The first U.S. satellite to photograph the Earth is launched

Year
1959
Month Day
August 07

From the Atlantic Missile Range in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the U.S. unmanned spacecraft Explorer 6 is launched into an orbit around the earth. The spacecraft, commonly known as the “Paddlewheel” satellite, featured a photocell scanner that transmitted a crude picture of the earth’s surface and cloud cover from a distance of 17,000 miles. The photo, received in Hawaii, took nearly 40 minutes to transmit.

Released by NASA in September, the first photograph ever taken of the earth by a U.S. satellite depicted a crescent shape of part of the planet in sunlight. It was Mexico, captured by Explorer 6 as it raced westward over the earth at speeds in excess of 20,000 miles an hour.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies 

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U.S. embassies in East Africa bombed

Year
1998
Month Day
August 07

At 10:30 a.m. local time, a massive truck bomb explodes outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Minutes later, another truck bomb detonated outside the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, the capital of neighboring Tanzania. The dual terrorist attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 4,500. The United States accused Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, a proponent of international terrorism against America, of masterminding the bombings. On August 20, President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missiles launched against bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, where bin Laden allegedly made or distributed chemical weapons.

Osama bin Laden was born in 1957 into one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest and most prominent families. His father, an immigrant from South Yemen, had built a small construction business into a multibillion-dollar company. When his father died in 1968, bin Laden inherited an estimated $30 million but for the next decade drifted without focus and lived a jet-setting lifestyle. In 1979, however, everything changed when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Like tens of thousands of other Arabs, bin Laden volunteered to aid Afghanistan in repulsing what he saw as the godless communist invaders of the Muslim country.

For the first few years of the Afghan War, he traveled around Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf raising money for the anti-Soviet Afghan fighters. In 1982, he traveled to the front lines of the war for the first time, where he donated construction equipment for the war effort. Bin Laden directly participated in a handful of battles, but his primary role in the anti-Soviet jihad was as financier. During the war, he made contact with numerous Islamic militants, many of whom who were as anti-Western as they were anti-Soviet.

In 1989, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. He grew increasingly critical of the ruling Saudi family, especially after hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops were welcomed onto Saudi soil during the Persian Gulf War. Although his passport was taken away, he slipped out of Saudi Arabia in 1991 and settled in the Sudan. From there, he spoke out against the Saudi government and the continuing U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, which he likened to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, the United States began to suspect that bin Laden was involved in international terrorism against the United States. The military organization he built during the Afghan War–al Qaeda, or “the Base”–was still in existence, and U.S. intelligence believed he was transforming it into an anti-U.S. terrorist network. In 1995, bin Laden called for guerrilla attacks against U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, and three months later a terrorist attack against a U.S. military installation killed five Americans. Under U.S. and Saudi pressure he was expelled from the Sudan in May 1996. One month later, a truck bomb killed 19 U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia. Whether or not bin Laden was involved in planning these attacks has not been established.

With 200 of his followers, bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, which was then falling under the control of the Taliban, a faction of extreme Islamic fundamentalists. Bin Laden provided funding for the Taliban military campaign against the city of Kabul, which fell to the militia in September 1996. Soon after his arrival in Afghanistan, bin Laden issued a fatwah, or religious decree, calling for war on Americans in the Persian Gulf and the overthrow of the Saudi government. In February 1998, he issued another fatwah stating that Muslims should kill Americans, including civilians, anywhere in the world.

On August 7, 1998—the eighth anniversary of the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia—two U.S. embassies in East Africa were bombed almost simultaneously. The attack at the Nairobi embassy, which was located in a busy downtown area, caused the greater devastation and loss of life. There, a truck loaded with 2,000 pounds of TNT forced its way to the back entrance of the embassy and was detonated, shattering the embassy, demolishing the nearby Ufundi Coop House, and gutting the 17-story Cooperative Bank. By the time rescue operations came to an end, 213 people were dead, including 12 Americans. Thousands of people were wounded, and hundreds were maimed or blinded. The attack against the U.S. embassy in Dar es Saalam killed 11 and injured 85.

