NASA’s final space shuttle mission comes to an end

Year
2011
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 2011, NASA’s space shuttle program completes its final, and 135th, mission, when the shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the program’s 30-year history, its five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour—carried more than 350 people into space and flew more than 500 million miles, and shuttle crews conducted important research, serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and helped in the construction of the International Space Station, among other activities. NASA retired the shuttles to focus on a deep-space exploration program that could one day send astronauts to asteroids and Mars.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies

In January 1972, two-and-a-half years after America put the first man on the moon in July 1969, President Richard Nixon publicly announced that NASA would develop a space transportation system featuring a space vehicle capable of shuttling “repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back.” Nine years later, on April 12, 1981, at Kennedy Space Center, the first shuttle, Columbia, lifted off on its inaugural mission. Over the course of the next 54 hours, the two astronauts aboard NASA’s first reusable spacecraft successfully tested all its systems and orbited the Earth 37 times before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

In 1983, a second shuttle, Challenger, was put into service. It flew nine missions before breaking apart shortly after the launch of its 10th mission, on January 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who had won a national contest to be the first U.S. civilian to fly aboard the space shuttle. In the aftermath of the disaster, the shuttle program was grounded until 1988.

The program’s third shuttle, Discovery, made its first flight in 1984. Atlantis entered the fleet in 1985, and was followed by Endeavour in 1992. The shuttle program experienced its second major disaster on February 1, 2003, when just minutes before Columbia was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center and conclude its 28th mission, it broke apart while re-entering the atmosphere over Texas. All seven astronauts on board perished.

Afterward, the shuttle fleet was grounded until July 2005, when Discovery was launched on the program’s 114th mission. By the time Discovery completed its 39th and final mission (the most of any shuttle) in March 2011, it had flown 148 million miles, made 5,830 orbits of Earth and spent 365 days in space. Endeavour completed its 25th and final mission in June 2011. That mission was commanded by Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

On July 8, 2011, Atlantis was launched on its 33rd mission. With four crew members aboard, Atlantis flew thousands of pounds of supplies and extra parts to the International Space Station; it was the 37th shuttle flight to make the trip. Thirteen days later, on July 21, Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m., after a journey of more than 5 million miles, during which it orbited the Earth 200 times. Upon landing, the flight’s commander, Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson, said, “Mission complete, Houston. After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history, and it’s come to a final stop.” During its 26 years in service, Atlantis flew almost 126 million miles, circled Earth 4,848 times and spent 307 days in space. The estimated price tag for the entire space shuttle program, from development to retirement, was $209 billion.

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Ernest Hemingway is born

Year
1899
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway, author of such novels as “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” is born in Oak Park, Illinois. The influential American literary icon became known for his straightforward prose and use of understatement. Hemingway, who tackled topics such as bullfighting and war in his work, also became famous for his own macho, hard-drinking persona.

As a boy, Hemingway, the second of six children of Clarence Hemingway, a doctor, and Grace Hall Hemingway, a musician, learned to fish and hunt, which would remain lifelong passions. After graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1917, he worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star in Missouri. The following year, as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy during World War I, he was wounded by mortar fire and spent months recuperating.

READ MORE: How World War I Changed Literature

During the 1920s, Hemingway lived in Paris, France, and was part of a group of expatriate writers and artists that included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. In 1925, Hemingway published his first collection of short stories in the U.S., which was followed by his well-received 1926 debut novel “The Sun Also Rises,” about a group of American and British expatriates in the 1920s who journey from Paris to Pamplona, Spain, to watch bullfighting.

In 1929, Hemingway, who by then had left Europe and moved to Key West, Florida, published “A Farewell to Arms,” about an American ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I and his love for a beautiful English nurse. In 1932, his non-fiction book “Death in the Afternoon,” about bullfighting in Spain, was released. It was followed in 1935 by another non-fiction work, “Green Hills of Africa,” about a safari Hemingway made to East Africa in the early 1930s. During the late 1930s, Hemingway traveled to Spain to report on that country’s civil war, and also spent time living in Cuba. In 1937, he released “To Have and Have Not,” a novel about a fishing boat captain forced to run contraband between Key West and Cuba.

