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

NASA Photo ID S65-30427 // Public Domain
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:

Celebrate the Encyclopedia Britannica's 250th Birthday by Checking Out Its First Edition Online

Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Mario Tama/Getty Images

While those gold-embossed, multi-volume sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica were a feature of many an American childhood, the origins of the venerable reference work actually lie in Scotland. Two hundred and fifty years ago—on December 10, 1768—the first pages of the Britannica were published in Edinburgh. To celebrate the anniversary, the National Library of Scotland has put a rare first edition of the encyclopedia online.

The first edition was the brainchild of printer Colin Macfarquhar, engraver Andrew Bell, and the editor William Smellie. It was published in 100 weekly sections over three volumes (completed in 1771), but explicit engravings of midwifery scandalized some subscribers, and were ripped out on the orders of the Crown. The entries of the first edition—some of which ran to hundreds of pages—reflect the biases and preoccupations of their time: woman is defined as "the female of a man," while there are 39 pages devoted to horse diseases. Nevertheless, the work was a significant accomplishment that drew on at least 150 sources, from essays by famous philosophers to newspaper articles. It also featured 160 copperplate engravings by Bell.

The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

In a statement from the National Library of Scotland, Rare Books Curator Robert Betteridge said, "By the 20th century Britannica was a household name throughout the English-speaking world, and what is especially interesting about this publication was that it had a distinctly Scottish viewpoint. The first edition emphasized two themes—modern science and Scottish identity, including ground-breaking and controversial articles on anatomy and Scots Law."

The first edition (which includes those ripped-out midwifery pages) will appear as part of an exhibit on the Scottish Enlightenment at the National Library of Scotland this summer. For now, you can view all three volumes of the first edition, from "A—the name of several rivers" to Zygophyllum, a genus in botany—online here.

[h/t American Libraries]

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

iStock.com/567185
iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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