By 1997, American intelligence officers knew that bin Laden operatives were active in East Africa but were unable to break up the terrorist cell before the embassies were attacked. They had even heard of a possible plot to bomb the U.S. embassy in Nairobi but failed to recommend an increase in security before the attack. Meanwhile, Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, independently asked the State Department to move the Nairobi embassy because of its exposed location, but the request was not granted. Revelations of these pre-bombing security issues provoked much controversy and concern about the United States’ vulnerability abroad. Few, however, voiced concern that the proliferation of terrorists eager to kill innocent civilians and themselves in order to strike a blow against the U.S. would soon shatter America’s sense of invulnerability at home.

Within days of the August 7 bombings, two bin Laden associates were arrested and charged with the attacks. However, with bin Laden and other key suspects still at large, President Clinton ordered a retaliatory military strike on August 20. In Afghanistan, some 70 American cruise missiles hit three alleged bin Laden training camps. An estimated 24 people were killed, but bin Laden was not present. Thirteen cruise missiles hit a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, and the night watchman was killed. The United States later backed away from its contention that the pharmaceutical plant was making or distributing chemical weapons for al Qaeda.

In November 1998, the United States indicted bin Laden and 21 others, charging them with bombing the two U.S. embassies and conspiring to commit other acts of terrorism against Americans abroad. To date, nine of the al Qaeda members named in the indictments have been captured; six are in the United States, and three are in Britain fighting extradition to the United States.

In February 2001, four of the suspects went on trial in New York on 302 criminal counts stemming from the embassy attacks. On May 29, all four were convicted on all counts. Saudi citizen Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-‘Owhali and Tanzanian Khalfan Khamis Mohamed admitted to directly taking part in the terrorist attacks but claimed they did not knowingly engage in a conspiracy against the United States. Lebanese-born U.S. citizen Wadih El-Hage and Jordanian Mohammed Saddiq Odeh admitted ties to bin Laden but denied involvement in any terrorist acts. All four were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On September 11, 2001, the world learned that the U.S. embassy attacks were merely a prelude to a far more devastating strike against the United States. On that day, 19 al Qaeda terrorists deftly exploited weaknesses in U.S. domestic security and hijacked four U.S. airliners that they flew into the World Trade Center towers in New York; the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia; and a rural field in western Pennsylvania. Four thousand people were killed in the almost simultaneous attacks and 10,000 were wounded. On October 7, America struck back with Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, destroy the al Qaeda network based there, and capture bin Laden dead or alive. 

On May 2, 2011, bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs. He was said to have been buried at sea. 

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Trapped Russian sub rescued

Year
2005
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 2005, a Russian Priz AS-28 mini-submarine, with seven crew members on board, is rescued from deep in the Pacific Ocean. On August 4, the vessel had been taking part in training exercises in Beryozovaya Bay, off the coast of Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka peninsula, when its propellers became entangled in cables that were part of Russia’s coastal monitoring system. Unable to surface, the sub’s crew was stranded in the dark, freezing submarine for more than three days.

At 1 p.m. on August 4, the Priz, trapped at 190 meters below the ocean surface, issued a mayday call. The Russian navy soon began to organize a rescue mission, asking for help from the United Kingdom, United States and Japan. In the ensuing days, while the three countries mobilized rescue crews for the trip to eastern Russia, the Russian navy attempted to first lift the sub from the water and later to drag it to shallower water where it could be reached by divers. Both approaches were complicated by the 60-ton anchor attached to the cables that had ensnared the sub. Finally, with fears mounting that the trapped crew’s oxygen supply would soon run out, the six-man crew of a British-owned-and-operated Scorpio-45 rescue sub arrived and was able to cut the sub loose. All seven on board, which included six Russian navy seamen and one representative of the company that made the sub, survived the ordeal.

The Priz incident occurred just five years after the Kursk, a Russian nuclear submarine, sank, killing all 118 people on board. In that disaster, the Russian government had delayed asking for outside help for some 30 hours and was widely blamed for the sailors deaths. As the disaster unfolded, Russian President Vladimir Putin stunned the public by failing to address the nation and even refused to cut short his vacation in light of the tragedy.

Although Russians everywhere were relieved and happy that the Priz was successfully rescued, others could not believe that the Russian navy had not acquired its own rescue equipment in the five years since the Kursk tragedy. For many, the Priz incident highlighted the effect of a decade of decay on the once-mighty Russian military.

