Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Journey to the Center of the Geek

I was going to post about this last Saturday, but that was the day of One Blogpost for Burma, so I didn't. But I did want to mention it before it got too far away. Because, y'see, October 4 was kind of a special day: It was the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Space Age.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a 184-pound, pumpkin-sized sphere into orbit around the Earth, the planet's first artificial satellite. Its name was Sputnik.

Things haven't worked out in the years since like some folks predicted, but then again, they rarely do in science.
Humans have not set up space colonies or left boot prints on Mars, as widely predicted, but we have launched a stunning number of new Sputniks - thousands of satellites for communications, navigation and surveillance that have changed everything from how we fight wars to how our rental cars guide us to our hotels.
And while no one has set foot on the Moon since 1972, space scientists have done some genuinely cool things. They have, just for example, sent probes past all the outer planets; one such probe is now about 9.6 billion miles (about 15.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. They flew a spacecraft through the tail of a comet - and then later flew a spacecraft into one. They landed a spacecraft on an asteroid. And, of course, there are still Spirit and Opportunity.

Oh, and one other thing: One response to Sputnik was the establishment of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, intended to examine and promote new technologies. Some of those projects were altogether flaky, but one project involved developing a computer network linking several universities and research centers. It was called Arpanet. You know what happened next.

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