The Apollo-Soyuz Mission

The above image made from a frame of 16 millimeter motion picture film marked the high point in the Detente. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was the first time that the US and the USSR cooperated in a manned space mission. Engineering teams from both sides collaborated in the development of a docking module to link the spacecraft, with the Russians being forced to reveal their past failures to NASA.

Apollo commander Thomas P. Stafford (right) and Soyuz-19 commander Aleksei A. Leonov (left) greet each other for the first time in space with a handshake. It was an event broadcast live on global television. This mission was meant to symbolize the end of competition and the beginning of an era of cooperation in space. The crews visited each other’s spacecraft, shared meals, and worked on various tasks during several days together in space. This fulfilled a 1972 agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States to participate in a joint venture in space–messages were relayed from the crews directly to President Ford and Premier Brezhnev.

The two spacecraft remained docked for two days, and undocked and re-docked for practice purposes. This would be the final flight of the Apollo spacecrafts.

Atomic Test on the Enewetak Atoll

Between July 1945 and November 1962 the United States conducted at least 216 atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests. The photos documenting this are collected in a book, 100 Suns, the name given by J. Robert Oppenheimer to the world’s first nuclear explosion in New Mexico. Oppenheimer quoted from the Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One. I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

100 Suns was complied by a San Francisco photographer Michael Light using the archives from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Archives and heretofore classified materials from the Lookout Mountain Air Force Station in Hollywood. In 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union forced the nuclear testing to go underground, ending the haunting yet magnificent era of 100 Suns. The above picture was of 8.9 Megatons atom bomb ‘Oak’, tested at Enewetak Atoll on June 29th 1958 as the part of Operation Hardtack. With test moratoriums on the horizon, the army labs rushed out many new designs, and Oak was the first successful test for TX-46 full-yield thermonuclear bomb. The residents of Enewetak were evacuated involuntarily after WWII for the nuclear testing, and some 43 nuclear tests were fired at Enewetak between 1948 and 1958, including the first hydrogen bomb test, code-named Ivy Mike, which vaporized the island of Elugelab. Only in 1977, the U.S. government began decontaminating the islands and in 2000 compensated $340 million to the people of Enewetak.

During the Cold War, almost identical pictures of soldiers silhouetted against the bright nuclear sun were used for propaganda purposes on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Troops were used as guinea pigs but any nation testing nuclear weapons, including China, where an almost surreal propaganda video of the People Liberation Army soldiers marching towards an atomic blast was released. What a simpler time!


Fordlandia_p.281No Botanists, surveyors and experts were consulted in choosing the site of Fordlandia, thereby creating the city in the middle of a swampland.


It was a grand, if eccentric, economic experiment, but by staging it in the Amazonian jungles, the American industrialist Henry Ford made a fatal error. In 1927, 65-year old tycoon sent two ships to scout the area. Ford wanted all of the parts he needed for his vehicles, but did not have the rubber; to break the Europeans monopoly on rubber, he made a deal with the Brazilian government to buy 2.5 million acres of Amazon land, roughly the size of Connecticut.

He planned not only to plant rubber trees, but also to mine the land for gold; drill for oil; and harvest timber. In addition, he hoped to bring his American-style sensibilities to the region: the production line; sanitation; buildings such as Churches, cottages; a hospital; a movie theater; and the idea of fair wages for hard work.White picket fences, movie screen, hospital, water tower, “main street,” three schools, church, hamburgers, square dancing lessons, etc etc.

What he didn’t bring was a an expertise in growing rubber trees, or an understanding of the Amazon and it’s people. They planted the trees so closely packed. Disease and insects plagued the land, and Ford had to relocate the city. Although he never actually bothered to visit the place, puritanical Henry Ford allowed no alcohol or tobacco in the city. The workers hated their unfamiliar lifestyles that they revolted and the Brazilian army had to be called it.

