By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
April 12 is an important day in history, as least when it comes to space. There were 3 big space related events that all happened on the same day in different years. The brilliant astronomer Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church for saying the solar system is heliocentric, a.k.a. the Earth revolved around the Sun. This meant that he was saying that the Earth was not the center of the universe, which was in direct contradiction to what the church believed. The second big event was sending a human into space. Yuri Gagarin was the first man (and human) ever to go into space. And finally, the first NASA space shuttle was launched into space on April 12.
In 1616, Galileo was called in by the Inquisition, not really to question what he was studying with his telescope, but to give him a warning. They were probably restating that the Catholic Church believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and that to state otherwise would get him in trouble. He was allowed to continue to research, but not to publicly talk or publish about his heliocentric theory that was originated by Nicolaus Copernicus. However, in 1632, he published Dialogue on the Two World Systems, which compared the theory of earth-centric and heliocentric cosmological systems by three different scientists: one for an earth-centric cosmos, one for a heliocentric one and a third who was neutral. The side representing the sun-centered theory came out looking better and the Pope was not pleased. On April 12 in 1633, Galileo was called in by the Holy Office so that he could be questioned with the hope that he would admit his guilt of heresy, but he never did. He did confess that he was practicing his public speaking skills and perhaps went a little too far. In May, he was convicted of a strong suspicion of heresy, a lesser charge since he had made no confession. Luckily for him, being such a public figure made it harder for more aggressive questioning by the Inquisition, as did his age and health. Ultimately, his book was banned and he was sentenced to prison at home for the rest of his life. Galileo’s science outlasted the Inquisition and we now recognize him as a famous scientist who helped make the theory that the earth revolved around the sun a scientific fact.
First Human in Space
In 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space and orbit the earth aboard the Sputnik 1 (of course, less than a month later, the US sent up Alan Shepard). Gagarin was a good choice for the USSR, being a test pilot and an industrial engineer. The flight was eighty-nine minutes long, and reached an altitude of 187 miles. According to history, he only made one communication with the ground control in Russia, stating that the flight was proceeding normally and that he was well. He became an instant celebrity, just like Lindbergh was after he flew from New York to Paris. He was given honors and streets were named after him all over Russia. The designer of the rocket was sent by Russia to Germany to study the V2 rocket the Nazis were using. The United States captured the designer of the rocket, Wernher von Braun, but the Soviets captured paperwork and designs. And thus the Space Race began.
NASA Reaches Space
On April, 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia shot into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center. It was the first space shuttle in history. The space shuttle was different from a rocket in that it landed like a plane instead of on the water, and it was the first reusable spacecraft. It carried quite a few astronauts to space. In February 2003, the Columbia burned up during re-entry over Texas in February 2003. They found that a piece of foam insulation had broken off from one of the tanks and damaged the shuttle’s left wing. That became part of the safety check in all future flights. It made twenty-eight missions and was in space a little over 300 days. Space shuttle Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly, landing in 2011. For eight years, we have been ride sharing into space. New frontiers are on the horizon from NASA or private companies. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.
If you find this interesting, we’ll continue exploring the universe and space during our annual Summer Reading Program for Grown-Ups. Take a look at some of our special events this summer:
- An astronomy petting zoo on Thursday, May 23 – have you ever wanted to buy a telescope but didn’t know which one to get? Come to his program and narrow down your choices
- On Tuesday, May 28, learn how real astronomy has found 13 astrological symbols.
- On Saturday, June 15 we’ll be having a film festival of some of the best movies about space. Stay tuned for titles!
- On Saturday, July 20, we’ll be making a day of commemorating the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing. Movies, refreshments, lectures and more!!
- On Tuesday, July 23, we’re offering a program about all the inventions NASA created for the space program that we use almost every day!
- On Monday, July 15, come hear about how people in history used the stars and constellations.