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This Week in Geek History: HAL Goes Live, First Alien Moon Landing, First Fighter Jet Ejection Seat

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Every week we bring you interesting facts from the annals of Geekdom. This week in Geek History saw the birth of HAL, the first landing on an alien moon, and the first real-world test of a fighter jet ejection seat.

HAL Goes Online

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HAL, the sentient computer aboard the fictional Discovery spacecraft in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is one of the best known fictional representations of artificial intelligent in the literary and cinematic world. HAL made such an impression as the egomaniacal nemesis in the film that it was ranked 13th on AFI’s list of greatest movie villains. Per the timeline in the movie HAL became operational on January 12th, 1992—and then spent the next 9 years simply waiting to utter the words “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Huygens Lands on Titan

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On January 14th, 2005 the European Space Agency’s probe Huygens landed on Titan (one of Saturn’s moons) after a nearly 8 year journey. The landing marked the first time scientific equipment had directly placed on an alien moon and the first landing on any planet or moon in the outer solar system. Although Huygens was intended to be merely a probe and not a lander it continued to transmit data back to the Cassini orbiter for relay back to Earth for a full 90 minutes.

First Ejection Seat

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In January of 1942 a German test pilot, Helmut Schenck, became the first person to test an ejection seat under duress. His Heinkel He-280 jet fighter was being towed behind a conventional air craft when his wings iced up, rendering his engines useless. He popped the canopy and fired off his compressed-air powered ejection seat. Later models would trade compressed air for small explosive charges to achieve a faster and safer escape.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/13/11

Comments (4)

  1. indianacarnie

    :) keep em coming! :)

  2. Monicoj

    I remember that when I’ve seen 2001:Space Odyssey for the first time I was speechless for at least two hours. The movie was made in 1968 without computers, 3D rendering graphics or any other kind of digital help. It’s amazing how they made it so realistic.
    There is one more “strange” thing about it. If you will take the name of onboard computer HAL and go one letter further from every letter in english alphabet, this is what you get: H+1 letter=I, A+1 letter=B, L+1 letter=M. All together it’s IBM. Now you tell me how it could be just a coincidence ;-)

  3. Buzz

    It’s not a coincidence. That’s how they came up with the name.

  4. CD Hanks

    Monicoj, you are about 42 years late, people figured this out when the movie came out.

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