Iconic Photos

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Alan Shepard ‘plays’ golf

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At the age of 47, Alan Shepard was the oldest astronaut in the program when he landed on the Moon in February 1971 on Apollo 14. It was America’s third successful lunar landing mission, the first to successfully broadcast color pictures, and eventually the most accurate landing of the entire Apollo program.

While on the Moon, Shepard played golf with a Wilson six-iron head that he had smuggled onboard. Despite thick gloves and a stiff spacesuit which forced him to swing the club with one hand only, Shepard struck two golf balls with a six iron, driving the second, as he jokingly put it, “miles and miles and miles.”

The photo of Shepard hitting the golf ball fueled the Moon Landing hoax conspiracy theories when a book Moon Shot he co-wrote with fellow Apollo astronaut Deke Slayton included a photograph of Shepard playing golf on the Moon with another astronaut. The picture is an obviously fake composite image, there being no one else to take the shot of the two (although there are videos of Shephard and Edgar Mitchell setting up the golf game). Not only was the picture a combination of several Hasselblad shots, but the golf club, ball, the S-Band legs and some shadows were drawn in. The publishers of the book created the image because the existing real video images were too grainy to present in a book’s picture section.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 23, 2009 at 2:16 am

Buzz Adrin salutes American Flag

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Conspiracy theorists suggested that NASA asked Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001: A Space Odessey a year prior, to direct the ‘fake’ lunar landings. They have no problems with subsequent landings, but Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon walk was–and still is–a lie to them.

They say the U.S. government, desparate to beat the Russians, faked the lunar landings; Saturn V rocket with Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin was lunched but they were immediately transferred into a landing module, and they acted out their mission on a secret film set, located either in the Hollywood Hills or in Area 51. With the photos and videos of the Apollo missions only available through NASA, there’s no independent verification that the lunar landings were anything but a hoax. NASA’s losing and careless guardianship of those tapes didn’t help either.

Conspiracy aficionados pointed the above instance of Aldrin planting a waving American flag on the moon as the smoking gun. The flag’s movement, they say, clearly shows the presence of wind, which is impossible in the vacuum. NASA says that Aldrin was twisting the flag pole to get the moon soil, which caused the wire-framed flag to move. In above picture, the Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible in the soil of the moon. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander, took this picture with a 70mm Hasselblad lunar surface camera.

Astronauts have brought back hundreds of independently verified moon rocks, but theorists claimed these rocks come from moon meteors NASA had collected in the polar regions. Theorists have even suggested that Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White, Roger B. Chaffee — three astronauts who died in a fire while testing equipment for the first moon mission — were executed by the U.S. government, which feared they were about to disclose the truth.

Far-fetched as the hoax theory may seem, a 1999 Gallup poll showed that it’s comparatively durable: 6% of Americans said they thought the lunar landings were fake and 5% said they were undecided. They inspired the 1978 conspiracy thriller, Capricorn One about faked Martian landings.

Apart from the conspiracies aside, the first flag that flew on the Moon was also drenched in history and lore. Putting a U.S flag on the Moon was sensitive because it had to sidestep a law banning appropriation of the outer space and celestial bodies.  A $5.50 flag was brought from a convenience store, and was fitted with wire frames. However, a wrong coating prevented frames from extending fully, thus creating a rippled effect. Now, six U.S. flags fly on the Moon, all with frames that didn’t extend fully because NASA liked the accidental effect.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 21, 2009 at 1:57 am

First Steps on the Moon

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Ironically enough, this picture was not of the first footprint of man on moon, yet the photo became the symbol of man’s first step on moon–that ‘one small step’ Neil Armstrong talked about when he landed. It was the picture of the tentative human foothold outside this planet. It was the picture that epitomized our presence from the top of Mts Everest to the depths of Marianas Trenches.

