What was the Centaur project?

The Centaur upper stage rocket is a family of high-energy rockets that has played a pivotal role in advancing global communications and furthering our knowledge of space. November 27, 1963 is an important day in its history as it marked the first in-flight burn of a liquid hydrogen/ liquid oxygen engine.

When we speak about successful space missions, we generally talk about the results they delivered - the satellites that now orbit the Earth or the probes that gathered invaluable data from other planets. There's a lot of work and plenty of factors, however, that goes into reaching that point. One of them is the upper stage rocket that boosts satellites into orbit and propels probes into space.

Among upper stage rockets, Centaur is a significant achievement as it has served as America's workhorse in space and has been involved in many success stories. Used for over 100 unmanned launches, Centaur has expanded the frontiers of space and revolutionised communication.

Where it all began

Centaur’s beginnings predate even the existence of NASA as the U.S. Air Force studied a proposal from General Dynamics/ Astronautics Corp. to develop a new booster stage in 1957. With the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union heating up during this period, the idea was to give the country an edge, providing a means of orbiting heavy payloads in a very short time.

In 1958, the year NASA was established, Centaur became an official hardware programme with the Air Force as its assigned development authority. While the heaviest Soviet satellite orbiting the Earth at this time was the 1,360-kg Sputnik III, the U.S. had plans for boosting payloads to up to 3,850 kg. They planned to achieve this using Centaur, which was to have a new propulsion system using liquid hydrogen, mixed with liquid oxygen.

By July 1959, Centaur moved from the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense to NASA. Centaurs planned schedule of testing and operation, however, proved too optimistic, as there were a mountain of problems, failures, and delays to overcome.

Silverstein provides the silver lining

In 1962, American engineer Abe Silverstein put his hand up and convinced NASA that his Lewis Research Center could debug the Centaur and manage its problems. Once the entire responsibility was assigned to Lewis under Silverstein, the Lewis engineers got to work, perfecting the booster, while carrying out complex research and development to ensure Centaurs reliability. The fact that Lewis had been involved in pioneering work on high-energy liquid propellants for rockets helped, as this meant that most engineers working with Centaur were already aware of safely handling the liquid hydrogen/ liquid oxygen cryogenic fuels that it used.

The original Centaur rocket measured 30 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. As it used very cold propellants (liquid oxygen at-297 degrees Fahrenheit and liquid hydrogen at -420 degrees Fahrenheit), its tanks required special construction. A doubled walled bulkhead not only served as a heat barrier, but also separated the two compartments containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Made of stainless steel less than 200ths of an inch thick, the tank was extremely thin and light-weight even once pressurised.

Following successful assembly, inspection, and shipping to Cape Canaveral, engineers and technicians perform testing procedures that can last weeks. A special tiger team uses a checklist to go through it all once again in the days leading up to any launch, before putting the rocket into start condition for the flight.

Go Centaur!

On November 27, 1963, one such launch took place. While it only carried a dummy payload that was put into orbit, it was a significant milestone. This was NASA's first successful launch of the Atlas Centaur, proving the compatibility of the Atlas rocket with the upper stage Centaur. Additionally, it had the first in-flight burn of a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine, showing that these could be safely fired in space. In the decades that followed, there were many more successes for Centaur and a few mishaps too. Centaur was involved in sending the unmanned Surveyor spacecraft, which collected data on the moon's surface and paved the way for the Apollo missions. Along with Atlas and Titan boosters, Centaur featured as the upper for probes and flybys to all other planets in our solar system.

It didn't stop there as Centaur also launched orbiting observatories that help expand our knowledge about the universe, peering at space beyond our solar system. Centaur was also involved in launching various satellites into geosynchronous orbits that have changed the face of communication on our planet. While its name might not be often mentioned along with successful missions, Centaur continues to be a workhorse that serves its purpose.

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What was Charles Dickens purpose for writing Great Expectations?

