May 5th. The Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo falls on the fifth this year. Auspicious? No. Calendric. But the fifth of May is a day on which interesting things tend to have happened. For Mexico, this is the day on which the Mexican army defeated the French army at Puebla in 1862. Strangely, the holiday is celebrated in the United States to a greater degree than in Mexico. Go figure.
This is also the International Day of Reason, and this is also the day that John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee, in the year 1925. That led to the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” which, in turn was one of the very few courtroom fights over evolution lost by the good guys. And, we lost it on purpose. So there.
(Have you ever seen H.L. Mencken’s book on that event? It’s called A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter’s Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial.)
This is also the day that Alan Shepard was strapped into a tin can and blasted into space. Thus, this is the anniversary of the first American in space, and the anniversary of the American personed space program. This is a special anniversary of this event because we use Base-10 for our numbering system. This is the 50th anniversary of that event. Did you know that Alan Shepard wrote a book about the space program? It’s called Moon Shot.
One of the craters on Mars was named “Freedom 7″ in honor of the Mercury space program. (Freedom 7, the tin can, was actually a Mercury Space Capsule.) The Mars Rover team will be exploring the vicinity of this crater over the next few days.
“Many of the people currently involved with the robotic investigations of Mars were first inspired by the astronauts of the Mercury Project who paved the way for the exploration of our solar system,” said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who is this week’s long-term planning leader for the rover science team. Shepard’s flight was the first of six Project Mercury missions piloted by solo astronauts.
More on that here.