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Teddy Roosevelt nominated as Bull Moose candidate

Year
1912
Month Day
August 07

Theodore Roosevelt is nominated for the presidency by the Progressive Party, a group of Republicans dissatisfied with the renomination of President William Howard Taft. Also known as the Bull Moose Party, the Progressive platform called for the direct election of U.S. senators, woman suffrage, reduction of the tariff and many social reforms. Roosevelt, who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909, embarked on a vigorous campaign as the party’s presidential candidate. A key point of his platform was the “Square Deal”—Roosevelt’s concept of a society based on fair business competition and increased welfare for needy Americans.

READ MORE: Here’s How Third-Party Candidates Have Changed Elections

On October 12, 1912, minutes before a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Roosevelt was shot at close range by anarchist John Flammang Schrank. Schrank, who was immediately detained, offered as his motive that any man looking for a third term ought to be shot. Roosevelt, who suffered only a flesh wound from the attack, went on to deliver his scheduled speech, declaring, “You see, it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” The former “Rough Rider” later collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He recovered quickly but in November was defeated by Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, who benefited from the divided Republican Party.

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Volkswagen halts production during World War II

Year
1944
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 1944, under the threat of Allied bombing during World War II, the German car manufacturer Volkswagen halts production of the “Beetle,” as its small, insect-shaped automobile was dubbed in the international press.

Ten years earlier, the renowned automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche had signed a contract with Germany’s Third Reich to develop a prototype of a small, affordable “people’s car.” The German chancellor, National Socialist (Nazi) leader Adolf Hitler, called the car the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen (or “Strength-Through-Joy” car), after a Nazi-led movement ostensibly aimed at helping the working people of Germany. Porsche didn’t like that moniker; he preferred Volkswagen (meaning “people’s car”), the name under which the car had originally been developed. In 1938, the government built a factory to produce the car in the city of KdF-stat. The first production-ready Beetle debuted at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939. Several months later, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the conflict that would explode into world war.

During the war years, the German army’s need for a lightweight utility vehicle took precedence over the production of affordable passenger cars. The result was the Type 62 Kubelwagen, a convertible vehicle with a modified Beetle chassis, four doors and 18-inch wheels (compared with the Beetle’s 16-inch ones) to give it better ground clearance. Though production at the KdF-stat factory was dedicated primarily to the Kubelwagen and its amphibious counterpart, the Schwimmwagen, the factory did continue to produce Beetles from 1941 to August 7, 1944, when production was halted under threat of Allied bombing.

In the war’s aftermath, a devastated Germany was divided into four sectors. Those under British, French and American control would combine to form West Germany, while the region under Soviet control became East Germany. KdF-stat (soon renamed Wolfsburg), which was in the British sector, and its auto factory remained in relatively good shape for having been a target of Allied bombs. Volkswagen, then under the control of the British military, began turning out Beetles again in December 1945. By 1949, the company (now called Volkswagen GmbH) was back in German hands, and in 1972 the Beetle passed the iconic Ford Model T as the top-selling car in history.

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Norwegian explorer completes 4,300-mile ocean voyage in wooden raft

Year
1947
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 1947, Kon-Tiki, a balsa wood raft captained by Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, completes a 4,300-mile, 101-day journey from Peru to Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, near Tahiti. Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized the Polynesian islands by drifting on ocean currents.

Heyerdahl and his five-person crew set sail from Callao, Peru, on the 45-foot-long Kon-Tiki on April 28, 1947. The Kon-Tiki, named for a mythical white chieftain, was made of indigenous materials and designed to resemble rafts of early South American Indians. While crossing the Pacific, the sailors encountered storms, sharks and whales, before finally washing ashore at Raroia. Heyerdahl, born in Larvik, Norway, on October 6, 1914, believed that Polynesia’s earliest inhabitants had come from South America, a theory that conflicted with popular scholarly opinion that the original settlers arrived from Asia. Even after his successful voyage, anthropologists and historians continued to discredit Heyerdahl’s belief. However, his journey captivated the public and he wrote a book about the experience that became an international bestseller and was translated into 65 languages. Heyerdahl also produced a documentary about the trip that won an Academy Award in 1951.

