21 July 1969

Astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the Moon.

Neil Armstrong was a NASA astronaut most famous for being the first person to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. An accomplished test pilot, Armstrong also flew on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. He retired from NASA in 1971 and remained active in the aerospace community, although he chose to keep mostly out of the public spotlight. Armstrong died Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82.

Armstrong was famously reticent about his accomplishments, preferring to focus on the team that helped him get to the moon rather than his own first steps. “I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work,” Armstrong said in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program in 2005, according to Reuters.

In another interview, when asked what it feels like to have his footprints remain on the moon’s surface for thousands of years, Armstrong said, “I kind of hope that somebody goes up there one of these days and cleans them up,” Reuters added.

An official biography of Armstrong was published in 2005, called “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” It was written by James R. Hansen, a former NASA historian and later a history professor at Auburn University.

Early career and NASA work Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930. His parents were Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel. Armstrong was a naval aviator from 1949 to 1952 and served in the Korean War. Armstrong got a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1955; much later he received a master of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970. As a NASA test pilot, Armstrong flew the X-15, a rocket-powered, missile-shaped aircraft that tested the limits of high-altitude flight. He flew more than 200 different aircraft, from jets to gliders and even helicopters.

NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong is seen here next to the X-15 ship #1 after a research flight. In 1962, Armstrong was selected with NASA’s second group of astronauts, who flew on the two-seat Gemini missions to test out space technology, and the three-seat Apollo missions that ultimately took 12 people to the surface of the moon. Armstrong’s first flight was the command pilot of the Gemini 8 mission in March 1966, the sixth crewed mission of that series.

Armstrong and pilot David Scott did the first orbital docking of two spacecraft, joining their Gemini 8 spacecraft to an uncrewed Agena target vehicle. However, the mission quickly turned into an emergency situation when a thruster on the Gemini 8 spacecraft was stuck open. With the astronauts whipping around faster than one revolution per second, Armstrong managed to gain control again by using the re-entry system thrusters. The mission — the first serious emergency in space — ultimately ended safely, but splashed down early because the re-entry system was used.

Armstrong narrowly avoided a nasty accident in May 1968 while using the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, a machine that could fly somewhat like a lunar module and simulate landings on the moon. Fuel for his thrusters ran out and Armstrong was forced to eject just seconds before the vehicle crashed. Armstrong escaped unharmed.

20 May 1969

The Battle of Hamburger Hill during the Vietnam War ends.

Hamburger Hill was the scene of an intense and controversial battle during the Vietnam War. Known to military planners as Hill 937, the solitary peak is located in the dense jungles of the A Shau Valley of Vietnam, about a mile from the border with Laos.

The Vietnamese referred to the hill as Dong Ap Bia. Though the hill had no real tactical significance, taking the hill was part of Operation Apache Snow, a U.S. military sweep of the A Shau Valley. The purpose of the operation was to cut off North Vietnamese infiltration from Laos and enemy threats to the cities of Hue and Da Nang.

101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION ATTACKS
Under the leadership of General Melvin Zais, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, paratroopers engaged a North Vietnamese regiment on the slopes of Ap Bia Mountain on May 10, 1969. Entrenched in well-prepared fighting positions, the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment repulsed the initial American assault, and after suffering a high number of casualties, U.S. forces fell back.

The soldiers of the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment—battle-hardened veterans of the Tet Offensive—beat back another attempt by the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry on May 14. An intense battle raged for the next 10 days as the mountain came under heavy air strikes, artillery barrages and 10 infantry assaults, some conducted in heavy tropical rainstorms that reduced visibility to near zero.

Due to the bitter fighting and the high casualty rate, Ap Bia Mountain was dubbed “Hamburger Hill” by journalists covering the Vietnam War. Speaking to a reporter, 19-year-old Sergeant James Spears said, “Have you ever been inside a hamburger machine? We just got cut to pieces by extremely accurate machine gun fire.”

HAMBURGER HILL CAPTURED
On May 20, General Zais sent in two additional U.S. airborne battalions, plus a South Vietnamese battalion as reinforcements for his increasingly disgruntled soldiers.

