History Monday #88

Limiting the use of outer space for military use is overshadowed on this day by tragedy in Florida.

Another week begins and it’s time for #HistoryMonday again. That of course means I choose a historical event that occurred on this day and offer my thoughts about that event. Today provides an opportunity for a double-header both dealing with outer space.

Apollo 1 Prime Crew
The Apollo 1 crew. From left to right: Edward H. White II, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee.

On this day in 1967, the AS-204 command module catches on fire at the launch pad while program tests were being conducted at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The fire resulted in deaths of astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chafee. Investigators believed a faulty wire sparked in the oxygen-rich environment of the

Astronauts Grissom and White had already flown space missions during Project Gemini, while Chaffee was expecting to make his first spaceflight with the launch of the AS-204 spacecraft. North American Aviation was responsible for the construction of the spacecraft. Shortly before the spacecraft was delivered to Florida, the crew expressed concern of the plentiful use of flammables such as nylon netting and Velcro that were usually used to secure tools and equipment. Skepticism about the timeline of the program led the crew to jokingly remind the construction manager for the spacecraft that maybe divine intervention was necessary.

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Signing of the Outer Space Treaty by representatives of the U.S.S.R., U.K., & U.S.

Also happening subsequently around locations in London, Moscow, and Washington D.C. the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty) is signed by a plethora of UN members. The Outer Space Treaty provides the framework for international space law. Signatories to the treaty agreed that weaponizing space is not permissible according to the terms of the contract. By signing this contract and including the moon as safe zone from weaponization, the three major nations of the United States, United Kingdom, and the United Soviet Socialist Republics foresaw that reaching the moon by space travel would be soon accomplished.

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Shortly after the AS-204 failure, an investigation was launched by NASA pursuant to their established procedures after the Gemini 8 failure. The investigation determined that a pure oxygen atmosphere, flammable materials, faulty wiring, and restrictive hatch design ultimately contribute to a perfect storm of issues leading to the disaster. Congressional investigations were also launched which included reports from a previous investigation into construction delays and costs of the spacecraft. Based on the investigation of the failures, insulated wiring, fireproof coating of the nylon netting, a 60/40 mix of oxygen to nitrogen under pressure, and an outward opening hatch were to be installed on the next spacecrafts.

The widows of the astronauts asked NASA to officially designate the mission Apollo 1 which the crew had hoped to name the mission before their untimely deaths. NASA complied with this request in honor of the crew’s wishes. Although, three unmanned missions had launched before the new Apollo 1 mission they were left nameless. Of these three flights, only 2 included spacecraft and were connected to the new number sequencing. This resulted in Apollo 4 being the next launch while Apollo 2 & 3 were left unused. The mission and the crew have been memorialized in various locations around the U.S. Of course, as a Hoosier, I’ve visited Gus Grissom’s hometown Mitchell many times and seen a memorial dedicated to his memory in Spring Mill State Park. Grissom’s work at NASA likely inspired a handful of others in Lawrence County, Indiana to become astronauts as well.

The Outer Space Treaty would eventually go into effect on 10 October 1967. It has since been signed by 109 signatories the last being France in September of 1967. Many others have deposited their accession to the treaty at one of the three locations even as recently as February of last year. Follow-up agreements include: The Rescue Agreement of 1968, The Space Liability Convention of 1972, and The Registration Convention of 1976. These treaties are coordinated by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) to answer relevant questions of space jurisdiction. It’s worth noting these treaties are only agreed upon by Earth parties and it isn’t known whether extraterrestrial parties will sign these treaties. More likely, the United Federation of Planets will combine elements of these treaties with treaties from other planets in order to form their government and law into founding documents next century sometime in 2161.

What do you remember about Gus Grissom and the other astronauts on Apollo 1?