In 1940, the acclaimed “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” about a young American fighting with a band of guerrillas in the Spanish civil war, made its debut. Hemingway went on to work as a war correspondent in Europe during World War II, and release the 1950 novel “Across the River and into the Trees.”

Hemingway’s last significant work to be published during his lifetime was 1952’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” a novella about an aging Cuban fisherman that was an allegory referring to the writer’s own struggles to preserve his art in the face of fame and attention. Hemingway had become a cult figure whose four marriages and adventurous exploits in big-game hunting and fishing were widely covered in the press. But despite his fame, he had not produced a major literary work in the decade before “The Old Man and the Sea” debuted. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

After surviving two plane crashes in Africa in 1953, Hemingway became increasingly anxious and depressed. On July 2, 1961, he killed himself with a shotgun at his home in Ketchum, Idaho. (His father had died by suicide in 1928.)

Three novels by Hemingway were released posthumously—“Islands in the Stream” (1970), “The Garden of Eden” (1986) and “True at First Light” (1999)—as was the memoir “A Moveable Feast” (1964), which he penned about his time in Paris in the 1920s.

READ MORE: Was Ernest Hemingway a Spy?

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Bombers attempt to attack London transit system

Year
2005
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 2005, terrorists attempt to attack the London transit system by planting bombs on three subways and on one bus; none of the bombs detonate completely. The attempted attack came exactly two weeks after terrorists killed 56 people, including themselves, and wounded 700 others in the largest attack on Great Britain since World War II. The previous attack also targeted three subways and one bus.

The failed bombs were found at the London Underground’s Oval, Warren Street and Shepherd’s Bush stations and on a bus in Hackney. Two days later, a fifth bomb, apparently abandoned, was found in some bushes near a park in Little Wormwood Scrubs.

The four bombers, Muktar Said Ibrahim, 29, Yasin Hassan Omar, 26, Ramzi Mohammed, 25, and Hussain Osman, 28, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life in prison. 

An estimated 3 million people ride the London Underground every day, with another 6.5 million using the city’s bus system.

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Aswan High Dam completed

Year
1970
Month Day
July 21

After 11 years of construction, the Aswan High Dam across the Nile River in Egypt is completed on July 21, 1970. More than two miles long at its crest, the massive $1 billion dam ended the cycle of flood and drought in the Nile River region, and exploited a tremendous source of renewable energy, but had a controversial environmental impact.

A dam was completed at Aswan, 500 miles south of Cairo, in 1902. The first Aswan dam provided valuable irrigation during droughts but could not hold back the annual flood of the mighty Nile River. In the 1950s, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser envisioned building a new dam across the Nile, one large enough to end flooding and bring electric power to every corner of Egypt. He won United States and British financial backing, but in July 1956 both nations canceled the offer after learning of a secret Egyptian arms agreement with the USSR. In response, Nasser nationalized the British and French-owned Suez Canal, intending to use tolls to pay for his High Dam project. This act precipitated the Suez Canal Crisis, in which Israel, Britain and France attacked Egypt in a joint military operation. The Suez Canal was occupied, but Soviet, U.S., and U.N. forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw, and the Suez Canal was left in Egyptian hands in 1957.

Soviet loans and proceeds from Suez Canal tolls allowed Nasser to begin work on the Aswan High Dam in 1960. Some 57 million cubic yards of earth and rock were used to build the dam, which has a mass 16 times that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. On July 21, 1970, the ambitious project was completed. President Nasser died of a heart attack in September 1970, before the dam was formally dedicated in 1971.

The giant reservoir created by the dam–300 miles long and 10 miles wide–was named Lake Nasser in his honor. The formation of Lake Nasser required the resettlement of 90,000 Egyptian peasants and Sudanese Nubian nomads, as well as the costly relocation of the ancient Egyptian temple complex of Abu Simbel, built in the 13th century B.C.

The Aswan High Dam brought the Nile’s devastating floods to an end, reclaimed more than 100,000 acres of desert land for cultivation, and made additional crops possible on some 800,000 other acres. The dam’s 12 giant Soviet-built turbines produce as much as 10 billion kilowatt-hours annually, providing a tremendous boost to the Egyptian economy and introducing 20th-century life into many villages. The water stored in Lake Nasser, several trillion cubic feet, is shared by Egypt and the Sudan and was crucial during the African drought years of 1984 to 1988.