One U.S. soldier—who had fought in nine of the 10 assaults on Hamburger Hill—was quoted as saying, “I’ve lost a lot of buddies up there. Not many guys can take it much longer.”

Finally, in the 11th attack, the North Vietnamese stronghold was captured on May 20, when thousands of U.S. troops and South Vietnamese soldiers fought their way to the summit. In the face of the four-battalion attack, the North Vietnamese retreated to sanctuary areas in Laos.

HAMBURGER HILL ABANDONED
On June 5—just days after the hard-won victory—Ap Bia Mountain was abandoned by U.S. forces because it had no real strategic value. The North Vietnamese re-occupied Hamburger Hill a month later.

“The only significance of the hill was the fact that your North Vietnamese on it … the hill itself had no tactical significance,” General Zais was quoted as saying.

Reports of casualties vary, but during the 10 days of intense fighting, an estimated 630 North Vietnamese were killed. U.S. casualties were listed as 72 killed and 372 wounded.

LEGACY OF HAMBURGER HILL
The bloody battle over Hamburger Hill and the fleeting victory resulted in a firestorm of criticism from anti-war activists. Outrage over what appeared to be a senseless loss of American lives was exacerbated by photographs published in Life magazine of U.S. soldiers killed during the battle.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Edward Kennedy scorned the military tactics of the Nixon administration. Kennedy condemned the battle for Ap Bia Mountain as “senseless and irresponsible.” General Creighton Abrams, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, was subsequently ordered to avoid such intensive ground battles.

But not all the soldiers and military leaders agreed that Hamburger Hill was a wasted effort. Of the criticisms leveled at U.S. commanders, General Zais said, “Those people are acting like this was a catastrophe for the U.S. troops. This was a tremendous, gallant victory.”

24 November 1969

The Apollo 12 command module splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, ending the second manned mission to land on the Moon.

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Apollo 12, the second manned lunar mission, took off for the moon on Nov. 14, 1969. The spacecraft’s target was the Ocean of Storms, and NASA scientists hoped it would land a little closer to bull’s-eye than the first mission got.

Apollo 11 was a great technological achievement, but it landed four miles from its target. NASA wanted a more pinpoint landing in future missions. Also, part of Apollo 12’s work would be to retrieve bits of Surveyor 3, another spacecraft that had landed on the moon in 1967. If the crew landed miles away, there was no hope of achieving that.
The Apollo 12 astronauts

The crew of Apollo 12 were seasoned astronauts and pilots, and were close friends.Pete Conrad, a wise-cracking gap-toothed commander, graduated from Princeton University and joined the Navy, where he became a flight instructor. He first flew in space on Gemini 5, which set an endurance record at the time and pushed the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in terms of accumulated hours in space.
Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean pose during a visit to North American Rockwell Space Division, Downey, California for spacecraft checkout.

Lunar module pilot Alan Bean was a student of Conrad’s at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School; in interviews with journalist Andrew Chaikin, the story was told that Bean was Conrad’s first pick for Apollo 12. However, Astronaut Office chief Deke Slayton voted the proposal down. C.C. Williams was chosen instead. Tragically, Williams died in a T-38 crash on Oct. 5, 1967. When Conrad approached Slayton again, Slayton agreed to bring Bean on board. Bean felt it was a rescue from his previous work at NASA, and an opportunity he would never forget.

The command module pilot for Apollo 12 was Richard “Dick” Gordon, who came to NASA after setting speed and distance records, and also doing flight testing for the Navy. His skill at the stick came in handy for the Gemini 11 mission, when he and Conrad piloted the docked spacecraft to 528 miles above Earth, an altitude record at the time.

19 November 1969

Football player Pelé scores his 1,000th goal.

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Brazilian soccer great Pele scores his 1,000th professional goal in a game, against Vasco da Gama in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium. It was a major milestone in an illustrious career that included three World Cup championships.

Pele, considered one of the greatest soccer players ever to take the field, was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Tres Coracos, Brazil, in 1940. He acquired the nickname Pele during his childhood though the name has no meaning in his native Portuguese. When he was a teenager, he played for a minor league soccer club in Bauru in Sao Paulo state and in 1956 joined the major league Santos Football Club in the city of Sao Paulo, playing inside left forward. Two years later, he led the Brazilian national team to victory in the World Cup. Pele, who was only 17 years old, scored two goals to defeat Sweden in the final.

