John’s Believe It Or Not… November 12th

* 1981 – Canadarm performs flawlessly on shuttle Columbia. * 1954 Ellis Island closes. * 1775 Abigail Adams leads rhetorical charge against Britain. * 1948 Japanese war criminals sentenced. * 1980 Voyager I flies near Saturn.

Canadarm affixed to the shuttle cargo bay.

It’s Sunday! Did You Know…

* 1981 – Canadarm performs flawlessly on shuttle Columbia.

It was on this day in 1981 that the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System (RMS) performs flawlessly in four hours of tests on board the space shuttle Columbia STS-2.
Tests conducted by Canada’s $100 million robot arm, made by Spar Aerospace in Toronto, included manual and automatic modes of operation, ease of control, operation of joints and positioning accuracy. Its wrist-mounted camera was also put through its paces.

The remote manipulator system – named Canadarm in honor of the country that built it – flew for the first time on Nov. 12, 1981. It was only the second shuttle flight, and one of the mission’s main tasks was to test the arm out – wiggle it around a bit and see how it worked before the heavy lifting started.

The plan was to spend a few hours a day over the five-day mission doing just that, but a malfunction in one of the fuel cells threw that plan off. The mission was shortened to two days, and the Canadarm tests were canceled. They would have been rescheduled for one of the following shuttle flights if it hadn’t been for the crew’s unwillingness to let it go.

“Fortunately at that time we did not have the almost continuous communication with the ground that we have now,” Joe Engle, the mission’s commander, said. “The pilot, Dick Truly, and I told everybody at home goodnight and looked at each other and decided that, well, it’s only one night. We were young, and we thought we’d just go ahead and get as much data as we could – stay up during the night to do it.”

Engle said he doubts Mission Control was fooled for long, but no one called them on it.
“We were tired and dehydrated the next day when we were getting ready to come back in, but we did get to accomplish 90 to 95 percent of the objectives of the mission,” Engle said. “In retrospect, it was so much worth it.”

Engle described the process of testing Canadarm as similar to evaluating how well your hand is able to scratch your knee. The arm has six joints – two in the shoulder, one at the elbow and three in the wrist. It’s hollow – on Earth it wouldn’t be able to support even its own weight. But in space it can lift more than 586,000 pounds. Thanks to some upgrades, the 50-foot-long arm is accurate enough to put a peg in a hole given 60/1000 of an inch in clearance.

On April 22, 2001, Colonel Chris Hadfield made history as the first Canadian to perform a spacewalk when he installed Canadarm2 on the International Space Station 400 km (249 mi) above the earth. This next-generation robotic arm was born on the success of the Canadarm, the first robotic arm ever built for space.

Canadarm proved so effective for the shuttle’s astronauts that scientists wanted one for the Station – in fact, Col. Hadfield used Canadarm when he installed Canadarm2! From the moment it became operational, Canadarm2 has been a critical component in the construction of the Station – and it will be equally important in its maintenance for years to come. Virtually every mission will rely on it – an amazing technological achievement.

July 29, 2012 - The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency H-II Transfer Vehicle , currently attached to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Stations Harmony node.
July 29, 2012 – The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency H-II Transfer Vehicle, currently attached to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Stations Harmony node. (

* 1954 Ellis Island closes.

On this day in 1954, Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.

On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from Ireland, became the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designated as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Before that time, the processing of immigrants had been handled by individual states.

Not all immigrants who sailed into New York had to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submitted to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they passed through customs. People in third class, though, were transported to Ellis Island, where they underwent medical and legal inspections to ensure they didn’t have a contagious disease or some condition that would make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S.

Immigration to Ellis Island peaked between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island was enlarged with landfill (by the 1930s it reached its current 27.5-acre size) and additional buildings were constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people were processed at Ellis Island.

With America’s entrance into World War I, immigration declined and Ellis Island was used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passed quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduced the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enabled immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switched from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, was released and Ellis Island officially closed.

Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island underwent a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people each year.

Ellis Island, New York.
Ellis Island, New York. (

* 1775 Abigail Adams leads rhetorical charge against Britain.

