Blog Posts by Kelly O'Mara

  • Mission Control celebrates as news of Apollo 13’s successful splashdown comes through. (Photo: NASA, public domain)

    After a harrowing four days, the ill-fated Apollo 13 shuttle safely landed in the Pacific Ocean on April 17, 1970. The mission was intended to be the third manned landing on the moon, but an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch. The damage crippled the craft’s normal supply of oxygen, electricity, and water, as well as the system that removed carbon dioxide.

    As has been extensively documented in movies and books, astronauts James A. Lovell Jr., John L. Swigert Jr. and Fred W. Haise Jr., had to shut down the command module because of limited power. They instead used the lunar module as a type of lifeboat, though it was only originally designed to sustain two people for a day and a half – not three people for four days.

    The Apollo 13 module splashes down in the Pacific Ocean (Photo: NASA, public domain)Mission personnel had to jerry-rig emergency procedures and create and a number of ingenious – and never before tested – fixes to bring the crew home. This included using the gravity of the moon to slingshot the shuttle back to Earth, creating a system to remove

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  • April 15, 1924: Rand McNally publishes first road atlas

    Rand McNally Road Atlas cover from 1926 (Photo: courtesy of Rand McNally)

    Before there were smart phones and Google Maps, people relied on road atlases and paper maps stored in their glove boxes. The most ubiquitous of these was the always-handy Rand McNally Road Atlas.

    It wasn’t until April 15, 1924, though, that the first Rand McNally Auto Chum – later to become the Road Atlas – was published. That auto chum included hand-drawn maps and no interstates (there weren’t any), and it came without an index. But it was still a landmark for auto travel, which had previously been relatively ad hoc.

    What began as a Chicago printing company in the 1850s quickly moved from producing railroad timetables to publishing railroad guides. As the company — founded by William Rand and Andrew McNally — moved into textbooks and globes, it only made sense for it to eventually print maps of the country’s new road networks as well. In 1904, it published its first automobile road map.

    With car travel on the rise, figuring out how to get where you were going became increasingly

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  • April 10, 1912: Titanic begins fateful voyage

    The Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
    The Titanic set out on its maiden (and only) voyage on April 10, 1912 from Southampton in the UK. Though the 1997 movie runs three hours, the trip itself was less than five days long. At 2 a.m. on April 15, it sunk into the Atlantic Ocean – 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

    Hailed as one of the largest and most luxurious ocean liners ever built, the ship was 883 feet long and could hold 2,400 passengers with another 900 crew members. The interior of the RMS Titanic was modeled after other high-end hotels of the time with ornate decorations and expensive furniture. There was also a swimming pool, a squash court, a gymnasium, libraries and smoking rooms, and a promenade that was the center of social life on board.

    As is well-known now, the unsinkable ship ran alongside an iceberg late at night on April 14, causing the hull to buckle and filling the compartments with water. Less than three hours later, the front of the ship was pulled under, broke in half, and sunk to the bottom of the

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  • April 8, 1904: Times Square gets its name

    Longacre Square (Broadway and 42nd) in 1898. (Photo: Public domain)
    On April 8, 1904, Longacre Square in New York City became what is now the well-known “crossroads of the world”: Times Square. The most visited tourist attraction in the world, with 39 million visitors annually, Times Square covers the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenues and stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets.

    In the 1800s, the area was the center of the carriage industry in New York and so was named after London’s carriage district, Long Acre. But what had once been manor houses and countryside stables became known as a low-entertainment district as the city expanded. In 1904, the New York Times moved to a new skyscraper at 42nd St. and publisher Adolph Ochs convinced the mayor to rename the square and build a subway station. Just weeks later, the first of the famous electric billboards appeared in the square.

    Though the paper moved into an office just west of the square in 1913, the intersection was already becoming a bustling hub of theater and arts, attracting

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  • April 3, 1860: First Pony Express takes off

    A pony express rider in 1861. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)On April 3, 1860, horse and rider relay teams set out on the first journey of the Pony Express. Riders left from both Sacramento headed east and from St. Joseph, Mo., headed west. When the westbound rider arrived in San Francisco 10 days later, it set a new standard for express mail.

    The 1,900-mile route was covered by a relay of riders who quickly changed horses about every 10 miles. From the East Coast to Missouri, the mail traveled by rail, and from Sacramento to San Francisco it typically traveled down the river. There were 184 Pony Express stations along the main route across the middle of the country– some of which were merely to change tired horses for fresh ones and some of which provided board for riders in between shifts. Riders, who had to weigh less than 125 pounds, were paid about $100 a month and rode about 75 miles a day. The most famous of these was Buffalo Boy, who reportedly joined the express at the age of 14.

