19 February 2003

An Ilyushin Il-76 military aircraft crashes near Kerman, Iran.

The 2003 Iran Ilyushin Il-76 crash occurred on 19 February 2003, when an Ilyushin Il-76 crashed in mountainous terrain near Kerman in Iran. The Aerospace Force of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution aircraft, registration 15-2280, was flying from Zahedan to Kerman when it crashed 35 kilometres southeast of Kerman. The aircraft was carrying members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, a special force that is independent from the Iranian Army, on an unknown mission.

Strong winds were reported in the region of the crash when the aircraft disappeared from the radar screens; approximately at the same time, villagers in the area described hearing a loud explosion. There were no survivors among the 275 occupants on board the aircraft
The IL-76 was flying a route from Zahedan Airport to Kerman Airport carrying members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on an unspecified mission. The four-engine Russian transport aircraft with a crew of 18, lost contact with air traffic control at 5:30 pm after flying into poor weather conditions.

The aircraft crashed into the Sirch mountains, southeast of Kerman, about 500 miles southeast of Tehran, killing all aboard. Investigators believe it was a controlled flight into terrain, citing the deteriorating weather conditions and high winds.

Immediately after the crash, members of the Revolutionary Guards and Red Crescent were sent to the accident scene. Two helicopters attempting to reach the scene turned back due to bad weather. A cordon of the area was completed as well, limiting access to journalists and the public.

President Mohammad Khatami’s cabinet sent a message of condolence to families of the victims about the tragic event in which a group of IRGC brothers—Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps—were killed. The Iranian government also blamed U.S. sanctions against Iran for playing a part in the crash since the restrictions make it more difficult for Iran to maintain its aircraft.

There was speculation that the accident was the result of a mid-air collision due to the high number of fatalities. A terrorist organization called the Abu-Bakr Brigades also claimed responsibility for the crash.

9 April 2003

Baghdad falls to American forces during the Iraq war.

The Battle of Baghdad, also known as the Fall of Baghdad, was a military invasion of Baghdad that took place in early April 2003, as part of the invasion of Iraq.

Three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, Coalition Forces Land Component Command elements, led by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division moved into Baghdad. The United States declared victory on April 14, and President George W. Bush gave his Mission Accomplished Speech on May 1.

Baghdad suffered serious damage to its civilian infrastructure, economy, and cultural inheritance from the fighting, as well as looting and arson. During the invasion, the Al-Yarmouk Hospital in south Baghdad saw a steady rate of about 100 new patients an hour.

Several thousand Iraqi soldiers as well as a small number of coalition forces were killed in the battle. After the fall of Baghdad, Coalition forces entered the city of Kirkuk on April 10 and Tikrit on April 15, 2003.

Prior to the invasion, the US policy was that journalists reporting from the ground should be “embedded”, that is, be stationed within military units. Such reporters were required to sign contracts with the military and agree to rules that restricted what they could report on. Journalists found breaking those rules risked losing their embedded accreditation and being expelled from Iraq.

Black Hawk helicopters from 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) move into an Iraqi city during an operation to occupy the city, April 5.

Iraq, initially issued a statement contradicting western reporters’ accounts of the invasion. Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, head of the Information Ministry, told a press conference on April 7 that there were no U.S. troops in Baghdad, saying: “Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad. Be assured, Baghdad is safe, protected. Iraqis are heroes.”

1 February 2003

The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during the reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

On Feb. 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth, killing the seven astronauts on board. NASA suspended space shuttle flights for more than two years as it investigated the disaster.

An investigation board determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and breached the spacecraft wing. This problem with foam had been known for years, and NASA came under intense scrutiny in Congress and in the media for allowing the situation to continue.

The Columbia mission was the second space shuttle disaster after Challenger, which saw a catastrophic failure during launch in 1986. The Columbia disaster directly led to the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011; NASA is developing a successor commercial crew program that will bring astronauts to the space station no earlier than 2018.

Columbia was the first space shuttle to fly in space; its first flight took place in April 1981, and it successfully completed 27 missions before the disaster. On its 28th flight, Columbia, on mission STS-107, left Earth for the last time on Jan. 16, 2003. At the time, the shuttle program was focused on building the International Space Station. However, STS-107 stood apart as it emphasized pure research.

The seven-member crew — Rick Husband, commander; Michael Anderson, payload commander; David Brown, mission specialist; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist from the Israeli Space Agency — spent 24 hours a day doing science experiments in two shifts. They performed around 80 experiments in life sciences, material sciences, fluid physics and other matters.

During the crew’s 16 days in space, however, NASA investigated a foam strike that took place during launch. About 82 seconds after Columbia left the ground, a piece of foam fell from a “bipod ramp” that was part of a structure that attached the external tank to the shuttle. Video from the launch appeared to show the foam striking Columbia’s left wing.

Several people within NASA pushed to get pictures of the breached wing in orbit. The Department of Defense was reportedly prepared to use its orbital spy cameras to get a closer look. However, NASA officials in charge declined the offer, according to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and “Comm Check,” a 2008 book by space journalists Michael Cabbage and William Harwood, about the disaster.

This image is a view of the underside of Columbia during its entry from mission STS-107 on Feb. 1, 2003, as it passed by the Starfire Optical Range, Directed Energy Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The image was taken at approximately 7:57 a.m. CST. This image was received by NASA as part of the Columbia accident investigation and is being analyzed.
This image is a view of the underside of Columbia during its entry from mission STS-107 on Feb. 1, 2003, as it passed by the Starfire Optical Range, Directed Energy Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The image was taken at approximately 7:57 a.m. CST. This image was received by NASA as part of the Columbia accident investigation and is being analyzed.
Credit: NASA

On Feb. 1, 2003, the shuttle made its usual landing approach to the Kennedy Space Center. Just before 9 a.m. EST, however, abnormal readings showed up at Mission Control. Temperature readings from sensors located on the left wing were lost. Then, tire pressure readings from the left side of the shuttle also vanished.