Heyerdahl made his first expedition to Polynesia in 1937. He and his first wife lived primitively on Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands for a year and studied plant and animal life. The experience led him to believe that humans had first come to the islands aboard primitive vessels drifting on ocean currents from the east.

Following the Kon-Tiki expedition, Heyerdahl made archeological trips to such places as the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island and Peru and continued to test his theories about how travel across the seas played a major role in the migration patterns of ancient cultures. In 1970, he sailed across the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados in a reed boat named Ra II (after Ra, the Egyptian sun god) to prove that Egyptians could have connected with pre-Columbian Americans. In 1977, he sailed the Indian Ocean in a primitive reed ship built in Iraq to learn how prehistoric civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and Egypt might have connected.

While Heyerdahl’s work was never embraced by most scholars, he remained a popular public figure and was voted “Norwegian of the Century” in his homeland. He died at age 87 on April 18, 2002, in Italy. The raft from his famous 1947 expedition is housed at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.

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U.S. forces invade Guadalcanal

Year
1942
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 1942, the U.S. 1st Marine Division begins Operation Watchtower, the first U.S. offensive of the war, by landing on Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands.

Weeks earlier, the Japanese landed on Guadalcanal Island and began constructing an airfield there. Operation Watchtower was the codename for the U.S. plan to invade Guadalcanal and the surrounding islands. During the attack, American troops landed on five islands within the Solomon chain. Although the invasion came as a complete surprise to the Japanese (bad weather had grounded their scouting aircraft), the landings on Florida, Tulagi, Gavutu and Tananbogo met much initial opposition from the Japanese defenders.

But the Americans who landed on Guadalcanal met little resistance—at least at first. More than 11,000 Marines had landed, and 24 hours had passed, before the Japanese manning the garrison there knew of the attack. The U.S. forces quickly took their main objective, the airfield, and the outnumbered Japanese troops retreated, but not for long. Reinforcements were brought in, and fierce hand-to-hand jungle fighting ensued. “I have never heard or read of this kind of fighting,” wrote one American major general on the scene. “These people refuse to surrender.”

The Americans were at a particular disadvantage, being assaulted from both the sea and air. But the U.S. Navy was able to reinforce its troops to a greater extent, and by February 1943, the Japanese had retreated on secret orders of their emperor (so secret, the Americans did not even know it had taken place until they began happening upon abandoned positions, empty boats, and discarded supplies). In total, the Japanese had lost more than 25,000 men, compared with a loss of 1,600 by the Americans. Each side lost 24 warships.

The first Medal of Honor given to a Marine was awarded to Sgt. John Basilone for his fighting during Operation Watchtower. According to the recommendation for his medal, he “contributed materially to the defeat and virtually the annihilation of a Japanese regiment.”

READ MORE: Battle of Guadalcanal 

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Lynne Cox swims into communist territory

Year
1987
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 1987, Lynne Cox braves the freezing waters of the Bering Strait to make the first recorded swim from the United States to the Soviet Union.

Lynne Cox’s swimming career began in her native New Hampshire when she was just nine years old. Not long after that, her parents moved the family to California so that Lynne and her siblings could live near the ocean and have access to better swim coaching. In 1971, under the direction of Coach Don Gambril, Cox joined her swim club in a swim of the 31-mile Catalina Channel off the coast of Southern California. Cox proved to be a natural at open-water swimming, and at the age of 15 she swam the notoriously difficult English Channel in just nine hours and 57 minutes, breaking the world record for both men and women. Two years later, Cox swam the Channel again, and again she broke the record, with a time of nine hours and 36 minutes.

By 1987, when Cox decided to try her luck at swimming the Bering Strait, the Cold War was just beginning to thaw, and under the leadership of reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union opened their border to Cox. Her rigorous training regiment included regularly swimming in water at between 38 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Cox–who rarely swam in a wetsuit regardless of water temperature–donned just a swimsuit as she set out from the shores of Little Diomede, Alaska, about 350 miles north of Anchorage, in water just above freezing. With a team of physiologists monitoring her swim, Cox stayed in the water for 2 hours and 16 minutes, crossing the international dateline and continuing all the way to Big Diomede on the coast of the Soviet Union, 2.7 miles up the Bering Strait. Her swim is considered one of the most incredible cold water swims in history.

