April Anniversaries

Momentous or merely memorable

America launches its first space shuttle, Columbia, on April 12, 1981. NASA

45 YEARS AGO: The Bay of Pigs Fiasco
April 17, 1961: With President Kennedy’s approval, Cuban exiles land on Cuba’s coast to overthrow Fidel Castro. The British media predict a “major disaster for the U.S.” if the invasion fails. It does. Castro’s army quickly quells the raid. The botched attack foreshadows the Cuban missile crisis, and nuclear poker, 18 months later.

940 YEARS AGO: Evil Omen
Observers in Asia are the first to see the “broom-like vapor” of Halley’s Comet on April 3, 1066.
It isn’t long before people in Europe see it too. The British are terrified, believing it to be a bad omen. Later that year, King Harold II of England dies in battle.

25 YEARS AGO: Liftoff!
America launches its first space shuttle, Columbia, on April 12, 1981. The Soviet Union, wary of the much-heralded event, calls Columbia a "creature" of the Pentagon and accuses the United States of "projecting the arms race into outer space." Thousands of Americans gather near Cape Canaveral to watch the first reusable spacecraft, and the historic launch, says one, is "Great! Great! Great!" In 2003, Columbia will disintegrate during reentry after 28 missions, killing
everyone on board.

50 YEARS AGO: Regal Grace
Having kissed a few Hollywood princes—Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby—Grace Kelly finds the real deal in the tiny principality of Monaco. After 11 films and one Oscar, Kelly marries Prince Rainier III on April 19, 1956. The couple will have three children: Caroline, now 49; Albert II, 48; Stephanie, 41. In September 1982, Princess Grace, 52, dies in a car crash in Monaco.

75 YEARS AGO: Aerial Wonder
Calling the feat "the most normal thing in the world," Ruth Nichols flies 210.6 miles an hour over a closed course and sets a new airspeed record for women on April 13, 1931. A year later, the former socialite will become the first female airline pilot. In 1958, Nichols sets her final record by flying an Air Force jet faster than 1,000 miles an hour at an altitude of 51,000 feet. She will die in 1960 at age 59.

20 YEARS AGO: Deadly Disaster
On April 26, 1986, a massive explosion blows the roof off a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, spewing more radioactivity than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined. Some 135,000 people are evacuated from within an 18-mile radius of the plant, an "exclusion zone" that remains one of the most radioactive spots on earth. The plant continues operations until international pressure forces it to close in December 2000. Today, millions continue to suffer from the man-made disaster.

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