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Today in science history: Syringes and space travel

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Eduard Marmet (CC-BY-3.0) | The Daily Wildcat

British Airways Concorde G-BOAC. Concorde halved the travel time between New York and London.

April 9 has seen more than its fair share of science headlines over the years. Get the goods here.

1872 - Samuel R. Percy patents powdered milk

In 1872, Samuel R. Percy patented powdered milk, an ingredient in many foods including sour cream and yogurt. To create powdered milk, the milk must first be put into an evaporator to remove water. The evaporator has a partial vacuum, which lowers the milk's boiling point and allows water to evaporate without damaging the product. This simultaneously pasteurizes the milk, killing of any harmful bacteria or pathogens. Afterwards the milk passes through a separator, which removes cream and butterfat and places it in a separate container. The evaporated, condensed milk is then transferred to a drying tower via sprayers. The drying tower is set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit on the inside, which removes any water left in the milk as it falls to the floor as dry powdered milk.

1895 - Astronomer demonstrates Saturn's rings are not a single solid body

In 1895, American astronomer James Keeler demonstrated that Saturn’s rings were made up of billions pieces of water ice. Until then, scientists believed that the rings were a single solid body orbiting the planet. Using a spectrograph—a tool that can record individual light wavelengths—he observed differentiation in the rotational velocity of the rings, thereby demonstrating the rings are not a solid body. If it had shown constant rotation across the rings, they would have been proven solid. Due to the gravitational tug of Saturn on the rings, the rings closer to Saturn feel a greater force and therefore move faster compared to those on the edge.

First discovered by Galileo in 1610, the rings of Saturn consist mainly of water ice, with sizes ranging from minute particles to mountains. The thickness of the rings averages about ten meters up to a kilometer or so thick, and the ring system itself is approximately 282,000 kilometers wide. There are several theories as to how Saturn got its rings, one of which is that Saturn had a large icy moon which broke apart in orbit to form the rings. The space probe Voyager revealed that the ring material was young, relatively speaking; approximately a few million years old. Cassini, a probe orbiting Saturn, has since observed the moons of Saturn and the ring system exchanging particles and material, meaning that the ring system is being constantly renewed.

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1959 - NASA announces their first astronauts

In 1959, NASA announced their selection for the seven astronauts to venture into space for Project Mercury. The overall goal of Project Mercury was to put a manned spacecraft into orbit to learn how well people could survive in space and to return them back to earth alive. Project Mercury paved the way for future missions into space, including the Apollo and Gemini missions.

Out of the 110 applicants, those selected included Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton. Many of the astronauts were air force pilots with experience in high altitudes and piloting aircraft. Each astronaut received medical tests to ensure proper health and training to prepare for the journey into space, with simulations such as SCUBA diving to emulate zero gravity.

Before launching off, NASA sent a chimpanzee named Ham into space using a rocket in January 1961 to test for technical issues and as a proof of concept. Ham returned safely, and Alan Shepard then launched into space in the Freedom 7 rocket on May 5, 1961, making him the first American in space. This was less than a month after Russia sent Yuri Gagarin to become the first man in space. Shepard’s flight only lasted about 15 minutes before touching back down into the Atlantic, with Gus Grissom repeating a similar mission afterwards. Neither made it into orbit, but the rest of the astronauts not only lasted longer, but orbited the earth several times. The only one not to go up was Donald Slayton, who suffered from unexpected heart problems.

1969 - Britain tests supersonic aircraft

In 1969, the British tested their Concorde prototype 002 with test pilot Brian Trubshaw on its first flight. The Concorde were a series of supersonic aircraft made in a collaborative effort between the British and French governments. Supersonic aircraft can travel faster than the speed of sound, thus creating a sonic boom. They were designed as luxurious commercial aircraft that could fly between London and New York in half the time of a standard aircraft. A total of 20 were made, with the series of aircraft being decommissioned in 2003 due to high upkeep costs and low demand. The only other supersonic commercial aircraft to exist was a Russian mimic of the Concorde named Tupolev TU-144, which did not run for nearly as long.

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1974 - the disposable syringe

In 1974, Phil Brooks patented the disposable syringe. Syringes work as simple pumps, meant to funnel liquids in and out using a plunger. In medicine, syringes rely on a hypodermic needle, a hollow piercing tube attached to a liquid reservoir.

The hypodermic needle is also attached to a plunger which can be drawn back and pushed forward, allowing liquid to be pushed out out as well as create a vacuum to draw liquid in. This allows for blood samples to be drawn and for medications, anesthesia, vaccinations and other such drugs to be administered directly into the bloodstream.

While the syringe was first invented in 1853 by Alexander Wood, it wasn’t used readily until the mid 20th century. Originally made of glass, syringes would have to be cleaned and sterilized to be safely used again. Used syringes carry the risk of transferring infections, disease or unwanted materials, even if they are thoroughly sterilized. By implementing plastic materials into making syringes, they could be mass produced and discarded after use. Disposable syringes can only be used once, preventing the risk of accidental infections, and getting rid of the need to sterilize after use.


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