The next year, while signing the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty with President Ronald Reagan at the White House, Gorbachev referred to Cox’s impressive achievement: “Last summer it took one brave American by the name of Lynne Cox just two hours to swim from one of our countries to the other. We saw on television how sincere and friendly the meeting was between our people and the Americans when she stepped onto the Soviet shore. She proved by her courage how close to each other our peoples live.”

READ MORE: The First Woman to Swim the English Channel Beat the Men’s Record by Two Hours

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President George H.W. Bush orders Operation Desert Shield

Year
1990
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush orders the organization of Operation Desert Shield in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2. The order prepared American troops to become part of an international coalition in the war against Iraq that would be launched as Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. To support Operation Desert Shield, Bush authorized a dramatic increase in U.S. troops and resources in the Persian Gulf.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and hard-line Iraqi nationalists had always believed Kuwait should be part of Iraq, but nationalist propaganda aside, acquiring control of Kuwait’s oil fields was Hussein’s primary interest. In addition, control of Kuwait represented a strategic military objective should Iraq be forced into a war with its western-friendly Arab neighbors. Hussein calculated incorrectly that the United States and the United Nations, who were closely tracking Iraq’s military buildup along Kuwait’s borders, would not try to stop him. However, when Iraqi ground forces entered Kuwait on August 2, 1990, President Bush immediately proclaimed that the invasion “would not stand” and vowed to help Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in their efforts to force the Iraqis from Kuwaiti land.

On November 29, 1990, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of “all means necessary” to remove Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, giving Iraq the deadline of midnight on January 16, 1991, to leave or risk forcible removal. After negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Iraq’s foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, failed, Congress authorized President Bush to use American troops in the coming conflict.

Just after midnight on January 17 in the U.S., Bush gave the order for U.S. troops to lead an international coalition in an attack on Saddam Hussein’s army. U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf led “Operation Desert Storm,” which began with a massive bombing of Hussein’s armies in Iraq and Kuwait. The ensuing campaign, which is remembered in part for the United States’ use of superior military technology, introduced the term “smart bombs” to the global vernacular—precision-bombing devices aimed primarily at destroying infrastructure and minimizing civilian casualties. In response, Hussein launched SCUD missiles into Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iraq’s use of SCUDs, notoriously inaccurate weapons designed to terrorize civilian targets, nearly succeeded in inciting the Israelis to retaliate. Hussein hoped an Israeli military response would draw neighboring Arab nations into the fight on Iraq’s side, but he again committed a grave miscalculation. Bush reassured Israelis that the U.S. would protect them from Hussein’s terrifying SCUD attacks and Israel resisted the urge to retaliate. Soon after, U.S. –installed Patriot missiles destroyed SCUD missiles in flight and further foiled Hussein’s plan to goad Israel into a holy war.

Following an intense bombing of Baghdad, U.S.-led coalition ground forces marched into Kuwait and across the Iraq border. Regular Iraqi troops surrendered in droves, leaving only Hussein’s hard-line Republican Guard to defend the capital, which they were unsuccessful in doing. After pushing Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, Schwarzkopf called a ceasefire on February 28; he accepted the surrender of Iraqi generals on March 3.

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Mysterious explosions in Colombia

Year
1956
Month Day
August 07

Seven army ammunition trucks explode in Cali, Colombia, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring thousands more on August 7, 1956. The cause of the explosions remains a mystery.

The previous day, 20 trucks fully loaded with dynamite departed the Colombian city of Buenaventura. The trucks stopped in Cali and then 13 of the trucks headed toward Bogota, Colombia’s capital city. The remaining seven were headed to other destinations and were parked in downtown Cali overnight.

Just after midnight, all seven trucks suddenly exploded in a quick chain reaction. A nearby rail station was demolished, as was an army barracks. Five hundred soldiers in the barracks lost their lives in an instant. A three-block area of the densely populated city was absolutely razed. Virtually every window within several miles shattered. The trucks themselves were obliterated and a large crater was left in the ground. The heavy bronze doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral, more than 10 blocks away, were blown right off the church.

The president of Colombia, General Gustavo Pinilla, publicly charged that terrorists were to blame for the disaster, but no evidence was ever found that the explosion was deliberate.

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