Who was the first person to float freely in space?

Images from space that show earth as nothing more than a blur of blue tug at our hearts in a way that can’t be put into words. The ones that you see here, while evoking such emotions, are also iconic in their own right. This is because they show the first human ever to walk untethered in space. The subject of these photographs is NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II.

Born in Boston in 1937, McCandless did his schooling at Long Beach, California and received his Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1958. He then obtained his Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1965, and eventually also ended up with a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Houston in 1987.

Communicator role

A retired U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was one of 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. He served as the mission control communicator for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their famous 1969 Apollo 11 mission, which included the first human landing on the moon. McCandless, in fact, famously felt let down by Armstrong as the latter hadn’t revealed ahead what he had planned to say while setting foot on the moon.

McCandless flew as the mission specialist on two space shuttles, STS-41B in 1984 and STS-31 in 1990. While the 1984 mission saw him become the first human to perform an untethered spacewalk, he helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope during the 1990 mission.

Helps develop MMU

Apart from these, McCandless also served as a member of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 14 mission and was a backup pilot for the first crewed Skylab mission. For the M-509 astronaut manoeuvring experiment that was flown in the Skylab programme, McCandless was a co-investigator. He collaborated on the development and helped design what came to be known as the MMU – manned manoeuvring unit.

The STS-41B was launched on February 3, 1984. Four days later, on February 7, McCandless stepped out of the space shuttle Challenger into nothingness. As he moved away from the spacecraft, he floated freely without any earthly anchor.

"Heck of a big leap for me"

“It may have been a small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me,” were McCandless’ first words. If the mood at mission control had been apprehensive before, the raucous laughter that followed this comment certainly reduced the tension - a fact that was confirmed by his wife, who was also at mission control. McCandless would later say that his comment was consciously thought out and that it was his way of saying things were going okay, apart from getting back at Armstrong for not revealing his words in 1969.

The images that were shot then, showing McCandless spacewalking without tethers, gained widespread fame. The spacewalk was the first time the MMU that he helped develop was used. These nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled devices afforded much greater mobility to their users as opposed to restrictive tethers used by previous spacewalkers.

Fellow astronaut Robert L. Stewart later tried out the MMU that McCandless first used. Two days later, both of them tried another similar unit with success. By February 11, the STS-41B mission was complete as the Challenger safely landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.

In one of his last interviews, before his death in December 2017, McCandless told National Geographic what he had probably told countless others who wanted to know how it was out there.

Fun, but cold

While he always maintained that it was fun, he also adds that the single thing that disturbed him as he moved away from the shuttle was that he got extremely cold, with shivers and chattering teeth.

The reason for that is pretty straightforward. While he had prepared for that moment for years, he wasn’t prepared for the temperature in the suit. As the suit was designed to keep astronauts comfortable while working hard in a warm environment, even the H (hot) position on the life support system actually provided minimal cooling. Considering that McCandless wasn’t really performing strenuous labour during the first hours of his untethered spacewalk, he felt cold. That’s a small price to pay for becoming the first-ever human to walk freely in space.

Picture Credit : Google

What is magical realism?

Two genres, contemporary and fantasy, have always remained popular among young adults. But what happens when you have books that are both or neither. You might be looking at a work of magical realism

Magical realism is a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic. A combination of fantasy and realism, it explores reality in an imaginative way. while suggesting a deeper meaning.

The world of magical realism is grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered to be normal there. One of the attractions of the genre is that it blurs the line between reality and fantasy. For instance, the presence of dead characters in Toni Morrison's Beloved, fluidity of time in Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time", and telepathy in Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children."

How it started

Magical realism developed as a reaction to the realism movement of the 19th Century. The term "magischer realismus." which translates to "magic realism." was first used in 1925 by German art critic Franz Roh. And, it gained popularity among Latin American writers, who explored it further.

Magic realism vs. fantasy How does it differ from fantasy novels and fairy tales? Unlike fantasy novels, authors in the magical realism genre present the incredible as normal, every-day life. These novels are based in a realistic setting and present the magical events as ordinary Occurrences.


A classic example is "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" by Salman Rushdie, who is one of the prominent authors of magical realism in English literature. The novel brings together real-world elements and features of magic or the supernatural

The city of Alifbay in which Haroun lives is described as a sad city because the people there are so depressed, they have forgotten the city's actual name. Similarly, the moon is called Kahani and it's almost entirely covered in warm water. This water. Rushdie writes, is "Story Water, its colourful and Haroun can see steam rising from it. Do you see the magical realism employed here?

Picture Credit : Google

Have you heard of ‘corpse flower’?

When we speak of flowers, we usually think of rose, jasmine, marigold, hibiscus, and the like. And most flowers are less than the size of our palm and sweet-smelling. What if there's a flower which is neither? Come, let's find out more about this.

It's huge and smelly!     

Rafflesia is a genus of flowering plants comprising at least 15 species found in Southeast Asia. Interestingly for a plant it has only flowers - with nothing to show for leaves or roots. Which means there's no photosynthesis either. Rafflesia is basically a parasite, living off a type of vine. Its body - essentially made of thin filaments - lies inside the stem and the root of its host for years, and the flower bud bursts forth eventually. The bud continues to swell for months before the large flower blooms. For all that wait the flower stays in bloom for just about a week. But when in bloom, it gives off its signature stench - of rotting meat - that attracts flies. These flies ensure pollination and keep the species thriving. Unfortunately, Rafflesia's forests are disappearing and it is critically endangered. It is "impossible to cultivate and "remains largely ignored", according to a media report.

The largest

The flowers of Rafflesia usually win the largest flower title, and this year has been no different. The largest single flower ever recorded was found earlier this year in Sumatra, Indonesia, with a diameter of 111 cm - that's a whopping 3.6 ft! This was a specimen of Rafflesia tuan-mudae, and beat the earlier record of 107 cm set by Rafflesia amoldii, also from the same region.

Picture Credit : Google

What is fog harvesting?

In the hot and dry desert of South Africa, the Namib desert beetle survives by harvesting water from thin air. Droplets of fog accumulate on the bumpy body of the beetle and drip down its wing into its mouth. Similarly, redwood trees of California absorb as much as 40% of their water directly from the fog. Without this adaptation, the trees would not be able to move water from their roots to other parts.

Humans too view fog as an important source of water. Dry and coastal regions around the world rely on fog-filled wind to meet their water needs. They install what are called fog catchers to harvest water suspended in the air. This technique is called fog harvesting or fog catching or fog collection.

Fog catchers are usually constructed in the form of a single or double layer mesh net, stabilised between two posts that are spread out at an angle perpendicular to the wind carrying the fog. As the wind passes through the mesh, drops of freshwater collect on the mesh and run downwards and drip into a gutter at the bottom of the net from where they are channelled via pipes to a storage tank or cistern. Mesh panels can vary in size. Typical water production rates from a fog collector range from 200 to 1,000 litres per day, with variability occurring on a daily and seasonal basis.

Fog harvesting systems are typically installed in areas where the presence of fog is naturally high, typically coastal and mountainous regions. They are erected in open locations with a fairly high elevation that are exposed to wind flow. Meteorological and climatic information such as predominant wind flow direction might have to be gathered to identify optimal placement.

Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and Namibia are some of the countries that have greatly benefited from fog harvesting.

Picture Credit : Google