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  1. Soviet Cosmocritters

    November 4, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961 the Soviet Academy of Sciences held a news conference in Moscow to display an assortment of animals that the USSR had launched into space and safely returned to Earth. Space-faring dogs, mice, rats, and guinea pigs were put on display; the rabbits and various insects that flew the previous year were unable to attend.

  2. Mobot the Magnificent Mobile Robot

    October 20, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961, the Hughes Aircraft Electronic Labs introduced the world to Mobot the Magnificent Mobile Robot. Mobot had about the same mass as all of the appliances in your kitchen combined (assuming you owned two refrigerators) and was designed to automate tiresome household tasks like zipping a dress or doing your nails. The only drawback was that  an on-staff PhD in electrical engineering had to be sitting behind a nearby control board to make it work.

    I wonder if Ed Emshwiller’s illustration for the January, 1955 cover of Galaxy Science Fiction was an inspiration for this wildly impractical household appliance.

    Whenever I’m short on ideas for this blog, I can always count on the  LIFE photo archive hosted by Google.

  3. UFO

    October 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I do a lot of date-specific Google searches to see what was going on exactly 50 years ago, and I’m amazed at how many of the results for the Fall of 1961 concern UFO sightings. Americans either had flying saucers on the brain due to numerous appearances in popular fiction at the time or there were, indeed, a whole lot of unidentifiable objects zipping through America’s airpspace 50 years ago. On the heels of the August, 1961 Betty and Barney Hill “incident” (Right), came this report from a Utah pilot to NICAP (the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena) about an encounter on October 2, 1961.

    Source: NICAP / Richard Hall (1964) from NICAP case report
    A grayish disc-shaped object which hovered, wobbling on its axis, then evaded pursuit, was sighted October 2, 1961 at Salt Lake City, Utah airport.

    Private pilot Waldo J. Harris, a real estate broker, investigated the object in his light aircraft as 8-10 ground personnel at the airport watched. Mr. Harris signed a NICAP report form on October 10, and later answered additional questions by a NICAP Subcommittee member. His report: “I was preparing to take off in a Mooney Mark 20A from the North- South runway at Utah Central Airport when I noticed a bright spot in the sky over the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley. I began my take-off run without paying much attention to the bright spot as I assumed that it was some aircraft reflecting the sun as it turned. After I was airborne and trimmed for my climb-out, I noticed that the bright spot was still about in the same position as before. I still thought it must be the sun reflecting from an airplane, so I made my turn onto my cross-wind leg of the traffic pattern, and was about to turn downwind when I noticed that the spot was in the same spot still.

    “I turned out of the pattern and proceeded toward the spot to get a better look. As I drew nearer I could see that the object had no wings nor tail nor any other exterior control surfaces protruding from what appeared to be the fuselage. It seemed to be hovering with a little rocking motion. As it rocked up away from me, I could see that it was a disc shaped object. I would guess the diameter at about 50 to 55 feet, the thickness in the middle at about 8 to 10 feet. It had the appearance of sand- blasted aluminum. I could see no windows or doors or any other openings, nor could I see any landing gear doors, etc., protruding, nor showing.

    “I believe at the closest point I was about 2 miles from the object, at the same altitude or a little above the object. It rose abruptly about 1000 feet above me as I closed in, giving me an excellent view of the underneath side, which was exactly like the upper side as far as I could tell. Then it went off on a course of about 170 degrees for about 10 miles where it again hovered with that little rocking motion.

    “I again approached the object, but not so closely this time, when it departed on a course of about 245 degrees climbing at about 18 to 20 degrees above the horizon. It went completely out of sight in 2 or 3 seconds. As you know I can keep our fastest jets in sight for several minutes, so you can see that this object was moving rather rapidly.

    “All the time I was observing the object, after getting visual confirmation from the ground, I was describing what I saw on radio unicom frequency. I was answering questions from the ground both from Utah Central, and Provo. The voice at Provo said that they could not see the object, but at least 8 or 10 people did see it from the ground at Utah Central Airport.

    “As to seeing it again, I was returning to the field after it had departed when I was asked over radio if I still could see the object , and I reported that I could not. They said they had it in sight again. I turned back and saw it at much greater distance only for about a second or two when it completely vanished. The guys on the ground said it went straight up as it finally left, but I didn’t see that departure.”

