Lunik 9 soft-lands on lunar surface


Year
1966
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 1966, the Soviet Union accomplishes the first controlled landing on the moon, when the unmanned spacecraft Lunik 9 touches down on the Ocean of Storms. After its soft landing, the circular capsule opened like a flower, deploying its antennas, and began transmitting photographs and television images back to Earth. The 220-pound landing capsule was launched from Earth on January 31.

Lunik 9 was the third major lunar first for the Soviet space program: On September 14, 1959, Lunik 2 became the first manmade object to reach the moon when it impacted with the lunar surface, and on October 7 of the same year Lunik 3 flew around the moon and transmitted back to Earth the first images of the dark side of the moon. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. space program consistently trailed the Soviet program in space firsts–a pattern that shifted dramatically with the triumph of America’s Apollo lunar program in the late 1960s.

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Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” die in a plane crash


Year
1959
Month Day
February 03

Rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day.”

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly’s band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

Holly, born Charles Holley in Lubbock, Texas, and just 22 when he died, began singing country music with high school friends before switching to rock and roll after opening for various performers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Holly wrote all his own songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, started out as a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson’s most famous recording was the rockabilly “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, “The Big Bopper.”

The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los  Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba,” an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song (though Valens barely spoke Spanish). In 1987, Valens’ life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959 as “the day the music died.”

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Woodrow Wilson dies


Year
1924
Month Day
February 03

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, dies in Washington, D.C., at the age of 67.

In 1912, Governor Wilson of New Jersey was elected president in a landslide Democratic victory over Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and Progressive Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt. The focal point of President Wilson’s first term in office was the outbreak of World War I and his efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict while maintaining U.S. neutrality. In 1916, he was narrowly reelected president at the end of a close race against Charles Evans Hughes, his Republican challenger.

In 1917, the renewal of German submarine warfare against neutral American ships, and the “Zimmerman Note,” which revealed a secret alliance proposal by Germany to Mexico, forced Wilson to push for America’s entry into the war.

At the war’s end, President Wilson traveled to France, where he headed the American delegation to the peace conference seeking an official end to the conflict. At Versailles, Wilson was the only Allied leader who foresaw the future difficulty that might arise from forcing punitive peace terms on an economically ruined Germany. He also successfully advocated the creation of the League of Nations as a means of maintaining peace in the postwar world. In November 1920, President Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at Versailles.

In the autumn of 1919, while campaigning in the United States to win approval for the Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations, Wilson suffered a severe stroke that paralyzed his left side and caused significant brain damage. This illness likely contributed to Wilson’s uncharacteristic failure to reach a compromise with the American opponents to the European agreements, and in November the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or the League of Nations.

During his last year in office, there is evidence that Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, may have served as acting president for the debilitated and bed-ridden president who often communicated through her. In March 1921, Wilson’s term expired, and he retired with his wife to Washington, D.C., where he lived until his death on February 3, 1924. Two days later, he was buried in Washington’s National Cathedral, the first president to be laid to rest in the nation’s capital.

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Jacques Cousteau’s “The Silent World” is published


Year
1953
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 1953, French oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau publishes The Silent World, a memoir about his time exploring the oceans. It became a highly acclaimed documentary in 1956. 

Born in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, France, in 1910, Cousteau was trained at the Brest Naval School. While serving in the French navy, he began his underwater explorations, filming shipwrecks and the underwater world of the Mediterranean Sea through a glass bowl. At the time, the only available system for underwater breathing involved a diver being tethered to the surface, and Cousteau sought to develop a self-contained device.

In 1943, with the aid of engineer Emile Gagnan, he designed the Aqua-Lung, the world’s first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba). With the Aqua-Lung, the largely unexplored world lying beneath the ocean surface was open to Cousteau as never before. He developed underwater cameras and photography and was employed by the French navy to explore navy shipwrecks. In his free time, he explored ancient wrecks and studied underwater sea life.

In 1948, he published his first book, Through 18 Meters of Water, and in 1950 Lord Guinness, a British patron, bought him an old British minesweeper to use for his explorations. Cousteau converted the ship into an oceanographic vessel and christened it the Calypso. In 1953, he published The Silent World, written with Frederic Dumas, and began work on a film version of the book with director Louis Malle.