The photo was a close-up view of the bootprint of astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin making that print can be seen below. It was photographed with a 70mm lunar surface camera during the Apollo 11 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) on July 20th, 1969, during an experiment to test the properties of the lunar regolith. The footprints left by the astronauts in Mare Tranquillitatis (the Sea of Tranquility) would be more permanent than many solid structures on Earth. Lack of wind to blow them away ensures that barring a chance meteorite impact, these impressions in the lunar soil will probably last for millions of years.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 20, 2009 at 1:00 am

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Moon Shot

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Forty years ago today, the Apollo 11 crew, who would become the first humans on the moon, lifted of from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:32 a.m. local time. On July 16th 1969, three astronauts, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin embarked on a mission that changed the course of history.

The most memorable photo of the day was taken by Gary Winogrand. Called ‘Moon Shot’, the second photo above was not the picture of the Saturn V Apollo Rocket lifting off, but of the crowd looking at the lift off. Like Cartier-Bresson before him, Winogrand captured eyes (or in this case cameras) that saw history. At the centre of the picture, the woman who pointed her lens at Winogrand, facing the opposite direction from the lift-off, added an interesting commentary on the gender-roles of the day, especially in the male-dominated science sector.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 16, 2009 at 9:12 pm

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When Lindbergh landed

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At 10:22 pm on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget airfield in Paris and entered the history books as the first man to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He had taken off from Roosevelt Field near New York City 33 1/2 hours earlier. Flying northeast along the coast, he flew over Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and from there on, he relied only on his magnetic compass, his airspeed indicator, and luck to navigate toward Ireland. The flight captured the imagination of the American public like few events in history; citizens waited nervously by their radios, listening for news of the flight.

When Lindbergh was seen crossing the Irish coast, the world cheered and eagerly anticipated his arrival in Paris. A frenzied crowd of more than 150,000 people gathered to greet him. But the 3,610-mile flight tired and confused the aviator so much that when Lindbergh reached Paris, he circled the Eiffel Tower in order to get his bearings. Meanwhile, the police lines broke down in the airfield as 20,000 French people surged forward.

However, he had arrived late at night and the press was unable to photograph him in the darkness. The photo above, frequented noted in the textbooks as the moment the great aviator landed, was actually taken a week later, on May 29th at London’s Croydon Aerodrome. The photo was taken aerially from one of the planes used to escort Lindbergh. Here, too, the plane was mobbed, and literally crushed — its stabilizer was damaged — by the spectators. Lindbergh later quipped that the enthusiastic reception was the most dangerous part of the flight.

His photogenic look, boyish pluck, and modesty made him an instant hero. He was shown in some of the earliest talking newsreels. For years, the press hounded him relentlessly. The first media superstar, he was to pay dearly for his fame and wealth.

Lindbergh’s plane, The Spirit of St. Louis was named for the St. Louis businessman who financed its purchase for about $10,000. The name on the nose of the plane is hard to see in above photo, but its license number, N-X 211 is legible. The letter N was the international designation for the United States; the X meant the plane — a Ryan monoplane — was experimental. On May 31st, Lindbergh flew to Gosport on the Channel where the plan was dismantled by the Royal Air Force, crated, and loaded onto the U.S.S. Memphis, with which Lindbergh himself went home. It was reassembled at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. and now in the National Air and Space Museum there.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 11, 2009 at 11:57 pm

First Plutonium

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Although Enrico Fermi had discovered element 94 (which he named Hesperium) in 1934, it was not first produced and isolated until December 14, 1940. By then, it was named after Pluto after the symbol ‘Pu’ was jokingly suggested. A paper documenting the discovery was written but was withdrawn before publication after the discovery that an isotope of the new element (Pu-239) could undergo nuclear fission in a way that might be useful in an atomic bomb.

Publication was delayed until a year after the end of World War II due to security concerns. In 1946, LIFE’s Fritz Goro was finally allowed to photograph plutonium. The above was that picture–the first speck of the world’s first plutonium on an platinum shovel.