    By 1861 the first transcontinental telegraph line went

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  • April 1, 1973: Project Tiger starts preservation in India

    A mother tiger and her cubs at a zoo in Hyderabad, India. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
    April Fools’ Day may seem like an odd day to launch a serious effort aimed at preserving Bengal tigers, but that’s exactly what happened in 1973 when India initiated Project Tiger.

    Project Tiger’s goal was to create reserves and sustainable places for the endangered animals to live. There were once as many as 40,000 tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th century, but those numbers plummeted because of hunting and human interference. By 1972, when a survey was conducted, there were only 1,800 tigers still in the country.

    Today there are 53 tiger reserves in India, managed by Project Tiger as part of the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The reserves generally have a core-buffer policy, where the inner core is free of people and the outer area is a multi-use zone. In many places, locals have been at odds with the forest service because access to forest and grazing land was cut off. But in recent years, the two groups have tried to find a compromise. After the number of

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  • March 27, 1851: First non-natives discover Yosemite Valley

    The first picture of Yosemite, a sketch from Thomas Ayers in 1855.
    Today, nearly 3.5 million people visit Yosemite National Park annually. But it wasn’t until March 27, 1851 that the first non-natives are believed to have entered Yosemite Valley. There is some evidence to suggest that an expedition in 1833 descended the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and looked down into the valley from the north, but it wasn’t until 1851 that Westerners really discovered the full scope of the massive California valley.

    As the state of California filled with miners and traders, skirmishes with the tribes already living there turned violent. A volunteer militia, known as the Mariposa Battalion, entered Yosemite Valley on March 27 in an attempt to root out a tribe that hadn’t signed a treaty in the Mariposa Indian War. The battalion decided to call the area “Yo-sem-i-ty,” believing that was the native name.

    Official accounts were written, but a San Francisco newspaper reportedly demanded Dr. Lafayette Bunnell cut his estimate of the height of the valley

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  • March 25, 421: City of Venice believed to be founded

    Grand Canal in Venice. (Photo: Wolfgang Moroder, Wikimedia Commons)
    Legend has it that on March 25, 421 AD at the stroke of noon, the city of Venice was founded. Generally, it is believed that the early populations of the city were refugees from other nearby Roman cities, who were fleeing repeated invasions. When they descended on the watery area of Venice there were already a number of local fishermen living on the islands in the lagoons. (They became known as “lagoon dwellers.”)

    The city’s official founding was marked with the dedication of its first church, San Giacomo, on the island of Rialto. The church can still be visited today, though its floor was raised during a renovation in 1513 to avoid repeated flooding.

    Venice has a long history of being a home to refugees, offering asylum to the persecuted and to deposed leaders. The city-state also rose in prominence because of its extensive trading network and ties to the Byzantine Empire. By the late 1200s, it was the most prosperous city in Europe.

    Today, the city is one of the biggest tourist

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  • March 20, 1985: Riddles is first woman to win Iditarod

    Libby Riddles at the 1985 Iditarod. (Photo: Associated Press)The annual Iditarod Trail Race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, gained widespread attention when Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the grueling event on March 20, 1985.

    Teams of mushers and sled dogs typically make the 1,049-mile trek in eight to 15 days, with the record time coming this year in eight days and 13 hours. Race conditions generally include blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and surprise encounters with wildlife. While there are checkpoints and three mandatory rest stops along the route, as well as health checks for the dogs that run the distance, it can still be a dangerous and deadly event. Riddles, in fact, won after she was the only musher to push through a treacherous blizzard. The 1985 race that she won was actually put on hold in the middle because weather conditions delayed supplies from being flown along the route.

    Despite the fact that much of the race is run across the inaccessible Alaskan wilderness, the Iditarod is the most popular sporting event in

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  • March 18, 1944: Mount Vesuvius makes most recent eruption

    Mount Vesuvius erupting in 1944, as seen on an old postcard. (Photo: Tyler Bell / Flickr)

    On March 18, 1944, smoke and lava flows appeared over the edge of Mount Vesuvius in Italy, beginning a two-week eruption of the volcano. It was the most recent time Vesuvius erupted.

    Vesuvius is best known for the eruption in 79 AD that destroyed Pompeii and covered it in a layer of burning ash. Today, much of that historic city and the people in it were preserved in near perfect condition. Tourists now visit the site to learn about the history of the people who lived there when disaster struck.

    But while Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Mount Vesuvius is a national park accessible to visitors, the volcano is still dangerous. It has erupted many times over the years, with the 1944 eruption being the most recent. Twenty-eight people were killed in the 1944 eruption. The volcano continues to be closely monitored, with many experts arguing that “the big one” is still yet to come. At least two weeks’ notice of an eruption is expected if the worst were to happen. The Italian

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