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Thread: Early 1960s bad space technology writing in popular media

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Yes, I remember some speculation from old books on the cusp of space travel (I would guess from the mid 50s) that suggested small people would be best because payload mass was a big deal at the time, and a small person didn’t need as big a capsule, or as much air, food or water. I think that was even a plot point in a Lester del Rey book I read once.
    Perhaps what you read was The Space Merchants, by ‎Frederik Pohl‎ and ‎Cyril M. Kornbluth, a 1952 SF novel in which an astronaut with dwarfism is the first human to reach Venus. He was chosen as the pilot because his small size made him perfect for a low-consumables trip. I believe he was even a test pilot, a peculiar bit of prescience.

    http://scifiward.com/the-space-merch...l-m-kornbluth/
    https://www.fantasticalandrewfox.com...ace-merchants/
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Perhaps what you read was The Space Merchants, by ‎Frederik Pohl‎ and ‎Cyril M. Kornbluth, a 1952 SF novel in which an astronaut with dwarfism is the first human to reach Venus. He was chosen as the pilot because his small size made him perfect for a low-consumables trip. I believe he was even a test pilot, a peculiar bit of prescience.

    http://scifiward.com/the-space-merch...l-m-kornbluth/
    https://www.fantasticalandrewfox.com...ace-merchants/
    I believe I read that too, but I have a memory of a book, part of a series, under Lester del Rey’s name, that was about the first orbital crewed flight, where they were in a race to be the first but the rocket had serious payload limits, and they had a fairly small capsule so looked for a short man to fly it (not a dwarf, but definitely short). That’s about all I remember, it has been a very long time since I read it.

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  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    When I got my Masters in Psychology (2002), I met and shook hands with a woman with dwarfism who had a Ph.D., at the University of Louisville. She was on the graduate faculty in the "shaking hands with the new graduates" line.

    What eliminated women, minorities, and many others from astronaut selection in the U.S. was the following list of requirements set in January 1959 for the newborn NASA. The test pilot thing took a lot of people out right away, although being short was oddly not a drawback. Grissom was the shortest astronaut for a long time, at slightly over 5 feet. He could fit into anything.

    Project Mercury: A Chronology (NASA SP-4001), prepared by James M Grimwood (1963).
    1959, January 5: Qualifications were established for pilot selection in a meeting at the NASA Headquarters. These qualifications were as follows: age, less than 40; height, less than 5 feet 11 inches; excellent physical condition; bachelor's degree or equivalent; graduate of test pilot school; 1,500 hours flight time; and a qualified jet pilot.
    [Memo, George Low to NASA Administrator, subject: Status Report No. 6, Project Mercury, Feb. 3, 1959.]
    In the movie version of The Right Stuff, NASA proposes using circus acrobats (or some such) but Eisenhower insists on test pilots. No idea if there's any truth to that.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    In the movie version of The Right Stuff, NASA proposes using circus acrobats (or some such) but Eisenhower insists on test pilots. No idea if there's any truth to that.
    The movie took some liberties to make it look like Ike was the one who wanted the test pilots but it was actually a recommendation presented to him by a task force:

    Meanwhile, in response to the Sputnik crisis, the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, decided to create a new civilian agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which would absorb NACA and be responsible for the overall direction of the American space program.[6] In September 1958, the USAF agreed to transfer responsibility for MISS to NASA, which was established on October 1, 1958.[7] On November 5, the Space Task Group (STG) was established at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, with Robert R. Gilruth as its director. On November 26, 1958, NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan and his deputy, Hugh Dryden, adopted a suggestion by Abe Silverstein, the director of Space Flight Development at STG, that the human spaceflight project be called Project Mercury. The name was publicly announced by Glennan on December 17, 1958, the 55th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.[8][9] The objective of Project Mercury was to launch a man into Earth orbit, return him safely to the Earth, and evaluate his capabilities in space.[10]

    Although the panel considered that many people might possess the required skills – aircraft pilots, submariners, deep sea divers and mountain climbers were all considered likely prospects – it decided that they could be best met by military test pilots.[13] Accepting only military test pilots would simplify the selection process, and would also satisfy security requirements, as the role would almost certainly involve the handling of classified information.[11] The decision to restrict selection to military test pilots was taken by Glennan, Dryden and Gilruth in the last week of December 1958, but the irony of using military test pilots in a civilian program was not overlooked, and in view of the President's express preference for a space program outside the military, Glennan thought it best to run the decision past Eisenhower. A meeting was arranged with the President, who was convinced by the arguments.[12][14]

  5. #35
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    Rockets Through Space, by Lester del Rey (1957).

