April 1962

Space Race
“The success of Proj­ect Mercury’s first manned orbital flight on February 20 may have set the stage for international co-operation in the exploration of space, as well as demonstrating through the performance of the astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., that men have a useful function in space vehicles. Glenn demonstrated that he could ‘fly’ the capsule, controlling its pitch, yaw and roll after malfunctions in the automatic system developed early in the flight. Glenn later said his exper­ience indicated ‘that a man can take over control of the various systems.’ In fact, he suggested, ‘we probably can go on some future flights with considerably less auto­mation and less complexity.’”

Nuclear Arsenals
“It is clear that military arguments alone are not likely to be dominant in U.S. discussion of a possible drastic first step toward nuclear disarmament. This is widely admitted in the U.S., where the impediments to disarmament are being seen more and more as economic, poli­tical and emotional in origin rather than as based on operational military consid­erations. A vital aspect of the problem for the U.S. is the effect that drastic disarm­ament steps would have not only on the economy as a whole but also on those special sections of high-grade, science-based and highly localized industries that are now so over­whelm­ingly involved in defense work.”

April 1912

Loss of the Titanic
“On Sunday, April 14th, the largest and sup­posedly the safest steamship afloat, while steaming on her proper course, on a clear, starlit night, struck an iceberg and within a few hours sank, carrying down with her over sixteen hundred souls. The technical lessons taught by this prodi­gious disaster are three: First, that the naval architect has not yet learned how to make an abso­lutely nonsinkable ship, and that proba­bly he never will. Second, that if every ship is sinkable, it should carry at least a sufficient number of lifeboats to take care of every person on board until other ships, summoned by wireless, can reach the scene of a disaster. Third, that the transatlantic sailing route for passenger steamships should be shifted so far south as to be entirely beyond the track of floating icebergs.”

For a collection of articles from 1912 on the Titanic disaster, including editorials, an overview of the ship and safety issues, a plan for carrying more lifeboats, and the science of icebergs, see www.ScientificAmerican.com/apr2012/titanic

Blood Doping
“Sir Edwin Ray Lankester has inquired if the Swedish authorities, who will have charge of the coming Olympian games, will permit a Marathon competitor to carry an oxygen tank or bag and take from it an occasional whiff during that cruel and grueling twenty-six odd miles that must be run. ‘As oxygen is not a drug, but as natural an article of consumption as water, there seems to be no reason why the runner should be disqualified for refreshing himself with it, as he may with soup or water.’ Sir Edwin’s proposal is amazingly unscientific in a scientist of so great reputation; and it is most unsportsmanlike.”

April 1862

Whiskey vs. Cannon
“In a recent proc­lamation Governor Brown of Georgia commands the peo­ple of that State to cease the manufac­ture of ardent spirits after the 15th of March, on pain of having their stills seized for the use of the government. The proclamation concludes as follows: ‘We need more cannon with which to meet the enemy. Gun-metal used in the manu­facture of field pieces is composed of ninety parts of copper and ten of tin. The copper stills of Georgia, which are now heavy columb­iads [large-bore can­non] of destruction aimed against our own people, would, if manu­fact­ured into cannon, make many a bat­tery of six pounders, to be turned against the enemy.’”