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Subject: ‘Space’

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H G Wells was a draper’s assistant with a vivid imagination and literary ambitions

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Space on Tuesday, 17 September 2013

This edited article about H G Wells originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 404 published on 11 October 1969.

Kipps by H G Wells, picture, image, illustration

A scene from 'Kipps' by H G Wells

Each morning at 7 o’clock sharp 15-year-old Herbert George Wells and his fellow draper’s apprentices were brusquely roused from their dormitory beds. Anyone who failed to get up had the sheets pulled from him and was likely to have something docked from his meagre wages. After this rude awakening, the day proper began for the trainee shop assistants.

“We flung on old suits,” said Wells, “tucking our nightgowns into our trousers, and were down in the shop in a quarter of an hour, to clean windows, unwrap goods and fixtures, dust generally before eight.

“At eight we raced upstairs to get first go at the wash basins, dressed for the day and at half-past eight partook of a bread and butter breakfast before descending again.”

From then on the day was one of almost unbroken tedium. Wells had to bring samples to the window-dresser, arrange counter displays, carry headless dummies from the costume room, refill the pin bowls, and prepare the paper and string for the dozens of parcels that left the Southsea Drapery Emporium.

“There were a hundred small fussy things to do, straightening up, putting away, fetching and carrying. It was not excessively laborious but it was indescribably tedious. . . . The length of those days at Southsea was enormous until closing time; then the last hour fell swiftly past me to “lights out” at half-past ten.”

After two years of this drudgery, the unhappy apprentice could stand it no more. “I had reached a vital crisis of my life,” he stated. “I felt extraordinarily desperate and, faced with binding indentures and maternal remonstrances, I behaved very much like a hunted rabbit that at last turns and bites.”

To the distress of his mother, Wells quit his job and started on the path that was to take him to worldwide fame as a novelist, short story writer, and sociologist. But despite his many later triumphs, Wells never forgot or forgave his superiors in the drapery shop.

Twenty-four years later, in 1905, he published his renowned novel, Kipps, the Story of a Simple Soul. In the book Wells appears lightly disguised as Art Kipps, a humble draper’s apprentice. After coming into some money, Art rises in the social scale and falls in love with a girl from a better background than his own.

His adventures in society are both humorous and touching, and it is fascinating to discover whether Kipps will marry “above” himself, or settle for Alice, the housemaid who has always admired him. Although H. G. Wells – who was born in Bromley, Kent, in 1866, and died in 1946 – wrote more than 30 books, none of them can rival Kipps, which has justly been called the first modern novel.

The inevitable journey from Hitler’s V2 rocket to Sputnik I

Posted in Aerospace, Communism, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, Science, Space, Technology on Thursday, 9 May 2013

This edited article about Sputnik originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.

V2 rocket, picture, image, illustration

Hitler's V2 rocket

The Second World War accelerated interest in the development of rockets, and by 1945 the famous V2, forerunner of modern rocket systems, was a familiar phenomenon. Scientists and engineers, in both the Eastern and Western worlds, strove to perfect a rocket powerful enough to launch an artificial satellite.

These early satellites were needed to study the problems and dangers that faced Man when he ventured into the upper atmosphere and out into space.

On 4th October, 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched the world’s first artificial satellite. Called Sputnik I, this first explorer of the upper atmosphere weighed 184 pounds and was a polished metal sphere about 23 inches across. Travelling at a height which varied between 133 and 585 miles, it circled the Earth once every 95 minutes. Until the batteries powering the radio transmitter failed, it relayed back much information to the Russian scientists.

America built the world’s largest telescopes which looked into Deep Space

Posted in America, Astronomy, Historical articles, History, Philanthropy, Science, Space on Wednesday, 8 May 2013

This edited article about astronomy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.

Andrew Carnegie, picture, image, illustration

Andrew Carnegie in 1913

There can be few people who have not heard of the Palomar Reflector, which has a mirror 200 inches across. It is much the most powerful telescope in the world, and it has allowed astronomers to look further into space than they would ever have been able to do without it. It is known as the Hale Reflector, in honour of the man who planned it, but who died before it was completed: George Ellery Hale.

