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June 21, 2007 11:20 PM   Subscribe

It's been nearly 50 years since the beginning of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), an 18-month period of scientific activities and discoveries that ran from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. Both the US and the USSR launched the world's first artificial satellites during the IGY (Sputnik 1 and Explorer 1). Other achievements of the IGY included the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the mapping of mid-ocean ridges. The IGY also inspired at least one artistic endeavor: Steely Dan's Donald Fagen wrote his 1982 solo song "I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)" [YouTube] as an homage to 50s optimism.
posted by amyms (14 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The second link includes black-and-white photo galleries of some of the projects (if you scroll down).
posted by amyms at 11:21 PM on June 21, 2007

I can't imagine what my understanding of the history of the planet would be if I was unaware of plate tectonics and the mid-ocean ridges. 1957? Damn.
posted by mdonley at 12:26 AM on June 22, 2007

That Donald Fagan CD is one of my favorites. This, and it, are an interesting throwback to a very different era, one that I grew up in the tail end of.
posted by Eekacat at 12:39 AM on June 22, 2007

Nothing go together quite like great advancements in Human understanding and... yacht rock?
posted by basicchannel at 12:44 AM on June 22, 2007

goes not go.
posted by basicchannel at 12:48 AM on June 22, 2007

I can only imagine what it must have been like to grow up during the 1950s and 1960s, when the sky was the limit for science and technology and all sorts of hobbies were spawned. There was some sort of paradigm shift that came along during the 1970s (from what, I have no idea) and it seemed like by the 1980s science and technology was marginalized out of mainstream culture. Except for the actual products those things delivered, perhaps.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:18 AM on June 22, 2007

In 1991 I was taught from an earth science textbook (probably written in the 70's) that made frequent reference to discoveries from the International Geophysical Year. I remember being impressed that so much learning could be, essentially, planned -- just through cooperation and funding.

The only comparison that comes to mind is the Decade of the Brain -- from 1990-2000, a kind of multidisciplinary approach to neuroscience and neurology. But compared to 1957, I think their timetable and goals were more modest.
posted by borborygmi at 2:08 AM on June 22, 2007

It wasn't all unsullied science for the benefit of mankind.

"This early announcement of an intention to launch a satellite reflects the recognition by technocrats in the American administration that satellites could form an important new technology, with considerable espionage as well as propaganda potential. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contributed significantly to the US IGY programme, primarily for 'psychological warfare value'. (12) This reflected the CIA's interest in the US being the first country to launch a satellite. Indeed, the CIA advised that 'the nation that first accomplishes this feat will gain incalculable prestige and recognition throughout the world'. (13) Launching during the IGY provided the ideal stage for maximum propaganda benefit, but equally, given the co-operative scientific character of the IGY, also gave the impression of not overtly seeking propaganda advantage. (14)"
posted by Devonian at 3:19 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

rolypolyman, the 1970s was the era where the limits of science were exposed, from Apollo 13 to Three Mile Island to the oil crisis. Science was also allowing us to see the bitter fruit of a technological society, from acid rain to cancer agents in seemingly everything. It's really not surprising that such disillusionment would have the result it did.

Ironically, or perhaps not, the 1970s were also the era when science fiction movies flourished and robots turned friendly again. By 1982, though, Blade Runner seemed to embody a mainstream understanding of where we were going.
posted by dhartung at 3:24 AM on June 22, 2007

Not just the limits of science, dhartung, but the limits of the US as a whole. The late 60's / early 70's also saw the US losing a war, and the President leaving office in disgrace.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:05 AM on June 22, 2007

I'm still waiting for my spandex jacket. There was supposed to be one for everyone.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:37 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The IGY also inspired at least one artistic endeavor

Let's not forget a contemporary tribute - G. O. Fizzicle Pogo. (Last picture)
posted by ormondsacker at 7:52 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Explorer 1 carried only one instrument...[which] worked quite well at low altitudes, but at the top of the orbit no particles at all were counted. Explorer 3, which followed two months later, collected on tape a continuous record of data, which revealed that the zero counts actually represented a very high level of radiation. So many energetic particles hit the counter at the higher altitudes, that its mode of operation was overwhelmed and it fell silent. Not only was a radiation belt present at all times, it was remarkably intense.
(from the Van Allen link)
posted by MtDewd at 8:09 AM on June 22, 2007

Related: Steely Dan is back on tour again. Most of the US shows have been done, but if you're in Europe...
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:54 PM on June 23, 2007

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