Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders set a lot of records on their flight. The crew of Apollo 8 were the first to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, the first to directly see the far side of the Moon, and then the first to witness Earthrise. The 1968 mission, the third flight of the Saturn V rocket and that rocket’s first manned launch, was also the first human spaceflight launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Even today, nearly 50 years on, only another 21 people have ever looked upon the Dark or Far Side of the Moon with their naked eyes, and the last of them did so in 1972. Kind of makes you wonder what happened to us, that we’ve apparently lost that ambition and idealism.
One of the deadliest chemicals ever invented, Zyklon B is a derivative of Prussic acid. It was invented in 1922 by a small team of German chemists led by Nobel Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber, whose previous creations included mustard gas and other chemicals of warfare used in World War One.
In 1941, the gas was first deployed in three death camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek, and Sachsenhausen. Its first large scale use was one September 3, when 600 Russian POWs, 250 Polish POWs and 10 criminals were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some of the victims survived more than 24 hours of exposure to the gas – when this was discovered, additional quantities of it were pumped into the killing chambers. By the time the war ended, an estimated 1.2 million people were killed with Zyklon B, most of whom (960,000) were Jews.
Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon were the joint monarchs of their two kingdoms, and both staunch Catholics, when they issued the Alhambra Decree on March 31, 1492. It required all Jews to remove themselves – or be expelled by force – from the territories claimed by Aragon and Castille. It did leave a loophole, though – a sincere conversion to Catholicism and abandonment of the Jewish faith would permit these Jews to stay.
Few took advantage of the loophole, and of those who did, many practiced only the forms of the Catholic faith, continuing their Judaic practices in private. Of those who left, about half fled to Portugal, and most of the others wound up living in the cities of Salonika, Sarajevo, Izmir, Thessaloniniki or Constantinople, where the exiled Jews, who were predominately Sephardic, mingled with the Mizrahi Jews who already lived there. The Decree was eventually revoked… in 1968. (Yes, you read that right.)
The PATRIOT Act (in full: the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) doesn’t just mark the zenith of Congress’ love affair with torturous acronyms. It also marks the point where, in the name of protecting the freedoms of American citizens, Congress (with the enthusiastic collaboration of the executive branch) deemed in necessary to restrict, abrogate and even destroy those self-same freedoms.
Among other things, it introduced a sweeping new surveillance regime (including controversial provisions such as library record data mining and so-called “roving” wiretaps), increased the punishments for terrorism, provided for compensation for the families of people killed by terrorists, and beefed up both border security and the investigation of money laundering. In short, it was a mixed bag of things, some of which had a fairly tangential relationship to terrorism. Supporters of the Act (and it would cost a politician their career not to be one) said it was a reasonable and logical step to fight terrorism; opponents decried its attack on civil liberties and constitutional rights.
On this day in 1788, British soldiers, citizens and convicts landed at Port Jackson in what is now Sydney. They raised a Union Jack, drank a toast, said some prayers and then set about their mission. The ongoing dispossession of the native peoples, the rampant deforestation, the extinction of native species of plant and animal, the destruction of a way of life that had endured for forty thousand years and more, the abolition of ancient languages and stories, and the general dehumanisation of the poor bastards whose only crime was to get in the way of Britain’s ego continues even to this day.
If the citizens of Australia continue to vote for parties which are not members of the Coalition, it may well never be finished…
The actual beginnings of the Knights Templar (or to give their full title, “the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”) go back another ten years, to a French crusader and knight named Hugh de Payens. De Payens recruited eight other knights (all his relatives by marriage or blood). They took upon themselves the task of guarding all pilgrims in the Holy Land. (Yes. Nine of them. And their horses. To cover all of Outremer.)
In 1129, at the Council of Troyes, the Knights were officially recognised by the Catholic Church, largely thanks to the efforts and influence of Bernard of Clairvaux (later St Bernard), who was a hugely influential figure in the Church (and also the nephew of one of the nine original members). The meteoric rise of the Knights Templar began here, with Bernard promoting their Rule as the noble ideal to aspire to. Their ranks and coffers swelled, and then, so did the rumours. Less than two centuries after their founding, the Knights Templar would be denounced as heretics and disbanded.
Assuming that Jesus did have a child (and there is, in fact, some textual evidence to suggest this in some versions of the Bible, although it is more an implication than a statement), the chances are that the boy – variously named, most interestingly as Merovee, the legendary founder of the Merovingian dynasty that later ruled France – was born in either 33 or 34 CE, after his father’s death.
However, much to the disappointment of fans of Dan Brown, there is little enough historical evidence to confirm the existence of Jesus, let alone that of any children of his. To say nothing of the fact that Mary Magdalene is not the only woman identified in legend as a wife of Jesus, nor of the legends that their child was actually a girl named Sarah.
Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).
The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.
Everyone loves the dinosaurs. A lot of people – if the Jurassic Park films are to be believed – would like to see them come back. But without their extinction, we wouldn’t be here today.
Even now, it’s still not clear what exactly caused the extinction event – but the best known hypothesis is that of Luis and Walter Alvarez, which states that a meteoric or cometary impact caused a nuclear winter-like effect that altered the climate drastically, wiping out something like 75% of all species alive at the time. The effects were particularly felt by larger species – which included most dinosaurs.
In the wake of the event, now open evolutionary niches were occupied by mammals and birds, including our own ancestors.