May Fifth

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Birger Johansson
    May 5, 2011

    Do not underestimate the influence of good illustrators like Chesley Bonestell with their otherworldly landscapes, or the illustrators that showed how the Apollo missions would play out long before the real thing.
    I got hooked on space at Christmas Eve 1966 at the age of four and a half. A book (for grownups) about technology included a series of detailed photograph-quality illustrations of every step of the Apollo journey.

  2. #2 P Smith
    May 5, 2011

    It’s also Children’s Day in Japan, a holiday begun after World War II, likely to encourage social and financial investment in youth.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children's_Day_(Japan)

  3. #3 Paul
    May 5, 2011

    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.

    Considering the effect on the Civil War that would have occurred if the French had defeated the Mexicans, it’s not surprising that this would be a sizable holiday in the US. Of course, that’s not why it’s celebrated. But perhaps it should be. Perhaps ironic that this is one day that students wear American flags to intimidate students with Mexican heritage.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2011

    Perhaps ironic that this is one day that students wear American flags to intimidate students with Mexican heritage.

    Seriously?

  5. #5 Paul
    May 5, 2011

    It happened several (maybe more than several? Not giving a number :-)) years ago at my high school in California, with no major fanfare. At the time I thought it was somewhat of an ironic joke and not meant as intimidation, but I was an idiot at the time and tend to see it differently now. Last year, this circled around the blogosphere; I was assuming you’d be familiar with it, actually.

  6. #6 iain
    May 5, 2011

    Don’t want to distract from the interesting discussion of Cinco de Mayo (at least they know the logical order of dates).

    The Gemini capsule, presumably more sophisticated than the Mercury one is one of the truly astounding things I have seen (in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum). It is, indeed, a tin can rivetted together in a very bodgy way, but two things amazed me even more. The seats were so poorly designed that they would presumably have cut off the circulation in the thighs of the astronauts. So they used gaffer tape to attach some foam (as in polyurethane, I suspect–at least they would have died of cyanide poisoning in the event of a fire). Unbelievable. The there was a serious danger that they would have tripped over some presumably important wires as they got into the capsule, so these have been tied out of the way with a bit of string. I was so astonished I cannot remember whether they tied the string with a bow or a reef knot.

    Ah, the joys of advanced technology.

  7. #7 rodrigo
    May 5, 2011

    @Paul:

    Well, the Mexican army defeated the French that day … and lost the city two weeks later. The war continued until right after the US Civil War ended. Overall, it doesn’t seem US history would be very different had we lost that battle.

  8. #8 Deen
    May 6, 2011

    May 5th is also liberation day in The Netherlands. May 5th 1945 was the date of the German surrender for our country.