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Thursday, November 1, 2012

On This Week in History: Oct 29 - November 4

Oct 29, 1998 John Glenn returns to space

Back in Orbit: John Glenn's Return to Space
Nearly four decades after he became the first American to orbit the Earth, Senator John Hershel Glenn, Jr.,  is launched into space again as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery. At 77 years of age, Glenn was the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a  NASA study on health problems associated with aging.

Oct 30, 1938 Welles scares nation

The New York Times headline from October 31, 1938
Orson Welles causes a nationwide panic with his broadcast of "War of the Worlds"—a realistic radio  dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth. He was only 23 years old when his Mercury Theater company  decided to update H.G. Wells' 19th-century science fiction novel War of the Worlds for national radio. This  was not planned as a radio hoax, and Welles had little idea of the havoc it would cause.

The show began on Sunday, October 30, at 8 p.m. - prime-time in the golden age of radio with millions of  Americans tuned in. Welles introduced his radio play followed by a weather report. Then the scare began  with a report of explosions on the planet Mars followed by a large meteor crashed into Grovers Mills, New  Jersey. Soon, an announcer at the crash site described a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder,  Martians mounted walking war machines fired "heat-ray" weapons at humans and  annihilated 7,000 National Guardsman. The radio play was so realistic with sophisticated sound effects and actors portraying terrified announcers and other characters. As many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. When news of the real-life panic leaked into the CBS studio, Welles went on the air as himself to remind listeners that it was just fiction.

The Federal Communications Commission investigated the program but found no law was broken. Welles feared that the controversy generated by "War of the Worlds" would ruin his career. In fact, the publicity  helped land him a contract with a Hollywood studio, and in 1941 he directed, wrote, produced, and starred  in Citizen Kane—a movie that many have called the greatest American film ever made.

Oct 31, 1517 Martin Luther posts 95 theses

Luther in 1533 by Lucas Cranach the Elder
On this day in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in  Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would  begin the Protestant Reformation. In his theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the  papal practice of asking payment—called "indulgences"—for the forgiveness of sins.Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins.

The term "Protestant" first appeared in 1529, when Charles V revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms. A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their opponents as Protestants which gradually came to apply to all who believed the Church should be reformed, even outside Germany. By the time Luther died in 1546, his revolutionary beliefs had formed the basis for the Protestant Reformation, which would over the next three centuries revolutionize Western civilization.

Nov 01, 1512 Sistine Chapel ceiling opens to public

Inside the Sistine Chapel, looking west to the entrance. Photo © Web Gallery of Art.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, one of Italian artist Michelangelo's finest works, is exhibited to the public for the first time. Michelangelo Buonarroti was the greatest of the Italian Renaissance artists. He was called to Rome in 1508 to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—the chief consecrated space in the Vatican. Michelangelo's epic ceiling frescoes, which took several years to complete, are among his most memorable works. Central in a 
complex system of decoration featuring numerous figures are nine panels devoted to biblical world history. The most famous of these is The Creation of Adam, a painting in which the arms of God and Adam are stretching toward each other. In 1512, Michelangelo completed the work. Michelangelo worked until his death in 1564 at the age of 88.

Nov 02, 1947 Spruce Goose flies

The Hughes Flying Boat—the largest aircraft ever built—is piloted by designer Howard Hughes on its first  and only flight. With laminated birch and spruce, the massive wooden aircraft had a wingspan longer than a football field and designed to carry more than 700 men.
Following the U.S. entrance into World War II in 1941, the U.S. government commissioned Hughes Aircraft  Company to build a large flying boat capable of carrying men and materials over long distances. Because of wartime restrictions on steel, Hughes decided to build his aircraft out of wood laminated with plastic and covered with fabric. Although it was constructed mainly of birch, the use of spruce would later earn the aircraft the nickname Spruce Goose. It had a wingspan of 320 feet and was powered by eight giant propeller engines. Development cost a phenomenal $23 million and took so long that the war had ended by the time of  its completion in 1946. With many detractors from Congress demanding that Hughes prove the plane airworthy, Hughes took  the H-4 prototype out into Long Beach Harbor, CA for an unannounced flight test November 2, 1947, Thousands of onlookers had come to watch the aircraft taxi on the water and were surprised when Hughes lifted his wooden behemoth 70 feet above the water and flew for a mile before landing.
The Spruce Goose never went into production, primarily because critics alleged that its wooden framework was insufficient to support its weight during long flights. Nevertheless, Howard Hughes refused to neglect his greatest achievement in the aviation field as he kept from 1947 until his death in 1976, the Spruce Goose  prototype ready for flight in an enormous, climate-controlled hangar at a cost of $1 million per year. Today, the Spruce Goose is housed at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

Nov 03, 1964 D.C. residents cast first presidential votes

The first election that D.C. voters cast their ballots in was between incumbent President
Johnson and challenger Barry Goldwater.  D.C. voters helped secure LBJ’s presidential win 47 years ago
On this day in 1964, residents of the District of Columbia cast their ballots in a presidential election for the first time. The passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 gave citizens of the nation's capital the right to vote for a commander in chief and vice president. They went on to help Democrat Lyndon Johnson defeat Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, the next presidential election.

In 1801, the District was put under the jurisdiction of Congress which terminated D.C. residents' voting  rights. In 1961, the 23rd Amendment restored these rights, allowing D.C. voters to choose electors for the  Electoral College based on population, with a maximum of as many electors as the least populated state. With a current population of over 550,000 residents, 61-square-mile D.C. has three electoral votes.

Nov 04, 1956 Soviets put brutal end to Hungarian revolution

A spontaneous national uprising that began 12 days before in Hungary is viciously crushed by Soviet tanks  and troops on this day in 1956. Thousands were killed and wounded and nearly a quarter-million Hungarians fled the country.
The problems in Hungary began in October 1956, when thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding a more democratic political system and freedom from Soviet oppression.  In response,  Imre Nagy, the newpremier,  tried
to restore peace and asked the Soviets to withdraw their troops. The Soviets did so, but Nagy then tried to push the Hungarian revolt forward by abolishing one-party rule and  announced that Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet bloc's equivalent of NATO). On November 4, 1956, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest to crush, once and for all, the national uprising.  Vicious street fighting broke out, but the Soviets' great power ensured victory. At 5:20 a.m., Nagy sought  asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest. He was captured shortly thereafter and executed two years  later.
The Soviet action stunned many people in the West. An estimated 2,500 Hungarians died and 200,000 more fled as refugees. Sporadic armed resistance, strikes and mass arrests continued for months thereafter,  causing substantial economic disruption. Inaction on the part of the United States angered and frustrated  many Hungarians.  As Soviet tanks bore down on the protesters, theUnited States did nothing beyond issuing public statements of sympathy for their plight.

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