Later, an “Island of Innocence” 5 miles upstream which had bars, clubs, and brothels, was built. Henry Ford envisioned his own version of Gold Rush era San Francisco, but then synthetic rubber came along. Announcing curtly, “our war experience has taught us that synthetic rubber is superior to natural rubber for certain of our products,” Ford finally threw his towel in 1945. By this time, he had lost over $20 million in Brazil (modern equivalent: $200 million). Ford sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000, a token sum. Not a single drop of rubber from Fordlandia made it to the states.

International Meridian Conference


In October 1884, forty-one astronomers and representatives from 25 countries gathered in Washington D.C. for the International Meridian Conference to recommend a common prime meridian for geographical and nautical charts that would be acceptable to all parties concerned. It was 125 years ago this week.

By the end of the difficult summit, which dragged on until “smoke came out”, Greenwich, UK had won the prize of longitude 0º by a vote of 22 to one, with only San Domingo against and France and Brazil abstaining. One of the main reasons for British victory over key rivals Washington, Berlin and Paris, was that 72% of the world’s shipping already depended on sea charts that used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian. It was also convenient that Greenwich’s location insured that the 180º meridian, where formally the date line should be located, mostly passed over water.

The International Date Line, however, was never defined by any international treaty, conference, law or agreement. Only in the early 20th-century, the mapmakers created it based on the recommendations of the hydrographic departments of the British and the American Navies. The original international dateline was almost straight, but in 1921, when the Swedish-Canadian polar explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962) tried to claim the Russian lands east of the dateline for Canada, the dateline was switched to prevent further disputes.

Choosing time zones had been a great matter of controversies since. The Communists in China reverted an earlier system of having five time zones for a single Beijing standard time, an anomaly that created three and half hour time difference across Chinese-Afghan border. Equally large India snubbed its former rulers by choosing to be +0530 GMT (“turn your watch upside down if you’re in the UK, and that’s the time in India”, the saying goes) and Nepal uniquely had +0445 GMT, a visage of an absolutist past. Until 1995, Kiribati, which straddled the International Date Line (half of its islands were a day ahead of the others), and its change in 1995 created a dent on the date line.

Ideally, there would be 24 time zones across the world, but at the last count there were 39.

How Life Begins


Hailed as Sweden’s first modern photojournalist, Lennart Nilsson used his background as a scientist to reveal a side of human life heretofore considered unseenable. Starting in the mid-1950s, Nilsson began experimenting with new photographic techniques to make extreme close-up photographs. These advances, combined with very thin endoscopes that became available in the mid-1960s, enabled him to make groundbreaking photographs of living human blood vessels and body cavities.

He achieved international fame in 1965, when his photographs of the beginning of human life appeared on the cover and on sixteen pages of Life magazine. They were also published in Stern, Paris Match, The Sunday Times, and elsewhere. The photographs made up a part of the book, A Child is Born (1965); image from the book were reproduced in on the cover of April 30 1965 edition of Life, which sold eight million copies in the first four days after publication. Life advertised the photo of 18-week old embryo as an ‘Unprecedented photographic feat in color’.

Although Life claimed to show a living fetus, Nilsson actually photographed abortus material obtained from women who terminated their pregnancies under the liberal Swedish laws. Working with dead embryos allowed Nilsson to experiment with lighting, background and positions, such as placing the thumb into the fetus’ mouth. Over the intervening years, Nilsson’s painstakingly made pictures were appropriated for purposes that Nilsson never intended. Nearly as soon as the 1965 portfolio appeared in LIFE, images from it were enlarged by right-to-life activists and pasted to placards. Some photos were also later included on both Voyager spacecraft, as the part of the golden record that contains pictures, symbols and sounds of Earth and her inhabitants.


Jane Goodall by Hugo van Lawick

Born in London, Goodall was fascinated by the natural world from an early age. At the age of 23, she moved to East Africa — at first Kenya, then Tanzania — and found work as an assistant to the great paleontologist Louis Leakey. Despite her lack of formal training, Leakey sensed her deep love of animals and encouraged her to begin a study of the chimpanzees around Gombe, Lake Tanganyika, in northern Tanzania.