    On the NICAP report form, Mr. Harris pointed out that the UFO at one time “passed below the horizon in front of mountains to the south.” This fact rules out any astronomical explanation.

  4. The Amphicar

    September 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The Amphicar was the first amphibious automobile mass-produced for sale to the public. First sold in 1961, the German vehicle was designed by Hanns Trippel and manufactured by the Quandt Group at Lübeck and at Berlin-Borsigwalde.  The Amphicar was primarily designed to be marketed and sold in the United States, but many of the early adopters were in Britain and Germany. Several were purchased by the West Berlin police to patrol along and in the Spree River. Although only about 4000 were sold before the company folded four years later, the Amphicar is still the most successful amphibious civilian automobile of all time.



  5. Inside a 50-Year-Old Robot

    September 15, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The magazine clipping on the left has been in my in box for a couple of months and until now I knew little more about the depicted mechanical man than what was in the attached text. Thanks to I not only discovered more details about this 50-year-old robot but also learned that it is on display in an Austrian museum.

    The MM7 (not MM47 as identified in the clipping) was designed and built by Austrian scientist Clause Scholz in 1961 as a means of studying cybernetic movement. With its feedback stepping switches and visual receptors, the MM7 is regarded as the predecessor of today’s industrial robots. MM stands for “Maschinen Mensch” - mechanical man.

    The MM7 is now on display at the Technical Museum of Vienna. It’s unclear whether the fiberglass exoskeleton was built without a back or if the back has been removed for display purposes. Regardless, its absence provides a fascinating peek into the workings of this incredible machine.



  6. Women in Space: The Mercury Thirteen

    September 12, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1959, Air Force General Donald Flickinger and space medicine pioneer Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace II proposed that it would be more practical from an engineering standpoint to send women rather than men into space due to their lower body weights and oxygen requirements. Dismissed by the Air Force, NASA showed muted interest in the idea and encouraged Dr. Lovelace to create the Woman in Space Program which began medical and physiological testing of accomplished women aviators. The tests that these women underwent were identical to those used to test the original Mercury astronauts, with the addition of gynecological examinations. 13 of the 19 women tested passed the same strenuous physiological exams that only 18 of 32 men passed. Several of the 13 finalists pilots were further tested on a series of psychological exams that were similar to or, in some instances, more demanding than those given to male Mercury candidates.

    Armed with these results, 12 female candidates were  invited by NASA to begin astronaut training on September 17, 1961. Five days before they were to report to Pensacola, Florida for training, these women each received a telegram stating “Regret to advise you that arrangements at Pensacola cancelled. Probably will not be possible to carry out this part of the program.” It would be another 22 years before an American woman, Sally Ride would go into outer space, although the Soviets would send two women cosmonauts into orbit before then (Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982).

    The thirteen women who passed the same physiological exams as the Mercury 7 astronauts were Jerrie Cobb, Bernice Steadman, Janey Hart, Jerri Truhill, Rhea Woltman, Sarah Ratley, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich , Myrtle Cagle, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Jessen, Jean Hixson, and Wally Funk. Jan Dietrich and Marion Dietrich were twins and may have provided valuable comparative medical data if they had both had the opportunity to fly in space.

    Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart (wife of a US Senator) would champion the group’s cause before a Congressional committee hearing in 1962. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, officials from NASA, including astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter testified that women lacked interest in pursuing astronaut training and that few women were qualified. Cobb and Hart pointed out that  most of the women astronaut candidates had more hours of flight time than the average of the Mercury 7 pilots and specifically more than John Glenn. Less uninformed was NASA’s claim that  the prevailing social order did not accept women in the role of astronaut.  On June 17, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova of the USSR became the first woman in space, removing the last motivation for pursuing the U.S. Woman in Space Program.


  7. Gimme Shelter!

    September 8, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Soviet spacemen were flying overhead. The Berlin Wall had just gone up. The moratorium on nuclear testing had  abruptly ended with the detonation of  hydrogen bombs that could unleash ten times the explosive force of  all the bombs used in World War Two combined! It’s almost impossible to describe how close the end of the world felt to Americans in September 1961. The government and media were doing nothing to allay those fears save the faint hope offered by a cozy hole in the ground. In the September 15 issue of LIFE magazine appeared a letter from President Kennedy and designs for building a fallout shelter. Later that month, CBS aired an episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “The Shelter”. Bob Crane on Radio KNX would ask Rod Serling about the episode a few weeks after it aired.