    Page 113: "We might even find life on the Moon. The chances are not too good, and such life would not be intelligent or even animal life. The most we could hope for would be a very crude, very low form, like some of the lichens on Earth, or perhaps even lower types.... We have seen some strange changes in color in a few of the craters. This change in color on the Moon takes place as the sun rises, then changes back at night. It is hard to explain the phenomenon in any way except by thinking that some crude, thin layer of plant life grows up and shrinks back. In that case, there is reason to believe a very thin wisp of air might be in the craters."

    Mr. del Rey is channeling H.G. Wells' First Men on the Moon, which describes pretty much the same thing in the area where Professor Cavor and his passenger land (Chapters 6 and 7).
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    Did they seriously not think about water freezing and melting, or did they prefer to limit the options to life?
    With sufficient thrust, water towers fly just fine.

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    A look through Harvard's ADS files.

    https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/19....348K/abstract
    A New Explanation of Martian Phenomena.
    Kiess, C. C.; Karrer, S.; Kiess, Harriet K.
    Abstract: White deposits of tetroxide will explain the polar caps, their yellowish tint being due to dioxide in equilibrium with the solid N2O4. The dark belt bordering the melting cap is regarded as liquid N2O4 with NO and/or N2O3 in solution, or as wetting of the substrate. The spread of heavy gaseous N2O4 over the dark areas, toward the equator, will account for the seasonal changes of color shown by them, according to the nature of the mineral structure of the Martian soil. In the atmosphere of Mars the oxides of nitrogen may exist in both gaseous and solid phases, and, in these forms, account for the observed meteorological phenomena. In minute crystals, at the temperatures prevailing at various altitudes and latitudes, they may account for the haze and the transient blue and white clouds that are known to occur. In the gaseous phase absorption by the peroxide will account for the loss of blue and violet light, known as Wright's phenomenon. The occasional blue-clearing is, then, due to a shift in equilibrium from NO2 to N2O4 owing to a cold wave. During a heat wave the shift will be in the direction of higher concentration of NO2, thus accounting for the yellow clouds, which, at times, may be planet-wide in extent. If this view is correct Mars may be considered as a gigantic photochemical nitrogen-fixation process. Further, the well-known toxic effects of these oxides argue against existence of living organisms on the planet.
    Publication: Astronomical Journal, Vol. 70, p. 348
    Pub Date: 1960

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/f...owOB...4..252S
    Further evidence of vegetation on Mars
    Authors: Sinton, W. M.
    Journal: Bulletin / Lowell Observatory; no. 103, v. 4, no. 15; Bulletin (Lowell Observatory); no. 103., [Flagstaff, Ariz. : Lowell Observatory, 1959], p. 252-258

    https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/19......4R/abstract
    Are There People on Mars?
    Randolph, J. R.
    Abstract: The author compares the ‘canals’ on Mars to transportation features and leans in favor of the theory that there could be civilized life on Mars.
    Publication: The Strolling Astronomer, Volume 5, Issue 3, p.4-8
    Pub Date: March 1951
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    Martian canals were a big thing, if totally wrong. At least it was understandable given the telescope observation problems in viewing Mars. To think they talked about canals until Mariner IV went by, though!

    https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/19......5P/abstract
    The Canals of Mars (1947)
    Pettit, Edison
    Publication: Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Vol. 59, No. 346, p.5
    Pub Date: February 1947

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/p...ASP...59....5P
    THE CANALS OF MARS
    Edison Pettit
    Mount Wilson Observatory
    Many attempts have been made to photograph those difficult markings, the canals of Mars. Although interesting pictures have been obtained, no photograph has shown the fine details described by visual observers.... My experience in observing the canals at the favorable opposition of 1939 is described here, not in any attempt to add to the already extensive literature on Martian canals, but to lay a basis of procedure for photographing them.

    ===============

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/f...ASP...67..283W
    Title: Analysis of the Martian Canal Network (1955)
    Authors: Webb, W. A.
    Journal: Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Vol. 67, No. 398, p.283 (maps on page 285)

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/p...ASP...67..283W
    ANALYSIS OF THE MARTIAN CANAL NETWORK
    Wells Alan Webb
    San Francisco, California
    The history of Martian observation and interpretation has been characterized by a schism that began in 1877 when Schiaparelli announced the discovery of many narrow dark streaks—canals—upon the surface of the planet, and others denied that such canals existed. The schism was broadened in 1894 when Percival Lowell announced that the canals made ä system covering" the whole face of the planet. Many other astronomers, who were unable to see the canals with larger telescopes, thought that Lowell in his enthusiasm was pursuing an illusion.
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  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Martian canals were a big thing, if totally wrong. At least it was understandable given the telescope observation problems in viewing Mars. To think they talked about canals until Mariner IV went by, though!
    Yes, the history of the canals is very interesting and educational on what happens when on the edge of technology.