In 1964, Goodall married a Dutch wildlife photographer, Baron Hugo van Lawick, who documented many of her interactions with her subjects (above photo). In them,Goodall bonds with Flint, a chimpanzee born in her camp at Gombe. Flint was the first infant chimp whose development Goodall was able to follow up close until its death in 1968. And through Hugo’s film project, People of the Forest the world came to know members of Gombe’s “F” family, namely Flo, Fifi, and Flint, as well as a number of their other immediate relations. All in all, the baron created a visual record spanning over twenty years and documenting the lives of three generations of chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, her work led her into plane crashes, malaria, hardships, rivers of crocodiles, and the worst of all, the 1975 kidnapping of four of her Cambridge/Stanford students in Tanzania by the rebels from Congo coming over the lake. Goodall agreed with the Tanzanian officials who refused to negotiate their return, noting that a ransom would only embolden the terrorists.

Finally, a release agreement was reached upon (the details vary), but upon her return to Stanford in 1975, Goodall discovered that the kidnapping incident was far from over. Critics suggested that she should have taken her students’ place, and questioned both her and her husband’s actions during the incident. Eventually, she was asked to leave the university until the controversy had passed. In Africa, her grants were denied, causing Princess Genevieve di San Faustino to intervene by creating the Jane Goodall Institute.

For details, read Jane Goodall: a biography by Meg Greene

Shooting the Apple


An inventor and an artist, Dr. Harold Edgerton, a professor at MIT, pioneered the strobe flash, stop-action photography and a method of taking super-fast images called Rapatronic. These images allowed very early times in a nuclear explosion’s fireball growth to be recorded on film. The exposures were often as short as 10 nanoseconds, and each Rapatronic camera would take exactly one photograph.

Harold Edgerton’s most famous picture was that of a bullet going through an apple. Taken in 1964 with flash duration of about a millionth of a second using a specially built strobe, it became a very famous image. The .30 bullet, traveling at 2,800 feet per second, pierced right through the apple, disintegrating the latter completely. Edgerton used this image in his MIT lecture, “How to make applesauce,” to illustrate that the entry of the supersonic bullet is as visually explosive as the exit.

However, there are many more famous Edgertons: a splashing milk drop resembling a king’s crown; a golfer, shot at 100 flashes per second, swinging his driver into an Archimedian spiral, etc. Pictures of fencers, tennis players, rope-skippers and ping-pong enthusiasts, all caught in action sequences, call to mind futurist paintings with their frantic sequences of motion. Edgerton’s inventions for underwater photography alongside Jacques-Yves Cousteau have yielded such marvels as his photo of the top of a lava mountain thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface. His picture of Stonehenge, taken from a night-flying plane, brings the eerie stone slabs to life.

See Edgerton’s works at here.

Chronovisor Christ


In the 1960s, Father Pellegrino Ernetti, an exorcist from Venice, claimed that he was part of a group that supposedly included Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi and Wernher von Braun which invented a ‘time viewer’ before WWII. The machine was called the Chronovisor, and could allegedly see and hear events of the past; the device supposedly could reconstruct images and sounds of the past using their resultant waves present currently in our environment.

Using the chronovisor, Father Ernetti claimed to have witnessed a performance in Rome in 169 BC of the now-lost tragedy, Thyestes, by the father of Latin poetry, Quintus Ennius. He also claimed to have witnessed Christ dying on the cross, and photographed it. This photo (above) appeared in the May 2, 1972 issue of La Domenica del Corriere. However, a near-identical (though mirrored left to right) photograph of a wood carving by the sculptor Cullot Valera, turned up, casting doubt upon Ernetti’s statement. His defenders insisted that the machine couldn’t take close-ups photos, but only general ones and that it wasn’t possible to obtain an image that was so precise.

On his deathbed had Ernetti confessed that he had written the text of the play himself, and that the “photo” of Christ was indeed a “lie”. However, Ernetti maintained that the machine was workable.