    A Message to You from the President
    The White House
    September 7, 1961

    My Fellow Americans:

    Nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war are facts of life we cannot ignore today. I do not believe that war can solve any of the problems facing the world today. But the decision is not ours alone.

    The government is moving to improve the protection afforded you in your communities through civil defense. We have begun, and will be continuing throughout the next year and a half, a survey of all public buildings with fallout shelter potential, and the marking of those with adequate shelter for 50 persons or more. We are providing fallout shelter in new and in some existing federal buildings. We are stocking these shelters with one week’s food and medical supplies and two weeks’ water supply for the shelter occupants. In addition, I have recommended to the Congress the establishment of food reserves in centers around the country where they might be needed following an attack. Finally, we are developing improved warning systems which will make it possible to sound attack warning on buzzers right in your homes and places of business.

    More comprehensive measures than these lie ahead, but they cannot be brought to completion in the immediate future. In the meantime there is much that you can do to protect yourself — and in doing so strengthen your nation.

    I urge you to read and consider seriously the contents in this issue of LIFE. The security of our country and the peace of the world are the objectives of our policy. But in these dangerous days when both these objectives are threatened we must prepare for all eventualities. The ability to survive coupled with the will to do so therefore are essential to our country.

    John F. Kennedy



  8. First Lady of the Marvel Universe

    September 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The very first character in the modern Marvel Universe to display her powers in a comic book was the Invisible Girl in Fantastic Four #1 (1961).  Page one of that landmark book shows the silhouette of a man, identified as the leader of the Fantastic Four, firing a signal gun . In the first panel on page two we are introduced to Susan Storm by name, as her “society friend” takes note of the signal in the sky. By the second panel Susan has already turned invisible and is reminding herself of the vow she has taken to answer this call to duty. By panel three, ‘It is time for the world to meet…THE INVISIBLE GIRL!”

    Despite the common criticism that the Invisible Girl was too often used by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as the damsel in distress, little of that can be found in issue one.  In fact, it’s Sue that goads the reluctant Ben Grimm into piloting the space voyage that transforms her fiancée, her brother, Grimm and herself into the Fantastic Four. 

    On inspection there are very few, “Oh, Reed!” moments in the first year of the book, although Sue does manage to get captured by the bad guys in every other issue. I don’t think there was any chauvinistic motive for these storylines; I think the blame lies with Sue’s initial power set.  The ability to turn invisible offers more opportunities for escape than assault and Lee and Kirby found themselves having to put Sue in the role of a prisoner to highlight her powers. Many a plot involves Sue getting separated from the rest of the group by circumstance or capture. This gives her the opportunity to learn things about the bad guys that Reed and the others can eventually use to defeat them.

    Once Sue’s powers were expanded to include the ability to turn other things/people invisible and to create invisible force fields the character was no longer limited to acting as the group’s spy and was even dubbed the FF’s most powerful member by Dr. Doom. One wonders then, why, over fifty years, the Invisible Girl/Woman has so rarely been seen in the spotlight. Out of 600 or more comics featuring the Fantastic Four, the character has been the focus on the cover of barely twenty  issues and (to my knowledge) has never been the solo star of even a single mini-series or one-shot.

    Here is a gallery of those rare covers spotlighting the First Lady of the Marvel Universe:



  9. A Needle Rises in Seattle

    August 22, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In August, 1961 a new structure began to emerge on the Seattle skyline. Preparation for the erection of the Space Needle began earlier in the year with the purchase of a small 120×120 foot lot between the southern end of Lake Union and Puget Sound. In May a 30-foot deep hole spanning the entire lot was dug, laced with steel, and filled (in one day!) with 467 truckloads of concrete. Massive footings were attached to the foundation and by August a truncated central core (elevator shaft) had risen to a height of about 100 feet.













    The foundation weighs 5850 tons, almost the same as the above-ground structure, placing the Needle’s center of gravity just 5 feet above ground level. The footings seen in the photo on the left were bolted to the foundation with 72 thirty foot long bolts.

