July 18 in history:
The Great Fire of Rome began on this date in 64 A.D., lasting about a week. Many accused Emperor Nero of starting the blaze for political reasons, but modern historians believe he was not responsible, and did not stand by while singing or playing on a musical instrument.
A Titan rocket fired up in Florida on July 18th, 1966, sending the Gemini 10 spacecraft into orbit. Astronauts John Young and Michael Collins orbited the Earth 43 times before landing three days later.
The first American to orbit Earth, John Glenn, was born July 18th, 1921. It’s also the birthday of actor James Brolin (1940), who played an astronaut forced to fake a landing on Mars in the movie “Capricorn One.”
On a 1958 episode of “The Red Skelton Show,” country bumpkin Clem Kadiddlehopper invented a satellite and launched it into space. Clem was one of the recurring characters played by Skelton on his weekly TV series in the 1950s and ’60s, as well as Junior the Mean Widdle Kid and hobo Freddie the Freeloader. Red Skelton was born on July 18th, 1913.
March 1st in history:
On March 1st, 1962, an American Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles with 95 people aboard crashed into Jamaica Bay just after takeoff from Idlewild Airport on Long Island. No one survived. It was the worst crash involving a U.S. commercial airliner up until that time.
The crash happened on the same day that astronaut John Glenn was being honored in New York with a ticker-tape parade, for being the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. Fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton turned 38 that day. Slayton was scheduled to fly on the next Mercury mission, but a medical problem grounded him, and kept him from flying in space until 1975.
Other famous people associated with flying were born on March 1st. They include:
Bandleader Glenn Miller (born 1904), lost on a plane flight while serving in World War II;
Actor Robert Conrad (birth year in dispute, either 1929 or 1935), who played World War II pilot Pappy Boyington on “Black Sheep Squadron,” but is best known as secret agent James West on “The Wild Wild West”;
And Ron Howard (1954), who directed the space drama Apollo 13. Before becoming an award-winning director, Howard played Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days.”
February 20th in history:
Congress was ready to end Prohibition in 1933. On February 20th of that year, members of Congress proposed the 21st Amendment, to repeal the 18th Amendment that banned liquor in the U.S. and led to the rise of gangsters such as Al Capone.
Chicago lawyer Edward Joseph O’Hare helped send Capone to prison. O’Hare’s son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare, became the first American flying ace of World War II on February 20th, 1942, by shooting down Japanese bombers over the Pacific. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named after Butch.
Twenty years later, on February 20th, 1962, John Glenn became a different type of flying ace. That was the day Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.
February 20th is also the birthday of some performers who have played high-flying characters:
Actress Sandy Duncan (born 1946) has played Peter Pan frequently on stage;
Comedian Joel Hodgson (1960) was stuck on a spaceship, watching bad movies with two wise-cracking robots, on the TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000”;
And French Stewart (1964) was part of a “family” of space aliens posing as humans on the sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun.”
October 29 in history:
The first version of the internet was called the ARPANET. On October 29th, 1969, two computers were linked together to communicate with each other for the first time. One was at UCLA, and the other was in Northern California.
One man in New York, one man in Washington. It was a high-tech television partnership that lasted for 14 years on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” which began on this date in 1956. Chet Huntley was at the New York anchor desk, with David Brinkley in D.C.
Huntley and Brinkley also anchored NBC coverage of many space flights in the ’60s. John Glenn first flew in space in 1962. By the time he went into orbit again, Glenn had been elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio. His second space mission, as part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery, began on October 29th, 1998.
Richard Dreyfuss went into space aboard an alien ship at the end of the 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He won an Oscar for another movie he made the same year, “The Goodbye Girl.” Dreyfuss was born October 29th, 1947.
October 7 in history:
Air France was founded on the same date in 1933, when five existing airlines merged into one.
October 7th was the day NASA established Project Mercury in 1958. The goal of the Mercury program was to have a man orbit the earth. That goal was achieved in 1962, when John Glenn flew aboard Friendship 7.
A cruise ship called the Achille Lauro was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists during a trip on the Mediterranean on October 7th, 1985. About 400 people aboard were held hostage, and an American passenger was shot and killed and pushed overboard in his wheelchair. Two days later, the hijackers released the hostages and surrendered to the Egyptian government, but they were soon arrested after American fighter jets intercepted the plane they were flying to Tunisia.