model rocketry

Retrotechtacular: Junior Missile Men Of The 1960s

Just like the imaginative kids depicted in “Junior Missile Men in Action,” you’ll have to employ a fair bit of your own imagination to figure out what was going on in the original film, which seems to have suffered a bit — OK, a lot — from multiple rounds of digitization and format conversion. [GarageManCave] tells us he found the film on a newsgroup back in the 1990s, but only recently uploaded it to YouTube. It’s hard to watch, but worth it for anyone who spent hours building an Estes model rocket and had that gut-check moment when sliding it onto the guide rail and getting it ready for launch. Would it go? Would it survive the trip? Or would it end up hanging from a tree branch, or lost in the high grass that always seemed to be ready to eat model rockets, planes, Frisbees, or pretty much anything that was fun?

Model rocketry was most definitely good, clean fun, even with the rotten egg stink of the propellant and the risk of failure. To mitigate those risks, the West Covina Model Rocket Society, the group the film focuses on, was formed in the 1960s. The boys and girls pictured had the distinct advantage of living in an area where many of their parents were employed by the aerospace industry, and the influence of trained engineers shows — weekly build sessions, well-organized range days, and even theodolites to track the rockets and calculate their altitude. They even test-fired rockets from miniature silos, and mimicked a Polaris missile launch by firing a model from a bucket of water. It was far more intensive and organized than the early rocketry exposure most of us got, and has the look and feel of a FIRST robotics group today.

Given the membership numbers the WCMRS boasted of in its heyday, and the fact that model rocketry was often the “gateway drug” into the hacking lifestyle, there’s a good chance that someone in the Hackaday community got their start out in that park in West Covina, or perhaps was even in the film. If you’re out there, let us know in the comments — we’d love to hear a first-hand report on what the club was like, and how it helped you get started.

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3D-printed wall builder, circa 1930s

Retrotechtacular: 3D-Printed Buildings, 1930s Style

Here we are in the future, thinking we’re so fancy and cutting edge with mega-scale 3D printers that can extrude complete, ready-to-occupy buildings, only to find out that some clever inventor came up with essentially the same idea back in the 1930s.

The inventor in question, one [William E. Urschel] of Valparaiso, Indiana, really seemed to be onto something with his “Machine for Building Walls,” as his 1941 patent describes the idea. The first video below gives a good overview of the contraption, which consists of an “extruder” mounted on the end of a counterweighted boom, the length of which determines the radius of the circular structure produced. The boom swivels on a central mast, and is cranked up manually for each course extruded. The business end has a small hopper for what appears to be an exceptionally dry concrete or mortar mix. The hopper has a bunch of cam-driven spades that drive down into the material to push it out of the hopper; the mix is constrained between two rotating disks that trowel the sides smooth and drive the extruder forward.

The device has a ravenous appetite for material, as witnessed by the hustle the workers show keeping the machine fed. Window and door openings are handled with a little manual work, and the openings are topped with lintels to support the concrete. Clever tools are used to cut pockets for roof rafters, and the finished structure, complete with faux crenellations and a coat of stucco, looks pretty decent.

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Retrotechtacular: The Dangers Of Confined Spaces

Many people find themselves working in confined spaces every day, whether it be in sewer systems, drains, or other tight spots. These areas come with their own unique risks to life and limb that must be carefully considered in order to avoid disaster.

To this end, the Worker’s Compensation Board of British Columbia, known as WorkSafe BC, produced a video on the dangers of working in these areas. Confined Spaces, Deadly Spaces highlights how these areas can kill, and the right way to work around these hazards.

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Retrotechtacular: LA’s Hilarious Subway Safety Film From 1992

Subways! They’ve been around for an awfully long time; almost as long as modern railways themselves, believe it or not. Building underground was undertaken in earnest by those in the 19th century, who set out to build networks of stations to allow residents to get around a city quickly and effectively.

That fact should stick in your mind as you sample this glorious retro video from 1992. “L.A. Underground – Safety in the Extreme” is a guide for Californians, aiming to educate residents about the new B Line subway that opened the following year. The video acts as if the subway is a new fangled, mysterious thing, with a couple of confusing off-the-wall moments as well. If you’re a transport enthusiast or get excited about weird public films, this one’s for you.

