Mysteries at the Museum (2010) s10e08 Episode Script

Hillary's Yeti

The quest to find a legendary beast This superhuman creature terrorized villagers for centuries.
a computer malfunction that changes the world This machine was revolutionary.
and the daredevil duo who soared above adversity.
There was simply too much at stake for them to fail.
WILDMAN: Deep in the vaults of the world's greatest institutions lie extraordinary relics, tales of intrigue and wonder, and secrets waiting to be revealed.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
Seattle, Washington.
This city's famous Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously-operating farmers' market in the country.
And just around the corner is another center of community pride -- the Wing Luke Museum.
Dedicated to the celebration of Asian-American culture, its collection includes Cambodian masks, tattooing instruments from Fiji, and items that once belonged to martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
But there's one item here that seems like it belongs not in a museum but in a laundry hamper.
MIKI: This artifact is made of cotton.
It feels very soft, very comfortable.
When you see them, you know that they were handmade.
It has a lot of patterns and is very colorful in its design and its shape, very reminiscent of the '60s.
Lecturer Miki Nguyen knows firsthand that these innocuous-looking shorts recall one of the most daring escape attempts of all time.
MIKI: This is a story about never giving up in a very dangerous situation.
WILDMAN: Who wore these shorts? And how did their owner pull of a death-defying flight to freedom? April 29, 1975 -- Vietnam.
For nearly 20 years, the democratic South has been fighting the advance of the communist North.
But now the tide has turned.
Communist forces are closing in on the southern capital of Saigon.
With defeat looming, the city's residents fear for their safety, none more so than a 35-year-old South Vietnamese Air Force pilot named Ba Van Nguyen.
Nguyen lives on an air force base with his wife and three small children.
And he knows that capture by the communists means certain death.
He was scared.
He feared for his life, losing his family and being killed.
WILDMAN: So Nguyen comes up with a wild plan to escape -- steal a Chinook helicopter and fly it to freedom.
Basically, he stole a helicopter to save his family and himself.
WILDMAN: The pilot tells his family to meet him at a local soccer field.
With the base in chaos, Nguyen sneaks onto the airfield and finds a Chinook.
His fellow officers are so distracted by the approaching communists that he's able to fly away unnoticed.
But when he lands on the field, he finds it's packed with refugees all desperately trying to flee the city.
Nguyen can't bring himself to leave them behind.
So he squeezes 15 more people onboard, then he takes off.
MIKI: The thinking was to fly further south, perhaps an island, perhaps a place that's deserted.
WILDMAN: But just a few miles into the flight, he makes a devastating realization -- the aircraft is low on fuel.
He estimates that he has mere minutes before it drops into the ocean.
All seems lost.
But then he spots something in the distance.
He saw a little dot out on the horizon.
WILDMAN: Nguyen recognizes it as a friendly U.
Navy destroyer.
It's his only hope.
But as he flies closer, the reality of the situation becomes clear.
Unlike an aircraft carrier, a destroyer has nowhere for a helicopter to land.
The problem here was the ship was just too small.
He did not have enough fuel to get back.
This was the absolute worst-case scenario.
So his heart was pumping.
And he needed to somehow, someway make it out alive.
WILDMAN: Nguyen radios the ship's captain with a risky idea.
He says that if he can't land on the ship, he'll hover his chopper as close to the destroyer as possible.
Then, his family and the 15 other refugees will jump onto the ship's deck.
The captain agrees to let him try.
Nguyen flies over the destroyer and struggles to hold the aircraft steady.
MIKI: He's hovering the Chinook on the back of the ship as the ship is moving at roughly 5 knots.
That is some badass flying, man.
WILDMAN: With the helicopter in position, Nguyen orders his passengers and his family to jump, including his 6-year-old son, Miki.
MIKI: I remember, I jumped and dropped 15, 18 feet down.
One of the crewmen caught me and my baby sister.
The last person that jumped was my mother.
She looked back to my dad and just said, "Goodbye.
I'll see you later," and jumped.
WILDMAN: Miraculously, they all land safely on the deck.
Now the pilot has one final task -- to save himself.
There is no way he can jump from the aircraft without crashing it onto the ship.
So he'll have to bail out over the ocean instead.
The only thing he had to do was ditch this thing.
WILDMAN: Nguyen flies a safe distance away from the destroyer.
As he prepares to make the jump, he realizes his flight suit is too heavy to swim in.