Hale was born in 1868, in Chicago. Astronomy was his boyhood interest, and at the early age of 23 he became famous for his invention of an instrument known as a spectroheliograph, used in studying the Sun. Even as a young man, Hale was far-sighted; he knew that if men were to probe into the depths of the universe, large telescopes would be needed. Unfortunately, such instruments are very expensive indeed. It did not seem likely that any Government would put up the money for a giant telescope, and so Hale looked around for someone who would be prepared to do so.

In 1892 he met Charles Yerkes, a millionaire who owned a large part of the city of Chicago. Yerkes could afford to pay for a large telescope, and he agreed to finance the project. It was decided that the telescope should be a refractor, collecting its light by means of a lens known as an object-glass; the optics were made by Alvan G. Clark, the world’s leading expert. Clark’s object-glass, 40 inches in diameter, turned out to be well-nigh perfect. The telescope was set up in a new observatory outside Chicago, named in honour of Yerkes – with Hale, naturally enough, as its first Director.

Within a few years the Yerkes 40-inch had more than justified the 34,900 dollars spent in building it, but Hale was not satisfied. His motto was ‘More light!’ and he knew that the essential thing was to collect the light from immensely faint, remote stars and star-systems. The 40-inch, powerful though it was, had its limitations, and Hale made up his mind to obtain something better.

There were hopeless difficulties in the way of making an object-glass more than 40 inches across. However, a reflecting telescope collects its light by means of a mirror instead of a lens, and there seemed every chance that a huge mirror could be made – if only the money could be found.

Again Hale was lucky. Andrew Carnegie, one of the few men as wealthy as Charles Yerkes, had set up a financial trust known as the Carnegie Foundation, and this trust agreed to finance a reflector with a 60-inch mirror. George Ritchey, at that time unrivalled as a mirror-maker, took charge of the optical work, and in 1908 the new telescope was ready. It was placed in an observatory on Mount Wilson, a peak in California, from which the observing conditions were particularly good.

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In 1938 many Americans believed the Martians had landed

Posted in America, Communications, English Literature, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Space, Theatre on Friday, 12 April 2013

This edited article about H G Wells originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 223 published on 23 April 1966.

War of the Worlds panic, picture, image, illustration

Hysteria swept American cities during the Welles broadcast of the H G Wells classic, by Andrew Howat

The evening of October 30, 1938, was just like any other quiet Sunday night to most of the people of America. Many families were at home reading the papers or contentedly listening to the radio.

There were two programmes that night which attracted large audiences. One was a long-running comedy series, and the other a play produced by the actor-writer Orson Welles, whose talent was already winning him wide fame. He was presenting a dramatization of H. G. Wells’s classic science-fiction novel, The War of the Worlds.*

The listeners prepared themselves for an hour of cosy thrills but, after the opening announcement, the play did not start. Instead there was dance music.

Then, just as people were beginning to wonder if something had gone wrong, an announcer broke in with a dramatic “news-flash.” In an excited voice, he said that a professor in an observatory had just noted “a series of gas explosions on the planet Mars.”

This sensational news was followed by a stream of rapid on-the-spot broadcasts. These told the now uneasy listeners that a meteor had landed near Princeton, New Jersey, “killing some 1,500 persons.” Next came the announcement that it wasn’t a meteor after all, but “a metal cylinder containing Martians armed with death-rays,” who had come to wage war on the world!

The sheer brilliance and realism of the reporting convinced nearly everyone that the “invasion” really was taking place. And by nine o’clock that evening panic raged throughout the entire length and breadth of the United States.

In New York City hundreds of families fled in terror from their apartments and sought sanctuary in the parks. In San Francisco, on the West Coast, citizens ran into the streets and searched the sky for the invaders. Some people, thinking they were under gas attack by the Germans, even wrapped wet towels and handkerchiefs around their heads.

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NASA and the USAF developed the X-15 Rocket Plane

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Space, Technology on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

X-15 rocket plane, picture, image, illlustration

X-15 Rocket Plane by Wilf Hardy

The sun glinting on its metal fuselage, the giant B-52 bomber scored eight vapour trails across the purple sky. Hanging beneath its port wing was a sharp-nosed rocket plane, the X-15, looking like something out of a science fiction story, with its huge wedge-shaped fins and short stub wings.