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Retrotechtacular: Understanding Protein Synthesis Through Interpretive Dance

With the principles of molecular biology very much in the zeitgeist these days, we thought it would be handy to provide some sort of visual aid to help our readers understand the complex molecular machines at work deep within each cell of the body. And despite appearances, this film using interpretive dance to explain protein synthesis will teach you everything you need to know.

Now, there are those who go on and on about the weirdness of the 1960s, but as this 1971 film from Stanford shows, the 60s were just a warm-up act for the really weird stuff. The film is a study in contrasts, with the setup being provided by the decidedly un-groovy Paul Berg, a professor of biochemistry who would share the 1980 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contributions to nucleic acid research. His short sleeves and skinny tie stand in stark contrast to the writhing mass of students capering about on a grassy field, acting out the various macromolecules involved in protein synthesis. Two groups form the subunits of the ribosome, a chain of ballon-headed students act as the messenger RNA (mRNA) that codes for a protein, and little groups standing in for the transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules that carry the amino acids float in and out of the process.

The level of detail, at least as it was understood in 1971, is impressively complete, with soloists representing things like T-factor and the energy-carrying molecule GTP. And while we especially like the puff of smoke representing GTP’s energy transfer, we strongly suspect a lot of other smoke went into this production.

Kitsch aside, and with apologies to Lewis Carroll and his Jabberwock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a modern animation that captures the process better. True, a more traditional animation might make the mechanistic aspects of translation clearer, but the mimsy gyre and gimble of this dance really emphasize the role random Brownian motion plays in macromolecular processes. And you’ll never see the term “tRNA” and not be able to think of this film.

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Retrotechtacular: Discovering Aerodynamics With The Chrysler Airflow

When you think about it, for most of human history we’ve been a pretty slow bunch. At any time before about 150 years ago, if you were moving faster than a horse can run, you were probably falling to your death. And so the need to take aerodynamics into consideration is a pretty new thing.

The relative novelty of aerodynamic design struck us pretty hard when we stumbled across this mid-1930s film about getting better performance from cars. It was produced for the Chrysler Sales Corporation and featured the innovative design of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. The film’s narration makes it clear why the carmaker would go through the trouble of completely rethinking how cars are made; despite doubling average engine horsepower over the preceding decade, cars had added only about 15% to their top speed. And while to our 21st-century eyes, the Chrysler Airflow might look like a bulked-up Volkswagen Beetle, compared to the standard automotive designs of the day, it was a huge aerodynamic leap forward. This makes sense with what else was going on in the technology world at the time — air travel — the innovations of which, such as wind tunnel testing of models, were spilling over into other areas of design. There’s also the influence of [Orville Wright], who was called in to consult on the Airflow design.

While the Airflow wasn’t exactly a huge hit with the motoring public — not that many were built, and very few remain today; [Jay Leno] is one of the few owners, because of course he is — it set standards that would influence automotive designs for the next 80 years. It’s fascinating too that something seemingly as simple as moving the engine forward and streamlining the body a bit took so long to hit upon, and yet yielded so much bang for the buck.

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Retrotechtacular: The Drama Of Metal Forming

It may seem overwrought, but The Drama of Metal Forming actually is pretty dramatic.

This film is another classic of mid-century corporate communications that was typically shown in schools, which the sponsor — in this case Shell Oil — seeks to make a point about the inevitable march of progress, and succeeds mainly in showing children and young adults what lay in store for them as they entered a working world that needed strong backs more than anything.

Despite the narrator’s accent, the factories shown appear to be in England, and the work performed therein is a brutal yet beautiful ballet of carefully coordinated moves. The sheer power of the slabbing mills at the start of the film is staggering, especially when we’re told that the ingots the mill is slinging about effortlessly weigh in at 14 tons apiece. Seeing metal from the same ingots shooting through the last section of a roller mill at high speed before being rolled into coils gives one pause, too; the catastrophe that would result if that razor-sharp and red-hot metal somehow escaped the mill doesn’t bear imagining. Similarly, the wire drawing process that’s shown later even sounds dangerous, with the sound increasing in pitch to a malignant whine as the die diameter steps down and the velocity of the wire increases.

There are the usual charming anachronisms, such as the complete lack of safety gear and the wanton disregard for any of a hundred things that could instantly kill you. One thing that impressed us was the lack of hearing protection, which no doubt led to widespread hearing damage. Those were simpler times, though, and the march of progress couldn’t stop for safety gear. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Drama Of Metal Forming”