Despite its successes, the Aswan High Dam has produced several negative side effects. Most costly is the gradual decrease in the fertility of agricultural lands in the Nile delta, which used to benefit from the millions of tons of silt deposited annually by the Nile floods. Another detriment to humans has been the spread of the disease schistosomiasis by snails that live in the irrigation system created by the dam. The reduction of waterborne nutrients flowing into the Mediterranean is suspected to be the cause of a decline in anchovy populations in the eastern Mediterranean. The end of flooding has sharply reduced the number of fish in the Nile, many of which were migratory. Lake Nasser, however, has been stocked with fish, and many species, including perch, thrive there.

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The First Battle of Bull Run

Year
1861
Month Day
July 21

In the first major land battle of the Civil War, a large Union force under General Irvin McDowell is routed by a Confederate army under General Pierre G.T. Beauregard.

Three months after the Civil War erupted at Fort Sumter, Union military command still believed that the Confederacy could be crushed quickly and with little loss of life. In July, this overconfidence led to a premature offensive into northern Virginia by General McDowell. Searching out the Confederate forces, McDowell led 34,000 troops—mostly inexperienced and poorly trained militiamen—toward the railroad junction of Manassas, located just 30 miles from Washington, D.C. Alerted to the Union advance, General Beauregard massed some 20,000 troops there and was soon joined by General Joseph Johnston, who brought some 9,000 more troops by railroad.

READ MORE: American Civil War: Causes, Dates & Battles

On the morning of July 21, hearing of the proximity of the two opposing forces, hundreds of civilians–men, women, and children–turned out to watch the first major battle of the Civil War. The fighting commenced with three Union divisions crossing the Bull Run stream, and the Confederate flank was driven back to Henry House Hill. However, at this strategic location, Beauregard had fashioned a strong defensive line anchored by a brigade of Virginia infantry under General Thomas J. Jackson. Firing from a concealed slope, Jackson’s men repulsed a series of Federal charges, winning Jackson his famous nickname “Stonewall.”

Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart captured the Union artillery, and Beauregard ordered a counterattack on the exposed Union right flank. The rebels came charging down the hill, yelling furiously, and McDowell’s line was broken, forcing his troops in a hasty retreat across Bull Run. The retreat soon became an unorganized flight, and supplies littered the road back to Washington. Union forces endured a loss of 3,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action while the Confederates suffered 2,000 casualties. The scale of this bloodshed horrified not only the frightened spectators at Bull Run but also the U.S. government in Washington, which was faced with an uncertain military strategy in quelling the “Southern insurrection.”

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Hitler to Germany: “I’m still alive”

Year
1944
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 1944, Adolf Hitler takes to the airwaves to announce that the attempt on his life has failed and that “accounts will be settled.”

Hitler had survived the bomb blast that was meant to take his life. He had suffered punctured eardrums, some burns and minor wounds, but nothing that would keep him from regaining control of the government and finding the rebels. In fact, the coup d’etat that was to accompany the assassination of Hitler was put down in a mere 11 1/2 hours. 

In Berlin, Army Major Otto Remer, believed to be apolitical by the conspirators and willing to carry out any orders given him, was told that the Fuhrer was dead and that he, Remer, was to arrest Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. But Goebbels had other news for Remer—Hitler was alive. And he proved it, by getting the leader on the phone (the rebels had forgotten to cut the phone lines). Hitler then gave Remer direct orders to put down any army rebellion and to follow only his orders or those of Goebbels or Himmler. Remer let Goebbels go. The SS then snapped into action, arriving in Berlin, now in chaos, just in time to convince many high German officers to remain loyal to Hitler.

READ MORE: The July Plot: When German Elites Tried to Kill Hitler

Arrests, torture sessions, executions, and suicides followed. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who actually planted the explosive in the room with Hitler and who had insisted to his co-conspirators that “the explosion was as if a 150-millimeter shell had hit. No one in that room can still be alive.” But it was Stauffenberg who would not be alive for much longer; he was shot dead the very day of the attempt by a pro-Hitler officer. The plot was completely undone.