Pele was blessed with speed, balance, control, power, and an uncanny ability to anticipate the movements of his opponents and teammates. Although just five feet eight inches tall, he was a giant on the field, leading Santos to three national club championships, two South American championships, and the world club title in 1963. Under Pele’s leadership, Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970. In 1970, Brazil was granted permanent possession of the World Cup’s Jules Rimet Trophy as a tribute to its dominance. On November 19, 1969, Pele scored his 1,000th goal on a penalty kick against Vasco da Gama. Eighty thousand adoring fans in Maracana stadium cheered him wildly, even though Santos was the opposing team.

Pele announced his retirement in 1974 but in 1975 accepted a $7 million contract to play with the New York Cosmos. He led the Cosmos to a league championship in 1977 and did much to promote soccer in the United States. On October 1, 1977, in Giants Stadium, he played his last professional game in a Cosmos match against his old team Santos.

During his long career, Pele scored 1,282 goals in 1,363 games. In 1978, Pele was given the International Peace Award and in 1993 he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Since retiring, he has acted as an international ambassador for his sport and has worked with the United Nations and UNICEF to promote peace and international reconciliation through friendly athletic competition.

1 September 1969

A military coup brings Muammar Gaddafi to power in Libya.

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Muammar al-Qaddafi, a 27-year-old Libyan army captain, leads a successful military coup against King Idris I of Libya. Idris was deposed and Qaddafi was named chairman of Libya’s new governing body, the Revolutionary Command Council.

Qaddafi was born in a tent in the Libyan desert in 1942, the son of a Bedouin farmer. A gifted student, he graduated from the University of Libya in 1963 and the Libyan military academy at Banghazi in 1965. An ardent Arab nationalist, he plotted with a group of fellow officers to overthrow King Idris, who was viewed as overly conservative and indifferent to the movement for greater political unity among Arab countries. By the time Qaddafi attained the rank of captain, in 1969, the revolutionaries were ready to strike. They waited until King Idris was out of the country, being treated for a leg ailment at a Turkish spa, and then toppled his government in a bloodless coup. The monarchy was abolished, and Idris traveled from Turkey to Greece before finding asylum in Egypt. He died there in Cairo in 1983.

Blending Islamic orthodoxy, revolutionary socialism, and Arab nationalism, Qaddafi established a fervently anti-Western dictatorship in Libya. In 1970, he removed U.S. and British military bases and expelled Italian and Jewish Libyans. In 1973, he took control of foreign-owned oil fields. He reinstated traditional Islamic laws, such as prohibition of alcoholic beverages and gambling, but liberated women and launched social programs that improved the standard of living in Libya. As part of his stated ambition to unite the Arab world, he sought closer relations with his Arab neighbors, especially Egypt. However, when Egypt and then other Arab nations began a peace process with Israel, Libya became increasingly isolated.

Qaddafi’s government financed a wide variety of terrorist groups worldwide, from Palestinian guerrillas and Philippine Muslim rebels to the Irish Republican Army. During the 1980s, the West blamed him for numerous terrorist attacks in Europe, and in April 1986 U.S. war planes bombed Tripoli in retaliation for a bombing of a West German dance hall. Qaddafi was reportedly injured and his infant daughter killed in the U.S. attack.

In the late 1990s, Qaddafi sought to lead Libya out of its long international isolation by turning over to the West two suspects wanted for the 1988 explosion of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. In response, the United Nations lifted sanctions against Libya. The United States removed its own embargo in September 2004. After years of rejection in the Arab world, Qaddafi also sought to forge stronger relations with non-Islamic African nations such as South Africa, remodeling himself as an elder African statesman.

In February 2011, as unrest spread through much of the Arab world, massive political protests against the Qaddafi regime sparked a civil war between revolutionaries and loyalists. In March, an international coalition began conducting airstrikes against Qaddafi strongholds under the auspices of a U.N. Security Council resolution. On October 20, Libya’s interim government announced that Qaddafi had died after being captured near his hometown of Sirte.