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Explorer Signs Off


May 23, 1958: Explorer 1 Ceases Transmission

Explorer 1 was the United States’ first satellite launched into orbit. The mission followed the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 and 2, which historians see as the beginning of the Cold War Space Race.


Explorer 1 is mated to its booster

Explorer 1 is mated to its booster

The satellite was launched on January 31, 1958 atop the first Juno booster from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After confirming that Explorer 1 was indeed in orbit, at about 1:30 a.m. ET, a news conference was held in the Great Hall at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC to announce it to the world.

Explorer 1 atop Juno I booster

Explorer 1 atop Juno I booster

Explorer 1 was designed and built by the California Institute of Technology’s JPL under the direction of Dr. William H. Pickering. The total weight of the satellite was 30 pounds (13.37 kilograms). Data from the instruments was transmitted to the ground by two antennas.

It was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt, returning data until its batteries were exhausted after nearly four months. It remained in orbit until 1970, and has been followed by more than 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.

William Hayward Pickering, James Van Allen, and Wernher von Braun display a full-scale model of Explorer 1 at a crowded news conference in Washington, DC after confirmation the satellite was in orbit.

William Hayward Pickering, James Van Allen, and Wernher von Braun display a full-scale model of Explorer 1 at a crowded news conference in Washington, DC after confirmation the satellite was in orbit.

James Van Allen, whom the Van Allen radiation belt is named after, designed and built the scientific instrumentation of Explorer 1. They included:

  • Five temperature sensors; one internal, three external and one on the nose cone.
  • An acoustic detector to detect micrometeorite (cosmic dust) impacts. It responded to micrometeorite impacts on the spacecraft skin and detected 145 impacts of cosmic dust in 78,750 seconds.
  • The Anton 314 omnidirectional Geiger-Müller tube, could detect protons with E > 30 MeV and electrons with E > 3 MeV. Most of the time the instrument was saturated… and we all know what that means 😉
  • A wire grid detector, also to detect micrometeorite impacts.


Mercury batteries powered the high-power transmitter for 31 days and the low-power transmitter for 105 days. Explorer 1 stopped transmission of data on May 23, 1958 when its batteries died. Explorer 1 remained in orbit for more than 12 years. It reentered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on March 31, 1970 after more than 58,000 orbits.

During the 1940s and 1950s, JPL used the word "computer" to refer to a person rather than a machine. The all-female computer team, many of the members recruited right out of high school, were responsible for doing all the math by hand required to plot satellite trajectories and more.

During the 1940s and 1950s, JPL used the word “computer” to refer to a person rather than a machine. The all-female computer team, many of the members recruited right out of high school, were responsible for doing all the math by hand required to plot satellite trajectories and more.

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$2.5 Billion is a Lot of Quarters


May 22, 1980: Pac-Man Released

Created by Toru Iwatani, the game has been one of the most popular in Arcades around the world. It inspired spin-offs, songs, a cartoon show and much more. Namco installed the first Pac-Man machine in a movie theater in Tokyo.

puckmanOriginally it was called ‘Puckman’ as a play on the word ‘paku-paku (パックマン) in Japanese that means something to the effect of flapping your mouth open and closed. By the time the game is released in October in the US, the name is Pac-man.

Toru Iwatani

Toru Iwatani

The U.S. distributor thought that vandals would alter the letter “P” to an “F”. While the game was not officially released until later in the year (October 10th in the US), the creators of the game consider May 22 to be Pac-Man’s birthday because it was the first time the game was shown to the general public.

download pacman flash or play online

One of the little known facts about Pac-Man is that it was specifically developed to be popular with women. Most video games of that time had a war or sports theme to them and women were generally not interested in those games. Pac-Mac would be the first game popular with both men and women and was the first video game to become a social phenomenon. Pac-Mac generated over $2.5 billion (that’s a lot of quarters) by the 1990′s, becoming one of the highest grossing video games of all time.