Now Hitler had to restore calm and confidence to the German civilian population. At 1 a.m., July 21, Hitler’s voice broke through the radio airwaves: “I am unhurt and well…. A very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible…and stupid officers had concocted a plot to eliminate me… It is a gang of criminal elements which will be destroyed without mercy. I therefore give orders now that no military authority…is to obey orders from this crew of usurpers… This time we shall settle account with them in the manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed.”

READ MORE: 6 Assassination Attempts on Adolf Hitler

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Wild Bill Hickok fights first western showdown

Year
1865
Month Day
July 21

In what may be the first true western showdown, Wild Bill Hickok shoots Dave Tutt dead in the market square of Springfield, Missouri.

Hollywood movies and dime novels notwithstanding, the classic western showdown–also called a walkdown–happened only rarely in the American West. Rather than coolly confronting each other on a dusty street in a deadly game of quick draw, most men began shooting at each other in drunken brawls or spontaneous arguments. Ambushes and cowardly attacks were far more common than noble showdowns.

Nonetheless, southern emigrants brought to the West a crude form of the “code duello,” a highly formalized means of solving disputes between gentlemen with swords or guns that had its origins in European chivalry. By the second half of the 19th century, few Americans still fought duels to solve their problems. Yet, the concept of the duel surely influenced the informal western code of what constituted a legitimate-and legal-gun battle. Above all, the western code required that a man resort to his six-gun only in defense of his honor or life, and only if his opponent was also armed. Likewise, a western jury was unlikely to convict a man in a shooting provided witnesses testified that his opponent had been the aggressor.

The best-known example of a true western duel occurred on this day in 1865. Wild Bill Hickok, a skilled gunman with a formidable reputation, was eking out a living as a professional gambler in Springfield, Missouri. He quarreled with Dave Tutt, a former Union soldier, but it is unclear what caused the dispute. Some people say it was over a card game while others say they fought over a woman. Whatever the cause, the two men agreed to a duel.

The showdown took place the following day with crowd of onlookers watching as Hickok and Tutt confronted each other from opposite sides of the town square. When Tutt was about 75 yards away, Hickok shouted, “Don’t come any closer, Dave.” Tutt nervously drew his revolver and fired a shot that went wild. Hickok, by contrast, remained cool. He steadied his own revolver in his left hand and shot Tutt dead with a bullet through the chest.

Having adhered to the code of the West, Hickok was acquitted of manslaughter charges. Eleven years later, however, Hickok died in a fashion far more typical of the violence of the day: a young gunslinger shot him in the back of the head while he played cards. Legend says that the hand Hickok was holding at the time of his death was two pair–black aces and black eights. The hand would forever be known as the “dead man’s hand.”

READ MORE: The Original Wild West Showdown

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Final Harry Potter book released

Year
2007
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 2007, the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is released, with an initial print run of 12 million copies in the United States alone. Like each of the previous Harry Potter novels, Deathly Hallows was slated to be made into a major Hollywood film.

The bespectacled boy wizard Harry Potter is the brainchild of the British author J.K. Rowling, who was born July 31, 1965. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, debuted in Britain in 1997 (it was retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when it was released in America the next year) and went on to become an international bestseller. Children and adults alike were captivated by Harry, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and their adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The books, which chronicled Harry’s struggles against his enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort, have sold over 400 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages. The series is also credited with boosting childhood literacy around the globe.

Spawning a series of blockbuster films, video games and other merchandise, the Harry Potter series transformed J.K. Rowling, a broke single mother when she penned the first book, into the highest-earning author in history. The first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opened in America on November 16, 2001. Directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire), the film starred British actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson in the role of Hermione. Columbus also directed the second film in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which premiered in the United States on November 14, 2002. The final book was adapted into two movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011).

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Tsunami hits Alexandria, Egypt

Year
365
Month Day
July 21

On July 21, 365, a powerful earthquake off the coast of Greece causes a tsunami that devastates the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Although there were no measuring tools at the time, scientists now estimate that the quake was actually two tremors in succession, the largest of which is thought to have had a magnitude of 8.0.