So he strips down to his boxer shorts, the same ones now on display at the Wing Luke Museum.
He opens the helicopter's door and jumps.
The helicopter plummets into the water and explodes, sending shrapnel flying through the air.
Fortunately, he was far enough away and was able to survive.
WILDMAN: Nguyen is pulled from the ocean by the ship's crew.
MIKI: When he got on the ship, he was ushered to my mom and the family.
It was just amazing luck and a happy ending.
WILDMAN: Weeks later, Nguyen and his family arrive at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.
They are among thousands of Vietnamese refugees evacuated by the U.
Military after the fall of Saigon.
35 years later, in 2010, Nguyen is honored by the U.
Navy for his heroic act with an Air Medal of Bravery.
And these shorts that Ba Van Nguyen wore during his courageous flight to freedom are now on display at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle.
They're a reminder of a father who took the clothes off his back to save his family.
New York City In 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson first laid eyes on the island of Manhattan while on an expedition to find a new sea route to Asia.
And today, this historic borough is home to an institution that celebrates the spirit of adventure -- The Explorers Club.
On display is a bell from a 19th-century whaling ship, a radio transmitter from the South Pole, and a flag that traveled to both the highest and lowest points on Earth.
But its most bizarre item came from one of history's most unusual quests.
The artifact is dome-shaped.
It's a bit coarse.
It's dark in color, but it's got some orange and red in it.
It's got this kind of animal-like quality to it.
It really looks like something that could be from a creature.
WILDMAN: According to curator Lacey Flint, this object was thought to be proof of the existence of a legendary monster.
This superhuman creature terrorized villagers for centuries.
WILDMAN: 1960 -- the United States.
After becoming the first man to summit Mount Everest, Edmund Hillary is celebrated as one of the greatest explorers in the world.
But now, he is preparing for his biggest adventure to date.
He wants to solve the mystery of the legendary yeti.
FLINT: The yeti is supposed to be this superhuman creature that walks on two legs.
It's very large.
In America, we would call it the abominable snowman.
Legends would tell you that these yetis terrorized villages.
They killed people.
They stole your children.
WILDMAN: The elusive creatures are rumored to live in the remotest parts of the Himalayas.
But while locals profess to having seen the bizarre humanoids, others believe they are nothing more than a myth.
So Hillary wants to find out the truth once and for all.
FLINT: If Hillary comes back with proof of a yeti, it would be absolutely off the charts.
WILDMAN: The famous explorer assembles a team of scientists and organizes an expedition.
And in September, Hillary and his group travel to Nepal and hike into the Himalayas.
They cross frozen glaciers and scale some of the most rugged terrain on the planet, looking for any sign of the legendary beasts.
Trekking through the Himalayas is not easy.
It's very physically taxing.
It's very mentally taxing.
You're struggling with altitude sickness.
It's very cold.
The air is very thin.
It's very dangerous.
WILDMAN: But after weeks of searching, they come up empty until one day, when the quest gets its first solid lead.
The team is caught in a sudden storm and seeks shelter in a nearby village.
They are greeted by the head of the village, a man named Chumbi.
Chumbi listens as Hillary explains the purpose of his trek.
And then the chief says something that stuns Hillary and his men.
He has proof that the yeti exists.
FLINT: Hillary's thrilled.
Finally, he's got something tangible that might be the key to this puzzle.
WILDMAN: Chumbi leads Hillary to a temple.
And there, he's shown something incredible.
He's thinking to himself, "We found it.
" It's 1960 in a remote village in Nepal.
Famous explorer Sir Edmund Hillary is on a quest to find a legendary monster -- the yeti.
But after weeks of coming up empty, he meets a Sherpa who claims to have proof of the mythical creature.
So can Hillary prove the yeti exists? Hillary stands before a strange relic.
The village elder tells him that it's the 200-year-old scalp of a yeti.
When Hillary first sees this scalp, he's overwhelmed.
This was the most tangible evidence he had that a yeti might exist.
WILDMAN: Thrilled with the discovery, Hillary brings the scalp back to the U.
and sends it to a group of anthropologists for testing.
They wanted to know the answer.
This could be a really big deal.
WILDMAN: Less than a month later, the results are in.
FLINT: It turns out this supposed yeti scalp is actually the hide of a serow, a Himalayan goat.
It might not have been the answer that people thought it was or thought it could be.
But Hillary was able to answer his question.
WILDMAN: With this evidence in hand, Hillary believes he's proven beyond a doubt that the yeti has never been more than a myth.
