from the enormity of space was his specially designed space suit, which Paragon Space Development Corp spent three years getting right. Oh, and by the way, to keep his face mask from fogging up and blocking some pretty amazing views, he had to stay almost completely still and respond to radio queries with the tiniest of leg movements.
So why was there so much publicity surrounding Baumgartner’s jump and so little surrounding Eustace’s? These were two very different events. Baumgartner is a known daredevil (nicknamed Fearless Felix) with several world records to his name. Eustace is a 57-year-old computer scientist. Baumgartner’s event was sponsored by corporate giant Red Bull. Eustace refused to accept sponsorship money from companies, including the one he works for, Google. He and the engineers at Paragon Space Development Corp wanted to focus on the science and engineering behind the event, and they worried that sponsorships would make this more of a publicity stunt than an experiment.
While the two jumps stand far from each other on publicity scale, they share at least one important feature. They cause kids all over the world to look up. What would it be like to float that far into space? What would it feel like to jump? What would it feel like to fall? What would it feel like to land?
Keep looking up, kids. There’s always another record to beat, boundary to push, goal to achieve.
~Andi at Nomad