Friday, July 24, 2009
Even as the revered anchor of CBS News was laid to rest, Time released the state-by-state results of a poll of 10,000 Americans across the nation,
asking: who is now the "most trusted" newscaster in America? The overwhelming choice, with 44%, is Jon Stewart. Coming in a distant second was Brian Williams, with 29%. What sets Stuart apart is that he is totally
fearless. He speaks the truth without equivocation -- no matter who is offended. The poll also reflects the chaotic state of the news industry at the start of the 21st century. When Cronkite reigned, a handful of major
networks broadcast the evening news at about the same time. You either watched the news or turned off the television; now you have a thousand mindless alternatives to the news.
Launched on 4 Oct 1957, Sputnik carried no instruments. It just beeped as it passed overhead to taunt Americans. But a month later, Sputnik 2 carried a Geiger tube and a radio transmitter to relay the Geiger output
back to Earth. It also carried a tape recorder to store data when the satellite is over the horizon, but it wasn't working on launch day. Soviet scientists placed a call directly to Premier Nikita Khrushchev requesting
permission to delay the launch for a day, but Khrushchev refused; he wanted to announce another successful launch at a meeting of heads-of-state the next day. At the very dawn of the space age, politics was already
getting in the way of scientific discovery. Thus it was that the Soviet Union failed to make the first important discovery in space science,as we see below.
On 31 Jan 1958, only four months after Sputnik, the US launched Explorer 1 carrying an experiment designed by James Van Allen, Physics Chair at the University of Iowa. It was just a Geiger tube, a radio transmitter, and
a recorder -- but the recorder worked. Data from a full orbit confirmed the existence of charged particle bands around Earth, now known as the Van Allen belts. It was the first major discovery from beyond the
Soviet scientists were crushed; only four months after Sputnik the US had taken the lead in space science and has never relinquished it. Manned space flight remains a sideshow. In the end, all that will endure is the
science. James Van Allen was the true American space hero. During a long talk with Jim a year before his death in 2006, he summed-up manned space
flight: "It's so old-fashioned."
At the 40th International Physics Olympiad held in Merida, Mexico this month China was first in the overall medal count, with Honduo Shi of China winning five gold medals. It was the first time in the 40 year history of
the Physics Olympiad that the top score has gone to a female.