Hillary has a copy of the so-called yeti scalp made and donates it to The Explorers Club in New York City.
It remains on display to this day, a hirsute reminder of the attempt to solve a legendary mystery.
Sweden's charming capital city is actually spread out over 14 islands.
So it's no surprise that the city first rose to prominence as one of the busiest ports in Europe.
And paying tribute to this maritime heritage is the Vasa Museum.
Its exhibits include 17th-century cannons, a skeleton of a Swedish king, and powdered paint pigments used to decorate ships.
But this entire collection is dwarfed by the colossal relic at the heart of the museum.
It's 230 feet long, 39 feet wide, 165 feet tall.
It weighs between 800 and 900 tons.
And it was built almost 400 years ago.
It's richly ornamented with over 700 carvings.
But it was once almost completely lost to history.
WILDMAN: This is the Vasa warship.
According to curator Dr.
Fred Hocker, this mighty vessel was at the center of a baffling maritime mystery.
HOCKER: This is a story of 17th-century ambition, folly, and disaster, redeemed by an adventurous spirit and tenacity.
WILDMAN: It's 1628, Stockholm.
Crowds of people are gathered at the city's harbor to watch Sweden's newish warship, the Vasa, embark on its maiden voyage.
The massive vessel is decked with over 40 cannons, allowing the Navy to attack enemy ships at a great distance for the first time.
This was the new type of warship for the Swedish navy, one that relied on artillery rather than hand-to-hand fighting as the decisive element in battle.
WILDMAN: The event is billed as a demonstration of the kingdom's naval might.
This ship was a symbol of ambition.
It was about this vision of a greater Sweden, of a grander future.
WILDMAN: But shortly after the ship pushes off, disaster strikes.
HOCKER: The ship sailed for 1,200 yards, keeled over [ Screaming ] and went to the bottom like a stone.
WILDMAN: Over 30 sailors drown.
And what was supposed to be a point of Swedish pride is now a catastrophic embarrassment.
The navy immediately launches an inquest to determine the cause of the disaster.
But with the ship lying at the bottom of the harbor and no way to access it, there's little evidence to go on.
The sinking of the Vasa goes down in history as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the world, that is until over three centuries later.
Marine engineer Anders Franzen is obsessed with the sinking of the Vasa warship.
HOCKER: He'd had this interest from a very early age in old ships and shipwrecks and the navy's history, particularly in the Vasa.
And he wanted to bring that history to life.
WILDMAN: Franzen thinks the only way to solve the mystery is to inspect the Vasa itself.
But sending a team of scuba divers down just won't work.
HOCKER: It's quite dark, and there's so much sediment in the water, you really can't see much more than that, maybe the length of your arm.
WILDMAN: Franzen is left with only one choice -- He must somehow raise the ship from the ocean floor.
HOCKER: The potential for disaster was great.
It was possible that if the ship was brought to the surface, that it would tear it apart.
WILDMAN: Despite the risks, Franzen comes up with a plan.
The first step -- dig tunnels beneath the Vasa, then thread slings through the tunnels and around the ship to form a giant net.
Next, winch the upper edge of the hull to the surface of the harbor and pump the water out.
He wanted to refloat it as if it were a new ship.
This completely outrageous idea, no one had ever tried to do anything quite like this before.
WILDMAN: Franzen chips away at the project for five long years.
Finally, on April 24, 1961, everything is in place.
Virtually the entire population of Stockholm came out to watch it.
Nobody actually knew if this was gonna work.
It's 1961 in Sweden.
An engineer named Anders Franzen is attempting to uncover how a massive warship called the Vasa inexplicably sank in Stockholm Harbor 300 years earlier.
But to do so, he must first raise this enormous vessel without destroying it.
So can Franzen solve the mystery of the Vasa ship? [ Cheers and applause ] Anders Franzen and his team slowly wind the winches and hold their breath.
Finally, something breaks the surface.
It was the main mast and the foremast.
It was the Vasa.
And it's completely intact.
WILDMAN: Soon, the entire vessel floats in the harbor once again.
With the ship above water, Franzen can finally begin to solve the mystery of how it sank.
HOCKER: The upper part of the ship was too heavily built for the amount of ship that was in the water.
It's completely out of proportion.
And so the design of Vasa is fundamentally flawed.
WILDMAN: The ship's unusual dimensions and the weight of her cannons allowed water to flood into the gun ports.
That caused the ship to tip over and sink to the bottom of the harbor.
