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Spaceshots and Snapshots of Projects Mercury and Gemini: A Rare Photographic History

Rare Snapshots From the Space Race

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Spaceshots and Snapshots of Projects Mercury and Gemini: A Rare Photographic History

In 1961, the Soviet Union successfully sent astronaut Yuri Gagarin into space with a Vostok spacecraft. Just three weeks later, the United States launched Alan B. Shepard Jr. 116 miles above earth. The space race captured the attention and imagination of millions, and astronauts were proclaimed heroes. Spaceshots and Snapshots of Projects Mercury and Gemini: A Rare Photographic History aims to capture this magic using rare and otherwise unpublished photographs. 

John Bisney and J. L. Pickering—a former correspondent who covered the space program for CNN and a space-flight historian, respectively—brought this rich history to life with rare images from NASA’s first two missions to space: Projects Mercury and Gemini. Between the two of them, they have collected an impressive selection of photographs. The book’s massive assortment comes from NASA archives, fellow collectors, retired NASA and news photographers, and auction houses, and does a wonderful job of illustrating the culture and experience of the space race. You can pre-order the book here to see of all the stunning photographs and learn more about America’s journey to the final frontier. Here's a preview of what you can expect, with captions by the authors.

The second shift of McDonnell Aircraft workers pose with Freedom 7 in the white room at LC-5 on April 28, 1961. Ed Sieblist, assistant foreman, is first-row center. McDonnell won the Mercury spacecraft contract over the Grumman Corp. in 1959 largely because the federal government knew Grumman would have its hands full with a number of critical US Navy projects.

A television cameraman perched atop a Chevrolet station wagon provides TV network pool coverage at LC-5 early on July 19, 1961—the second launch attempt, which, like the first on July 16, was called off due to bad weather.

Glenn in the white room at LC-14 on January 20, 1962 (one month before the eventual launch). The “J” numbers on the spacecraft identified umbilical cable connections.

A CBS-TV cameraman on launch morning at the Mercury Press Site. He operates an RCA TK-31 black-and-white camera with turret-mounted telephoto lenses. A white ABC-TV camera can be seen just below the CBS camera. On the roof (right) is a pool camera shared by the three broadcast television networks.

Cooper with his suit ventilator in front of Hangar S at Cape Canaveral. His Mark IV Goodrich suit incorporated many changes from Shepard’s suit, including boots, improved gloves, and new shoulder construction.

White’s helmet is equipped with a detachable visor assembly with two separate over visors. The gold film-coated outer visor offers protection against visible sunlight (which is blinding when unfiltered by Earth’s atmosphere) and ultraviolet rays. An inner visor provides protection against micrometeoroids and heat. His chest pack contains an emergency oxygen supply and a ventilation control unit for cooling. The open hatch and its window are reflected in his visor.

Earth view: Florida’s east coast

Gemini VII seen from a few feet away. The two spacecraft remained three hundred feet apart or less for more than three revolutions of the Earth over five hours. The two small gold protrusions from the white adapter section are cryogenic spectrometer/interferometers, a USAF experiment to obtain spectral irradiance information about terrestrial features and celestial objects.

The Titan II’s two first-stage engines belch smoke down the two-hundred-foot-long concrete flume after ignition at 11:41 a.m. (EST) on March 16, 1966, in this view looking south. The flume leads directly to the obscured flame bucket and can handle 25,000 gallons of water per minute sent through the bucket for cool­ing and propellant residue neutralizing. Robert Goddard successfully launched the first liquid-fueled rocket forty years to the day earlier from a relative’s Auburn, Massachusetts, farm.

In the white room at LC-19, Cernan and Stafford prepare to enter Gemini IX-A on the morning of June 3, 1966: their launch day. Backup Pilot Aldrin is behind Stafford, with backup Command Pilot Lovell and McDonnell pad leader Guenter Wendt to the right. The legs of Cernan’s suit are covered with Chromel-R, a cloth woven from stainless steel fibers to protect the astro­naut and suit from the hot exhaust thrusters of the AMU. A blue cover protects his EVA helmet visor. Beginning with this mission, Gemini helmets were made from multiple layers of epoxy-impregnated fiberglass cloth and visors were made of polycarbonate, providing far better impact protection than Plexiglas used previously. Each crewman has two gray life preservers on his parachute harness.

The space­craft is covered with its bridle and parachute lines after the eighty-four-foot-diameter main chute settled around the spacecraft because of the lack of wind.

The ATV recedes from twenty-five to sixty feet away from Gemini XII during a station-keeping exercise on the third orbit from 8:31 to 8:35 p.m. after the first series of docking tests. This sequence was over the Atlantic Ocean.

Gemini XI’s view of the ATV at a distance of twenty-five feet after the astronauts caught up with it over the California coast about an hour and twenty minutes after launch. The docking cone is to the far left and one of the ATV’s horizon sensors is at the bottom edge (center left). The crewmen (who’d been watching the ATV’s acquisition lights in darkness) donned sunglasses when it flashed into sunlight over the Pacific.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.


With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.


In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.


Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.


Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.


Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)


Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.


The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."


    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."


      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”


      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Courtesy Chronicle Books
      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books


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