    From Pettit (first link) while at the Wilson Obs. He used up to a 20". He held that the canals appeared, though briefly and rarely, to be olive green, similar in color to the surrounding area so the limited contrast made them extra difficult.

    The narrowness and low contrast of the canals permit any small disturbance to widen them so much that they disappear. On the best nights in my experience there were four or five periods of a few minutes each during which the pattern would appear and disappear during an interval of a second or two. On only a few occasions was this interval as long as four or five seconds. Photographs that show the canal pattern will, therefore, have to be taken with exposures of not more than about one second, since the pattern cannot be expected to remain visible much longer.
    Did you, like me, have a high school friend or two really into the canals? I had one that devoted his bedroom walls to it. He was disappointed when I expressed strong doubt of their existence.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    Did you, like me, have a high school friend or two really into the canals? I had one that devoted his bedroom walls to it. He was disappointed when I expressed strong doubt of their existence.
    By the time I was in high school there had been probes to Mars showing there were no canals. However, when I was younger I had found plenty of library books intended to be factual talking about them, and of course there were many stories that included them. When I was young it was tricky determining what was real and what wasn’t because the solar system, as it was understood, changed so quickly.

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    I'm a little surprised people don't try to see canals more often, just to find out for themselves how the illusion/visual thing worked. There are experiments you can do, not sure where I saw them, showing how you can "create" canals in an image seen at a distance that has blots on it. I would love a wall map showing the old canal system thought to exist on Mars. It would be fun.
    Do good work. —Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom

  12. #42
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    Last papers and comments on Martian canals, though there are many.

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/f...tAst..19...12D
    Theories Regarding the Canals of Mars (1965, immediately before Mariner IV reached Mars)
    Authors: Delano, K. J.
    Journal: The Strolling Astronomer, Volume 19, Issue 1-2, p.12-15
    Hopefully, within a few days the camera of the Mariner spacecraft will provide at least partial answers to a century-old problem, the question of the canals of Mars - a question which has been demanding an answer since 1877. It was in the apparition of 1877 that the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, using an 8.75-inch refractor, recorded having seen about 40 channels, or "canals" as they were later called, crisscrossing the reddish deserts of Mars. Schiaparelli was not the very first to see canals, but it was the great number of canals which he reported having seen that awoke curiosity and evoked numerous theories as to their nature and origin. My purpose is to give a brief account of the various theories that have been proposed over the years in explanation of the canals of Mars.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_canal
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classi...atures_on_Mars
    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2020-May-04 at 10:31 PM.
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  13. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Last papers and comments on Martian canals, though there are many.

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/f...tAst..19...12D
    Theories Regarding the Canals of Mars (1965, immediately before Mariner IV reached Mars)
    Authors: Delano, K. J.
    Journal: The Strolling Astronomer, Volume 19, Issue 1-2, p.12-15
    Hopefully, within a few days the camera of the Mariner spacecraft will provide at least partial answers to a century-old problem, the question of the canals of Mars - a question which has been demanding an answer since 1877. It was in the apparition of 1877 that the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, using an 8.75-inch refractor, recorded having seen about 40 channels, or "canals" as they were later called, crisscrossing the reddish deserts of Mars. Schiaparelli was not the very first to see canals, but it was the great number of canals which he reported having seen that awoke curiosity and evoked numerous theories as to their nature and origin. My purpose is to give a brief account of the various theories that have been proposed over the years in explanation of the canals of Mars.
    The article is rich with many intelligent but wrong hypotheses. Canals from earthquakes, impacts or volcanoes. Spring thaw from caps causing the salty canal areas to change and become more apparent. This article suggests higher resolution removes the canals, where the one you had in the prior post (Pettit) stated the opposite. Yellow clouds from volcanoes is one explanation for the reddish color on the surface. And more.

    [my bold] addresses something that may be incorrect. I thought he labeled them from the start "canali", which in Latin translates to channel. Translating online from Latin to English, per two separate but possible erroneous sites, "canali" becomes "Chanel" as in the perfume, not "channel". Other sites translate as we would expect.