10 little known Pac-Man facts:

  1. The design for the iconic Pac-Man character is based on a pizza with a slice missing.torueatspizza-pre
  2. Although Pac-man’s creator, Iwatani, has stated that the character’s shape was inspired by a pizza, he admitted in a 1986 interview that this was a half-truth, and the character design also came from simplifying and rounding out the Japanese character for mouth, ’kuchi’.
  3. Pac-Man was originally named Puck-man. Fearing that American hoodlums would scratch off part of the ’P’ to make an ’F’, the manufacturers changed it to Pac-Man for North America.puck-man-300x225
  4. The ghosts that pursue Pac-Man are nicknamed Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, and each has a distinct personality. Blinky and Pinky are the most predictable and chase Pac-Man directly, sometimes teaming up. Inky’s tactic is to ambush, while Clyde is the one to fear most because his movements are random.
  5. The arcade version of Pac-Man has a highest possible score of 3,333,360 … which has been achieved by less than 10 people ever.
  6. Pac-Man was created by Toru Iwatani to pick up girls
  7. The duo of Buckner and Garcia entered the pop charts in 1982 with a song called ‘Pac-Man Fever’. It went to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
  8. In 2005, Guinness World Records named Pac-Man the most successful coin-op ever.
  9. Guinness also named Pac-Man himself as the most recognizable video game character of all time with 94% consumer recognition.
  10. The president of NAMCO wanted all the ghosts to be one color: red. The staff convinced him to change his mind.

Warning can be addictive – Do not play at work


There Was Seaman Too


May 21, 1804: Lewis and Clark Expedition Begins

When President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to find a water route across North America and explore the uncharted lands of the American West, he thought they would encounter woolly mammoths, volcanoes about to erupt and a mountain of pure salt.

L&C Trail Map

L&C Trail Map

Up to that time explorers had only penetrated North America up to Fort Mandan near the middle of North Dakota and spotty points as far as where present day Portland, OR lies off the Columbia River.


Jefferson hoped that Lewis and Clark would find a water route linking the Columbia and Missouri rivers. Thinking they would discover a route from the Mississippi River system to the Columbia River, to the Pacific. Imagine, a water route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. With a connection to the Ohio River linking the Eastern cities.

President Jefferson chose Captain Meriwether Lewis as its leader mainly because he already had some knowledge of the west and was an experienced Army officer. Lewis decided he wanted a co-captain and selected another Army officer, William Clark.

Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River

Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River

Lewis and Clark’s expedition officially began on May 21, 1804 when they and the 33 other men making up the Corps of Discovery departed from their camp near St. Louis, Missouri. Lewis and Clark’s first report to President Jefferson chronicled 108 plant species and 68 mineral types.

Although they did not find a direct waterway from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, their expedition brought a wealth of knowledge about the newly purchased lands in the west. They were able to document over 100 animal species and over 170 plants, also recording information on the size, minerals and the geology of the area.

Compass from the Expedition

Compass from the Expedition

sacjournSacagawea has been discussed frequently in literature though much of the information about her has been exaggerated or fictionalized. She was an important member in the expedition, especially as interpreter and other ways. The sight of an indigenous woman and her infant were reassuring to the native peoples, talking to chiefs and easing tensions. But she was not the guide for the Expedition.

In his writings, Lewis presented a somewhat negative view of her, though Clark had a higher regard for her and provided some support for her children in subsequent years.

Then there was Seaman

20030713hoseaman_230Seaman: Discovery Dog of Lewis and Clark’s overland expedition. Seaman was a black “Newfoundland” dog that became famous for being a member of the Expedition. Captain Lewis purchased Seaman for $20.

Seaman experienced many hardships including a beaver bite, mosquito bites (which were so bad they 42232157_125358728240made Seaman howl from the pain) and was stolen by the Indians…Captain Lewis threatened the Indians by saying he would send three armed men to kill the Indian tribe. Seaman had a creek named after him in Montana named Seaman Creek. Today called Monture Creek. Seaman laid on the grave of Meriwether Lewis when he died and is believed to have died there from dehydration and malnutrition.

Monument to Lewis, Clark & Seaman

Monument to Lewis, Clark & Seaman

Long Haul The expedition traveled over 8000 total miles over a period of 2 years, 4 months and 10 days.

Good Guess When the expedition reached the Pacific, Clark estimates they have traveled 4,162 miles from the mouth of the Missouri to the Pacific. His guess was within 40 miles of the actual distance.

What a Deal Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory, 820,000 square miles, for $15 million. After interest the final total came to be $27,267,622. That still works out to be only about 3¢ an acre!

