Considering the greatest technological achievements
Aug. 27, 2012
by Mark Ollig

The first great technological achievement which may come to mind for many of us is the Apollo 11 moon landing.

During July 1969, NASA successfully landed people on the moon and returned them safely to the earth. After this historic event, many of us assumed it was just the beginning of the great human exploration of our solar system.

Dec. 14, 1972, the last human beings to walk on the moon lifted off from its surface. The Apollo 17 astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, sped away in their lunar module’s ascent stage.

The next scheduled moon missions, Apollo 18, 19, and 20 – were canceled.

After the moon landings, I really believed NASA would regroup and begin plans on sending humans to the planet Mars, and beyond.

It’s been almost 40 years since the last Apollo moon mission, and human space travelers have been confined to working in low earth-orbit.

I do recognize NASA’s other great technological achievements:

• The Viking Lander mission to Mars.

• America’s first orbiting space station; Skylab.

• The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.

• The space shuttle era.

• The International Space Station.

• The Hubble telescope.

• Mars robotic rovers; Spirit and Opportunity.

• The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the moon.

• The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite studying the sun.

• The new Curiosity rover, which is just beginning its exploration of Mars.

• The satellites which have ventured out into space to study other planets and celestial objects.

I am looking forward to seeing the pictures to be taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), Hubble’s replacement. The JWST is scheduled to be launched in 2018.

One specific, technological achievement yours truly is grateful for is the telephone.

“It is conceivable that cables of telephone wires could be laid underground, or suspended overhead, communicating by branch wires with private dwellings, country houses, shops, manufactories, etc. uniting them through the main cable with a central office, where the wire could be connected as desired, establishing direct communication between any two places in the city,” Alexander Graham Bell prophetically said in March, 1878.

Bell was granted US patent No. 174,465 in 1876 for the invention of the telephone.

In 1885, German mechanical engineer, Karl Friedrich Benz, designed and built the first automobile as we know it today.

Germany Patent DRP No. 37435 was awarded to Benz for the first automobile to use a gasoline-powered, internal-combustion engine.

His automobile drove using three-wheels, powered by a four-cycle engine.

Benz also built a four-wheeled automobile in 1891.

Of course, automobiles need a good road system to travel over, so I feel the engineering and construction of this nation’s modern highway system should also be counted among the greatest technological achievements.

Some have said this program started during President Eisenhower’s administration back in the 1950s; however, The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 was actually the first serious attempt to engineer a national roadway system.

This act planned on having a toll-financed, national highway system.

It was determined the amount of automobile and truck traffic at the time was insufficient to financially fund it.

The final recommendation was for a 26,700-mile system of no-toll highways.

No actual construction was started at that time.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 increased the nation wide highway system to 40,391 miles.

The Congress entrusted state highway agencies and the Department of Defense with designing highway routes to directly connect the major cities with the industrial centers.

Unfortunately, no funds were approved for its construction.

Finally, in 1954, during President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, funding in the amount of $175 million was set aside for the construction of an interstate highway system.

After further study, it was realized Eisenhower’s vision for a national highway system was going to need a lot more money in order for it to be built.

In 1956, a $25 billion budget was authorized for its construction.

Legislation passed in 1956 increased the number of highway miles to 41,012.

In 1990, the interstate highway system was officially renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

Today, the US interstate highway system has extended itself out to more than 47,000 miles.

We can fly in the air, thanks to the efforts of the two Wright brothers, named Orville and Wilbur.

It was on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, NC, when the Wright brother’s flying machine, named “Wright Flyer,” made its first historic flight.

A four-cylinder engine powered the Wright Flyer as it carried its human pilot, Orville Wright, who steered the flying machine in the air at a level position.

Orville maneuvered the Wright Flyer and used a controlled landing procedure which returned him and flying machine safely back onto the ground.

The plane traveled 120 feet, and the flight lasted 12 seconds – indeed, this was a great achievement.

Three more flights were made that day. Wilbur Wright was at the controls of the Wright Flyer and traveled some 825 feet. This flight lasted 59 seconds – the longest of the day.

And with that, faithful readers, we come to the end of part one of this column.

Make sure to come back next week for the conclusion of this humble columnist’s commentaries on the greatest technological achievements.

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