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On this cloudless, sunny Paris afternoon of October 22, 1797, André-Jacques Garnerin, released from a hot-air balloon 2,230-feet above the Parc Monceau, became the first person in history to use a parachute to descend safely to the ground.

As Garrett Soden details in his book 
Defying Gravity, when Garnerin initially announced the feat he planned to perform, those in attendance were skeptical. After all, he had made the same promise five months earlier, and even had sold tickets to the performance, which had been aborted when he was unable to get his balloon to rise. (At the time, hot-air balloons, which had been invented just 14 years earlier by the Montgolfier brothers, were still finicky bleeding-edge technology.) The parachute also had been invented a few years before by a professor, Louis-Sebastien Lenormand, who’d tested the device by using it to drop a basketful of animals from a tower. That idea was appropriated by a showman named Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who toured France, dropping livestock with parachutes from a  hot-air balloon. (PETA would have been horrified.)


Garnerin’s demonstration turned out to be more exciting than he had planned. When he reached his maximum height, the balloon suddenly exploded, and the passenger compartment hurtled downward toward Earth. Just as the crowd gasped in horror, Garnerin’s umbrella-shaped parachute canopy opened, slowing his fall. Nevertheless, the basket in which he was riding began to swing wildly, Garnerin could think of nothing to do but hang to the sides and hope for the best. The basket landed hard, and the parachute collapsed. But Garnerin was able to struggle free, and he was unhurt. The shocked crowd hosted him to its shoulders set him upon a horse, to parade in celebration.

And now, for the news.

NASA says Moon crater contains usable water.
 It’s actually wetter than the Sahara, amazingly.

Harvard researcher says microbes may consume more of Gulf oil spill than previously thought. Hopefully, this will work better than those sand booms that Gov. Bobby Jindal was so hot to get.

Leopards actually can change their spots–at least sort of. The pattern is a characteristic that can evolve from generation to generation, researchers discover.

Only three percent of German households opt to block Google Street View. So that at least narrows down the possible locations where Horse Boy might be hiding out.

Climate change skepticism is Tea Party article of faith. Because hey, thousands of scientists of various disciplines all over the planet are joined in one big global conspiracy. It makes perfect sense.