Biography of Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906)

Astronomer and American physicist born in Roxbury, Massachusetts County, on August 22, 1834 and died in Aiken South Carolina spa on February 27, 1906.

His formal education only came up to the school, and then completed his training as an autodidact in the libraries of Boston, reach some very advanced in subjects such as astronomy and engineering knowledge. After a series of jobs as an engineer and architect in Chicago and St. Louis, he returned to Boston as an Assistant of the Harvard Observatory in 1865. Two years later he was appointed Professor of astronomy and physics at the Allegheny Observatory, which built a system of railways that was soon adopted by the rest of the observatories. About solar radiation research led him to the invention of the bolometer in 1878, which recorded the intensity and spectrum of solar radiation of most extreme wavelengths, particularly in the far infrared. In 1887 he was appointed director of the Smithsonian Institution, charge that accompanied the of Director of the National Museum, the Zoo and the Department of astrophysical observations.

In order to perform their measurements at high altitudes it delved into the study of aerodynamics and investigated the aerodynamic properties of the birds, and was one of the first to give a reasonable explanation of how these are based, rise and descend without apparent movement of air, published in his work Experiments in Aerodinamics (1891). With this knowledge, it was built in 1896 an airplane without a pilot, driven by a small steam engine, that rose to 914 m in height, the first heavier than air capable of sustained wit. With the success he delved into his studies and designed and built an airplane piloted, equipped with a gasoline engine air cooled, in collaboration with C. Manly, who piloted it. On December 8, 1903, five days before the historic flight of the Wrightbrothers, the airplane took off from a catapult and crashed into the Potomac River. According to experts, if the Catapult had not failed Langley and Manly they had occupied in the history the Wright place.

His works, which include, among others, The Selective Absorption of solar Energy (1883), Experimental determination of Wavelenghts in the invisible prismatic spectrum (1884) and The solar and lunar spectrum (1889) were worth to him the international scientific community unanimous recognition, reflected in the award of the medal Jansen by the Institute of France, the London Royal Society Rumford Medal and his country science National Academy.