During his four decades as a science photographer for Life magazine, Goro documented images made possible only by this turbulent century’s scientific advances: atomic orbitals, DNA helices, stars, blood circulation in animals and computer chips. He also unblinkingly documented fish eggs with well-developed eyes, minuscule yet recognizable cow fetuses (that became poster images for anti-abortion), a cancerous growth in a rabbit’s eye, a chick with an experimental transplanted eye, a rat with a walnutlike tumor growing from its head, and his most memorable and horrific 1965  photograph of surgery being conducted on a prenatal monkey.  Stephen Jay Gould called Goro “the most influential photographer that science journalism (and science in general) has ever known.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 6, 2009 at 6:59 am

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First Atomic Blast

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Forget Hiroshima. Above was the aerial picture of the first atomic bomb crater near Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16th, 1945. The site was called Trinity Site; despite its subsequent notoriety, only one nuclear test took place at this location which itself was 60 miles from Alamogordo.

From two bunkers ten and seventeen miles away, Generals Thomas Farrell and Leslie Groves watched the detonation. J.Robert Oppenheimer, who came up with the name ‘Trinity’ from poetry of John Donne, was in the first bunker. The blinding light they saw was the dawn of so-called ‘Atomic Age’.

The photographer of the above image, Fritz Goro visited the first nuclear ground zero with Oppenheimer and Groves while it was still ‘hot’. For this German emigre photographer, it was a big deal but it was not the only ‘first’ he witnessed. During his four decades as a science photographer for Life magazine, he documented images made possible only by this turbulent century’s scientific advances: atomic orbitals, DNA helices, stars, blood circulation in animals, computer chips, and photos of the first plutonium ever produced. Goro unblinkingly documented fish eggs with well-developed eyes, minuscule yet recognizable cow fetuses (that became poster images for anti-abortion), a cancerous growth in a rabbit’s eye, a chick with an experimental transplanted eye, a rat with a walnutlike tumor growing from its head, and his most memorable and horrific 1965  photograph of surgery being conducted on a prenatal monkey.  Stephen Jay Gould called Goro “the most influential photographer that science journalism (and science in general) has ever known.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 6, 2009 at 6:11 am

The First Photograph

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La cour du domaine du Gras is not the first photograph attempted by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce, but this June 1826 photograph featuring a pigeon house and a barn roof is one of the earliest surviving ones. It might probably be the world’s oldest surviving photograph (although Niépce’s one other photo may have been older than this). The View from the Window at Le Gras was captured at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes on a sheet of 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen. To make what he called a “heliograph,” or sun drawing, Niépce’s camera obscura required an exposure time of more than eight hours, which made the sunlight illuminates the buildings in the pictures on both sides.

Niépce brought this photo to England in 1827 to display his process in the Royal Society and presented the photo later to his host, the British botanist and botanical artist, Francis Bauer. Niépce died without his recognition in 1833 and the photo slipped into obscurity after its last public exhibition in 1898. It was only in 1952 that the photohistorian, Helmut Gernsheim, was able to obtain it for his collection. It is in the Gernsheim Collection for The University of Texas at Austin since 1963.

See Niépce’s dedication at the back of the photograph at UT website.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 19, 2009 at 3:42 am

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Reception in Berlin

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Albert Einstein engaging in animated conversation with British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, surrounded by a group of luminaries including the Nobel Prize-winner Max Planck, far right, and other German political and business leaders, smoking cigars and sipping cognac. The reception was given by Reich Chancellor Brüning in honour of the visiting British Prime Minister in August 1931. [A few days after his return from Germany, on 24 August, MacDonald resigned as the Premier over the budget cuts]. From left to right Planck, MacDonald, Einstein, Finance Minister Hermann Dietrich, Privy Counsellor Schmitz (of IG Farben) and Foreign Minister Julius Curtius.

“You have no idea with what affection I am surrounded here, they are not all out to catch the drops of oil my brain sweats out,” Einstein noted.