The Capcom, or spacecraft communicator, called up to Columbia to discuss the tire pressure readings. At 8:59:32 a.m., Husband called back from Columbia: “Roger,” followed by a word that was cut off in mid-sentence.

At that point, Columbia was near Dallas, travelling 18 times the speed of sound and still 200,700 feet above the ground. Mission Control made several attempts to get in touch with the astronauts, with no success.

It was later found that a hole on the left wing allowed atmospheric gases to bleed into the shuttle as it went through its fiery re-entry, leading to the loss of the sensors and eventually, Columbia itself.

29 December 2003

The last known speaker of the Akkala Sami language.

On December 29, 2003, the last native speaker of Akkala Sami died. Akkala Sami was a language indigenous to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Although there are others with some knowledge of the language, with the death of Marja Sergina, the Akkala Sami became extinct.

According to National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project, by 2100, “more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.” Examples of endangered languages include Huamelultec , Zaramo, Pukapuka , Yagan , and Cornish.

Organizations such as the Enduring Voices Project works to “preserveendangered languages by identifying language hotspots—the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages—and documenting the languages and cultures within them.”

22 July 2003

United States Special Forces kill Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.

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Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s sons, Qusay and Uday Hussein, are killed after a three-hour firefight with U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. It is widely believed that the two men were even more cruel and ruthless than their notorious father, and their death was celebrated among many Iraqis. Uday and Qusay were 39 and 37 years old, respectively, when they died. Both are said to have amassed considerable fortunes through their participation in illegal oil smuggling.

Uday Hussein, as Saddam’s first-born son, was the natural choice to succeed the feared despot. But even the seemingly amoral Saddam took issue with Uday’s extravagant lifestyle—he is said to have personally owned hundreds of cars—and lack of personal discipline. After Uday bludgeoned and stabbed one of Saddam’s favorite attendants to death at a 1988 party, Saddam briefly had him imprisoned and beaten.

In the wake of their deaths, the American government drew criticism for releasing pictures of Uday’s and Qusay’s lifeless bodies, but insisted the move was necessary to convince the skeptical Iraqi people that the long-feared brothers were truly dead. About five months later, on December 13, 2003, their father, who also went into hiding after the U.S. invasion, was found and captured alive by American forces. His trial by special tribunal for multiple crimes committed during his reign began in October 2005. On November 5, 2006, he was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. After an unsuccessful appeal, Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006.

13 March 2003

The journal Nature reports that 350,000-year-old footprints have been found in Italy.

Scientists in Italy have discovered 350,000-year-old tracks that may be the oldest known footprints made by Stone Age man.The prints were made by three early, upright-walking humans as they descended the treacherous side of a volcano perhaps to escape an eruption, researchers reported in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

Other scientists said that while the prints appear well-preserved, they add little to knowledge about human evolution, since footprints of far older human ancestors have been found. But they said the tracks are still a sobering testament to long-ago journeys across a harsh terrain.Scientists in Italy have discovered 350,000-year-old tracks that may be the oldest known footprints made by Stone Age man.

The prints were made by three early, upright-walking humans as they descended the treacherous side of a volcano — perhaps to escape an eruption, researchers reported in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.Other scientists said that while the prints appear well-preserved, they add little to knowledge about human evolution, since footprints of far older human ancestors have been found. But they said the tracks are still a sobering testament to long-ago journeys across a harsh terrain.

30 January 2003

Belgium officially recognizes same sex marriages.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Belgium have been seen as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1795, with an equal age of consent, except from 1965 until 1985. After granting same-sex couples domestic partnership benefits in 2000, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. Same-sex adoption was completely legalized in 2006 and is equalized with that of opposite-sex adoption. Lesbian couples can get access to IVF as well. Discrimination protections based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public and private accommodations have also been enacted since 2003 and on gender identity/expression since 2014. Transsexuals have been allowed to change their legal gender under certain circumstances since 2007.

Belgium has frequently been officially referred to as one of the most gay friendly countries in the world, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Belgians support same-sex marriage and adoption. The previous Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, is an openly gay man and was one of the only three Prime Ministers in the world to identify as LGBT. Pascal Smet, the former Flemish Minister of Education and current Brussels minister, is also openly gay.

18 January 2003

A bushfire in Canberra, Australia kills four people and destroys more than 500 homes.

On Saturday 18 January 2003, the bushfires which had been burning in the hills to the west and south-west of Canberra for more than a week reached the perimeter of the city. In addition to the 4 lives lost and almost 500 homes destroyed, countless pets and other animals were killed, and there was widespread damage to rural properties, parks, forests, gardens and urban infrastructure.

Canberra is known as the bush capital of Australia, and this devastating natural disaster made the news internationally.The ACT Bushfire Memorial acknowledges the impact of the fires, marks the process of recovery, and thanks the many organisations and individuals who played crucial roles in the fire fighting and recovery efforts.

The entrance walls are constructed with the community’s salvaged and inscribed bricks which contain messages of grief and gratitude. Beyond the walls, a site framed by a grove of casuarinas contains red glass and metal forms that refer to the force of the firestorm and the lightning strikes that sparked the main fires.An avenue leads to an amphitheatre enclosing a pond and bubbling spring. The glass columns bordering the pond contain details from photos provided by the community which speak of memory and human resilience.The memorial is located in Stromlo Forest Park.