Mounting a 35mm film camera into a captured German V-2 rocket launched to an altitude of 65 miles, scientists and engineers at the U.S. Navy’s White Sands Missile Range capture the first photo of Earth from space. (The previous highest-altitude photos taken were from a hot-air balloon in 1935, from an altitude of less than 14 miles, although at that altitude the photos did reveal the curvature of the Earth.) The rocket and camera are destroyed when they fall back to Earth, but the reinforced film cartridge survives. This is the first of many such experimental flights carried out at White Sands.
Continuing experimental photography from captured German V-2 rockets, scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range capture a view of Earth from space at an altitude of 100 miles. Though the V-2 is capable only of ballistic suborbital flight, an automated camera on the rocket captures the curve of the Earth before falling back to the surface. As with earlier experimental unmanned flights in 1946, also using captured V-2 rockets, the rocket and camera are destroyed upon impact with the ground.
The first-ever American-made science fiction television series, Captain Video And His Video Rangers, debuts on the DuMont Television Network. Originated live from a studio in New York City, the series is aimed squarely at younger viewers, but in years to come the show will enjoy scripts written by such science fiction luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Vance, Robert Sheckley, and James Blish. The series runs five nights a week for six years.
The A.C. Nielsen Company publishes its first-ever television ratings in the United States, compiling data collected over a “sweep month” running from early April through early May of 1950. The top TV program at the time, according to Nielsen’s data gathering, is Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater. The Nielsen ratings and data collection methodology will attract controversy for decades to come, and will spell doom for many shows with small but loyal followings.
Using a telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, astronomer Seth Nicholson discovers Ananke, a tiny moon of Jupiter orbiting the huge planet at an average distance of 21 million miles and at a high inclination relative to Jupiter’s equator. Ananke is most likely a captured asteroid or the remnant of a captured asteroid, and other small Jovian moons in the same orbit may be other pieces of the captured (and shredded) body. Ananke is the first Jovian moon discovered in nearly two decades, and it will be over two more decades before another is found.
The U.S. Weather bureau signs on radio station KWO35, located at New York’s La Guardia Airport, broadcasting weather forecasts primarily for the benefit of pilots. Not targeted for public consumption, the experimental station broadcasts for several hours a day at a frequency of 162.55Mhz, outside of the spectrum reserved for FM radio. A similar station on the same frequency will later sign on at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 1953, again mainly for the consumption of airline pilots. Marine forecasts are added later, and the system helps the Weather Bureau prevent its local forecasters from being overwhelmed by requests for “personalized” weather reports for pilots. These two stations are the precursor for the nationwide weather radio network operated by the Weather Bureau’s successor agency, the National Weather Service.
As a response to early Soviet atomic weapon tests, President Truman orders the initiation of the nationwide CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) system, designed to limit the number of actively broadcasting radio stations whose signals could be used by enemy bombers to home in on and attack population centers. Designated AM radio stations would pass along emergency signals to smaller stations downstream, which would then begin a complex cycle of broadcasting emergency information to the public and then shutting down to allow another station to broadcast the same information; it is hoped that the rapidly shifting radio signals will prevent an invading enemy from finding viable targets. With its operating strategy assuming nuclear-armed Soviet bombers, CONELRAD will be rendered obsolete by the rise of the intercontinental ballistic missile by the end of the decade, and will be replaced by the Emergency Broadcast system in 1963.
The U.S. Weather Bureau (forerunner of the National Weather Service) inaugurates the Severe Weather Unit at the WBAN (Weather Bureau-Army-Navy) Analysis Center in Washington D.C. Armed with recent research and decades of past research into the formation and behavior of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, this is the first attempt to offer the military’s growing severe weather prediction capability to the American public. In these early days, before the adoption of specific types of weather watches, the WBAN Severe Weather Unit issues weather bulletins for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms alike; by early 1953, the Severe Weather Unit also issues “outlooks” with more general predictions about the probability of severe storms.
Future Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy writer/creator Douglas Adams is born in England. Demonstrating an early ability to write short stories with a hint of the absurd, Adams would find himself a member of the renowned Cambridge Footlights theatrical comedy group in the early 1970s, leading to his “discovery” by Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. (Adams would become one of only two people outside of the core six-man Python troupe to contribute any scripted material to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and made a few appearances as a guest cast member.) He would go on to contribute radio comedy sketches to various BBC Radio shows through the 1970s, until the premiere of his own project, the science fiction comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, put him on the map.
The newly formed Weather Bureau-Army-Navy Severe Weather Unit hits the ground running with its first tornado bulletin issued to the general public for portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. This forerunner of the modern tornado watch is a misfire, however: the only two confirmed tornadoes occur, both outside the area covered in the bulletin. Critics within the Weather Bureau express doubt that such bulletins will ever be of use to the public, and may instead spark panic among the public; this attitude will all but disappear within three years.
The newly formed Weather Bureau-Army-Navy Severe Weather Unit‘s second attempt to warn the public that tornado formation is possible within a specific area strikes paydirt. Again covering a large area including portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, later expanded to include states esst of this area, this forerunner of modern tornado watches is right on the money, predicting an outbreak of more than 20 tornadoes in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Kentucky. Despite the advance notification, the Severe Weather Unit has work to do in educating the public about its bulletins: over 200 deaths still occur as a result of the tornadoes.
