1830 – Mathilde Fibiger, Danish feminist, novelist and telegraphist is born.
While Fibiger’s novels generated critical acclaim, they were not commercially successful, and she began to look for other means to support herself. She supplemented a meager allowance, received from the state, by dressmaking and translating German literary works. In 1863, she began training as a telegraph operator for the Danish State Telegraph service, which had recently decided to hire women as operators under the management of Director Peter Faber. In 1866, she completed her training at the Helsingør telegraph station, and became the first woman to be employed as a telegraph operator in Denmark.
After two years in Helsingør, she was transferred to Nysted in 1869 to manage a newly opened station. Not surprisingly, she encountered resistance from male operators, who saw the employment of women as operators as a threat to their livelihood. In spite of her managerial position, her pay at Nysted was scarcely sufficient to enable her to pay her expenses. The following year, she applied for a transfer to the telegraph station in Aarhus.
She continued to experience difficulties in Aarhus, where the station manager had opposed her assignment. The problems she experienced in her telegraphic work began to affect her health; she died in Aarhus in 1872 at the age of 41. She is remembered today in Denmark not only as a pioneering feminist who wrote in support of women’s rights, but also as the woman who opened the door for the employment of women in the Danish State Telegraph service.
1903 – Ella Baker, American activist, is born.
Ella Josephine Baker was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned over five decades. She worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses. She was a critic of professionalized, charismatic leadership and a promoter of grassroots organizing and radical democracy. She has been called “One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the Civil Rights Movement.”
1908 – Elizabeth Alexander, radio astronomer, is born.
Frances Elizabeth Somerville Alexander was a British geologist, academic, and physicist, whose wartime work with radar and radio led to early developments in radio astronomy. Alexander earned her PhD from Newnham College, Cambridge and worked in Radio Direction Finding at Singapore Naval Base from 1938 to 1941. In January 1941, unable to return to Singapore from New Zealand, she became of Head of Operations Research in New Zealand’s Radio Development Lab, Wellington. In 1945, Alexander correctly interpreted that anomalous radar signals picked up on Norfolk Island were caused by the sun. This interpretation became pioneering work in the field of radio astronomy, making her one of the first women scientists to work in that field, albeit briefly.
1962 – NASA launches Relay 1, the first active repeater communications satellite in orbit.
Relay 1 was launched atop a Delta B rocket on December 13, 1962 from LC-17A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Its payload included radiation experiments designed to map the Earth’s radiation belts. The spin-stabilized spacecraft had an initial spin rate of 167.3 rpm and an initial spin axis orientation with a declination of -68.3 deg and a right ascension of -56 deg. Its orbital period was 185.09 minutes. Shortly after launch, two basic problems evolved. One was the satellite’s response to spurious commands, and the other was the leakage of a high-power regulator. This leakage caused the first two weeks of satellite operation to be useless. After this period, satellite operation returned to normal. The satellite carried one transmitter for tracking and one for telemetry. The telemetry system was PCM at 1152 bit/s. Each 128 words per telemetry frame (of one s duration) used 113 words for the particle experiment. The leakage problem caused the spacecraft to revert to a low voltage state early in 1965. Sporadic transmission occurred until February 10, 1965, after which no usable scientific data was obtained.
1972 – Apollo program: Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt begin the third and final extra-vehicular activity (EVA) or “Moonwalk” of Apollo 17. To date they are the last humans to set foot on the Moon.
The third moonwalk, the last of the Apollo program, began at 5:26 pm EST on December 13. During this excursion, the crew collected 66 kilograms (146 lb) of lunar samples and took nine gravimeter measurements. They drove the rover to the north and east of the landing site and explored the base of the North Massif, the Sculptured Hills, and the unusual crater Van Serg. Before ending the moonwalk, the crew collected a rock, a breccia, and dedicated it to several different nations which were represented in Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, at the time. A plaque located on the Lunar Module, commemorating the achievements made during the Apollo program, was then unveiled. Before reentering the LM for the final time, Gene Cernan expressed his thoughts:
…I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
Cernan then followed Schmitt into the Lunar Module after spending approximately seven hours and 15 minutes outside during the mission’s final lunar excursion.
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