Gyroscopes – What they are and how they work + BONUS War Story

The year was 1963, President Kennedy had started the race to the moon, and tween boys and their Dads needed to learn all about the engineering involved to be good Americans. This book, found last weekend at the Porterville Friends of the Library monthly sale fills the role of a book a son and his Dad could have enjoyed together.

With diagrams and photographs illustrating the principles of gyroscopes and applications such as keeping a ship, plane, or rocket stable, this is a fine illustration of how science and engineering can be a fun-for-the-family experience. I bet a modern edition would still be a great introduction to science experiments anyone can do.

I look forward to reading this book by James C. Sparks to brush up on the physics, to learn some new applications, and to learn about the physics of some of the instruments on satellites I wrote ground control software for in the 1980s. Gyros keep the “birds” stable, and for the Hubble Space Telescope at least, have been factors in some daring astronautic repair work.  I have a couple of old bicycles in the garage, and a few old vacuum cleaners too. Maybe I can rig up some cool gyroscopic something or other with the wheels and motors.

Fun for boys and girls, this book was discarded by the Porterville Library and now I bet there is not a replacement that the whole family can learn from.

Bonus: I just noticed that the inside cover has a faceplate pasted on it:

In Honor of Ensign Gary L. Thornton, United States Naval Reserve

Killed in action February 20, 1967, when his Phantom F4B was hit by Communist ground fire over North Vietnam.

This book is donated in the hope that it will interest and inspire others to dedicate their lives to the service of their country and to the preservation of the American way of life.

This turns out to be even more interesting, as I googled the name and found out that Ensign Thornton was not killed in action, but he was in fact captured and served 6 years as a POW, returning home in 1973.

I find this odd, because I thought the military was VERY reluctant to list someone as killed in action unless there was indisputable evidence such as a body. Absent a body, the classification missing-in-action seems appropriate, and was commonly applied as I recall from the tail end of that war.

That makes me think there is more of a story here that just the gyroscopes.

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