Wednesday, August 12, 2009

August 12th--This Day in Engineering History

1851 – Isaac Singer is granted a patent for his sewing machine.

Photo: Isaac Merritt Singer. Source: Singer Memories.
"In 1849, in Boston, Singer was working at a machinist's shop where rudimentary sewing machines were being built for industrial purposes. The machines kept breaking down, and the owner of the shop asked Singer if he could figure out the problem. Singer was at first scornful, thinking the sewing machine beneath him, but eventually agreed to tinker with it. Almost immediately he had figured out how to perfect it. His innovations were elegant in their simplicity, and they worked. He drew up plans for a machine built to his specifications, and within days, with borrowed funds, had supervised the building of the first prototype. By then, he'd already understood the market potential of this machine; "the dimes are what I am interested in."

Singer patented his invention in 1851 and immediately turned his attention to marketing. A showman, with a forceful personality and imagination to burn, Singer designed bold advertising campaigns that quickly created a market where none had existed, particularly for domestic machines aimed at housewives (Singer Memories)."
1887 – Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist, Nobel laureate born (d. 1961).

Image: Erwin Schrödinger. Source: nobelprize.org.
"Schrödinger began to think about explaining the movement of an electron in an atom as a wave. By 1926 he published his work, providing a theoretical basis for the atomic model that Niels Bohr had proposed based on laboratory evidence. The equation at the heart of his publication became known as Schrödinger's wave equation. This was the second theoretical explanation of electrons in an atom, following Werner Heisenberg's matrix mechanics. Many scientists preferred Schrödinger's theory since it could be visualized, while Heisenberg's was strictly mathematical. A split threatened among physicists, but Schrödinger soon showed that the two theories were identical, only expessed differently.

In 1927 Schrödinger was offered the extremely prestigious job of replacing Max Planck when he retired from the University of Berlin. Schrödinger hated to leave the Alps for the crowded city, but he accepted. It turned out to be a wonderful teaching and learning period for Schrödinger, but one brought to a nasty close by the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. He saw many esteemed colleagues hounded from their jobs and forced to leave the country. He also chose to leave in 1933, the year Hitler became Germany's chancellor. He went to Oxford University and in his first week there learned that he'd won the Nobel Prize with Paul Dirac (pbs.org)."

1960 – Echo I (IA), the first communications satellite, launched.

Image: Echo 1, 1A [NASA]. Source: Gunter's Space Page.

"The Echo satellites were NASA's first experimental communications satellite project. Each spacecraft was a large metallized balloon designed to act as a passive communications reflector to bounce communication signals transmitted from one point on Earth to another. Following the failure of the launch vehicle carrying Echo 1, Echo 1A (commonly referred to as Echo 1) was successfully orbited, and was used to redirect transcontinental and intercontinental telephone, radio, and television signals. The success of Echo 1A proved that microwave transmission to and from satellites in space was understood and demonstrated the promise of communications satellites. The vehicle also provided data for the calculation of atmospheric density and solar pressure due to its large area-to-mass ratio. Echo 1A was visible to the unaided eye over most of the Earth (brighter than most stars) and was probably seen by more people than any other man-made object in space. Echo 2 continued the passive communications experiments, and also investigated the dynamics of large spacecraft and was used for global geometric geodesy. Although NASA abandonded passive communications systems in favor of active satellites following Echo 2, the Echo systems demonstrated several ground station and tracking technologies that would be used by active systems. Echo 1A reentered on May 24, 1968 followed by Echo 2 on June 7, 1969 (JPL)."



1977 – The first free flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

"Before the space shuttle could orbit in space, it had to prove that it could land on Earth. Twenty-five years ago, on August 12, 1977, the first free flight by the prototype space shuttle orbiter Enterprise was successfully flown at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California's high desert. This was one of five glide flights conducted at Edwards as part of the space shuttle Approach and Landing Test (ALT) program, jointly managed by NASA's Johnson Space Center and the Dryden Flight Research Center (Spaceflight Now)."







1981 – The IBM Personal Computer is released.

Image: Image of original IBM Personal Computer (1981) Model 5150. Source: Wikipedia.

"In July of 1980, IBM representatives met for the first time with Microsoft's Bill Gates to talk about writing an operating system for IBM's new hush-hush "personal" computer. IBM had been observing the growing personal computer market for some time. They had already made one dismal attempt to crack the market with their IBM 5100. At one point, IBM considered buying the fledgling game company Atari to commandeer Atari's early line of personal computers. However, IBM decided to stick with making their own personal computer line and developed a brand new operating system to go with. The secret plans were referred to as "Project Chess". The code name for the new computer was "Acorn". Twelve engineers, led by William C. Lowe, assembled in Boca Raton, Florida, to design and build the "Acorn". On August 12, 1981, IBM released their new computer, re-named the IBM PC. The "PC" stood for "personal computer" making IBM responsible for popularizing the term 'PC' (About.com)."



1985 - Japan Airlines Flight 123, Boeing 747 Disaster

Image: Illustration of JA8119, during breakup of the vertical stabilizer. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

"Japan Airlines Flight 123 was a Japan Airlines domestic flight from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) to Osaka International Airport (Itami). The Boeing 747-SR46 that made this route, registered JA8119, suffered mechanical failures 12 minutes into flight and 32 minutes later crashed into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, 100 kilometers from Tokyo, on Monday 12 August 1985. The crash site was on Osutaka Ridge (おすたかのおね Osutaka-no-One?), near Mount Osutaka. All 15 crew members and 505 out of 509 passengers died, resulting in a total of 520 deaths and 4 survivors.
It remains the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history (Wikipedia)."

According to Wikipedia, "The official cause of the crash according to the report published by Japan's then Aircraft Accidents Investigation Commission is as follows:

1. The aircraft was involved in a tailstrike incident at Osaka International Airport on 2 June 1978, which damaged the aircraft's rear pressure bulkhead.

2. The subsequent repair of the bulkhead did not conform to Boeing's approved repair methods. Their procedure calls for one continuous doubler plate with three rows of rivets to reinforce the damaged bulkhead, but the Boeing technicians fixing the aircraft used two separate doubler plates, one with two rows of rivets and one with only one row. This reduced the part's resistance to metal fatigue by 70%. According to the FAA, the one "doubler plate" which was specified for the job (the FAA calls it a "splice plate" - essentially a patch) was cut into two pieces parallel to the stress crack it was intended to reinforce, "to make it fit". This negated the effectiveness of two of the rows of rivets. During the investigation Boeing calculated that this incorrect installation would fail after approximately 10,000 pressurizations; the aircraft accomplished 12,319 take-offs between the installation of the new plate and the final accident.

3. When the bulkhead gave way, the resulting explosive decompression ruptured the lines of all four hydraulic systems. With the aircraft's control surfaces disabled, the aircraft became uncontrollable."



2000 – The Oscar class submarine K-141 Kursk of the Russian Navy explodes and sinks in the Barents Sea during a military exercise.









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