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On This Day in 1958, NASA Was Created

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On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed a bill to create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. The Congressional bill's full title was: "National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. An act to provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." Before the creation of NASA, space activity in the United States was primarily a military endeavor.

1958 was a time of great American angst over the space race. The Soviets had launched the spectacular Sputnik I satellite in October 1957, and Americans watched it soar overhead, beeping, reminding us of Soviet space superiority. When Sputnik II sent a living dog (Laika) into space just one month later, Americans fell even further behind. Many of our rockets were blowing up on the pad.

Prior to NASA we had NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Established in 1915 during World War I, NACA was concerned with aeronautical research, helping drive modern airplane designs. NACA was responsible for creating superchargers employed by high altitude bombers used in World War II. NACA also built the first wind tunnels in the US, and oversaw the X-1 (supersonic flight) project in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. When NASA was created, it immediately absorbed NACA, which by that time was getting involved in space research.

(Incidentally, at first both of these agencies were pronounced as individual letters, "N A C A" and "N A S A," much like other government agencies like "C I A" and "F B I." By the early 1960s the pronunciation of "NASA" as a two-syllable word become prominent.)

In section 102 of the Space Act that created NASA, this was the initial list of its objectives:

  1. The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
  2. The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
  3. The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space;
  4. The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes;
  5. The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere;
  6. The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defense of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;
  7. Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results thereof;
  8. The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities and equipment.

If you read this in the context of the Cold War world in which it was written, there is some interesting stuff there between the lines—the agency deals both with "peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere" but also "discoveries that have military value." Of course, the latter were to be referred to the appropriate agencies. The list has been amended over the years, with the most notable being a ninth item added in 1989:

The preservation of the United States preeminent position in aeronautics and space through research and technology development related to associated manufacturing processes.

In 1983, NASA celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of that celebration, this delightfully dated video celebrated 25 years of progress, and has an excellent interview with Keith Glennan, the first administrator of NASA:

For more on the creation of NASA, read The Birth of NASA by NASA historian Steven J. Dick.

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History
A Brief History of Time
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You may have heard that time is a social construct, but that doesn’t stop it from having consequences in the real world. If you show up to a party 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to start, you’ll likely be the first one there, and if you arrive to an interview 10 minutes late, you likely won’t get the job. But how did humanity agree on when and how to observe certain times of day?

In their new video, the It’s Okay to Be Smart team explains how humans “invented” the modern concept of time. The increments we use to measure time, like seconds, minutes, and hours, come from the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Early clocks, like sundials and water clocks, were pretty crude, so people couldn’t pinpoint a time like noon down to the second even if they wanted to. But as clocks became more accurate, the problem wasn’t being unable to tell time accurately, but deciding which clocks qualified as “accurate” in the first place.

In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur organized the International Meridian Conference with the intention of deciding on a uniform definition of time to be followed around the world. The attendees ended up choosing the meridian running through Greenwich, England as the official Prime Meridian, and all clocks would be measured against the clock in the town’s observatory. Greenwich Mean Time is still used as the standard world time today.

Check out the full story below.

[h/t It’s Okay to Be Smart]

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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