    Some years back, there used to be an annual Bad Astronomy quiz -- I think Antoniseb did the last one -- that was given for all to attempt to answer and without Google. Mars scientific history and lore would make a great topic for such a quiz.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    There is a Carl Sagan ADS paper from 1968 that mentions canals, but the point was made. Yes, canali does mean channels.
    Do good work. —Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    By the time I was in high school there had been probes to Mars showing there were no canals. However, when I was younger I had found plenty of library books intended to be factual talking about them, and of course there were many stories that included them. When I was young it was tricky determining what was real and what wasn’t because the solar system, as it was understood, changed so quickly.
    The batting average for the probes' successes was surprisingly poor. I think a simple lack of a metric conversion caused one failure. Here's my favorite, uh, documentary of some of those probes.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    I do notice some histories (like Wikipedia) mentioning the canals on Mars thing say that Mariner IV drove the nail in the coffin, but if I recall correctly it was Mariner IX that really did it.
    Do good work. —Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom

  17. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    There is a Carl Sagan ADS paper from 1968 that mentions canals, but the point was made.
    Perhaps I was too hasty to cut off the topic. Did a little more digging in ADS. Mariner IV did not immediately settle out the canals problem.


    (no text, just title)
    Cloudiness in the Martian atmosphere as possible cause of the canals' invisibility on the pictures taken by Mariner-4.
    Bobrov, M. S.
    Publication: Astronomicheskii Tsirkulyar, No. 514, p. 3 - 4
    Pub Date: 1969

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/p...ASP...77..393J
    SOME SPECULATIONS ON THE MARTIAN CANALS
    Dean Jamison, Stanford University
    Received June 2, 1965
    Lederberg and [Carl] Sagan suggest that small-scale geothermal activity on Mars such as hot springs, fumaroles, and volcanoes could melt a permafrost layer just below the Martian surface and thereby allow exit for water from deeper layers. These relatively warm and humid "microenvironments" would be the most probable abodes of Martian life. Geothermal activity of this nature on earth occurs most frequently along fault zones and fractures in the earth's crust. Fielder suggests that the Martian canals occur along fault lines. (We need not necessarily accept his view that they are graben.) If so, the low albedo of the canals could be attributed to vegetation existing in the relatively warm, humid environments caused by geothermal activity along crustal fractures. The spotty appearance of the canals can be accounted for by local variations in geothermal activity.

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/p...J.....71R.849C
    Martian Canal System.
    Alvin J. Cohen, University of Pittsburgh.
    The Martian canal system is an illusion probably caused by observation of combinations of arcuate and elliptical rays from numerous impact craters on the surface. Presence of arcuate and elliptical rays completely covering areas seen in several Mariner IV photographs confirms this possibility as well as the impact nature of the craters. The presence of large numbers of rays compared to the lunar surface may indicate almost total lack of outgassing on the Martian surface. Presence of complex overlapping ray systems on Mars indicates the seasonal colors are due to changes in superficial coatings of inorganic complexes and frozen gases. The relatively small number of impact craters observed on Mariner IV pictures and therefore the possible young age (^8 x l0^8 yr) of the observed craters could indicate a rather recent ice cover....
    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2020-May-04 at 10:27 PM.
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  18. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    The batting average for the probes' successes was surprisingly poor. I think a simple lack of a metric conversion caused one failure. Here's my favorite, uh, documentary of some of those probes.
    Great movie!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_missions_to_Mars
    Do good work. —Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom

  19. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    The batting average for the probes' successes was surprisingly poor. I think a simple lack of a metric conversion caused one failure. Here's my favorite, uh, documentary of some of those probes.
    I love that short video. I saw it when it was originally made and came across it again a year or two ago. I’ve been planning to repost it here when Mars 2020 launches.

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  20. #50
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    I liked C.S. Lewis' take on the "canals" in "Out of the Silent Planet" (1938). If I remember right (I am due for a re-re-reading) they are natural fissues but running so deep that there is sufficient atmosphere to support life (an entire advanced ecosystem where the hrassa live), but extremetly it is extremely cold on the surface with a thin - but viable - atmostphere on the surface (where the sorn, another sentient race, live).

    Of course there was also Leather Goddesses of Phobos, but that's for another forum...

    I remember even in the early 1980s that the school and public libraries had books and posters around that referenced canals and life on Mars.

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    While the items contributed by fellow posters in this thread are interesting to discuss, the mere act of writing about speculation before we had today's technical knowledge about the topics does not make it "bad writing" in the sense of what I cited in the OP. That one was simply a blunder in physics.

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