History Monday #74

A crisis 90 miles from the U.S. makes history today

Russia is affecting the election; we need to take action against them. No, this isn’t sentiments ripped from today’s headlines, it’s sentiments from Cold War actors. Today we look at the origins of a pivotal few weeks in American v. Communist relations in today’s #HistoryMonday.

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Pres. John F. Kennedy & Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara discussing the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba

On this day in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis begins. The crisis brought the United States and the Soviet Union to what many thoughts would be the climax of Cold War aggression. Reconnaissance photos taken by a U-2 spy plane showed Soviet-made medium-range missiles in Cuba. These missiles were now placed 90 miles from the American coastline, and if equipped with nuclear warheads, could reach many major American cities.

Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union over Cuba first came to the fore during the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Those tensions grew in the wake of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. Cuban refugees with U.S. training attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro and the Communist forces but were unsuccessful in these efforts. Castro fearing a reprisal from the United States, sought to augment the military assistance from the Soviet Union. Cuba received over 20,000 Soviet advisors in the next year. Additionally, Russia placed missiles and strategic bombers on the island to threaten U.S. forces. Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev decided that ratcheting up the threat to the U.S. was necessary to appease his hardliners and deter further intervention by the United States. Khrushchev was already worried about his ability to be elected and remain in power in the USSR.  American missiles with nuclear capabilities of their own were already placed in Turkey and Italy which led to resentment from Khrushchev and the Soviets. Placing the missiles in Cuba was seen by the Soviets as being a reciprocal effort towards America.

Not surprisingly, Americans were angered by the missile sites in Cuba. Hawkish factions in the legislature and the press demanded Pres. Kennedy take swift action against Cuba and the USSR for this bellicose action so near America.

Pres. Kennedy was unsure which option to choose and started EXCOMM (Executive Committee of the National Security Council) to give him some options: Do nothing, Attack, Diplomatic overtures, or Blockade. Each had strengths and weaknesses which Pres. Kennedy weighed out before deciding to blockade the Caribbean Island and prevent more Soviet shipments from arriving.

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Eventually, the blockade proved effective in backing down the Soviets. Communications between the two nations eventually arrived at a compromise that allowed each to save some face. Soviets removed the missiles from Cuba while the U.S. would remove the missiles in Turkey. This agreement by the United States was only agreed on with the stipulation that the removal remain covertly. Pres. Kennedy was worried that removing these deterrents to the Soviets would impact the U.S. Election and his administration.

Cuban-American relations were relaxed in the final portions of Pres. Obama’s tenure, including much of the Cuban embargo. Travel to the Caribbean nation has been more permissible in the last several years but there are still challenges. The shift of power from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raúl began much a thawing of the Cold War tensions between the countries. Fidel’s subsequent death also led to further lessening of tensions between the countries.

Of course, tensions between Russia, Turkey, and the United States are currently in a state of concern for all parties involved. Rather than worrying about Cuba, Syria is the proxy nation being torn apart by the tug-of-war between the more powerful nations. Time will tell whether diplomatic efforts come to bear, and everyone settles down.

Should the U.S. take more provocative actions towards Cuba and the Soviet Union when photos of missiles were discovered?


History Monday #73

Communism returns to the divided homeland of its creators.

East vs. West, a historical divide that is the basis of today’s #HistoryMonday. Added to the East vs. West dynamic, the significance of Cold War factions after the Second World War.  Lass uns anfangen.

On this day in 1949, nearly five months after the Western Allies created the Federal Republic of Germany in West Germany, Soviet Forces create the Democratic Republic of Germany. Criticized by the Upon its creation, Wilhelm Pieck was named the first president, along with Otto Grotewohl as prime minister.

Flag of East Germany

The Democratic Republic of Germany, also called East Germany included Berlin, the former capital of the united German republic existed within this region but was itself divided between West and East German authorities.

After World War II, Germany was divided into Eastern and Western regions to be administered by the Allied Nations. Germany’s defeat in World War II precipitated this division of regions within the country to prevent a rise to power similar to the pattern occurring between the World Wars.

