February 19 – Two Discoverers Launched (kind of)


Discoverer 10 was one of the USA’s shortest-lived spy satellites.  The aim of the Discoverer program was basically to watch the Russians to see how quickly they were developing their long-range bombing and missile launching capability.  Discoverer 10 was launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base on February 19 at a quarter past eight in the evening, and reached approximately 6000 metres in 59 seconds before being destroyed from the ground after veering off-course.


Okay, maybe not launched, but certainly born.  Today is happy birthday to Nicolaus Copernicus, born this day in the Polish city of Toruń in 1473.  His book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres was published in 1543, the last year of his life, although he had been working on the theories within it for some years, and revolutionized (pun intended) our view of the solar system.  Copernicus made the giant leap of putting the Sun at the centre of the universe, and explained that the apparent motion of both it, and the other “celestial spheres” (including the retrograde motion of planets) was due to the motion of the Earth and other bodies around the Sun.


Copernicus’ masterpiece was a heavy read, which meant demand was low.  It was also potentially blasphemous, which assured it a place in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) of the Catholic Church from 1616 to 1758.   Kudos to Pope Benedict XIV for removing the book from the Index.



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