Today in 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded just after liftoff, killing the seven astronauts aboard.
The Challenger was the second shuttle built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It took its first flight into space on April 4, 1983, and made a total of nine voyages prior to January 1986. The 10th trip for Challenger included a teacher, Christa MacAuliffe, as part of a new Teacher in Space project.
It was a cold morning at Cape Canaveral and engineers working on the shuttle team warned their superiors that certain equipment on the shuttle was vulnerable to failure at cold temperatures. However, these warnings went unheeded and at 11:39 a.m., the Challenger was launched.
President Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union address that was scheduled for that evening and instead addressed the nation about the tragedy. He appointed a commission to investigate the accident and the shuttle program was put on hiatus.
The Rogers Commission determined that Morton Thiokol, the company that designed the solid rocket boosters, had ignored warnings about potential flaws. NASA managers were aware of these design problems, but also failed to take action.
Ten years after the disaster, two large pieces from the Challenger washed ashore on a Florida beach. The remaining debris from the Challenger is now stored in a missile silo at Cape Canaveral.
Today in 1917 American forces are recalled from Mexico after nearly 11 months of searching for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. On March 9, 1916, Villa led a band of several hundred guerrillas across the border and raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans. U.S. troops pursued the Mexicans, killing 50 on U.S. soil and 70 more in Mexico.
U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture Villa dead or alive. For the next 11 months, Pershing failed to capture the elusive revolutionary and Mexican resentment over the U.S. intrusion into their territory led to a diplomatic crisis. On June 21, the crisis escalated into violence when Mexican government troops attacked Pershing’s forces at Carrizal, Mexico, leaving 17 Americans killed or wounded, and 38 Mexicans dead.
Villa continued his guerrilla activities in northern Mexico until Adolfo de la Huerta took power and drafted a reformist constitution. Villa entered into an agreement with Huerta to retire from politics. In 1920, the government pardoned Villa, but three years later he was assassinated at Parral.
Today in 2006, Clint Eastwood became only the 31st filmmaker in 70 years of Directors Guild of America history to be given the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Eastwood accepted his award at the 58th Annual DGA Awards ceremony, held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. He is a two-time recipient of the guild’s annual award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film, for Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004), both of which also won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture.
After getting his start in B-movies, Eastwood rose to leading man status in a series of Westerns, including the 1960s Sergio Leone-directed trilogy A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Eastwood launched his directing career with the thriller Play Misty for Me (1971).
Eastwood directed two high-profile World War II-themed movies, Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima(2006). Eastwood received a fourth Oscar nomination as a director and 10th overall, for the latter film, which was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture.
Today in1985 the special instruction Quincy Jones sent to the several dozen pop stars invited to participate in the recording of “We Are the World” was “Check your egos at the door.” Jones was the producer of a record that would eventually go on to sell more than 7 million copies and raise more than $60 million for African famine relief. But before “We Are the World” could achieve those feats, it had to be captured on tape—no simple feat considering the number of major recording artists slated to participate. With only one chance to get the recording the way he and songwriters Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wanted it, Jones convened the marathon recording session of “We Are the World” at around 10 p.m. immediately following the conclusion of the American Music Awards ceremony held just a few miles away.
Among the 45 stars who sang on “We Are the World” that night were Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis; Country stars Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson; Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner and Paul Simon; and Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan.
Egos fully in check, the group laid down the chorus and solos before sunrise on the 29th, and “We Are the World” was in the stores and on the airwaves just five weeks later.
Today in 1915 American merchant ship. the William P. Frye was intercepted by a German cruiser in the South Atlantic Ocean off the Brazilian coast and ordered to jettison its cargo of wheat as contraband. When the American ship’s crew failed to fulfill these orders completely by the next day, the German captain ordered the destruction of the ship.
As the first American merchant vessel lost to aggression during the Great War, the German government’s apology and admission of the attack as a mistake did little to assuage Americans’ anger, which increased exponentially when German forces torpedoed and sank the British-owned ocean liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing more than 1,000 people, including 128 Americans. Despite Germany’s initial assurances to end attacks on all unarmed passenger and merchant ships the attacks continued. In early February 1917, when Germany announced a return to unrestricted submarine warfare, the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with the country. By the end of March, Germany had sunk several more passenger ships with Americans.
Today in 1945 part of the 717-mile “Burma Road” from Lashio, Burma to Kunming in southwest China was reopened by the Allies, permitting supplies to flow back into China.
In 1942, the Japanese occupied most of Burma. In 1944 Allied forces in eastern India made their way into northern Burma and began construction of another supply road that linked Ledo, India, with the part of the original Burma Road still controlled by the Chinese. The Stillwell Road was named for American General Joseph Stillwell.
Today in 1915 the U.S. Coast Guard, one of seven uniformed services, was created by an Act of Congress, combining the Life Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. Founded by Alexander Hamilton as the Revenue Marine first, and later as the Revenue Cutter Service on 4 August 1790, it is the United States’ oldest continuous seagoing service.
On 25 February 2002, the Coast Guard was placed under the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard reports directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security, but can be transferred to the Department of the Navy by the President at any time or by Congress during time of war.
The U.S. Coast Guard was a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1967 to 2002. Prior to 1967, it was a part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Today in 1963 black student Harvey Gantt entered Clemson College in South Carolina, the last state to hold out against integration.