NASA rocket scientist Wernher von Braun powered Apollo 11

NASA rocket scientist Wernher von Braun powered Apollo 11For anyone who grew up in the 1960s or earlier, what could better symbolize brave new worlds with visions of the future than when the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon.

I am not a rocket scientist, nor is space craft or space exploration in my area of expertise, but I followed the NASA space program as I was growing up. One of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood is watching my parents old black and white television on the night of July 20, 1969. At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American Astronaut Neil Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The Apollo 11 space craft that carried the astronauts to the moon was powered by the Saturn V rocket created by a team of rocket scientists lead by Dr. Wernher von Braun. Rocket science is generally accepted as being intellectually difficult and outside the capabilities of the average person. When someone is asked to do a relatively undemanding task they are reminded that what they are asked to do is not rocket science. Being in charge of the team that sent the first rocket to the moon is pretty high up on the list of achievements in Geek History.

From German Nazi Party SS to NASA rocket scientist

Wernher von Braun was born in 1912 in Wirsitz, Germany. According to a NASA biography of von Braun, as a youth he became enamored with the possibilities of space exploration by reading the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. As a young man von Braun joined the German Rocket Society. In 1932, von Braun joined the German army to work on the development of ballistic missiles. By 1937, he was the leader of the Nazi rocket program that developed the V-1 “buzz bomb” and the deadly V-2, the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. Wernher von Braun was known as the "Father of German Rocket Science."

First woman Shuttle pilot and African American space walker

Many milestones for Mission STS-63 Crew of an African American, British American, two women, and a Cosmonaut

One of my definitions of a geek is someone who introduces us to brave new worlds with visions of the future. What better fits that definition of a geek than an astronaut.

As I explored a collection of NASA images I came across the STS-63 Crew Portrait. What immediately caught my attention about the STS-63 Crew Portrait was the diversity of the crew. An African American, two women, and a Cosmonaut were among the six crew members. I was gathering information to do an article for Geek History on women astronauts. As I learned about the crew members and mission of STS-63, I discovered a mission of many milestones and amazing crew members.

Many milestones for Mission STS-63

During the flight, Mission Specialist Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space and fellow Mission Specialist Michael Foale became the first British-born spacewalker. The mission had another first as Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a Space Shuttle.

Mission STS-63 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on February 3, 1995. The mission was also a symbol of international cooperation with a primary objective to perform a rendezvous and fly around the Russian space station Mir.

George Westinghouse used Tesla power to defeat Edison in Currents War

George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla defeat Edison in Currents WarThe War of Currents was a great science and technology feud in the late 1800s between the Edison Electric Light Company and Westinghouse Electric Company over what electric power transmission system should be used.  The Westinghouse Electric Company supported AC (alternating current) and the Edison Electric Light Company supported DC (direct current).

The internet loves to portray the battle as one between rival inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.  It makes for a good story of the hero, Tesla, defeating his rival, Edison. Both Edison and Tesla were well known at the time, and both a bit crazy.Thomas Edison was a well known inventor riding his success and media attention for inventing the phonograph. Edison leveraged his name and fame to start building DC power plants in New York City. Westinghouse, unlike his rival Edison, did not seek media attention, and was a very private person.

The battle for public opinion over which system should be used to power America turned into a nasty smear campaign by Edison. An inventor and electrical engineer named Harold Brown became the front man for a campaign to show the world the dangers of alternating current. Stories are told of how Brown paid local children to collect stray dogs off the street that he used for experiments showing the dangers of alternating current. Despite publicly denouncing capital punishment, Edison secretly financed the alternating current electric chair developed by Brown. Edison launched a media campaign telling the world AC was deadly, using the word "Westinghoused" to describe an execution by electrocution.


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