Three years later, The Silent World was released to world acclaim. The film, which revealed to the public the hidden universe of tropical fish, whales, and walruses, won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

With the success of the film, Cousteau retired from the navy to devote himself to oceanography. He welcomed geologists, archaeologists, zoologists, environmentalists, and other scientists aboard the Calypso and led numerous excursions to the world’s great bodies of water, from the Red Sea to the Amazon River. He headed the Conshelf Saturation Dive Program, in which men lived and worked for extended time periods at considerable depths along the continental shelves.

His many books include The Living Sea (1963), Three Adventures: Galapagos, Titicaca, the Blue Holes (1973) and Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World (1985). He also produced several more award-winning films and scores of television documentaries about the ocean, making him a household name. He saw firsthand the damage done to the marine ecosystems by humans and was an outspoken and persuasive environmentalist. Cousteau died in 1997.

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“World’s Fastest Indian” makes U.S. debut


Year
2006
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 2006, “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a movie based on the true story of motorcycle racer and land-speed record holder Burt Munro, opens in U.S. theaters. The film starred Anthony Hopkins as Munro, the sexagenarian who in the 1960s set several land-speed records on his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Herbert Munro, who was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, on March 25, 1899, began riding motorcycles as a teenager. He later bought his Indian Scout motorcycle and raced it competitively in Australia and New Zealand. In the late 1940s, Munro, who was considered eccentric by some of his neighbors, stopped working and put all his time and energy into rebuilding his Indian and Velocette motorcycles, modifying the engines and frames and hand-crafting his own new parts. After setting various speed records in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s, Munro focused his sights on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Located approximately 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a hard, flat 30,000-acre expanse formed from an ancient evaporated lake. In 1914, Teddy Tezlaff set an auto speed record at Bonneville, driving 141.73 mph in a Blitzen Benz. By the late 1940s, Bonneville had become the standard place for setting and breaking world land-speed records and has since attracted drivers from around the globe who compete in a number of automotive and motorcycle divisions.

In 1962, Munro sailed to America on a cargo ship, working as a cook to pay his fare. After making his way to the Salt Flats, he set a world record of 178.97 mph with his engine bored out to 850 cc. Over the next few years, the determined Munro, then in his 60s, returned to Bonneville again, racing there for the final time in 1967, when he drove 183.586 mph and set a new speed record in the sub-1,000 cc motorcycle class. His one-way qualifying run of 190.07 mph was the fastest speed ever clocked on an Indian motorcycle.

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Alberto Gonzales becomes first Hispanic U.S. attorney general


Year
2005
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 2005, Alberto Gonzales wins Senate confirmation as the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general despite protests over his record on torture.

The Senate approved his nomination on a largely party-line vote of 60-36, reflecting a split between Republicans and Democrats over whether the administration’s counterterrorism policies had led to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. Shortly after the Senate vote, Vice President Dick Cheney swore in Gonzales as attorney general in a small ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. President Bush, who was traveling, called to congratulate him.

Gonzales was born in 1955 in San Antonio, Texas, the son of migrant workers and grew up in a small, crowded home in Houston without hot water or a telephone. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1973 after graduating high school. Following a few years of service, Gonzales attended the U.S. Air Force Academy.

After leaving the military, Gonzales attended Rice University and Harvard Law School before Bush, then governor of Texas, picked him in 1995 to serve as his general counsel in Austin and in 2001 brought him to Washington as his White House counsel. In this new role, Gonzales championed an extension of the USA Patriot Act.

After Gonzales became attorney general, he faced scrutiny regarding some of his actions, most notably the firing of several U.S. attorneys and his defense of Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program. The firings became the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007. Concerns about the veracity of some of his statements as well as his general competency also began to surface.

Democrats began calling for his resignation and for more investigations, but President Bush defended his appointee, saying that Gonzales was “an honest, honorable man in whom I have confidence,” according to an Associated Press report from April.

A few months later, however, Gonzales decided to step down.

