History Book – Discovering Antarctica and building the H-Bomb

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, January 27th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It:  the WORLD Radio History Book.

Today, President Harry Truman announces the U.S. hydrogen bomb program. Plus, the 40th anniversary of a 3-D puzzle that fascinated the world.

But before that, the first confirmed sighting of Antarctica.

Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: In 150 AD, Greek mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy published a book that, among many other things, postulated the existence of a large southern landmass. He called it Terra Australis. Ptolemy believed that the northernmost lands must be balanced by similar features in the southern hemisphere.

Legends of this “unknown land of the South” persisted and spread for a millennia. After the discovery of Cape Good Hope and Cape Horn in the 15th and 16th centuries, Renaissance cartographers began including the implied continent on maps and globes—even though no one had seen it.

In 1773 James Cook came close—he was the first European to cross the Antarctic Circle. He discovered a handful of islands off the coast of Antarctica, but as he was still more than 150 miles off shore, neither he nor his crew caught sight of the continent itself.

About 50 years later, on January 30th, 1820, Irishman Edward Bransfield discovered the northernmost point of the Antarctic mainland, known as Trinity Peninsula. He believed he was the first to see the Terra Australis

But just three days earlier, about 1,500 miles away, a Russian expedition observed a large ice shelf off the eastern Antarctic coast. Naval officers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev came within 20 miles of the shore and are credited as the first explorers to see Antarctica. Over the next 16 months, they circumnavigated the continent twice while exploring the surrounding southern seas. 

A handful of sailors and cartographers mapped the coast of the continent over the following decades, but it wasn’t until the late 1890s that the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration began. Adventurers from nearly a dozen nations started exploring the interior of the landmass that is about the size of the United States and Mexico combined.   

Next, 70 years ago, the U.S. takes a step closer to creating the first hydrogen bomb. 

NEWSREEL: In closely guarded Oakridge Laboratory, American scientists work out the blueprints of a terrifying weapon a thousand times more powerful than the now outdated atom bomb… 

In the fall of 1949, Russia detonated a large atomic bomb at one of its test sites. U.S. government advisors and military officials began pressuring president Harry Truman to respond by developing an even bigger weapon. After months of consideration and internal administration debate, Truman publicly throws his support behind the development of the H-Bomb on January 31st, 1950. 

He directs the Atomic Energy Commission to continue with its work on “all forms of atomic energy weapons,” including the super-bomb or H-Bomb. A few years later, Truman appears on Edward R Murrow’s radio program: “This is What I Believe.”

TRUMAN: It has been my policy to obtain the facts, all the facts possible, then to make the decision in the public interest and to carry it out. If the facts justify the decision at the time it is made, it will always be right. A public man should not worry constantly about the verdict of history or what future generations will say about him. He must live in the present. Make his decisions for the right and on the facts as he sees them and history will take care of itself. 

The U.S. successfully detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Marshall Islands in 1952. It has never been used in war.

 And finally, January 29th, 1980:

TV COMMERCIAL: There’s never been a puzzle quite like the Rubik’s Cube…

The Ideal Toy Corporation debuts its puzzle toy: The Rubik’s Cube.

TV COMMERCIAL: Sure, Sir Isaac Newton unravelled the mystery of gravity, but could he have unravelled the mystery of the Rubik’s cube?

The popular gadget was invented five years earlier by Ernő Rubik, a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor. The original invention wasn’t a toy at all, but an attempt to solve a design problem surrounding moving parts. When he scrambled the cube, he discovered it was very difficult to put back in order. 

RUBIK: The knowledge that you can find now on the internet in connection with how to solve the cube [is] tremendous. For me there was no help so I was alone. I spent several months to do it and I finally succeeded. So that was a great enthusiasm for me. 

Audio from a Time Magazine interview. 

Speed cubing competitions draw tens of thousands every year all around the world. Ernő Rubik says his fastest solution took about a minute. The current world record for solving the 3 by 3 cube is 3.47 seconds, set by China’s Yusheng Du in 2018.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Reuters, Handout)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.