It was July 17, 1962, and sitting in the cockpit of the rocket plane, wearing a silver pressure suit that was in fact a full space suit, was Major Robert White, a test pilot for the United States Air Force. In a few minutes he would be released from the B-52 and propelled by rocket beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

All the X-15’s complex machinery was working satisfactorily, the big XLR-99 rocket engine was primed and ready to go and the jet fighter chase planes that would help guide the rocket back to base after the flight were in position. The X-15 suddenly dropped away from the bomber’s wing and as the rocket engine exploded into life, a thirty-foot flame, laced with white diamond-shaped shock waves, shot from the tail.

For eighty-four seconds White endured the thunderous roar from the rocket that propelled him to 314,750 ft. above the earth. There he hung in space, at the top of a long curving arc, before skilfully piloting the X-15 back home to Edwards Air Force Base, Southern California.

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Cosmic debris bombards the Earth by day and night

Posted in Astronomy, Science, Space on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about space originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Meteor in 1868, picture, image, illustration

The Great Meteor of October 7, 1868

Hurtling through the heavens, a huge mass of rock weighing a thousand tons or more streaked Earthwards. From somewhere in the vastness of space it had been torn away by cosmic forces from its parent body – perhaps an asteroid that had shattered during a collision with another body – and found itself grasped by the Earth’s gravity.

Astronomers in their observations anxiously plotted its course. Its destination appeared to be the western United States where, if it landed, it could tear a huge crater in the Earth’s surface. Buildings would crumble, people would be killed. It would be a disaster.

Fortunately, the date of its appearance, 10th August, 1972, passed without the expected catastrophe. For the monster from outer space skimmed past the Earth just missing it by a mere 58 kilometres, or about 33 miles.

It was lucky for us that it did so, although the Earth is no stranger to visitors – not living ones it should be emphasised – from outer space. Scientists calculate that about twenty average-sized comets have hit the Earth since it was created. These can be imagined as large, dirty snowballs of particles of rock and dust held together by frozen gases.

We are also in the firing line for asteroids, which are made of rock and metal and are the rocky remnants of comets which broke up when the frozen gas, which was holding them together, escaped. Really big ones crash on to the Earth about once every 50,000 years and make a crater about 1 km (over half a mile) in diameter. There is one of this size in Arizona, U.S.A., estimated to be about 50,000 years old.

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Vast Siberia is a land of scientific secrets along with those of the Soviet Gulags

Posted in Animals, Communism, Geography, Nature, Prehistory, Science, Space, Technology, Wildlife on Friday, 20 July 2012

This edited article about Siberia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 753 published on 19 June 1976.

Preserved woolly mammoth, picture, image, illustration

A woolly mammoth found perfectly preserved in the ice in Siberia by Ken Langstaff

Siberia – the very name brings to mind a vast, cold, sinister land; a land to which Russian governments send their troublesome prisoners to pass their time in remote exile. But Siberia is much more than this. Its climate, its vegetation, it’s wild-life make it a region of absorbing interest, and one with many secrets still to be unravelled.

With an area of nearly 5,000,000 square miles (13,000,000 sq.km.), covering a quarter of the continent of Asia, Siberia is part of the USSR. It extends from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific, and from the Arctic Ocean to the mountains of central Asia. Its western region is a vast plain, and a 1,000-mile-wide (1,610 km.) plateau covers its centre; while along its southern and eastern margins run networks of mountains and valleys.

The rulers of Tsarist Russia did not do much to develop the natural resources of this huge area. Since the Russian Revolution, however, much has been achieved in exploiting the great wealth of timber, coal, iron, gold, oil and other minerals.

It is true that under the Tsars the Trans-Siberian Railway was laid, giving Moscow a link – nearly 6,000 miles (9,500 km.) in length – with the eastern port of Vladivostok. But it was the USSR government which converted it from a single to a double-track line, and later electrified much of it.

There is now a growing population, and expanding industrial development around the cities of the southern fringe – such as Omsk, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk. The latter lies on Lake Baykal, the world’s deepest fresh-water lake, which reaches depths of over 5,500 feet (1,675 m. approx.). The Baykal region is the scene of one of the most spectacular hydro-electrical projects, including the mighty Bratsk Dam on the river Angara.

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The Northern Lights have an Australasian rival

Posted in Nature, Science, Space on Thursday, 21 June 2012

This edited article about the Northern and Southern Lights originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 736 published on 21 February 1976.

