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#ThrowbackThursday

On to this day in 2010 when President Obama relegated America’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gay and lesbian service members to the dustbin of history. For 17 years, the law prohibited qualified gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the armed forces and sent a message that discrimination was acceptable.

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NASA displays Apollo 1 hatch to honor crew on 50th anniversary.

For over five decades, NASA kept the Apollo 1 spacecraft in storage at their Langley Research center in Hampton, Virginia. Memories of the fatal fire that claimed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967 were painful for the NASA family, and the capsule remained out of public view.

However, to honor the crew of Apollo 1 on the fire’s 50th anniversary, NASA has put the spacecraft’s three hatches on display at the Apollo/Saturn V center at Kennedy Space Center.

The Block 1 Apollo spacecraft, or the Earth-orbital version of the lunar spacecraft, had three hatches when it was on the launch pad. The Boost Protective Cover covered the spacecraft while on the pad and in the early stages of flight, and was mounted to the Launch Escape System.

The outer hatch formed part of the capsule’s exterior; both of these hatches opened outward and were secured by latches. The main hatch, which was the innermost of the three, opened inwards and was held in place by air pressure and latches. Capsule designers thought that in the event of a pressure leak in the capsule, the hatch would seal itself shut.

It was this inward-opening design that made escaping the fire nearly impossible on January 27. Once the fire started, air pressure in the capsule went up, further holding the hatch in place and trapping the astronauts inside.

The Apollo 1 spacecraft immediately following the deadly fire on January 27, 1967. The white Boost Protective Cover can be seen to the left and above the charred grey portion of the spacecraft’s exterior hull. The BPC would be jettisoned with the Launch Escape System a few minutes into the flight. Three hatches were used in the Block 1 spacecraft, two for the Apollo spacecraft itself and one in the BPC.

Although the hatches are the emotional centerpiece of the new exhibit, tributes to the astronauts also include some of their personal items and video displays. Kennedy Center director Bob Cabana stated that  “We have gone too far without a memorial for Gus, Ed and Roger here.”  The center worked with the surviving family members of the crew to create the exhibit, which is the first time any portion of the capsule has gone on display.

Preservationists involved with the creation of the exhibit stated that the capsule’s three hatches are shown exactly as they were when taken out of the storage crate at Langley. Infamous char markings can still be seen on the exterior of the Boost Protective Cover hatch and outward hatch.

Following the fire, NASA and the capsule’s prime contractor, North American Aviation, spent 18 months redesigning the capsule for future crews. The hatch was also redesigned, consisting of a single, outward opening hatch on the spacecraft and the Boost Protective Cover. The upgraded Block 2 hatch is seen next to Apollo 1′s.

The other hull of the Apollo 1 spacecraft is seen during investigation into the fire, mid-1967. The outer hull had one of three hatches now on display at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex.

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

Born February 12, 1809, Charles Darwin revolutionized science and the culture around it.  On 24 November 1859 Charles Darwin published his monumental work On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, changing the face of biology. Although he only used the word once at the very end of the book, the word evolve (and evolution) is synonymous with Darwin. The word evolve had been used in a scientific sense specifically in biology for over a hundred years before Darwin wrote Origin of Species-which is one reason why he avoided it. By the mid 1850s, the word had connotations of perfectibility-something Darwin wanted to avoid. It was the last sentence of his book:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

The word evolution arrived in English in 1620 and comes from the Latin word evolutionem(nomnative form evolutio) meaning the unrolling of a book or revealing that which was rolled up. The word evolve arrived a bit later in the 1640s from the Latin word evolvere meaning to unroll and could also pertain to other ‘hidden’ things (see also for example the etymology of vulva), but mostly meant books, when a ‘volume’ was a rolled up manuscript made from vellum. The modern meaning that scientists such ad Darwin meant for it began around 1832 and reached its first full expression in Darwin’s work.

Happy Birthday to Charles Darwin, born on this day, 1809.  

Remembering Morris Louis, born on this day in 1912!  

Louis was a central figure of the Washington Color School, a group of abstract painters that emerged in Washington, DC, in the late 1950s. Inspired by the techniques of Helen Frankenthaler, who used thinned pigments to “stain” her paintings, Louis devised a process of pouring diluted paint over the surfaces of unprimed and unstretched canvases. “Point of Tranquility,” from Louis’s Floral series, features flows of paint spreading outward from a dense center. The intense, sensual colors suggest dynamic processes of movement and growth.

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America’s first official attempt to launch a satellite ended in a widely-publicized fireball on December 6, 1957. The Vanguard TV3 rocket carrying the Vanguard-1 satellite rose roughly four feet above LC-18 at Cape Canaveral before an issue with the first stage engine caused the vehicle to loose thrust and fall back on the pad.

The grapefruit-sized Vanguard satellite was knocked free of the rocket’s payload section and rolled into the nearby bushes, earning the famous moniker “Kaputnik.”

Below, newssreel footage of the rocket’s launch and subsequent explosion.

One of the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was born on this day in 1864. This 1891 oil painting is on display in Gallery 65, alongside works by Pissarro, Manet, Degas, van Gogh and Monet. Despite being painted in oil, the absorbent card gives the surface a dry, pastel-like appearance