Franzen has solved Sweden's greatest maritime mystery.
Over the following 17 years, experts restore the Vasa.
In 1990, a museum is built around the prized vessel.
Today, it remains the world's only salvaged 17th-century battleship, on display for the awe of millions less than a mile from where it disastrously sank.
Lush countryside, charming canals, and centuries-old architecture make the Midlands among the most picturesque regions in Britain.
And located in one of its many market towns is an institution that celebrates the area's rich history -- the Grantham Museum.
Its collection includes a Garand rifle from World War II, a 17th-century apothecary, and a death mask of Sir Isaac Newton.
But among these vestiges of the past is an item that recalls a modern scandal.
ROBBINS: This artifact is 13 inches wide, 13 inches deep, and 18 inches tall.
It's got a hinged lid with a slot and carrying handles on either side.
It's made from black-painted tin.
And quite a bit of that paint has worn off on the edges with constant use over the years.
WILDMAN: This box is linked to a tumultuous tale of power, corruption, and lies.
ROBBINS: This is the story of a bizarre plot to bring the government down.
WILDMAN: It's May 1983.
Great Britain and Argentina are at war.
The South American nation has invaded a small British territory called the Falkland Islands.
British forces are struggling to stop the advance, and defeat seems imminent.
The bad news spells trouble for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In the midst of a crippling recession, the Iron Lady is deeply unpopular among the British.
There were lots of people who didn't like her at all.
WILDMAN: With a general election on the horizon, it seems that Thatcher's days in office are numbered.
Then, on May 4th, the battle in the Falkland Islands takes a turn for the worse.
A British warship, the HMS Sheffield, is attacked, killing 20 people onboard.
The public is outraged.
But Thatcher responds swiftly.
She orders a ferocious counterattack.
The Argentinians are driven back, and the British emerge victorious.
The Iron Lady has saved the day.
ROBBINS: People were extremely approving of her very decisive approach.
Her popularity absolutely shot up.
People thought she was marvelous.
WILDMAN: In June 1983, British citizens go to the polls.
They use election boxes, like this one on display at the Grantham Museum, to cast their votes.
Thatcher was reelected in a landslide victory.
WILDMAN: Her reelection is seen as one of the most stunning political turnarounds in British history.
Many credit the feat to her swift action in the Falklands War.
But just days later, her stunning triumph is cast in a very different light.
Agents with the British Secret Service receive what appears to be a secretly-recorded phone call between Thatcher and U.
President Ronald Reagan.
And it gives a seemingly shocking insight into the Falklands War.
On the recording, Thatcher appears to admit that she intentionally let the British warship, the HMS Sheffield, be sunk.
It's the very event that kick-started the decisive British counterattack that caused her popularity to soar and swept her back into office.
The agents are shocked.
This could have huge political implications.
WILDMAN: So did Thatcher sacrifice British soldiers for her own political gain? It's 1983 in London.
Agents with the British Secret Service have just received a recording of an alleged phone call between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.
President Ronald Reagan, the contents of which are shocking.
It suggests Thatcher intentionally sacrificed British soldiers in the Falklands conflict to win her reelection.
So could the Iron Lady really have plotted to start a war between Britain and Argentina? Agents launch an investigation.
They confirm the voices do, in fact, belong to Thatcher and Reagan.
But they also notice something unusual.
The conversation between the two leaders sounds stiff and awkward.
It was really quite jerky and disjointed.
WILDMAN: Agents transcribe the tape.
And when they review the material, they make a stunning discovery.
All the phrases seem to be taken directly from speeches made by the politicians.
ROBBINS: It was a manufactured conversation.
This was an act of political sabotage.
WILDMAN: Agents determine the recording was made by splicing together clips to make it seem as though Thatcher and Reagan said things they never did.
Agents fear the tape is an attempt to destabilize Margaret Thatcher's government and consider it a threat to national security.
So who would have created this fake recording and why? Suspicion immediately lands on the Argentinians.
MI6 thought the Argentinians were taking revenge against Margaret Thatcher and trying to discredit her.
WILDMAN: But investigators cannot find any evidence linking them to the tape.
ROBBINS: MI6 was baffled.
They didn't know who the tape had come from.
WILDMAN: Then, in January 1984, the truth comes out.
A reporter with a British newspaper publishes an astounding revelation.
ROBBINS: A journalist was tipped off.
It was a punk-rock anarchist band.
WILDMAN: The group is known as Crass.
