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NASA Photo ID S65-30427 // Public Domain

On This Day in 1965, the First American Walked in Space

Original image
NASA Photo ID S65-30427 // Public Domain

On June 3, 1965, astronaut Ed White climbed out of Gemini 4, becoming the first American to perform a spacewalk. It was just past 3:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. He was attached to an 8-meter tether, and maneuvered using a handheld gun that spat compressed oxygen (it ran out of propellant after just 3 minutes, after which he just yanked on the tether to move around).

The spacewalk lasted 23 minutes, but it was a huge breakthrough for NASA. White and Command Pilot Jim McDivitt had some trouble opening the hatch at first, but they managed it eventually. The pair discovered that their communications system was a bit flaky; for the duration of the spacewalk, White couldn't hear CAPCOM (though they could hear him), relying on McDivitt to relay messages. Comically, McDivitt managed to put his own system in a mode where he couldn't hear CAPCOM either, and busied himself taking photos and movies while White was having the time of his life.

CAPCOM became increasingly frustrated, repeatedly trying to raise the astronauts in order to remind them of the 20-minute time limit, without a response. The timing was vital because CAPCOM would lose radio contact past a radio blackout point, and they wanted their astronauts safely in the spacecraft when that happened. Finally, McDivitt switched his communication system to a mode where he could hear the ground. This exchange speaks volumes:

McDivitt (speaking to White): I'm going out to PUSH-TO-TALK and see what the Flight Director has got to say.

McDivitt: Gus, this is Jim. Got any message for us?

Gus Grissom (CAPCOM): Gemini 4, get back in!

McDivitt: Okay. ...

McDivitt (to White): We're coming over the west now, and they want you to come back in now.

White: Back in?

McDivitt: Back in.

Grissom (CAPCOM): Roger. We've been trying to talk to you for awhile here.

White: Aw, Cape, let me just find a few pictures.

Grissom (CAPCOM): No, back in. Come on.

White: Coming in. Listen, you could almost not drag me in, but I'm coming.

(Two minutes pass, with various chattering.)

White: ...Actually, I'm trying to get a better picture.

McDivitt: No, come on in.

White: I'm trying to get a picture of the spacecraft now.

McDivitt: Ed, come on in here!

White: All right. Let me fold the camera and put the [maneuvering] gun up.

(The better part of another minute passes, as they discuss where to stow the camera.)

White: ...This is the saddest moment of my life.

McDivitt: Well, you're going to find a sadder one when we have to come down from this whole thing.

He came in.

White was the second human to perform a spacewalk; he was preceded by cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, who made his walk just a few months earlier, on March 18, 1965. White was one of three astronauts who died in the tragic Apollo 1 fire in January 1967.

Here's a short film, narrated by White himself, about the spacewalk. (Sound starts around the 30-second mark.) It's wild seeing the actual film McDivitt took of the spacewalk. Behold:

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.


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