Collier’s Magazine publishes an extensive pictorial article with text by space pioneers Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley, and illustrations by Chesley Bonestell, positing a future with plane-like spacecraft making routine trips to orbiting space stations. The article suggests that the station could be a reality in ten years and “twice the cost of the atom bomb” if the public shows its support for space exploration. Though spaceplanes and stations are more than a decade away, the Collier’s article is a seminal moment in the space age.
Using a World War II-era aviation radar system, Illinois State Water Survey electrical engineer Donald Staggs makes the first radar-based detection of a nearby tornado, part of a tornado outbreak striking in and near Champaign, Illinois. The “hook echo” is the distinctive radar signature of a rapidly evolving small-scale cyclone developing from the larger radar signature of its parent thunderstorm. Continued observations confirm that this is the “radar shape” of a forming tornado, an invaluable piece of information for forecasters on the forefront of severe weather prediction.
The BBC airs the first episode of Nigel Kneale’s trend-setting science fiction series The Quatermass Experiment, starring Reginald Tate as Prof. Bernard Quatermass. Broadcast as a live play with minimal footage from other sources played back during air, this is also one of the earliest BBC drama productions archived on film, and one of the final drama productions to use the BBC’s vintage 1930s Alexandra Palace facilities.
The BBC airs the second episode of Nigel Kneale’s trend-setting science fiction series The Quatermass Experiment, starring Reginald Tate as Prof. Bernard Quatermass. Broadcast as a live play with minimal footage from other sources played back during air, this is one of the earliest BBC drama productions archived on film, though BBC technicians opt not to preserve any further episodes of this series.
The BBC airs the third episode of Nigel Kneale’s trend-setting science fiction series The Quatermass Experiment, starring Reginald Tate as Prof. Bernard Quatermass. This episode was not archived and does not exist in the BBC’s archives.
The BBC airs the fourth episode of Nigel Kneale’s trend-setting science fiction series The Quatermass Experiment, starring Reginald Tate as Prof. Bernard Quatermass. This episode was not archived and does not exist in the BBC’s archives.
The BBC airs the fifth episode of Nigel Kneale’s trend-setting science fiction series The Quatermass Experiment, starring Reginald Tate as Prof. Bernard Quatermass. This episode was not archived and does not exist in the BBC’s archives.
The BBC airs the sixth episode of Nigel Kneale’s trend-setting science fiction series The Quatermass Experiment, bringing the six-part story to a close. The success of the series prompts the BBC to request a sequel series from Kneale. This episode was not archived and does not exist in the BBC’s archives.
Formerly the Weather Bureau-Army-Navy Severe Weather Unit, the recently-renamed Severe Local Storms Warning Service (SELS) relocates from Washington D.C. to Kansas City, Missouri. The new location puts the SELS closer to the American midwest, a hotbed of severe weather during the spring months, as well as placing it in close proximity to a major telecommunications hub (at this point, the SELS is reliant almost entirely on teletype transmissions). Additionally, precise definitions of what constitutes a severe thunderstorm (winds in excess of 50mph, wind gusts in excess of 75mph, and hail in excess of an inch in diameter) are established, as well as a concerted effort to target its weather bulletins to more precise geographic regions.
The first Godzilla movie, Gojira, debuts in Japan. Directed by Ishiro Honda and starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi and Akihiko Hirata, the film is intended to be an allegory to the ravages of the atomic bomb rather than the beginning of a franchise (though the door is clearly left open to a sequel by dialogue at the close of the movie). The franchise proper will not begin until the first sequel five years later. In the meantime, an American dub of the movie attracts worldwide attention to Gojira, eventually rechristening the character Godzilla for much of the world.
The TV anthology series Stage 7 presents the first television script written by future Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, The Secret Weapon Of 117. Ricardo Montalban stars as one of a pair of aliens trying to assess whether or not Earth has the technology to retaliate against infiltration and invasion by their species.
M. W. De Laubenfels of Oregon State College submits an article to the Journal of Paleontology, proposing the idea that an asteroid collision with Earth caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Citing the widespread damage caused by a comet or meteor’s explosion over the ground in 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, Laubenfels postulates that an actual impact could have displaced enough material to block the sun, wiping out vegetation and smaller animals alike, choking off the dinosaurs’ food supply as well as dropping surface temperatures below survivable levels. At the time of publication, the possibility of an asteroidal collision with Earth is not thought to be a particularly major threat.
The first Godzilla movie, Gojira, is re-released in America, dubbed into English with additional scenes starring actor Raymond Burr, as Godzilla, King Of The Monsters! Despite the quite noticeable differences between old footage and new, the movie proves popular, and sparks the western world’s obsession with Toho Studios’ signature creation. It is also just the first of several attempts to westernize the Godzilla mythos (chiefly for American audiences).
IBM announces the IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Memory Accounting) mainframe, a computer as large as two refrigerators, containing the new 350 Disk Storage Unit, the world’s first hard disk drive. The nearly-six-foot-high drive consists of a huge metal case surrounding a towering stack of 50 double-sided magnetic platters, adding up to a total capacity of four megabytes. In 1958, IBM will introduce the option to double capacity by adding a second stack of drive platters to the casing. The 305 RAMAC and 350 Disk Storage Unit together weigh over a ton, and are leased to IBM’s clients for $3,200 per month.