An Equal Opportunity Expedition When the expedition reached the Pacific the party voted on where to spend the winter.YORK York, Clark’s slave, is allowed to vote, nearly 60 years before slaves in the U.S. would be emancipated. Sacagawea is also allowed to vote, more than a century before either women or Native Americans are granted full rights of citizenship.

Oops While hunting in present day North Dakota, Lewis was accidentally shot (in the behind) by Pierre Cruzatte, a nearsighted member of the crew.

What’s for Dinner? When game was plentiful, each man ate about 9 pounds of meat per day.

The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition:

Lewis & Clark Rap – MC LaLa

Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River

$46,000 Blue Jeans


May 20, 1873: Blue Jeans Patented

On this day in 1873, Levi Strauss and a Reno, Nevada tailor, Jacob Davis, are given a patent to create pants reinforced with metal rivets. This marks the birth of the world’s most famous garment: blue jeans.

Personalities OS 80Strauss (left) moved from NY to San Francisco in 1853 to seek fame and fortune. It was the heady days of the Gold Rush. Strauss created a successful dry goods business in San Francisco becoming a well-known business man as well as supporting the Jewish community there.davis

A tailor from Reno, Jacob Davis (right) contacted him with an idea to make pants stronger using rivets at the stress points of the jeans. Davis didn’t have the $68.00 to apply for a patent so Levi enthusiastically agreed to apply for both of them. On this day in 1873 a patent was granted to both men… and the rest is history.





Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the manufacturing of the “waist overalls” as they were called back then. The 501 brand jean, also known as the XX, was a best seller and of course continues to this day.


Oldest known pair of Levi’s sold for a record $46,532.00 on eBay, in May of 2001. They were bought by Levi Strauss & Co. and will be preserved in their archives, next to the $25,000 pair they previously bought.



Denim is a sturdy cotton twill textile in which the weft passes under two or more warp threads. This twill weaving produces the familiar diagonal ribbing of the denim that distinguishes it from cotton duck.

The word “denim” comes from the name of a fabric that was first made in the city of Nîmes, France, by the André family. It was originally called serge de Nîmes but the name was soon shortened to “denim.”


But Wait There’s More…

1893_Chicago_Exiibition_exhibit_diplomaMay 19, 1892: King Invents Pneumatic Hammer

On this day in 1892, Charles Brady King, an American engineer and entrepreneur, invents the pneumatic hammer.    [image above is the 1893 Chicago Exhibition exhibit diploma for King’s hammer invention]

Charles King

Charles King

Patent 513941, Pneumatic Hammer

Patent 513941, Pneumatic Hammer


But wait, there’s more…

King was the first to build and drive an automobile in Detroit.  Henry Ford was following that day, literally . . .  on his bicycle.

He was mentor to Henry Ford and Ransom Olds, and eventually started his own auto company, the King Motor Co, which was ultimately absorbed by Studebaker.

King on the right driving the streets of Detroit

King on the right driving the streets of Detroit

King's Car Restored

King’s Car Restored

In fact, at the New York Auto Show in 1912, the King automobile was the only one to feature left-hand steering, which soon became the industry standard. At that time, he already had more than 40 automotive patents to his credit.


King’s famous quote in the Detroit Journal, “I am convinced that in time, the horseless carriage will supersede the horse”, was poo pooed by that generation.

Below are a few of his 64 inventions that ultimately made him independently wealthy.



Car steering gear

Car steering gear

Lubricated pulley

Lubricated pulley

Steam shovel boom

Steam shovel boom

Railcar brake beam, 1894

Railcar brake beam, 1894

Reversible Steam Engine

Reversible Steam Engine

Spring Suspension

Spring Suspension

Sparking Mechanism

Sparking Mechanism

Steam shovel apparatus

Steam shovel apparatus

Steering Mechanism, 1906

Steering Mechanism, 1906

Steam shovel, 1905

Steam shovel, 1905

Transmission 1904

Transmission 1904

Transmission, 1907

Transmission, 1907

Transmission, 1908

Transmission, 1908

Valve-Gear, 1905

Valve-Gear, 1905

Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation


May 16, First Laser Created

On this day in 1960, Theodore H. Maiman operated the first functioning laser, at Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California. Maiman was not the first to apply for patents but he was the first to create an operating laser device.

