Alas, that’s the way it is: Walter Cronkite dead at 92

July 18, 2009

You can’t explain the influence of Walter Cronkite to a high school kid today.  They don’t have any experience that begins to corroborate what you’d say.

Walter Cronkite in the last decade - Texas Parks and Wildlife photo by Richard Roberts

Walter Cronkite in the last decade - Texas Parks and Wildlife photo by Richard Roberts

Along with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, Mr. Cronkite was among the first celebrity anchormen. In 1995, 14 years after he retired from the “CBS Evening News,” a TV Guide poll ranked him No. 1 in seven of eight categories for measuring television journalists. (He professed incomprehension that Maria Shriver beat him out in the eighth category, attractiveness.) He was so widely known that in Sweden anchormen were once called Cronkiters. (from the New York Times)

I’m saddened at the death of Cronkite.  One of the things that saddens me is that he probably could have anchored for at least a decade past when he last signed off.  Nothing against Dan Rather, at least not from me — just that Cronkite was one of a kind.  He won’t be missed by too many people alive today who never had a chance to see him work.

So, go see him work. Media Decoder has a series of YouTube pieces showing what Cronkite could do, what Cronkite did.  It’s history go see.

Other posts on Cronkite at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

More, probably better stuff

Chuck Yeager/BOOM! Day

October 14, 2008

I won’t let the whole day go by without a nod to one of my heroes, Chuck Yeager.  On October 14, 1947, Yeager pushed the Bell X-1 just a little faster than the flight plan called for, and broke the sound barrier, over Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, recipient of the Congressional Silver Medal of Honor.

Chuck Yeager and a modern aircraft -- yes, he's flown it, too.


Last year, belatedly, I got around to posting on the flight, and on Yeager, and on the deeper meaning of flight records and the space race on the psyche of America in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  More details and sources there.  It’s a year later, Yeager is 85, but the story still gets me the same way.  Just over a year ago, Yeager flew in a fighter and broke the sound barrier again, one of the oldest people ever to do that.

You could fly your flag in his honor.  If there’s a stiff breeze when you do, the ends of the flag will snap in the wind — they break the sound barrier, and you hear the report.  Wonderfully appropriate, don’t you think?

Here’s a salute to you, Chuck Yeager!

Happy conception, NASA! 50 years

July 29, 2008

Happy 50th birthday, NASA!

President Eisenhower signing the National Aeronautics and Space Act - U.S. Naval Photographic Center

President Eisenhower signing the National Aeronautics and Space Act – U.S. Naval Photographic Center

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created by legislation signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Act. The agency was formally inaugurated on October 1, 1958 — NASA dates its birth from that day.

But, what the heck! There’s enough cool history for two celebrations every year!

Teachers might take this opportunity to stock up on photos and information for bell-ringer quizzes and other presentations on October 1, 2008, when NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of NASA’s opening its doors, and school is actually in session.

Photos from NASA on the 47th birthday, in 2005

Photos from NASA on the 47th birthday, in 2005 Image Details:
First row, from left:
A 1931 photo shows the original hangar at NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The first American satellite in orbit, Explorer 1, launches in January 1958. The “Original Seven” Mercury astronauts were selected in 1959. The experimental Echo project used large metallic balloons to bounce signals from one point on Earth to another.Second row, from left:
The X-15 hypersonic research aircraft flew for nearly 10 years, from June 1959 to October 1968. Apollo 11 astronauts left the first bootprints on the moon in July 1969. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, seen from one of the twin Voyager spacecraft that launched in 1977. NASA satellites helped create the “blue marble,” a detailed image of Earth.

Third row, from left:
Columbia launches on the first shuttle mission in April 1981. Image of the Eagle Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Mars rover Opportunity looks back at its tracks on the red planet. The international space station is humanity’s first permanent orbital outpost.

Fourth row, from left:
The Cassini spacecraft has been sending back images of Saturn, it’s rings and moons since July 2004. Discovery returns the space shuttle fleet to flight in July 2005. NASA satellites help scientists and forecasters watch powerful hurricanes. Artist’s concept of NASA’s next spaceship, the crew exploration vehicle, docked with a lander in lunar orbit.

Photo credit: NASA

Congress created a civilian agency to honcho space exploration as part of the body of reform actions after the Soviet Union beat the U.S. with orbiting an artificial satellite, in 1957.

Google has another of its arty Google Logos in honor of the day:

NASA has its own logo for the 50th anniversary:

NASA’s 50th anniversary logo

Sputnik on newsreel

October 8, 2007

We still had movie newsreels in 1957. ASAP Retro, a part of Associated Press, I think, features the classic Ed Herlihy-announced 30 second explanation of Sputnik that was seen in movie theatres across America in late 1957 and early 1958.

You’ll need a live internet link to use it in class.

I do wish that more of these newsreels were available for easy use by teachers in classrooms, say on DVD, in short segments.