Upon hearing of England’s rejection of the so-called Olive Branch Petition on this day in 1775, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, “Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, Let us beseech the Almighty to blast their councils and bring to Nought all their devices.”

The previous July, Congress had adopted the Olive Branch Petition, written by John Dickinson, which appealed directly to King George III and expressed hope for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain. Dickinson, who hoped desperately to avoid a final break with Britain, phrased colonial opposition to British policy as follows:

“Your Majesty’s Ministers, persevering in their measures, and proceeding to open hostilities for enforcing them, have compelled us to arm in our own defence, and have engaged us in a controversy so peculiarly abhorrent to the affections of your still faithful Colonists, that when we consider whom we must oppose in this contest, and if it continues, what may be the consequences, our own particular misfortunes are accounted by us only as parts of our distress.”

By phrasing their discontent this way, Congress attempted to notify the king that American colonists were unhappy with ministerial policy, not his own. They concluded their plea with a final statement of fidelity to the crown. “That your Majesty may enjoy long and prosperous reign, and that your descendants may govern your Dominions with honor to themselves and happiness to their subjects, is our sincere prayer.”

By July 1776, though, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed something very different: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

Congress’ language is critical to understanding the seismic shift that had occurred in American thought in just 12 months. The militia that had fired upon British Redcoats at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 had been angry with Parliament, not the king, who they still trusted to desire only good for all of his subjects around the globe. This belief changed after King George refused to so much as receive the Olive Branch Petition. The fundamental grounds upon which Americans were taking up arms had changed.

Abigail Adams’ response was a particularly articulate expression of many colonists’ thoughts: Patriots had hoped that Parliament had curtailed colonial rights without the king’s full knowledge and that the petition would cause him to come to his subjects’ defense. When George III refused to read the petition, Patriots like Adams realized that Parliament was acting with royal knowledge and support. Americans’ patriotic rage was intensified with the January 1776 publication by English-born radical Thomas Paine of Common Sense, an influential pamphlet that attacked the monarchy, which Paine claimed had allowed “crowned ruffians” to “impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears.”

Abigail Adams leads rhetorical charge against Britain
Abigail Adams leads the rhetorical charge against Britain. (Pinterest)

* 1948 Japanese war criminals sentenced.

An international war crimes tribunal in Tokyo passes death sentences on seven Japanese military and government officials, including General Hideki Tojo, who served as premier of Japan from 1941 to 1944.

Eight days before, the trial ended after 30 months with all 25 Japanese defendants being found guilty of breaching the laws and customs of war. In addition to the death sentences imposed on Tojo and others principals, such as Iwane Matsui, who organized the Rape of Nanking, and Heitaro Kimura, who brutalized Allied prisoners of war, 16 others were sentenced to life imprisonment. The remaining two of the 25 defendants were sentenced to lesser terms in prison.

Unlike the Nuremberg trial of German war criminals, where there were four chief prosecutors representing Great Britain, France, the United States, and the USSR, the Tokyo trial featured only one chief prosecutor–American Joseph B. Keenan, a former assistant to the U.S. attorney general. However, other nations, especially China, contributed to the proceedings, and Australian judge William Flood Webb presided. In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed.

Tojo Hideki, an Army general and Japan s political and military leader, testified at the Tokyo War Crimes trial on January 7, 1948.
Tojo Hideki, an Army general and Japan s political and military leader, testified at the Tokyo War Crimes trial on January 7, 1948. (National Archives)

* 1980 Voyager I flies near Saturn.

More than three years after its launch, the U.S. planetary probe Voyager 1 edges within 77,000 miles of Saturn, the second-largest planet in the solar system. The photos, beamed 950 million miles back to California, stunned scientists. The high-resolution images showed a world that seemed to confound all known laws of physics. Saturn had not six, but hundreds of rings. The rings appeared to dance, buckle, and interlock in ways never thought possible. Two rings were intertwined, or “braided,” and pictures showed dark radial “spokes” moving inside the rings in the direction of rotation. Voyager 2, a sister spacecraft, arrived at Saturn in August 1981. The Voyagers also discovered three new moons around Saturn and a substantial atmosphere around Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Voyager 1 was preceded to Saturn by Pioneer 11, a smaller and less sophisticated U.S. spacecraft that flew by the gas giant in September 1979. The Voyager spacecrafts were equipped with high-resolution television cameras that sent back more than 30,000 images of Saturn, its rings, and satellite. Voyager 1 was actually launched 16 days after Voyager 2, but its trajectory followed a quicker path to the outer planets.

Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter in March 1979, followed by Voyager 2 four months later. Both spacecraft then continued on to Saturn, with Voyager 1 arriving in November 1980 and Voyager 2 in August 1981. Voyager 2 was then diverted to the remaining gas giants, arriving at Uranus in January 1986 and Neptune in August 1989. Voyager 1, meanwhile, studied interplanetary space and continued on to the edge of the solar system.

In February 1998, Voyager 1 became the most distant man-made object from the sun, surpassing the distance of Pioneer 10. Voyager 2 is also traveling out of the solar system but at a slower pace. Both Voyager spacecrafts contain a gold-plated copper disk that has on it recorded sounds and images of Earth. Along with 115 analog images, the disk features sound selections that include greetings in 55 languages, 35 natural and man-made sounds, and portions of 27 musical pieces. The Voyagers are expected to remain operable until about the year 2020, periodically sending back data on the edge of the solar system.

Saturn as seen by Voyager 1
Saturn as seen by Voyager 1 (NASA)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Canadian Coin News                                             

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                                          

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

18 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… November 12th”

  1. Another fantastic selection John, I always seem to be chasing my tail. but when I get a chance to read you stuff it is like a breath of fresh air: invigorating! I am English and I would have been standing next to Abigail Adams cheering her on. As wife of 1 president and mother of another she gives a whole new elevation to First lady. People think we Brits love our Royal Family and you know while they are fine, at that time (and for a long time after) the crown was behind a regime that oppressed all working men and women including my ancestors. The American Revolution (even with some flaws) was revolutionary in the way it took a philosophical movement and passed it into law. It changed the world. The companion articles were smashing too. Particularly enjoyed reading about the Japanese war Criminals who are often lost in the Nuremberg trials) (I am watching the man in the High Castle at the moment as so this provided extra interest) and also enjoyed the section about Voyager and Saturn. Great work! Cheers Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Paul – your kind words mean a lot. I am way far behind as well – not coping well with late autumn leave raking, helping decorate the house for Christmas and keep up with busting blogs. I agree that today’s western world owes a great deal to the American Revolutionary period. As you know, we Canadians share the Queen as our Head of State and I’m thinking that perhaps a royal family is something we’ve all outgrown. I’m dreading Charles on the throne but looking forward to William – I may not live to see him crowned. Lots of issues to sort out both domestically and internationally. Thanks, Paul!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never visited Ellis Island even though I lived in the New York area for four years. Need to do that. Great arm you have there. Abagail Adams was quite a figure. Very brave. The war criminals brought to justice is a good thing. I wonder if any who were put in jail are still alive. (either in jail or out) , Saturn is beautiful. Thanks, John

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Visiting Ellis Island is on my bucket list! The photo of Saturn is stunning. Interesting to read about the Japanese WWII trial. Nuremberg is usually in the forefront. Thanks for an excellent post, John!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, John, for another great history update. I did not know that Abigail Adams was such a firey (and articulate) lady. I wonder what she’d say about current events? 😀 I’ve been to the museum at Ellis Island. Like so many citizens, my ancestors were processed there – the O’Briens, Grimes and the Taylors. Your outer space reflections on the Columbia and Voyager make me wonder what is happening on that front now. Much to think about on this Sunday morn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gwen – good question about the current status of space exploration. I wonder if Agent Orange will dismantle NASA – he seems to be gutting a lot of government departments. I was surprised by the Abigail Adams story too – I’m sure she’d have lots to say about Mr. Buffoon, and none of it flattering! That one school trip to NYC that I helped chaperone didn’t include a stop at the Ellis Island Museum – but I did get a chance to walk through the toy store where they shot the Tom Hanks movie “Big”. Thanks, Gwen!

      Liked by 1 person

I love comments & questions! Please share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s