THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JULY 29, 1958

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Established

NASA-foundedThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created as an agency of the U.S. government by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. Its stated purpose was to lead “the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space,” as well as to explore commercial uses of space, such as the placement of communication satellites. NASA is the successor to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed in 1915 when aviation was still in its infancy. The U.S. Congress created NACA to “supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solutions.”

Today, NASA is involved with researching and developing numerous programs involving space exploration and research such as manned and unmanned missions to space. It also is involved in aeronautics (work involving rockets and airplanes), communications (data-tracking technologies), and basic sciences both in space and on Earth. NASA’s two most publicized programs are the Space Shuttle program (officially called the Space Transportation System) and the International Space Station, which is a joint effort among many countries around the world. When the shuttle fleet retires in 2010, NASA will replace it with Project Constellation and the Orion spacecraft, which is scheduled to become operational in 2014. Currently restricted to low-Earth orbit with the space shuttles, the next-generation Orion spacecraft will also be used for journeys to the Moon, asteroids, the planet Mars, and other possible journeys away from Earth.

Both air flight and space flight have made tremendous gains under the guidance of NACA and NASA. “The journey begun in 1915 has taken American aviators, astronauts and robotic spacecraft from the dunes of Kitty Hawk to the edge of the atmosphere and to the surface of the moon,” reads a NASA fact sheet. “American spacecraft have explored more than sixty worlds in our solar system, while methodically peering back in space and time to reveal many of the secrets of the Universe.”

“National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” Astronomy & Space: From the Big Bang to the Big Crunch. Gale, 2007. Science in Context. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JULY 20, 1969

First Humans Walk on the Moon

Apollo 11-Moon LandingOn July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed an ungainly spacecraft named Eagle on the moon and spent two hours exploring the lunar surface. They left the next day, rendezvousing in lunar orbit with the command ship Columbia and returning safely to Earth. The Apollo 11 landing ended a decade of competition between the Soviet and American space programs, helped restore the America’s self-confidence, and launched an intensive program of exploration that transformed scientists’ understanding of the moon.

“The 1969 Moon Landing: First Humans to Walk on Another World.” Science and Its Times. Ed. Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Science in Context. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JULY 14, 1789

The French Revolution

Bastille-DayBastille Day, in France and its overseas départements and territories, is the holiday marking the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, in Paris. Originally built as a medieval fortress, the Bastille eventually came to be used as a state prison. Political prisoners were often held there, as were citizens detained by the authorities for trial. Some prisoners were held on the direct order of the king, from which there was no appeal. Although by the late 18th century it was little used and was scheduled to be demolished, the Bastille had come to symbolize the harsh rule of the Bourbon monarchy. During the unrest, a mob approached the Bastille to demand the arms and ammunition stored there, and, when the forces guarding the structure resisted, the attackers captured the prison, releasing the seven prisoners held there. The taking of the Bastille signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, and it thus became a symbol of the end of the ancien régime.

Bastille Day. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://library.eb.com/levels/referencecenter/article/389221


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JULY 7, 1752

The Birth of Joseph-Marie Jacquard

jacquard-cardDuring the 1700s, inventors were attempting to automate the process by which patterned textiles were woven — primarily due to the rising demand for fine patterned cloth. It was generally accepted that, for such a machine to work, it must satisfy two requirements. First, it must mechanically simulate the action of hand-lifting the individual warp threads, thus creating the pattern. Second, it must possess some storage medium by which the pattern is “remembered,” enabling the weaver to identically duplicate the pattern again and again. Though many devices were constructed throughout the tenth century, none satisfied these requirements as well as the Jacquard loom, patented in 1804 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard.

The idea of using perforated cards as a method for storing information intrigued the British scientist Charles Babbage who, in 1823, received funding from the British government to construct an analytical engine. This steam-powered device would be able to perform many different mathematical functions at once, printing the result. Though it was never constructed (the technology of the time was too primitive to provide Babbage with the necessary parts), the design of the analytical engine in turn inspired American scientist Herman Hollerith to build a similar machine to compute the results of the 1890 census; this machine, which used punched cards as the storage medium, was the ancestor of the modern computer. Hollerith’s company, the Tabulating Machine Company, went on to become International Business Machines (IBM).

“Joseph-Marie Jacquard.” World of Computer Science. Gale, 2006. Science in Context. Web.


Learn more about Jacquard’s use of punched cards to store information »