Great Expectations is a literary masterpiece by Charles Dickens that presents a caricature of the unjust socio-economic conditions of 19th Century England from the point of view of its seven-year-old protagonist Pip. Let's us look at what makes this novel relevant today.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in February 1812. His father was a clerk in the Navy office: because of this, they had to constantly move about and follow his different appointments. The looming money troubles caused the ten-year-old Dickens to leave school to take up work so he could contribute to the family's income. He was sent to work at a blacking factory in London that made polish for metal surfaces. His experience at the factory was scarring and traumatic. These childhood experiences became an intangible part of all of his narratives and made him sensitive to the precariousness of life. Research suggests that this is one of the main reasons why the protagonists of some of his most iconic books like Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations, are children bound by unfortunate circumstances.

Great Expectations

Great Expectations begins with a young boy named Pip encountering an escaped convict in a churchyard. The child is terrified and intrigued and he brings the convict some food. This act of kindness, then, set up ripples that will work their way through his life and that of the convict for many years to come. This novel is a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story) on the experience of childhood and great expectations of the future that help one move forward. Robert Douglas. Fairhurst, an author and professor at Oxford University, calls it the best novel about growing up and the strains and scars it leaves behind.

What makes it a classic?

 The narration

Dicken's mastery of storytelling is reflected in his ability to capture the voices of people from different social classes without being biased. By writing Great Expectations in the first person, he crafts a narrative that puts the reader in the shoes of the poor, orphan Pip on a journey to fulfil his ambition to rise above his social standing and take his place in society as a gentleman. As a story told in three parts, at three different stages of Pip's life, the novel focusses on the role of life experiences in shaping the personality of an individual.

Literature: A catalyst for change

As one of the most famous novelists writing in the English language in the 19th Century, Dicken's ambition in life was to prove that stories and literature could help fix the problems of the world. Even from the early days of his childhood, he displayed all the signs of a great showman. Public readings held by the author displayed his genius of getting the audience interested in serious topics like the evils of industrialising society, the sordid working conditions in factories, child labour and the inefficiencies of the government through stories with interesting plots, clownish characters and happy endings. Through his stories, Dickens set out on a mission to educate society.

One of the main reasons why Great Expectations has managed to stay relevant in the 21st Century is because we still live in a time of extreme inequality and indifference.

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Who is the youngest person to fly solo around the world?

The 17-year-old landed at an airfield near the Bulgarian capital Sofia, the same site from which he departed in his shark Aero microlight airplane on March 23.

Along the way, Mack, who was born to British parents but has grown up in Belgium, encountered sandstorms in Sudan and spent the night on an uninhabited Pacific island.

Rutherford's journey took longer than planned due to permit delays that forced him to alter his route twice and fly over Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, North America, and back to Europe. Rutherford became the youngest person to fly around the world solo, taking the title from Travis Ludlow, who was 18 when he completed his journey last year.

He is now also the youngest person to fly around the world in a microlight aircraft, the title held previously by sister Zara, who completed her own trip around the globe in January this year.

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What was invented in 1888 by George Eastman?

On September 4, 1888, American inventor George Eastman received a patent for "new and useful improvements" in cameras. On that same day, Eastman also registered the trademark for the name Kodak, a word now synonymous with photography.

What do you, or anyone for that matter, do when you need to capture a moment? You pick up a smartphone, open the camera app, try to best fit the moment you are capturing inside the frame, and tap on the button on the screen to click a photograph. It is as simple as that. With more and more people carrying smartphones these days and with even the basic models boasting a decent camera, amateur photography has been revolutionised like never before.

The first such massive change that promoted amateur photography on a large scale came about in 1888 with the advent of the first Kodak camera. A simple box camera pre-loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film, it made photography less cumbersome than ever before. The man who made it possible was American inventor George Eastman.

Born in 1854 in upstate New York, Eastman had humble beginnings. His father's death meant that he had to drop out of high school while still a teenager in order to support his family. Starting out as a messenger boy earning $3 a week, he went on to be hired as a junior clerk earning $15 a week at the Rochester Savings Bank in 1874.