On August 27, he gave a brief statement announcing his resignation (effective September 17), stating that “It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice.” He gave no explanation for his departure. In his resignation letter, Gonzales simply said that “. . . this is the right time for my family and I to begin a new chapter in our lives.”

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U.S. troops capture the Marshall Islands


Year
1944
Month Day
February 03

American forces invade and take control of the Marshall Islands, long occupied by the Japanese and used by them as a base for military operations.

The Marshalls, east of the Caroline Islands in the western Pacific Ocean, had been in Japanese hands since World War I. Occupied by the Japanese in 1914, they were made part of the “Japanese Mandated Islands” as determined by the League of Nations. The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded the First World War, stipulated certain islands formerly controlled by Germany–including the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas (except Guam)–had to be ceded to the Japanese, though “overseen” by the League. But the Japanese withdrew from the League in 1933 and began transforming the Mandated Islands into military bases. Non-Japanese, including Christian missionaries, were kept from the islands as naval and air bases—meant to threaten shipping lanes between Australia and Hawaii—were constructed.

During the Second World War, these islands, as well as others in the vicinity, became targets of Allied attacks. The U.S. Central Pacific Campaign began with the Gilbert Islands, south of the Mandated Islands; U.S. forces conquered the Gilberts in November 1943. Next on the agenda was Operation Flintlock, a plan to capture the Marshall Islands.

Adm. Raymond Spruance led the 5th Fleet from Pearl Harbor on January 22, 1944, to the Marshalls, with the goal of getting 53,000 assault troops ashore two islets: Roi and Namur. Meanwhile, using the Gilberts as an air base, American planes bombed the Japanese administrative and communications center for the Marshalls, which was located on Kwajalein, an atoll that was part of the Marshall cluster of atolls, islets and reefs.

By January 31, Kwajalein was devastated. Repeated carrier- and land-based air raids destroyed every Japanese airplane on the Marshalls. By February 3, U.S. infantry overran Roi and Namur atolls. The Marshalls were then effectively in American hands—with the loss of only 400 American lives.

READ MORE: Battle for the Marshall Islands

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New England Patriots win first Super Bowl


Year
2002
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 2002, the New England Patriots shock football fans everywhere by defeating the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, 20-17, to take home their first Super Bowl victory. Pats’ kicker Adam Vinatieri made a 48-yard field goal to win the game just as the clock expired.

Super Bowl XXXVI took place at the Superdome in New Orleans with a crowd of almost 73,000 in attendance. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, the game was played amidst intense security and included a tribute to the 9/11 victims. Former President George H.W. Bush conducted the coin toss, the first president to ever do so in person. Mariah Carey sang the National Anthem and U2 performed during the halftime show.

The NFC champion Rams were coached by Mike Martz, who joined the team in 1999 as offensive coordinator and became head coach in 2000. The team’s offense–nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”–was believed to be one of the best in football history. Kurt Warner, a two-time NFL MVP, quarterbacked the Rams, who had won their first Super Bowl in 2000. The American Football Conference champion Patriots were coached by Bill Belichick, who joined the team in 2000, the same year quarterback Tom Brady was drafted. Brady took over for Pats’ starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe after he was injured early in the 2001-2002 season, and Belichick made the decision to stay with the younger quarterback even after Bledsoe recovered, a call that initially met with controversy. (Bledsoe did play in the AFC Championship game, after Brady was forced to leave with an injury.)

Going into the Super Bowl on February 3, the Rams’ high-powered offense and Super Bowl experience combined to make them 14-point favorites. True to form, the Rams scored first, but by halftime, the underdog Patriots had stifled the Rams offense, and capitalized on two St. Louis turnovers to pull ahead, 14-3.

The Pats converted another Rams turnover into a 17-3 lead in the third quarter before the Rams finally seemed to come alive. Warner ran in a touchdown and then connected with wide receiver Ricky Proehl with just one minute, 30 seconds remaining to tie the score. In the end, though, it proved too little, too late: Brady deftly led the Pats on a 53-yard drive and into field goal range, and with seven seconds left on the clock, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal to give the Pats the victory, 20-17. It was the first time a Super Bowl had ever been won with a team scoring as the game clock expired. (Colts kicker Jim O’Brien kicked a game-winner in Super Bowl V, but there were five seconds left in the game.)

