1571 – Johannes Kepler, German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer is born.
Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his laws of planetary motion, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican Astronomy. These works also provided one of the foundations for Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation.
Kepler was a mathematics teacher at a seminary school in Graz, Austria, where he became an associate of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. Later he became an assistant to the astronomer Tycho Brahe, and eventually he was the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II and his two successors Matthias and Ferdinand II. He was also a mathematics teacher in Linz, Austria, and an adviser to General Wallenstein. Additionally, he did fundamental work in the field of optics, invented an improved version of the refracting telescope (the Keplerian telescope), and was mentioned in the telescopic discoveries of his contemporary Galileo Galilei.
Kepler lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, but there was a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of natural philosophy). Kepler also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason. Kepler described his new astronomy as “celestial physics”, as “an excursion into Aristotle’s Metaphysics”, and as “a supplement to Aristotle’s On the Heavens”, transforming the ancient tradition of physical cosmology by treating astronomy as part of a universal mathematical physics.
1773 – George Cayley, English engineer and politician is born.
Sir George Cayley, 6th Baronet was a prolific English engineer and is one of the most important people in the history of aeronautics. Many consider him to be the first true scientific aerial investigator and the first person to understand the underlying principles and forces of flight.
In 1799 he set forth the concept of the modern aeroplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control. He was a pioneer of aeronautical engineering and is sometimes referred to as “the father of aviation.” He discovered and identified the four forces which act on a heavier-than-air flying vehicle: weight, lift, drag and thrust. Modern aeroplane design is based on those discoveries and on the importance of cambered wings, also identified by Cayley. He constructed the first flying model aeroplane and also diagrammed the elements of vertical flight. He designed the first glider reliably reported to carry a human aloft. He correctly predicted that sustained flight would not occur until a lightweight engine was developed to provide adequate thrust and lift. The Wright brothers acknowledged his importance to the development of aviation.
1822 – Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist is born.
Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases, and his discoveries have saved countless lives ever since. He reduced mortality from puerperal fever, and created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of bacteriology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, and is popularly known as the “father of microbiology”.
Pasteur was responsible for disproving the doctrine of spontaneous generation. He performed experiments that showed that without contamination, microorganisms could not develop. Under the auspices of the French Academy of Sciences, he demonstrated that in sterilized and sealed flasks nothing ever developed, and in sterilized but open flasks microorganisms could grow. This experiment won him the Alhumbert Prize of the academy.
Although Pasteur was not the first to propose the germ theory, he developed it and conducted experiments that clearly indicated its correctness and managed to convince most of Europe that it was true. (He was preceded by Girolamo Fracastoro, Agostino Bassi and others, with the significant experimental demonstration by Francesco Redi in the 17th century.) Today, he is often regarded as one of the fathers of germ theory.
Pasteur also made significant discoveries in chemistry, most notably on the molecular basis for the asymmetry of certain crystals and racemization. Early in his career, his investigation of tartaric acid resulted in the first resolution of what we now call optical isomers. His work led the way to our current understanding of a fundamental principal in the structure of organic compounds.
1831 – Charles Darwin embarks on his journey aboard the HMS Beagle, during which he will begin to formulate his theory of evolution.
…Darwin spent most of this time exploring on land: three years and three months on land, 18 months at sea. Early in the voyage he decided that he could write a book about geology, and he showed a gift for theorising. At Punta Alta he made a major find of gigantic fossils of extinct mammals, then known from only a very few specimens. He ably collected and made detailed observations of plants and animals, with results that shook his belief that species were fixed and provided the basis for ideas which came to him when back in England, and led to his theory of evolution by natural selection.
1924 – Jean Bartik, American computer scientist and engineer is born.
Jean Jennings Bartik was one of the original programmers for the ENIAC computer. She studied mathematics in school then began work at the University of Pennsylvania, first manually calculating ballistics trajectories, then using ENIAC to do so. She and her colleagues developed and codified many of the fundamentals of programming while working on the ENIAC, since it was the first computer of its kind. After her work on ENIAC, Bartik went on to work on BINAC and UNIVAC, and spent time at a variety of technical companies as a writer, manager, engineer and programmer. She spent her later years as a real estate agent and died in 2011 from congestive heart failure complications.
1968 – Apollo program: Apollo 8 splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, ending the first orbital manned mission to the Moon.
Apollo 8, the second human spaceflight mission in the United States Apollo space program, was launched on December 21, 1968, and became the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth’s Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, the first to directly see the far side of the Moon, and then the first to witness Earthrise. The 1968 mission, the third flight of the Saturn V rocket and that rocket’s first manned launch, was also the first human spaceflight launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The mission was originally planned as Apollo 9, to be performed in early 1969 as the second test of the complete Apollo spacecraft, including the Lunar Module and the Command/Service Module in an elliptical medium Earth orbit. But when the Lunar Module proved unready to make its first test in a lower Earth orbit in December 1968, it was decided in August to fly Apollo 8 in December as a more ambitious lunar orbital flight without the Lunar Module. This meant Borman’s crew was scheduled to fly two to three months sooner than originally planned, leaving them a shorter time for training and preparation, thus placing more demands than usual on their time and discipline.
Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. It orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast where they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo 8’s successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. The Apollo 8 astronauts returned to Earth on December 27, 1968, when their spacecraft splashed down in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The crew was named Time magazine’s “Men of the Year” for 1968 upon their return.