ROBBINS: Crass were an anti-establishment band.
They hated Mrs.
Thatcher and her government.
WILDMAN: They created the fake conversation to prank the Thatcher regime.
ROBBINS: Crass were quite happy to have it exposed as a hoax.
And I guess it brought them some good publicity.
WILDMAN: With the culprits identified, MI6 puts the ordeal behind them.
Thatcher leads her nation until 1990.
She remains the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the modern era.
And today, this voting box at the Grantham Museum stands as a reminder of the lengths some people will go to influence an election.
Pueblo, Colorado, was once the largest steel producer west of the Mississippi River, a distinction that earned it the nickname Steel City.
And on the outskirts of town is an institution dedicated to machines built from this vital material -- the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum.
Inside, visitors can examine a helicopter from the Korean War, a homemade biplane, and a Boeing Superfortress bomber from World War II.
But among these aeronautical marvels is one that, at first glance, appears humble by comparison.
GRADY-WILLIS: It's 38 feet wide, 25 feet long, and 10 feet tall.
It's made of wood and fabric and covered in metal.
It is silver with a blue stripe.
Looking at it now, it looks antique.
WILDMAN: This is an Alexander Eaglerock biplane.
As Professor Winston Grady-Willis attests, this aircraft recalls an epic quest for equal rights.
GRADY-WILLIS: It's a reminder of a historic flight when one man dared to push the limits.
WILDMAN: 1932 -- Los Angeles.
32-year-old James Herman Banning is one of the nation's only African-American pilots.
He scrapes a living together by flying in stunt shows.
But the talented aviator is excluded from steady work such as flying for the Army Air Corps.
GRADY-WILLIS: The perception of African-American pilots was that they were capable of entertaining individuals but weren't necessarily capable pilots.
So Banning literally lived an existence just skirting poverty.
WILDMAN: Banning wants to have the same opportunities as white pilots.
Unfortunately, Banning's dream is a world away.
Organizations like the military consider black pilots inferior to their white counterparts.
GRADY-WILLIS: But Banning was determined to demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that blacks were skilled pilots.
WILDMAN: To achieve equal opportunity in the skies, Banning vows to do something never before done by an African-American pilot -- complete a transcontinental flight across the United States.
Transcontinental flying was a key hallmark of capability and success for pilots.
WILDMAN: But it's no easy feat.
Most aircraft are limited by small fuel tanks.
The 3,000-mile journey will require him to fly from airfield to airfield and refuel along the way.
It's a treacherous undertaking.
Nevertheless, Banning thinks if he can pull it off, the army and other employers will be forced to take black pilots seriously.
If he succeeded in making this flight, the doors would finally open.
WILDMAN: To make the journey, Banning secures an Alexander Eaglerock biplane like the one on display at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum.
It was a World-War-I-era biplane.
It had a 14-year-old engine and was weather-beaten to say the least.
WILDMAN: To help him fix any mechanical problems along the way, he recruits a copilot named Thomas Cox Allen.
He has limited flight experience, but he's an exceptional mechanic.
WILDMAN: In September, the intrepid pair are ready to take off.
There's just one problem -- They are desperately short on funds and only have enough money to afford a single tank of fuel.
They have only $25 between them.
WILDMAN: The journey seems doomed to fail before it has even begun.
This historic flight may not even take place after all.
How will Banning and Allen make their dream take off? It's 1932 in California.
Pilots James Herman Banning and Thomas Allen are determined to be the first African-Americans to fly across the United States.
But they have a problem -- They've spent almost all their cash getting their plane air-worthy.
And none is left to pay for fuel.
So will this historic flight be grounded for good? Just days before they are scheduled to depart, Allen is struck with an idea.
They will chart a course so that they land in cities with sizable black populations.
At each stop, they will ask the community for donations towards fuel.
And to publicize their stunt, they'll give themselves an apt nickname.
They decide to call themselves the flying hobos.
WILDMAN: On September 19th, Allen and Banning take off from Los Angeles.
A few days later, they land in Yuma, Arizona, and ask the local community for help.
GRADY-WILLIS: They would reach out to local churches, barber shops, pool halls, anywhere where they could drum up support.
The reaction was absolutely overwhelming in terms of its support.
WILDMAN: Residents are so moved by the pilots' quest and eagerly offer them a free tank of gas.
Banning and Allen are on their way once more.
They make stops in St.
Louis, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
And each time they land, they are met with an outpouring of local support.