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Eventually Berlin was itself divided by the Berlin Wall in 1961, in an effort by the Communist forces to thwart immigration into the free/capitalist area of West Berlin. Both the Berlin Wall and East Germany became symbols of the loggerheads that pitted the Western Capitalists against Eastern Communists.

As the Soviet Union began reformation processes in the late 1980’s under Mikhail Gorbachev with glasnost and perestroika, the Berlin Wall was torn down. East Germany would also cease to exist in 1990, when its land and people were absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany.

What do you remember about East Germany?

History Monday #24

We are back with an all new #HistoryMonday

I’m finally back from seclusion and the land of homework, so that’s good news for my readers. If you’re new to my blog, Mondays are dedicated to an event from this same day in history. So, with that we return to #HistoryMonday. Today’s historical event is tied to the front page of the New York Times from 1952.

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27 August, 1952 New York Times Frontpage

On this date, in 1952 the New York Times reported on the growing pandemic in America of Communism. The New York Times published three separate stories addressing concerns that Communists were launching an attempt to undermine America.

The most damning story was based on reports on the Radio Writers’ Guild from investigations by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. For what it’s worth, this committee was not chaired by Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), but instead by Patrick McCarran (D-NV).  The NYT story about the Radio Writers’ Guild explained that a majority of the guild was communist and since they controlled much of American media there was a concerted effort to win hearts and minds of Americans to communism. The second NYT story detailed the concerns from the American Legion and their issues with Pres. Eisenhower. Supposedly the Legion was unhappy that Pres. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State David Acheson was not addressing the communist threats in Asia. For balance sake, the paper did include a rebuttal from Adlai Stevenson decrying patriotism with false bravado to combat the ‘Reds’ even including the name change of the Cincinnati Reds to the Cincinnati Redlegs.

While this may not exactly qualify as one specific event, it shows the mind of Americans and the press towards the Communist threat in America. Sen. McCarthy’s efforts to hunt down and expel Communists, along with his counterparts on the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) represented a mindset that existed at the beginning of the Cold War and suspicions about people who were sympathetic to Communism.

fast forward

What’s interesting, is some six decades ago, everyone was suspicious of Russian interference in American politics and everyday life. We still have suspicion of that, only the Russians are no longer Communist, and Communism’s little brother Socialism is tolerated and anyone claiming to be a Democratic Socialist is a serious contender for the Presidency and Legislative leadership. I would argue that we don’t have a Red Scare happening, but we have a Brown or Black scare. The media targets of Antifa are worried that Pres. Trump is either a Nazi or a Fascist, and Trump sometimes unfairly paints the media and celebrities with a broad brush like McCarthy, McCarran, et. al did towards the Radio Writers’ Guild, the Hollywood Blacklist, and the Rosenbergs. I agree that Jim Acosta and Don Lemon of CNN are too Leftist and antagonistic towards Pres. Trump for what seems like minutiae or trivial issues. I think Jake Tapper or Juan Williams do their best to ask legitimate questions of Trump and try to be as fair-minded as possible. I would like to see more of Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry even their stance, but the money seems to be with the resistance, so most conservative celebrities will themselves be backlisted if they show any partiality to Trump. Although, I have seen promise from of all people Kanye & Kim Kardashian West to work with Trump. I also don’t think that we are in a place that the majority of Americans are afraid of Trump being a Russian puppet or fascist like Americans were during the Red Scare. I think people have found more media outlets and done their own research to make up their minds than buying into mob hysteria and believing the daily digest from Congress. Thanks to 24-hour news networks, CSPAN, and political media outlets online people can see beyond the lens of a monolithic media like everyone in the 1950’s did.



For a worthwhile look at McCarthyism and media, I’d recommend watching “Good Night and Good Luck” that depicts Edward R. Murrow’s attempts to challenge Sen. McCarthy’s anticommunist efforts.