Futuristic dictionary from the past

Published Feb. 2, 2009
I use the latest editions of dictionaries for writing and editing, but I love old editions, which often include sections that offer what is now historical information or a look at another time. One edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, for example, includes a glossary of Scottish terms, one has first names and another has a section on rhymes. Those special sections likely gave way to the regular word list as the Collegiate grew in size.
The main bastion of “The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary,” copyright 1968, is the “Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary,” supplemented by three foreign language dictionaries; essays on the English language and usage; and dictionaries of space, medical terms, selected American slang, quotations, first names, and signs and symbols.
“A Dictionary of Space” by Willy Ley was included when Americans were excited about NASA’s space program, when the quest to land on the moon before the decade ended (NASA could have relaxed a bit if someone had realized that the decade ended at the end of 1970, not 1969) and when every Apollo mission was exciting and garnered international attention.
These excerpts from the space dictionary will trigger memories for people from the Baby Boomer generation and before — we grew up hearing and repeating those terms like today’s kids toss about “Wii” and “iPod” and “text-message.”
Angel: slang term for a radar “blip” without the presence of a discernible object.
LEM: Lunar Excursion Model, the two-part ship that carried astronauts to the moon and back. They traveled to the moon in the command module atop the service module. (NASA changed LEM to LM, but LEM had already entered the common vernacular.)
EVA: Extra-Vehicular Activity, or what newspapers call “a walk in space.” The device permitting extended EVA is AMU (Astronaut Maneuvering Unit), a large backpack weighing about 166 pounds and containing fuel for maneuvering, storage batteries, a radio transmitter, and sufficient oxygen to sustain a man for an hour or more. (On June 3, 1965, astronaut Edward H. White became the first American — in an ordinary space suit — to “walk in space,” remaining outside the Gemini IV for 22 minutes.)
Jupiter-C: the first successful American satellite launch vehicle (the satellite was Explorer I). It consisted of an elongated Redstone missile with three upper solid-fuel stages. The name Jupiter-C comes from the fact that certain Redstone missiles were modified for the testing of components for the then-planned Jupiter missile. The “C” refers to the components.
Launch window: the period of time during which a planetary probe intended to reach, say, the planet Mars must be fired, so that it will reach the orbit of the planet at the same time the planet occupies that point of its orbit.
Radio blackout: A temporary halt in radio exchange to and from a manned space capsule, occurring after its reentry into the atmosphere. The blackout occurs because the surrounding air, superheated by the impact of capsule on atmosphere, becomes partly ionized (electrically charged), forming a sheath around the capsule that cannot be penetrated by radio waves.
Saturn V: The launcher for the Apollo moonship. Its first stage has a height of 138 feet and a diameter of 33 feet. It is powered by five F-1 rocket engines, each with a sea-level thrust of 1.5 million pounds. The complete Saturn V rocket will be 360 feet tall and consist of three stages, all liquid fuel. (I like the present and future tense here.)
Space station: the illustration depicts the wheel-shaped space station that was developed by Wernher von Braun after he came to the United States from Germany after World War II, from an idea of Potocnik, an Austrian military engineer. This station, a far cry from the spindly canisters and solar panels of today’s International Space Station, is depicted in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and would derive its gravity from its rotation. Von Braun directed the Marshall Space Flight Center from 1960 to 1970 and co-authored with Ley and Fred Whipple “Conquest of the Moon.”

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