When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Teething Troubles

1962: America’s first space mission to another planet came to a very premature end. The Mariner 1 spacecraft was supposed to fly past Venus, but the rocket carrying the spacecraft began to behave erratically soon after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, forcing NASA to blow it up five minutes into the flight. A post-mortem attributed the failure to a missing symbol in the guidance program. Dubbed “the most expensive hyphen in history”, the omission of the symbol (actually an overline rather than a hyphen) allowed incorrect guidance signals to throw the rocket wildly off course.

Source: Paul E. Ceruzzi, Beyond the Limits: Flight Enters the Computer Age (1989), pp. 202–3

Lift-off of the rocket carrying the ill-fated Mariner 1 spacecraft

Surgeon And Patient

1961: When Leonid Rogozov, a member of the Soviet team at the Novolazarevskaya base in Antarctica, fell ill with nausea, a high temperature and abdominal pains, the diagnosis was straightforward: acute appendicitis. Evacuation by sea or air, in the middle of the polar winter, was out of the question; Rogozov would have to be operated on at the base. And since Rogozov was the team doctor, that meant he would have to operate on himself.

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Menace Of Measles

1960: Before the discovery of a vaccine, most children in the United States had to endure a bout of measles; it was part of growing up. Many suffered nothing worse than three or four days in bed with a rash, a temperature and a cough, but complications and fatalities could and did occur.

Between 1912 and 1916 measles-related deaths averaged 5,300 a year – 26 deaths for every 1,000 reported cases. By the late 1950s the mortality rate had declined to less than one death for every 1,000 cases, but with an average of 542,000 cases of measles annually between 1956 and 1960, this still amounted to a significant number of deaths: 530 in 1956, 389 in 1957, 552 in 1958, 385 in 1959 and 380 in 1960.

Source: The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 1 May 2004

Effing Remarks

1959: Kenneth Tynan’s effing remark on a late-night satire show on BBC television in 1965 had many viewers foaming at the mouth (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse suggested Tynan should have his bottom smacked).

In contrast, similar language during a teatime magazine programme on Ulster Television six years earlier attracted little response. Perhaps the viewers of Roundabout were paying more attention to their tea than to the telly. Live on air, the man who painted the railings alongside the River Lagan in Belfast was asked whether he got bored doing the same job all year round. His reply: “Of course it’s fucking boring.”

Source: Joe Moran, Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV (2013), pp. 6–8

Humane Chains

1958: Western Australia’s deputy commissioner of police defended the use of ankle chains on Aboriginal prisoners at Hall’s Creek. In fact, according to Hugh McLernon, chaining had a humane purpose: it left the prisoners’ hands free to brush off insects.

Source: The Herald, 20 March 1958