Maiman with his first laser light

Maiman with his first laser light

Maiman used a solid-state flash lamp-pumped synthetic ruby crystal to produce red laser light, at 694 nanometers wavelength. The light produced by this device was not a true beam as we think of most lasers today, but rather a pulse.


Maiman's disassembled laser

Maiman’s disassembled laser


A laser emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term “laser” originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers differ from other sources of light because they emit light coherently.


What does that mean? Well its spatial coherence simply means that a laser can be focused to a tight spot, and this enables applications like laser cutting and laser lithography. Its spatial coherence also keeps a laser beam collimated (to make parallel or bring into a line) over long distances, and this enables laser pointers to work. Lasers also have high temporal coherence which allows them to have a very narrow spectrum, i.e., they only emit a single color of light. Their temporal coherence also allows them to emit pulses of light that only last a femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second). That’s fast!!!


Lasers are used in many common consumer devices like DVD players, laser printers, and barcode scanners. They are used for laser surgery, various skin treatments, and in industry for cutting and welding materials. They are used in military and law enforcement devices for marking targets and measuring range and speed. You’ve seen lasers in lighting displays at entertainment venues. Lasers also have many important applications in scientific research.

Wonderful tribute from Ted’s wife Kathleen: How the First Laser was Made

Virus Generates Electricity


May 15, 2012: Virus That Generates Electricity

How about harvesting electrical energy from everyday things like… walking. Charge your phone as you walk. How else could we use the electricity?

From left, Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee, and Ramamoorthy Ramesh developed the "viral-electric" generator. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt of Berkeley Lab)

From left, Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee, and Ramamoorthy Ramesh developed the “viral-electric” generator. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt of Berkeley Lab)

Scientist from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Lawence Berkley Nations Lab have developed a ways to generate power using a shoe genharmless virus. The virus can convert mechanical energy (like walking) into electricity.

Tap a finger on a postage-stamp sized electrode coated with the special viruses and the force of the tap is converted into an electric charge. A personal power generator.

The piezoelectric effect was discovered in the 1880’s. Found in crystals, ceramics, bone, proteins and DNA. But the materials used to make piezoelectric devises are toxic and very difficult to work with.

[Piezoelectricity /piˌeɪzoʊˌilɛkˈtrɪsɪti/ is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure. It is derived from the Greek piezo or piezein (πιέζειν), which means to squeeze or press, and electric or electron (ήλεκτρον), which stands for amber, an ancient source of electric charge. Piezoelectricity was discovered in 1880 by French physicists Jacques and Pierre Curie. From Wikipedia]

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. It's coated with approximately 2700 charged proteins that enable scientists to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. It’s coated with approximately 2700 charged proteins that enable scientists to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

What if we used viruses, Lee asked himself. The M13 virus is benign to humans, it replicates itself by the millions within hours, it’s easy to genetically engineer, and it’s rod shaped so they orients themselves into well-ordered films like chopsticks align themselves in a box.

When pressure is applied to the generator, it produces up to six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential. That’s enough current to flash the number “1” on the display (top image), and about a quarter the voltage of a triple A battery.

The bottom 3-D atomic force microscopy image shows how the viruses align themselves side-by-side in a film. The top image maps the film's structure-dependent piezoelectric properties, with higher voltages a lighter color.

The bottom 3-D atomic force microscopy image shows how the viruses align themselves side-by-side in a film. The top image maps the film’s structure-dependent piezoelectric properties, with higher voltages a lighter color.

“We’re now working on ways to improve on this proof-of-principle demonstration,” says Lee. “Because the tools of biotechnology enable large-scale production of genetically modified viruses, piezoelectric materials based on viruses could offer a simple route to novel microelectronics in the future.”

piezodevice2_box03 piezo

Inspired By Mom (Nature)


May 13, 1958: Velcro Trademark Registered

Invented in 1948 by Swiss engineer George de Mastral (below) and later patented by him in 1955, the trademark name is not registered until this day in 1958. The word Velcro is a combination of the two French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).