Patterson Bigfoot


It was not only the most famous recording of an alleged Bigfoot, but also one of the last major ‘sitings’ of the creature. On October 20th 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin captured a purported Sasquatch with 16mm camera at Bluff Creek, California. Patterson and Gimlin were an expedition to find the elusive creature in the Bluff Creek area of the Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California after large footprints had been found in this region in previous years.

The famed Patterson-Gimlin film shows a large, manlike creature striding through a clearing. Unlike many alleged Bigfoot photographs, the subject in the film cannot be a misidentification. Either the film is a hoax or it is an unknown, hairy giant. The film is presented as the best evidence of Bigfoot by many advocates, and discounted by many scientists as a hoax. Many years later, Bob Heironimus, an acquaintance of Patterson’s, claimed that he had worn an ape costume for the making of the film. Both men have always dismissed allegations that they had hoaxed the footage by filming a man wearing an ape suit.

H-Bomb vaporizes Elugelab


“Ivy’s explosion broke the stillness of a mid-Pacific morning on Nov. 1, 1952; at 7:15 a.m., observers on ships and planes 50 miles away watched an enormous deep-orange fireball blaze up in the distance. Then it rose to the stratosphere, trailed by a churning grey-brown pillar of water and the pulverized remains of the little sandspit of Elugelab. As the cloud cooled, it began to billow outward. Its colors lost their infernal intensity, paled to harmless-looking but deadly pastels. Then, slowly the 100-mile-wide cauliflower drifted away and disappeared.” — TIME, April 26th 1954.

About the test–and the subsequent one 15 days later–the public only heard rumors for more than a year. Only in the early 1954 that the government decided to release the full story. In March 1954, the press published some statistics about the blast, along with black and white photographs. Some still-cuts from color motion pictures followed. In the April 26th issue of the TIME magazine, it published the first color pictures of the test, which was taken with a still camera of the explosion at Elugelab. Above was one of those pictures.

Elugelab, part of the Enewetak Atoll, was completely vaporized by the weapon.

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Dr. Kane’s self surgery


In the above unusual photo taken in 1932, the 70-year old Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane of Kane, Pennsylvania operated upon himself for inguinal hernia. When performing the complicated surgery Kane was very relaxed and even joking as he came within millimeters of important blood vessels. Because of the close proximity to the femoral artery it was a particularly delicate operation which Kane performed it in just under two hours.

Dr. Kane (1862 – 1933) was a pioneer in the medical profession and chief surgeon of New York City’s Kane Summit Hospital. Kane wanted to prove to the world that general anesthesia was often unnecessary for minor operations. He used himself for a test case and operated on himself removing his own appendix using only local anesthetic in 1921. Dr. Kane propped himself up on the operating table with a mirror over his abdomen and three other doctors in the operating room as backup. Kane made the large incision needed to remove the appendix and his assistants sutured him up. Dr. Kane chatted and laughed throughout the operation. This was before new techniques allowed doctors to make small ‘Band-Aid’-size incisions for appendix removal.

Chunnel Treaty Ratified


Socialist French President François Mitterrand and conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Together, they were the titans of European and world politics in the 80s. Together, they harkened back to the era when the fate of the world was decided by the statesmen of Europe in her chancelleries. … and they didn’t get along well.

Thatcher was taught as a child by her grocer father that the French were both Roman Catholic and Communist and riddled with sexual disease; Mitterand said that Margaret Thatcher had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe’. Thatcher’s finest European hour came in 1984 when she marched into Fontainebleau to demand the ‘British rebate’–66% rebate from the French and the Germans who wanted to give only 50%.

However, these two statesmen accomplished one monumental project together: the Chunnel. Thatcher said she had no objection to a privately funded project to bridge the English channel, and in 1981, Thatcher and Mitterrand agreed to set up a working group to look into a privately funded project. Four submissions were shortlisted and in 1986, the Eurotunnel bid was selected. Foreign Affairs Ministers of both countries signed the Franco-British Treaty in Canterbury, which was ratified in 1987 by Thatcher and Mitterrand (above) inside the famed Chapter House, in Canterbury Cathedral.

The tunnel was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Mitterrand in a ceremony held in Calais on 6 May 1994.