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Oct 1 / Dave Schumaker

Anniversaries – The Smoot, NASA and Clastic Detritus

Apologies, I’ve been away from computer access for the last few days. Let’s start the week off with some offbeat news.

Source: MIT Museum

A couple of anniversaries to cover this week. The first is the 50th anniversary of the Smoot, a non-standard unit devised by some of the nerds over at MIT.

What exactly is a “Smoot”?

As his fraternity brothers laid his 5-foot, 7-inch frame end-to-end to measure the Massachusetts Avenue bridge one night in October 1958, there was one distinct thought running through Oliver Smoot’s mind.
“It was pretty cold,” he said.

Smoot ’62 evoked memories recently about the night his name became a unit of measurement as MIT prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the quirky hack. A series of events has been planned for the weekend of Oct. 4.

“Looking at the pictures, I think I had one sweater and I did have on gloves … but basically we all had on windbreakers and you get out in the middle of a bridge and it’s windy,” he said. “Even if the temperature isn’t that low, it’s cold out there.”

In 1958, as a freshman at MIT and Lambda Chi Alpha pledge, the fraternity pledgemaster hatched the idea to use the shortest — and most scientifically named pledge — to measure the bridge from Boston to Cambridge. Little did they know, however, that their activity would make its way into MIT, Boston and even Google lore.

They also underestimated how difficult getting up and down 364.4 times (plus or minus an ear) would be.

The second anniversary celebration to talk about is the 50th anniversary of NASA.

A brief history of NASA can be read here.

The successful launch of the Soviet Union’s first two satellites prompted U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress to put aside their differences and create a lasting national space policy and the institution tasked with carrying it out.

On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, officially establishing NASA.

Before its creation, the United States did not have a space program per se, according to Eilene Galloway, who helped draft the NASA charter and now serves as honorary director of the International Institute of Space Law. However, separate programs did exist within the U.S. military services, including the Navy’s Vanguard, the Air Force’s Man in Space Program, and the Army’s Jupiter and Juno programs, said Ted Spitzmiller, a space historian and author of “Astronautics: Book 1: Dawn of the Space Age.”


NASA officially began operating Oct. 1, 1958, using the civilian National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics staff and research facilities as its backbone. Other space research facilities, such as the Army’s Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Ala., were integrated into the new space agency as well.

The act transferred authority for military space to the Defense Department, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in February 1958 to head military space research.

Also, Brian at Clastic Detritus celebrates his 2nd Blogiversary! Congratulations on two years of posting and here’s to many more!

And I’m going to sneak in one more anniversary — it’s the 50th anniversary of my Dodgers moving to LA from Brooklyn! What better way to celebrate it than potentially winning a World Series this year? ;)

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