In the last two weeks of October 1962, the world came closer to nuclear warfare than it ever has. For 14 tense days, US President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stood eyeball to eyeball, each with his hand on the nuclear button. In the end, both blinked; but there was one particular point in that confrontation when the decision was taken out of their hands, when the nuclear attack could have been launched by a junior Soviet military officer–and when a man named Vasiliy Arkhipov stepped in and saved the world.
When President John Kennedy set the goal of landing a human safely on the Moon, the US had a grand total of fifteen minutes’ worth of manned spaceflight, and astronomers knew next to nothing about what the conditions on the Moon’s surface were like. Would a landing craft be swallowed up in a deep layer of lunar dust? No one knew.
A Surveyor moon lander, on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
In the times before the Europeans reached North America, the entire eastern half of what is now the United States was covered with unbroken forest. It was said that a squirrel could run from Maine to Texas without ever touching the ground. And one of the myriad of species that lived in this forest was the Passenger Pigeon. One hundred years ago, the last Passenger Pigeon died in a cage.
Passenger Pigeon. Illustration from Wiki Commons
The Lockheed Vega was one of the premiere aircraft of the 1930’s. Designed in 1927 as a long-distance passenger plane capable of carrying six passengers and a crew of two, the reliable and rugged Vega soon became a favorite with air explorers, many of who increased its range by removing the passenger seats and adding extra fuel tanks. Amelia Earhart used the Lockheed Vega in many of her flights. And Wiley Post, flying a Vega named “Winnie Mae”, set two around-the-world speed records.
The “Winnie Mae”, in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
So we never forget what racism does to people.
The Apartheid Museum, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is one of the most iconic TV shows of all time, still on the air somewhere in the world every day, with a theme song that everyone knows. Here is the behind-the-scenes history of Gilligan’s Island. So just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale . . .
Little Blue Heron
It has become a depressingly familiar story in 21st century America. A young unarmed black man is shot and killed by a white policeman. Street protests turn into rioting, arson, and looting. And it all repeats two weeks later when the police officer is cleared by a grand jury and is not charged.
But this isn’t Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014–it’s St Petersburg, Florida, in 1996.
16th Street and 18th Avenue South, in the Midtown neighborhood of St Pete FL, where TyRon Lewis was killed.
In 1987, at the height of the Cold War, a West German teenager flew a single-engine Cessna into the Soviet Union and landed in Red Square–and helped to change the world.
Mathias Rust’s flight.
The Vigeland Sculpture Park, in Oslo, Norway, is the largest exhibit in the world dedicated to just one sculptor. It is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oslo.
The “Angry Baby”.
The Walther PPK may be the most famous and widely-known handgun in the world, due to one thing–it’s the gun that was carried by the fictional “licensed to kill” British spy James Bond, Agent 007, in nearly all of his 25 films. But aside from its place in Hollywood film history, the Walther PPK has a real-world history that stretches back over 75 years, tracing a course through World War Two and the Cold War.
Walther PPK, with the distinctive finger rest on the bottom of the magazine
Of all the leading figures of the American Revolution, there was no one quite like Thomas Paine.
Next time you think you are having a bad day, consider the story of 19th century mountain man Hugh Glass . . .
A contemporary painting of a Mountain Man. Photo by Wiki Commons.