Sputnik’s 50th

October 4, 2007

America woke up on October 4, 1957.

Sputnik, model hanging in Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) launched the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit. After successfully putting the shiny ball into orbit, the Soviets trumpeted the news that Sputnik traced the skies over the entire planet, to the shock of most people in the U.S. (Photo of the model in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.)

New Scientist magazine’s website provides significant details about how awake America became, including very good coverage of the Moon landings that were nearly a direct result of Sputnik’s launch — without Sputnik, the U.S. probably wouldn’t have jump started its own space program so, with the creation of NASA and the drive for manned space flight, and without the space race President John F. Kennedy probably wouldn’t have made his dramatic 1961 proposal to put humans on the Moon inside a decade.

Sputnik really did change the world.

Much of the progress to the 1969 Moon landing could not have occurred without the reform of education and science prompted by the Soviets’ triumph. With apathetic parents and the No Child Left Behind Act vexing U.S. education and educators from both sides, more than nostalgia makes one misty-eyed for the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a direct product of Sputnik-inspired national ambition. Coupled with the GI Bill for veterans of World War II and Korea, NDEA drove U.S. education to be the envy of the world, best in overall achievement (and also drove creationists to try to block such improvements).

(Today NDEA gets little more than a footnote in real historyWikipedia’s entry is short and frustrating, the U.S. Department of Education gives little more. Educators, you have got to tell your history.)

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) lists 1957 as among the dozen dates students need to know in U.S. history, for Sputnik. It is the only date Texas officials list for U.S. history that is really an accomplishment by another nation. (The first time I encountered this requirement was in a meeting of social studies teachers gearing up for classes starting the following week. The standards mention the years, but not the events; I asked what the event was in 1957 that we were supposed to teach, noting that if it was the Little Rock school integration attempt, there were probably other more memorable events in civil rights. No one mentioned Sputnik. It was more than two weeks before I got confirmation through our district that Sputnik was the historic event intended. Ouch, ouch, ouch!)

Sputnik was big enough news to drive Elvis Presley off the radio, at least briefly, in southern Idaho. My older brothers headed out after dinner to catch a glimpse of the satellite crossing the sky. In those darker times — literally — rural skies offered a couple of meteoroids before anyone spotted Sputnik. But there it was, slowly painting a path across our skies, over the potato fields, over the Snake River, over America.

Sputnik’s launch changed our lives, mostly for the better.


Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy provides a series of links teachers can rely on for good information, especially if you’re composing a lesson plan quickly.

New Scientist’s broad range of coverage of the space race, up to the current drive to go to Mars, is well worth bookmarking.


Google’s anniversary logo, in use today only, gets you to a good compilation of sources.

Fifty nano-satellites launched in honor of the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.

NASA’s history of the event. You can listen to a .wav recording of the telemetry signal from the satellite there, too.

How will you mark the anniversary?

[More links below the fold.]

Read the rest of this entry »

Hall of Fame: Debunking the Moon landing hoax hoax

December 10, 2006

Apollo 14 on the moon - Alan Shepard?

Photo from Apollo 14 Moon Mission


In a classroom discussion of “how do we know what we know” about history, another student brought up the allegations that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) faked the manned Moon landings. That makes about a dozen times this year a kid has mentioned this claim (who thinks to start counting these things?). The kid was pretty unshakable in his convictions — after all, he said, how can a flag wave in a vacuum?

I usually mention a couple of things that the fake claimers leave out — that dozens, if not hundreds, of amateur astronomers tracked the astronauts on their way to the Moon, that many people intercepted the radio transmissions from the Moon, that one mission retrieved debris from an earlier unmanned landing, etc. Younger students who lack experience in serious critical thinking have difficulty with these concepts. They also lack the historic background — the last manned Moon landing occurred when their parents were kids, perhaps. They didn’t grow up with NASA launches on television, and the whole world holding its breath to see what wonders would be found in space.

Phil Plait runs a fine blog called Bad Astronomy. Five years ago he got fed up with the Fox Television program claiming the Moon landings were hoaxes, and he made a significant reply that should be in some hall of fame for debunking hoaxes. Since the claim that the Moon landings were hoaxes is, itself, a hoax, I have titled this “Debunking the Moon landing hoax hoax.”

In any case, if you’re wondering about whether the Moon landings were hoaxes, you need to see Phil Plait’s post. Phil writes:

From the very first moment to the very last, the program is loaded with bad thinking, ridiculous suppositions and utterly wrong science. I was able to get a copy of the show in advance, and although I was expecting it to be bad, I was still surprised and how awful it was. I took four pages of notes. I won’t subject you to all of that here; it would take hours to write. I’ll only go over some of the major points of the show, and explain briefly why they are wrong.

Also, consider these chunks of evidence, which Phil does not mention so far as I know:

First, the first Moon landing left a mirror on the surface, off of which Earth-bound astronomers may bounce laser transmissions in order to measure exactly the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Read the rest of this entry »

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