Photo by Erich Salomon

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 13, 2009 at 8:41 am

The First Man to Cross the Channel

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bleriotBleriot takes off for the historic flight

“England No Longer An Island” proclaimed the frontpage Le Matin on the morning of 26th July 1909. The French newspaper had all the reasons to be gleeful: the day before, a Frenchman by the name of Louis Bleriot had crossed the English channel from Les Baraques, France to Dover, England under bad weather. It took him mere thirty-one minutes.

The flight was the sensation of the day; the French government sent a destroyer to observe his plane but the British were more skeptical. They believed two other favorites — Hubert Latham and Count de Lambert — would be the first to cross the Channel. But Bleriot proved them wrong. On landing a golf course near Dover Castle on the plane’s two frail wheels commandeered from a bicycle, Bleriot asked for crutches from his greeters. The pioneering engineer had already survived more than fifty crashes; his right foot was severely burned during a flight only a month before.

In Dover, he was met by a huge crowd. Later that day, he made his triumphal victory into London, having achieved by air what Napoleon failed to do so a century prior. In London he claimed the prestigious £1,000 Daily Mail award from its proprietor, Lord Northcliffe. (Between 1907 and 1925, Northcliffe awarded numerous prizes for achievements in aviation; the most coveted prizes were for the first cross-channel flight, and for the first transatlantic flight, prized at £10,000).

Although he was not the first aeronautic pioneer, what Bleriot did on that tempestuous July morning was significant was a different reason. Lilienthal in Germany and the Wright Brothers in the US were true pioneers but their planes merely flew a few hundred meters or merely glided down sloping meadows. By flying across the Channel, Bleriot proved that a large body of water could be transversed in a heavier-than-air craft. In a sense, Bleriot opened avenues for planes as means of transport, fright and war by flying into history books.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 13, 2009 at 1:22 am

Yuri Gagarin in Space

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Yuri Gagarin in the bus on the way to the launch. The cosmonaut behind Gagarin is German Titov as “back-up pilot” who becomes pilot of “Vostok 2”. Standing were the cosmonauts Grigorij Neljubov and Andrian Nikolajev.

“Triumphant music blared across the land. Russia’s radios saluted the morning with the slow, stirring beat of the patriotic song, How Spacious Is My Country. Then came the simple announcement that shattered forever man’s ancient isolation on earth: “The world’s first spaceship, Vostok [East], with a man on board, has been launched on April 12 in the Soviet Union on a round-the-world orbit.” ” wrote TIME magazine in their cover story.

On April 12, 1961, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered the textbooks as the first man in space. His relative youthfulness and experience were coupled with 5’2″ structure perfect for a space flight, and a handsome face perfect for propaganda. After the historical flight that lasted 108 minutes, he was no longer Senior Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin; he was Yuri Gagarin, Hero and Icon.

(During the flight, he was not allowed to operate the controls because the effects of weightlessness had only been tested on dogs so far. The mission was instead controlled by ground crews, and an override key was provided in case of emergency.)

Because of his popularity, the government would not allow him another trip into space. It was too dangerous and they did not want to lose their icon. Frustrated, Yuri went back to training in the MiGs. On March 27, 1968, Gagarin and his instructor, Vladimir Seryogin, took off in a MiG-15 fighter plane under poor weather conditions. Gagarincrash landed into a forest. He was just 34.

More pictures on conspiracy theory site here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 10, 2009 at 3:24 am

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Houdini Exposes Spirit Trickery to New York Clergymen

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February 3, 1925. “Harry Houdini, author, lecturer and master magician, today gave a lecture to members of the New York clergy and their congregations under the auspices of the New York Federation of Churches. The meeting was held at the New York Hippodrome. Houdini is devoting most of his time to exposing alleged spiritualists who are imposing on the public. He is shown here demonstrating a method that is used in communication.

William B. Millard, General Secretary of the Federation, is aiding in the demonstration. While Houdini’s ‘foot’ is held by Millard, he shows how it is possible to ring a bell.

Times Wide World Photos. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 2, 2009 at 9:32 am

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