Inspiration From Nature



The idea came to Mestral one day after returning from a hunting trip with his dog. They were both covered with burrs ~ seed of the burdock ~ that were sticking to him and his dog. Being a curious fellow he examined them under a microscope and noted their hundreds of hooks (below) that caught on anything with a loop, like clothing, hair or fur.

Burdock Burr 3velcro

Inspiration is one thing but practical application is another. It took him ten years to create a mechanism that actually worked and was granted a patent in 1955. Velcro got its first break when the astronauts used it on their space suits. As Velcro became more widely used, NASA was incorrectly credited with its invention.


In 1978 de Mastral’s patent expired prompting a flood of low cost imitations onto the market. Today, the trademark is the subject of more than 300 trademark registrations in over 159 countries. George de Mestral was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention.

Letterman 1984 ~ Velcro Man

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43064915 Burdock Burr 2 burdockseed

Father of B.S.


May 12, 1803: Justus Liebig Born

Justus Freiherr von Liebig was born today in 1803. Known as the Father of Fertilizer for his discovery of nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient.

433px-Justus_Freiherr_von_LiebigLiebig was a German chemist who made contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry also organizing organic chemistry. He is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time particularly for devising modern laboratory oriented teaching methods.

His formation of the Law of Minimum stated that plant growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available but by the scarcest resource available.

Liebig’s barrel explains the Law of Minimum

Liebig’s barrel explains the Law of Minimum

Applied to crop growth it was found that increasing the amount of plentiful nutrients did not increase plant growth. Only by increasing the amount of the limited nutrient was the plant growth improved. Sounds like common sense now but at the time, the early 1800’s, humanity was just discovering these concepts.


This principle can be summed up in the aphorism, “The availability of the most abundant nutrient in the soil is only as good as the availability of the least abundant nutrient in the soil.”


Liebig also developed bouillon cubes, organic chemistry, investigated spontaneous human combustion and invented a silvering process that greatly improved mirrors.

Happy Birthday to the Father of Fertilizer.




Pascal’s Principle and Beer


May 9, 1785: Bramah Patents Beer Pump

Joseph Bramah- portrait in oilsOn this day in 1795 Joseph Bramah, a prolific British inventor, patients the beer-pump. Also known as the beer engine, he used the new science of hydraulics to dispense beer by simply pumping the handle which was connected via flexible hose to the keg. Previously the kegs had to be nearby, like in a hot sweaty tavern.380a_1 But with the invention of the beer pump, kegs could be stored beneath the bar in cool earthen basements. Ahh, cool beer! These pumps soon became the most common way of serving beer.

The beer pump was derived from Bramah’s most important invention, the hydraulic press. Bramah together with William George Armstrong were considered pioneers in the field of hydraulic engineering. The hydraulic press depends on Pascal’s Principle; that pressure throughout a closed system is constant. Bramah was granted a patent for his hydraulic press in 1795.

Hydraulic Press

Hydraulic Press

Bramah was a prolific inventor, and obtained 18 patents for his designs between 1778 and 1812. Some of his inventions include:

  • 1778 – Flushing toilet (Pat. No. 1177)


  • 1785 – Beer pump – Beer engines and brewing (Pat. No. 2196)
  • 1785 – Hydrostatical machine and boiler, propelling vessels, carriages, etc. (Pat. No. 1478)
  • 1787 – Bramah Lock (Pat. No. 1478)Patent number wrong? Same as above.


  • 1790 – Rotary engines (with Thomas Dickinson) (Pat. No. 1720)
  • 1793 – Fire engines (Pat. No. 1948)
  • 1796 – First Pumper Fire Truck


  • 1795 – Hydraulic press (Pat. No. 2045)
  • 1798 – Locks (Pat. No. 2232)
  • 1802 – A planing machine for making gun stocks (Pat. No. 2652)
  • 1805 – Improvements to paper manufacture and printing (Pat. No. 2840)
  • 1806 – Printing and numbering of banknotes (Pat. No. 2957)
  •          Improvements to paper manufacture and printing (Pat. No. 2977)
  • 1809 – Pens (Pat. No. 3260) – Carriages (Pat. No. 3270) – Carriages (Pat. No. 3616)


  • 1812 – Public water mains and high-pressure hydraulic mains (Pat. No. 3611)

In 2006 a pub in Barnsley town center was opened named the Joseph Bramah in his memory.

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