Good News on This Day in History

60 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space, orbiting the Earth aboard Vostok 1.

Out of 20 trained cosmonauts, the short Russian pilot—at 5 ft 2—was the best candidate to fit into the tiny capsule. He became an international celebrity and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honor.

Modest and intellectual, Yuri was said to have quick reactions and an ability to handle celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease. Touring widely abroad at the invitation of about 30 countries, he gained a reputation as an adept public figure, able to answer any question at press conferences, and was noted for his charismatic smile. Because of his popularity, US president John F. Kennedy barred Gagarin from visiting the US during the Cold War.

Gagarin died seven years after his historic orbit when his MiG-15 training jet crashed. He was honored with a 12-mile parade attended by millions of people and his ashes are interred in the walls of the Kremlin. LEARN how he tried to prevent the crash of Soyuz I (1961)

– Photos by Mil.ru (left) and Vostok capsule by SiefkinDR, CC licenses

Born in the village of Klushino (a town later renamed after him), in his youth Gagarin was a foundryman at a steel plant. He later joined the Soviet Air Force as a pilot before his selection for the Soviet space program. Following his spaceflight, Gagarin became deputy director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, which also was later named after him. He was also elected as a deputy in 1962 and then to the Soviet of Nationalities, respectively the lower and upper chambers of the Supreme Soviet.

Yuri Gagarin in Finland, 1961

The 1964 Soyuz 1 launch, which was rushed due to political pressures, despite Gagarin’s protests that additional safety precautions were necessary, resulted in multiple system failures aboard the spacecraft, which caused it to crash killing his friend, Vladimir Komarov. After the tragedy, the Soviets permanently banned Gagarin from training for and participating in further spaceflights.

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • 75 years ago today, the UN’s International Court of Justice opened its doors to hear disputes between nations, when, and if, both parties agree to be bound by its decision (1946)
  • The polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, was declared safe and effective (1955)
  • Did you know that once, 60 years ago today, retired U.S. General Douglas MacArthur declined an offer to become the Major League Baseball Commissioner? (1961)
  • Bob Dylan performed his first major concert at the Town Hall in New York City, a 1500-seat theater known for its outstanding acoustics (1963)
  • 40 years ago today, the first Space Shuttle blasted off in a successful test flight of the ship called Columbia (1981)
  • East Germany‘s democratically elected parliament met for the first time, acknowledged responsibility for the Nazi holocaust, and asked for forgiveness (1990)
  • The U.S. Navy rescued American cargo ship captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates at sea when snipers shot and killed three of the hostage-takers (2009)

And, 152 years ago today, the North Carolina legislature passed an anti-Ku Klux Klan Law, which prohibited night riding and wearing masks, to combat the racist group’s excessive violence.

Two months later, empowered by the law, Governor Holden declared martial law in two counties and deployed troops after several murders. Although the troops fire no shots, more than 100 men were arrested in the effort to restore order and protect blacks and white Republicans. Two years later, the U.S. Congress held hearings on the Klan and passed a harsh anti-Klan law modeled after this North Carolina statute. (1869)

And on this day 105 years ago, Beverly Cleary, the beloved children’s book author was born.

It was Cleary’s own school librarian who took a special interest in her and said that someday she should write for children, the kind of books she longed to read but could not find on library shelves—funny stories about neighborhood kids growing up. And so Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, andThe Mouse and the Motorcycle were born.

The neighborhood streets of Klickitat and Tillamook, where her characters play, actually exist in the Portland neighborhood where Cleary went to school.

She became a librarian herself, after having earned a B.A. in English at UC Berkeley. Little boys were bored in her library because there were no books about “kids like us.” Her first book, Henry Huggins was published in 1950 –her last came out in 1999– and she has sold 90 million books. She has also won numerous literary awards, written two autobiographies, and now lives in a retirement community in Carmel, California. (1916)

Her birth date is also “Drop Everything and Read” day, a school program –D.E.A.R. – that allows kids to lie around in classrooms with books of their choosing. This week is also National Library Week. She died on March 25, 2021…  WATCH a 2016 interview with Cleary about her 100th birthday…

 

41 years ago today, a young man named Terry Fox began his heroic Marathon of Hope across Canada. In St. John’s, Newfoundland, standing on an artificial leg, he touched his foot into the Atlantic Ocean and began his run hoping to complete a marathon every day until he reached the Pacific coast.

Statue photo by Dickbauch, CC license; and YouTube

An active teenager, Terry was involved in many sports, but at 18 years old he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) in his knee and was forced to have his right leg amputated. While in hospital, Terry was so overcome by the suffering of young child cancer patients that he decided to run across the vast country to raise money for fighting the disease—and it would revolutionized cancer research in Canada.

After 18 months of vigorous training, Terry’s run began with little fanfare and he spent days alone in the sleet and cold rain. Enthusiasm grew though, and money collected along his route began to mount, especially when he reached Ontario. He ran 26 miles (42 km) a day through six provinces until, on September 1st, after 143 days and more than 3300 miles (5,373 km), Terry was forced to stop and enter a hospital, because the cancer had spread to his lungs. An entire nation was stunned when Terry passed away ten months later. The monumental Canadian was gone, but his legacy was just beginning.

In the years since his famous run, The Terry Fox Foundation continues working toward his goal of a world without cancer. Thousands of volunteers organize annual Terry Fox runs across the country every year—and to date, over $750 million has been raised for cancer research in Terry’s name. Before his death, at 22 years old, Fox became the youngest person ever to be awarded The Order of Canada. WATCH an inspiring video and learn what happened next… (1980)

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