GRADY-WILLIS: Everyone felt that there was simply too much at stake for them to fail.
WILDMAN: On October 9th, after 21 days and 3,300 miles, Banning and Allen touched down to great fanfare at Long Island, New York's, Valley Stream Airport.
There are thousands of individuals who greet them.
They receive a hero's welcome.
WILDMAN: The story is picked up by the press, bringing national attention to the discrimination faced by black pilots.
Eight years later, in 1940, Banning's vision of opening the skies to all goes farther than he ever imagined.
The United States Army finally allows African-Americans to serve as pilots.
Today, this 1926 Alexander Eaglerock remains on display at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum in Colorado.
It recalls the historic journey made by two African-American pilots determined to reach new heights.
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University is a hotbed of technological innovation.
It's alumni have created such notable companies as Polaroid, Microsoft, and Facebook.
And this spirit of ingenuity is celebrated at the Science Center.
Its collection includes one of the earliest compound microscopes, an 18th-century model of the solar system, and a telescope that belonged to Benjamin Franklin.
But among these delicate items is one hulking relic.
It is 26 feet wide and almost 8 feet tall.
It's made of metal.
It's filled with switches and tiny panels.
If you look closely, you can see all of these knobs turning in unison.
It looks like it came from the set of a science-fiction movie.
WILDMAN: This contraption ushered in a new era of technology.
But as journalist Seth Porges attests, it's perhaps most famous for a very different reason.
This massive machine is responsible for a phrase that we still use today.
As tensions with the Soviet Union rise, America is desperate to establish itself as the world's super power.
Military and government officials believe the key is in developing missiles that can hit a specific target from miles away.
They thought if you could shoot missiles with precision, this could make a huge difference.
WILDMAN: But it's no easy feat.
Calculating the exact trajectories required for accurate strikes means solving some of the most complex mathematical equations known to man.
So to help, the military has acquired a revolutionary new machine under development at Harvard University -- a computer.
It's one of the first computers the world has ever seen.
It was revolutionary.
This machine is essentially a giant calculator.
WILDMAN: But there's a problem -- All the computer can do is add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
The military needs a way to program it to calculate vital missile trajectories.
And to help them solve this problem, officials turn to one of the nation's top scientists, a 39-year-old mathematician named Grace Hopper.
Grace was one of the best and brightest scientists in the country.
She could make a huge difference in war.
WILDMAN: For months, Grace and a team of other scientists work around the clock programming calculations and pouring over the results.
PORGES: Grace Hopper spends nights with this machine, going over blueprints and studying its structure to see how it works and what it is.
WILDMAN: They are eventually able to make the machine solve the necessary equations with a high degree of accuracy and speed.
The military is delighted by their success.
And the Harvard computer system becomes a critical piece of their arsenal.
But this colossal machine is about to meet its match.
On September 9, 1947, Hopper and her team are running a routine test on the system when something goes terribly wrong.
We have a problem.
Out of nowhere, it just suddenly stops working.
WILDMAN: It seems the computer is suffering a critical malfunction.
PORGES: Something massive must have gone wrong.
And Grace is wondering, "What could be the problem?" It's the 1940s in Massachusetts.
Engineer Grace Hopper is working on a vital defense project -- programming a new computer to calculate the trajectories of long-range missiles.
But just as she's making progress, the system crashes.
Little does she know, the source of the error is so unusual, it will change computer history forever.
For hours, the scientists comb through the massive machine's inner workings.
So Hopper and the team open up this building-sized machine and start looking around to see what went wrong.
WILDMAN: Finally, they spot a vital clue -- a relay has malfunctioned.
It appears there's something jammed in the switch.
And as they look closer, they find their answer.
It's the last thing anyone was expecting.
PORGES: What they see is a tiny moth.
WILDMAN: The offending creature is carefully removed from the machine.
With the problem fixed, the computer system resumes working properly.
It goes on to become an essential tool throughout the Cold War.
But it also leaves another legacy.
PORGES: Hopper is sort of in awe how this little bug could've caused this massive machine to stop working.
So going forward, any time they make little fixes or solve little problems, well, they call it debugging.
Today, the term computer bug is used every day.
WILDMAN: A portion of the team's original machine is on display at the Science Center at Harvard University.
It is a hulking tribute to the pioneering men and women who blazed the trail in computer science and the tiny bugs they encountered along the way.
From a political scandal to a father's mission, a cross-country flight to a legendary beast.
I'm Don Wildman.