The trip that didn't happen

It was in that same year that he was drawn towards photography. When he made travel plans, a colleague suggested that Eastman record his trip using a "photographic  outfit”. Even though he eventually didn't make the trip, Eastman had purchased the "outfit and described it as "a pack-horse load”.

Apart from the fact that the camera was heavy and needed a tripod, Eastman would have also had to carry a tent and loads of equipment to develop the photographs if he had gone on the trip. Soon, Eastman was obsessed with the idea of making photography easier.

A company is born

Still holding on to his job at the bank, Eastman spent countless evenings and nights toiling away towards a solution. Realising that wet plates definitely weren't the way forward, Eastman invented and patented a dry plate formula. He went into the photographic business on a full-time basis, and the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company was born.

More innovations followed as he began to look for new exposure methods. In order to replace the glass plates, he first came up with a light-sensitive, gelatin-coated paper that could be rolled onto a holder.

In 1888, Eastman introduced the first Kodak camera, which proved to be the first successful roll-film hand camera that came in a compact box with 100 exposures' worth of film. As the paper proved problematic, Eastman, along with young research chemist Henry  Reichenbach, experimented further until they hit upon the possibility of flexible rolls of sensitised celluloid. At around the same time, another American Hannibal Goodwin independently arrived at celluloid-based camera films, resulting in lengthy patent wars between the parties that was belatedly settled in Goodwin's favour.

On September 4, 1888, just months after the public release of the camera, Eastman received a patent for "new and useful improvements" in cameras. That very day. Eastman also registered the trademark for the Kodak name.

"We do the rest"

Bolstered by the introduction of the film rolls, the Kodak cameras became a runaway success. An advertising campaign was introduced with the slogan "You press the button, we do the rest." This was exactly how things panned out as users sent the entire camera back to the manufacturer for developing, printing, and reloading once the film was entirely used up.

Quick to spot an opportunity, Eastman changed the name of his company from Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company to Eastman Kodak Company in 1892. By the time he died aged Eastman Kodak dominated the industry in the U.S. and across the world. It still remains one of the best recognised names in the field, with the word Kodak becoming synonymous to photography.

Apart from being an inventor and innovator, Eastman was also far ahead of his time in various other ways. As a philanthropist, Eastman gave away much of the fortune that he created while still alive to many beneficiaries, including universities. As a businessman, he was among the first to introduce profit sharing as an incentive to employees. But then, he will forever be remembered as the one who placed the power of photography within the grasp of anyone who could just press a button. That button is now more accessible than ever before.

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Who is the captain of Victoria after Magellan's death? What is a Voyage to remember while this?

Five hundred years ago, the Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano following the death of Ferdinand Magellan, returned to Spain after completing the first circumnavigation of the world.

After a quarrel with the Portuguese king, Ferdinand Magellan enlisted the support of Spain's King Charles for an expedition to reach the Moluccas by sailing westwards. The Spanish wanted a share in the valuable spice trade from the Moluccas, but the Portuguese controlled the eastward route around southern Africa.

 On September 20, 1519, Magellan set out with a fleet of five vessels. In spite of a mutinous crew, rough weather, scurvy, a desperate lack of provisions and unknown waters, Magellan successfully crossed the Atlantic and eventually navigated through the strait at the southern point of South America which was later named after him.

The three remaining ships crossed the Pacific Ocean in a northwesterly arc for three and a half months without once encountering inhabited islands. Hunger, thirst and illness claimed 19 lives before the crews found fresh provisions in the Mariana Islands.

They finally reached the Philippines in March 1521, the first Europeans ever to set foot there. Within weeks Magellan was killed after becoming involved in a battle between two rival local chieftains. The Victoria, the only remaining ship from the original fleet, eventually returned to Spain in September 1522 under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano, having completed the first ever circumnavigation of the globe.

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