February 20, 1962: John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. He made three turns around the planet before returning safely in his spacecraft, Friendship 7.
This Date in Science
February 19, 1473. Nicolaus Copernicus was born on this date, 541 years ago. Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and mathematician. He lived at a time when people believed Earth lay enclosed within crystal spheres at the center of the universe. Can you picture the leap of imagination required for him to conceive of a sun-centered universe? The publication of Copernicus’ book – De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) – just before his death in 1543, set the stage for all of modern astronomy. Today, people speak of his work as the Copernican Revolution.
February 9, 1913. One hundred and one years ago today, a strange meteor sighting occurred over Canada, the U.S. Northeast, Bermuda and some ships at sea, including one off Brazil. What happened that night is sometimes called the Great Meteor Procession of 1913, and it sparked decades of debate concerning what actually happened.
January 30, 1826. Workers completed construction of the first modern suspension bridge on this date. It was the Menai Bridge between Wales on the island of Great Britain and the smaller island of Anglesey, to the west. According to local reports about the bridge from nearly 200 years ago, travel in the strait between Wales and Anglesey was hazardous, due to shifting currents and unpredictable weather patterns. But the island of Anglesey had the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west, and, especially after Ireland joined the United Kingdom in 1800, people increasingly wanted to use Anglesey as a jumping off point to reach the Emerald Isle by ferry boat.
January 28, 1986. On today’s date, the Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L) exploded and broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The explosion led to the deaths of all seven Challenger crew members.
January 23, 1978. On this date, Sweden announced it would ban aerosol sprays containing chlorofluorocarbons as the propelling agent. It was the first country in the world to do so. At the time, evidence had increasingly suggested that chlorofluorocarbons were damaging Earth ozone layer. The U.S. announced it would ban flurocarbon gases in aerosol products on October 15, 1978.
January, 23, 1960. On this date, the submersible vehicle Trieste made a record-setting dive to the deepest surveyed part of the ocean. Trieste was a bathyscaphe – “deep boat” – owned by the U.S. Navy. It was a free-diving, self-propelled deep-sea submersible, and it dove – with two crew members aboard – into the Marianas Trench east of the Philippines, whose deepest portion is called the Challenger Deep. It took nine hours to descend 6.83 miles (10,911 meters) to the deepest ocean. Afterwards, nobody returned to Challenger Deep for 52 years, until Titanic director James Cameron descended successfully on March 26, 2012.
Cameron plans to turn his solo diving experience into a 3-D feature film.
Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard designed the Trieste and built it in Italy. His son, Jacques Piccard (who was also a Swiss scientist) and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh were on board for the record-setting dive to Challenger Deep.
January 2, 1959. Trailing orange sodium gas, the Luna 1 spacecraft broke free of Earth’s gravity on this date, to head towards the moon.
December 27, 2013 On this date, NASA says, the Dawn spacecraft is closer to the dwarf planet Ceres – its current destination – than to Vesta, which it spent nearly 14 months orbiting in 2011 and 2012. When it reaches Ceres in 2015, Dawn will become the first spacecraft to go into orbit around two destinations in our solar system beyond Earth.
December 25, 1642. English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton was born on this date. He is remembered as one of the world’s greatest scientists, because his insights laid a foundation for our understanding of celestial motion, light and gravity.