Crash Landing on Venus to Proposing the World Wide Web: The March 2018 Hardware History Roundup

March 04, 2018 by Chantelle Dubois

Venera 3 crash lands on Venus, the Homebrew Computer Club meets for the first time, and the World Wide Web is proposed. Check out this hardware history roundup for March!

Venera 3 crash lands on Venus, the Homebrew Computer Club meets for the first time, and the World Wide Web is proposed. Check out this hardware history roundup for March!

1966: The First Human-Made Spacecraft Crash Lands on Another Planet

With the space race in full swing, the USSR began its Venus probe program which would run from 1961 to 1984. While there were numerous failures (totally understandable with how complex the program's goals were), the program also resulted in many milestones. 

Venus is a very hostile planet even for probes. It has a toxic atmosphere that is so thick that visibility isn’t possible for the first 35km on the way down to the surface. The surface temperatures are hot enough to melt lead, and the pressure so intense that it can liquify zinc. To top it off, sulphuric acid rains from the clouds. This environment is enough to vaporize many critical components inside electronics, including sensors, copper connectors, and any metal contacts.

The first probe the USSR tried to send on a fly-by mission to Venus failed to leave Earth’s orbit—being secretive and not wanting the world to know about its failure, the probe was renamed as Tyazhely Sputnik (heavy satellite) and the Soviets pretended that it was their intention. 

Venera 1 and Venera 2 followed and were also intended for Venus fly-by missions. Both were successful in leaving Earth’s orbit, but telemetry would be lost shortly after and so no meaningful data was ever collected from them.

Finally, in 1965, Venera 3 was launched with a mission of exploring the surface of Venus. The equipment on board this probe were solar panels, rechargeable batteries, UHF transmitters/receivers, telemetry switches, sensors/gyroscopes and jets to correct movement, and a computer controller. The scientific payload included a three-flux gate magnetometer, discharge and semiconductor detectors, sensors to measure plasma flows, piezoelectric sensors, and a device to measure cosmic radio in 15m/150m/15km.

Unfortunately, the mission had an anti-climatic ending. Venera 3’s communication system failed and then it crash landed on the surface of Venus on March 1st. While no scientific data could be collected, it still marked the first time a human-made object landed (hard or otherwise) on the surface of another planet. 

Other Venera probes would successfully collect data, although the environment is so hostile that the probes only lasted for a few hours. However, some resulting photos do exist of the surface of Venus.

The last mission to Venus was in 1984, but NASA appears to be interested in returning to the planet. Well aware of the challenges of the Venusian environment, new research into materials science to create electronic components that might stand a better chance was conducted.

One solution is using silicon carbide instead of silicon, an idea that came from the fact this material is used in sensors of rocket engines to withstand the heat. Teams at the NASA Glen Research Center put chips made from SiC with wiring insulated by MgO ceramic, and sealed with glass to the test using imitated Venus environments and without any special protection—they withheld up against the chemicals and heat for 500 hours. 

1975: The Homebrew Computer Club Meets for the First Time

On March 3rd, 1975, a group of computer hobbyists held their first bi-weekly meeting for the Homebrew Computer Club (HCC). The group met in the garage of Fred Moore and Gordon French who co-founded the club for the purpose of gathering computer hobbyists, talking about the latest tech news, trading computer parts, and sharing schematics. 

At the time, the Altair 8800 had just been released, a build-it-yourself computer kit based on the Intel 8080 and sold through mail-order. In 1975, it sold for $439 USD or for $621 USD assembled—approximately $2,085.24 USD and $2,949.74 in 2018. The Altair 8800 is often credited for spawning the microcomputer revolution.

At this meeting were Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the future founders of Apple. Wozniak was inspired by the Altair kit and wanted to show that it was possible to build an affordable alternative with fewer parts that was still equivalent in power. He designed the Apple-1 blueprints with plans to share them for free with the other members of the HCC to build themselves. However, at the second meeting of the HCC, Jobs convinced Wozniak he should build the Apple-1 and sell it instead of giving it away for free. They entered a partnership, Jobs secured a deal with the Byte Shop to distribute the computer, and the story of how Apple was founded would begin.


By Binarysequence [CC BY-SA 4.0]


However, at that meeting, other computer enthusiasts were present who would also go on to make great strides in the computer and tech industry: Jerry Lawson who invented the first video game cartridge, Harry Garland and Roger Melen who founded Cromemco, and Bob Marsh who founded Processor Technology Corporation, just to name a few.

1989: The World Wide Web Is Proposed

It’s difficult to imagine life without the Internet. This incredibly important and powerful tool revolutionized nearly all aspects of human life, changing how we communicate, socialize, find love, become educated, find information, and consume entertainment.

The Internet began as this niche tool used among connected computers, but it wasn’t until the World Wide Web was introduced that its use would make the Internet more life what it is today—a complementary entity that turns mere network connections into an online world full of information (and memes). It is unlikely that the British scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, would have an idea of how revolutionary the World Wide Web would be when he proposed it in March 1989.


Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Photograph by Paul Clarke [CC BY-SA 4.0]


The inspiration for the proposal came when Berners-Lee began working at CERN as a software engineer and wanted to come up with a solution that would make sharing information easier with scientists involved from all over the world. At the time, computers had to be accessed directly and often came with individual technical challenges like requiring knowledge of different computer languages. If you couldn't accomplish this on your own, you would need to find someone who could access that data for you, which was a mite harder before the internet because you had to physically find them.

Berners-Lee wrote a proposal called “Information Management: A Proposal”, in which he describes a system using an upcoming technology called hypertext. He described the Hyper-Text Mark-up Language (HTML) to format text and elements on the World Wide Web, a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) which is now more commonly known as a URL to uniquely identify pages on the World Wide Web, and the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which manages the retrieval process for elements on the World Wide Web.

As with so many great ideas, the proposal was not taken seriously by his superiors, but Berners-Lee still was given opportunities to work on it. The first browser, web server, and web page became accessible in 1991 and he began inviting scientists to use it, then began making it accessible to individuals outside of CERN. He urged CERN to make the World Wide Web royalty-free so that it can be continued to be developed and used outside of the organization. And the rest is history.

Today, Berners-Lee is the founder and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which continues to develop the WWW standards.


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