The quake was centered near the plate boundary called the Hellenic Arc and quickly sent a wall of water across the Mediterranean Sea toward the Egyptian coast. Ships in the harbor at Alexandria were overturned as the water near the coast receded suddenly. Reports indicate that many people rushed out to loot the hapless ships. The tsunami wave then rushed in and carried the ships over the sea walls, landing many on top of buildings. In Alexandria, approximately 5,000 people lost their lives and 50,000 homes were destroyed.

The surrounding villages and towns suffered even greater destruction. Many were virtually wiped off the map. Outside the city, 45,000 people were killed. In addition, the inundation of saltwater rendered farmland useless for years to come. Evidence indicates that the area’s shoreline was permanently changed by the disaster. Slowly, but steadily, the buildings of Alexandria’s Royal Quarter were overtaken by the sea following the tsunami. It was not until 1995 that archaeologists discovered the ruins of the old city off the coast of present-day Alexandria.

READ MORE: Ancient Egypt’s 10 Most Jaw-Dropping Discoveries

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The “Trial of the Century” draws national attention

Year
1925
Month Day
July 21

Schoolteacher John T. Scopes is convicted of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in public schools. The case debated in the so-called “Trial of the Century” was never really in doubt; the jury only conferred for a few moments in the hallway before returning to the courtroom with a guilty verdict. Nevertheless, the supporters of evolution won the public relations battle that was really at stake.

READ MORE: Scopes Trial

Despite popular perceptions of the case, fueled in part by the Broadway play and movie Inherit the Wind, the Scopes trial was never more than a show trial. On May 4, 1925, the American Civil Liberties Union published a newspaper advertisement offering to help any Tennessee schoolteacher challenge the new law that had outlawed the teaching of evolution. George W. Rappleyea, a New Yorker who had moved to Dayton, Tennessee, read the ad and persuaded the local townspeople that Dayton should host a trial in order to spark interest in the town.

The leaders of the less than 2,000 residents of Dayton quickly came around to Rappleyea’s idea. The school superintendent agreed with the law but wanted to gain publicity for the town. Even Dayton’s prosecutors were in on the deal. The last piece of the puzzle was to find a defendant. Twenty-four-year-old John T. Scopes, a local high school science teacher and football coach, agreed to fill the roll since he wasn’t planning on staying in Dayton for the long term. No one was really concerned whether he had actually taught evolution to his students. The fact that he had been using the state-approved science textbook, which included a chapter on evolution, was deemed sufficient. A warrant was made for Scopes’ arrest, and word went out that the trial would begin in the summer.

Although the rest of Tennessee was displeased with Dayton’s plan, 500 seats were added to the town’s courtroom for press and spectators, and loudspeakers were set up on the lawn outside and in four auditoriums around town. This proved necessary when the nation’s leading figures in the evolution debate hijacked the case from the local attorneys. William Jennings Bryan, a former congressman who had three times run for president before serving as secretary of state for Woodrow Wilson, took over the prosecution. Bryan had personally initiated the campaign against evolution in the United States; the Tennessee law was his first major success.

Knowing that it would be the perfect forum to debate Bryan on the evolution and creationism issue, the great liberal lawyer Clarence Darrow wormed his way into the case as the defense attorney. While the press flooded into Dayton for the showdown between these two larger-than-life figures, a Chicago radio station broadcast the trial live—a first in America.

The trial opened on July 10 with magnificent speeches from both Bryan and Darrow. However, it soon became evident that the trial judge was not going to play along: He cut off every attempt by Darrow to debate the validity of evolution. The trial would have been completely uneventful except for a creative gambit by Darrow—he called Bryan as a witness. Although the judge would never have allowed a prosecutor to be called as a defense witness, Bryan didn’t dare back down to the challenge. In a famous exchange, Darrow questioned Bryan on the literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of the beginning of the world. With masterful questioning, Darrow forced Bryan to admit that a purely literal interpretation was not possible, making him look very foolish.

Darrow’s performance didn’t save Scopes from a conviction and $100 fine (it was later overturned on a technicality), but in the mainstream press, the theory of evolution clearly won the debate.

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