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President Clinton ends trade embargo of Vietnam


Year
1994
Month Day
February 03

President Bill Clinton lifts a 19-year-old trade embargo of the Republic of Vietnam. The embargo had been in place since 1975, when North Vietnamese forces captured the city of Saigon in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

President Clinton lifted the embargo primarily to encourage cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Vietnam to discover the fate of American prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIA) who had remained unaccounted for after the war. He also believed that improved business relations between the U.S. and Vietnam would benefit the economies of both nations. 

American businesses interested in expanding in Asian nations like Vietnam applauded his move, while veterans’ organizations and families of servicemen killed during the Vietnam War erupted in outrage over the lifting of the embargo. They believed that the lifting of the embargo, as well as Clinton’s status as a draft dodger and his active participation in war protests during the 1970s, was an insult to the memories of those who fought and died during Vietnam in service to their country. They also believed that the Vietnamese could not be trusted, citing examples of the Vietnamese government’s habit of providing false information to U.S. officials regarding the whereabouts of American POWs.

In 2000, six years after lifting the embargo, Clinton became the first American head of state to visit Vietnam since before the war. During the visit he attempted to soothe ongoing U.S. internal conflict over the Vietnam War and his actions by stating, “The history we leave behind is painful and hard. We must not forget it, but we must not be controlled by it.”

According to the Department of Defense, 325 American servicemen were accounted for in the first 12 years after the lifting of the embargo. 

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Belle Starr murdered in Oklahoma


Year
1889
Month Day
February 03

The outlaw Belle Starr is killed when an unknown assailant fatally wounds the famous “Bandit Queen” with two shotgun blasts from behind.

As with the lives of other famous outlaws like Billy the Kid and Jesse James, fanciful accounts printed in newspapers and dime novels made Belle Starr’s harsh and violent life appear far more romantic than it actually was. Born Myra Belle Shirley on a small farm near Carthage, Missouri, in 1848, she received an education in the classics and became a competent pianist. Seemingly headed for an unexciting but respectable middle-class life, her fate was changed by the outbreak of the Civil War, which ruined her father’s business as a Carthage innkeeper and claimed the life of her brother Edwin. Devastated, the Shirley family abandoned Missouri to try to make a fresh start in Texas.

In Texas, Belle began her life-long pattern of associating with men of questionable character. In 1866, she met Cole Younger, a member of the James-Younger gang that was gaining notoriety for a series of daring bank and train robberies. Rumor had it that Younger fathered Belle’s first child, Pearl, though the father might have actually been another outlaw, Jim Reed. Regardless, Belle’s relationship with Younger was short-lived, and in 1866 she became Reed’s wife. Belle was apparently untroubled by her new husband’s reputation and she had become his partner in crime by 1869. She joined him in stealing cattle, horses, and money in the Dallas area. Riding her mare, Venus, and sporting velvet skirts and plumed hats, Belle played the role of a “bandit queen” for several years.

In 1874, a member of his own gang killed Reed, and Belle was suddenly on her own. Pursued by the law, she drifted into Oklahoma Indian Territory, where she led a band of cattle and horse thieves. There she met a handsome young Cherokee named Sam Starr, who eventually became her common-law husband and new criminal partner. The Starrs managed to elude capture for nearly a decade, but in 1883 they were arrested for horse theft and both served five months in the Detroit federal prison.

Freed from prison, the couple immediately resumed their criminal careers. In 1886, Belle again lost a husband to violent death when Sam Starr was killed in a gunfight with an old enemy. Belle wasted no time in finding a third companion, a Creek Indian named Jim July, an outlaw who was 15 years her junior. In 1889, July was arrested for robbery and summoned to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to face charges. Belle accompanied her young lover for part of the journey but turned back before reaching Fort Smith. On her way home, someone ambushed and fatally wounded her with two shotgun blasts to her back. Jim July believed the murderer was a neighbor with whom the couple had been feuding, but no one was ever convicted of the crime.

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