Northern Lights, picture, image, illustration

Eskimos watching the Northern Lights by Ron Embleton

Great curtains of light rippling across the northern heavens, bright arcs spanning the horizon, brilliantly coloured rays climbing hundreds of miles into the atmosphere – these are some of the forms taken by the Aurora Borealis, most majestic of natural sky spectacles.

The name Aurora Borealis is Latin for “Northern Dawn”, but this phenomenon is more popularly known as the Northern Lights, and it is by no means a “dawn”.

The Northern Lights are seen most frequently by people who live in countries within or not far from the Arctic Circle.

In its simplest form, the aurora appears as a glowing arc across the horizon. But rays of light frequently rise from this, high towards the sky. These rays, as they stretch higher, and more distant from the earth, sometimes appear to meet, making what is called a “corona”, or crown. Probably the most impressive features of the aurora are the gigantic “curtain” or draperies of light which it often spreads across the sky.

In a faint aurora the light is normally white, but in the brighter and bigger displays there is a wide range of colours.

There may be as many as seven parallel arcs or curtains visible at one time. Sometimes the aurora stays motionless for several minutes at a time. At others the luminous curtains, apparently hanging in mid-air, are in constant wave-like movement; or the whole display may be seen to move slowly across the sky.

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Russia, once a land of nobility and peasants, has become a modern republic

Posted in Communism, Geography, Historical articles, History, Railways, Space, Travel on Tuesday, 12 June 2012

This edited article about Russia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 725 published on 6 December 1975.

Trans-Siberian railway, picture, image, illustration

The Trans-Siberian railway on which the journey from Moscow ro Vladivostock takes one week

When author Ian Fleming pitted secret agent James Bond against the sinister Russian spy organisation SMERSH, he was writing the kind of story that had been popular with readers of thrillers for the best part of a century.

It had all started with “The Great Game”, which was the storybook name for the storybook world of spy and counter-spy that existed in the frontier lands between India and the Caucasus during Victorian times. In those days there were probably just as many British officers dressed up as Pathan tribesmen as Russians, but because a character with a name ending in “ski” sounded a good deal more sinister than someone called Smith, Russian spies became a “must” for tales of adventure.

By World War I, London had been visited by the Imperial Ballet, and audiences were surprised to discover that Russians weren’t neccessarily fur-hatted spies, but that some of them were obviously the finest dancers in the world. And when during World War II the Russian armies began their epic defence of Stalingrad, people remembered that they were formidable fighters too, even though it was still hard to imagine what their country was really like.

The trouble with Russia in those days was that many people were reading about it, but hardly anyone had ever been there, so that few people had any real idea of what kind of a place it was. If maps were anything to go by, it was an enormous country, full of strange, onion-shaped church spires and almost permanent snow. Surely there had to be more to it than that?

Well, Russia is enormous. It is, in fact, the largest country in the world, twice as wide as the United States, with a population of 240 million people spread over almost nine million square miles. (2,431 million hectares). A country where it takes a week for a train to travel from Moscow to the eastern port of Vladivostok.

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The genius of H G Wells, imaginative father of science fiction

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Science, Space on Monday, 11 June 2012

This edited article about H G Wells originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 724 published on 29 November 1975.

War of the Worlds, picture, image, illustration

A scene from War of the Worlds by H G Wells by Barrie Linklater

Chance, as everyone knows, more often than not, takes a hand in shaping our destinies. Certainly this applied to the young boy who lay hidden one Sunday morning beneath some bushes facing a small country church. The doors swung open, and the congregation straggled out.

The boy leapt up and rushed towards a spry figure in Sunday silk – his mother. He flung his arms around her, shouting: “I won’t go back, I won’t go back!”

The year was 1883, and the boy was Herbert George Wells, who later became a world-famous author, scientist, and prophet. Then he was simply a runaway draper’s apprentice who had walked the seventeen miles to his home.

If Mrs. Wells had been in a bad mood and as strict as most Victorian parents, and had sent her runaway son forthwith back to the draper’s shop, the world might never have learned of H. G. Wells. And the world would have been that much poorer.

For H. G. Wells, one of the inventors of science fiction, was a man ahead of his time. His ideas created a revolution in world thinking.

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