    By November, the Needle had reached its full height of 605 feet making it (at the time) the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. Work then began on the saucer-shaped rotating dome that is so perfectly balanced it requires only a 1.5 hp electric motor to turn it.

    Just in time for the opening of the 1962 World’s Fair, construction was completed on the Space Needle and the core was painted “Orbital Olive”, the legs “Astronaut White”, the saucer “ Re-entry Red”, and the roof  “Galaxy Gold”.


  10. Have you Been Tuned in on the Noise?

    August 18, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Fifty years ago today, Timothy Leary, a lecturer in Psychology at Harvard University, delivered a paper in Copenhagen at the 14th International Congress of Applied Psychology.  Entitled “How to Change Behavior” Leary championed the use of LSD as the most efficient means of expanding consciousness.

    All through 1961 Leary had been busy recruiting “distinguished creative people; artists, poets, writers, scholars” to experiment with the new drug and report back to him their experiences. The following is a recruitment letter sent to Hungarian scholar, Arthur Koestler:


    Dear Arthur,

    Things are happening here which I think will interest you. The big, new, hot issue these days in many American circles is DRUGS. Have you been tuned in on the noise?

    I stumbled on the scene in a most holy manner. Spent last summer in Mexico. Anthropologist friend arrived one weekend with a bag of mushrooms. Magic mushrooms. I had never heard of them, but being a good host joined the crowd who ate them. Wow! Learned more in six hours than in the past sixteen years. Visual transformations. Gone the perceptual machinery which clutters up our view of reality. Intuitive transformations. Gone the mental machinery which slices the world up into abstractions and concepts. Emotional transformations. Gone the emotional machinery that causes us to load life with our own role-ambitions and petty desires.

    Came back to the USA and have spent last six months pursuing these matters. Working with Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg the poet. We believe that the synthetics of peyote (mescalin) and the mushrooms (psilocybin) offer possibilities for expanding consciousness, changing perceptions, removing abstractions.

    For the person who is prepared, they provide a soul-wrenching mystical experience. Remember your enlightenments in the Franco prison? Very similar to what we are producing. We have had cases of housewives understanding, experiencing satori describing it –who have never heard of Zen.

    There are inevitable political-sociological complications. The expected groups are competing to see who should control the new drugs. Medicine and psychiatry are in the forefront. Psychiatric investigators (hung up as they are on their own abstractions) interpret the experience as PSYCHOTIC- and think they are producing model-psychosis. Then too, the cops and robbers game has started. Organized bohemia (and don’t tell me it ain’t organized, with rituals as rigid as those of the Masoic order) is moving in. There is the danger that mescalin and psilocybin will go the way of marijuana ( a perfectly mild, harmless, slightly mind-opening substance, as you know). And of course the narcotics bureau hopes that it will go the same way–so they can play out their side of the control game.

    We are working to keep these drugs free and uncontrolled. Two tactics. We are offering the experience to distinguished creative people. Artists, poets, writers, scholars. We’ve learned a tremendous amount by listening to them tell us what they have learned from the experience.

    We are also trying to build these experiences in a holy and serious way into university curricula. I’ve got approval to run a seminar here–graduate students will take the mushrooms regularly and spend a semester working through, organizing and systematizing the results. It’s hard for me to see how anyone can consider himself a theologian, psychologist, behavioral scientist if he had not had this experience.

    So how does it sound? If you are interested I’ll send some mushrooms over to you. Or if you’ve already been involved I’d like to hear about your reaction. I’ll be in London around June 8th and would like to tell you more about the cosmic crusade.

    The memory of our weekend last winter remains as an intellectual and emotional highspot.

    Best Regards to you,


    As it turned out Koestler had, indeed, ”already been involved”. In early 1960, on his way back from a conference in San Francisco, Koestler stopped at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where experimental research was going on with hallucinogens. He tried psilocybin and had a “bad trip”. Later, in 1961, Koestler would give the drugs another try under the direct supervision of  Leary at Harvard but  he would later write that he “wasn’t enthusiastic about that experience” either.

    Leary’s whole approach strikes me as offensively elitist. If I was given the task of recruiting subjects for these experiments in 1961 I would have gone to people like Stan Lee, Chuck Jones, and Ernie Kovacs. Then again, one has to wonder if those particular consciousnesses really needed any additional expansion.