DeFlip Side #79: 25 Years of Destinies

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Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis, and this is DeFlip Side.

And, like you, I’m here to celebrate Destinies’ 25th Anniversary. The Voice of Science Fiction premiered in 1983, on April 27—a seemingly inauspicious date. But I did a little digging and it turns out that Destinies is in some pretty interesting company when it comes to marking April 27th milestones. And the list of cohorts can begin and end with the question, “What hath God wrought?”

That was the message Samuel Morse sent to officially open his first telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington D.C. in 1844. Yes, the man who invented the telegraph and Morse Code, the forerunners of the wireless medium you are currently enjoying, was born on April 27th, just like Destinies, only in 1791. Without Morse and his leap, Science Fiction may have had to find an entirely different voice. Which puts him at the top of the list, in my book.

Morse’s invention also facilitated another April 27 milestone: the final reception of a radio signal from the space probe Pioneer 10 in 2002, when it transmitted 33 minutes of clean data from a distance of more than 80 AUs. Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to get a close look at Jupiter and the outer solar system. After its mission ended in 1997, it was still used to train flight controllers how to tune in radio signals from space. And on it flies today, beyond the solar system, one of the most remote objects made by man, set on a course for Aldebaran.

And lastly from the annals of space, April 27, 1972, marked the return of Apollo 16, the fifth manned Lunar mission.

But it’s not all about science fact. April 27 is also the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft, who had a daughter, also named Mary, who married a poet named Percy Shelley, and who went on to write a little book called Frankenstein. Now if you read that novel, you’ll find the monster copiously quoting John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost.

So it would probably sadden him to know that on April 27, 1667, John Milton, blind and penniless, sold the copyright to Paradise Lost for a lousy 10 pounds. Yep. Milton came from privilege; he was erudite and well educated, but he could never keep his mouth shut. His controversial views eventually landed him in jail, which cost him his social position and property. Jobless and blinded by glaucoma, he dictated Paradise Lost to his family, finally selling the fantastical masterpiece for a pittance.

And sticking for a moment longer with the brilliant-but-impaired artist theme, it was also on April 27, 1810, that Beethoven—almost totally deaf—composed Fur Elise.

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Yeah, that one. And it’s now bigger than ever, blaring as it does from countless cell phones countless times a day. And for that you can once again thank Samuel Morse.

In other classical resurgences, April 27 also marks the birth in 1963 of TV writer and producer Russell T. Davies, who has breathed new life into the old bones of Dr. Who. Also celebrating birthdays are actor Jack Klugman, who appeared in about a million Twilight Zone episodes, and the late cartoonist Walter Lantz, who dreamed up that annoying little instigator Woody Woodpecker and all his friends.

But Lantz’s bird ain’t got nothing on Dr. Douglas Englebart’s mouse—the computer mouse, that is, which the Xerox PARC company introduced to the public on April 27, 1981. Xerox PARC also developed all the stuff to go along with the mouse—the onscreen icons, and click-and-drag functionality that liberated computers from strings of code and made them accessible to the average person—innovations that caused a revolution in the way we do everything, and which are even now shaping our vision for the future.

Such far-reaching potentialities once again bring to mind the question I quoted from Samuel Morse earlier: “What hath God wrought?”

Well, whatever it was, he did it on April 27. Seriously. The date that Destinies debuted was also the date that God created life, the universe and everything—or so went the reckoning of Johannes Kepler, who mathematically deduced that the universe was created on April 27th, in the year 4977 B.C.

Yes, that Johannes Kepler, the mathematician and astronomer who sussed-out the elliptical motion of the planets, and was inspired by the theories of Copernicus; the same Kepler who studied with Tycho Brahe and corresponded with Galileo Galilei; the same Kepler who was a key influence on Sir Isaac Newton; and (Howard should like this) the very Johannes Kepler who studied optics and demonstrated how the human eye works. According to Kepler, the Universe was created on April 27, 4977 B.C. Yeah, he was off by about 14 billion years, but what? Was he supposed to come up with the Big Bang theory, too?

So, like I said, April 27 turns out to be much more auspicious than it at first seems, especially for you diehard Kepler groupies out there. Destinies may share its voice with many others on this date, but it is in very good company indeed.

Happy 25th Anniversary!

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