15 December 1970

Soviet spacecraft Venera 7 successfully lands on Venus. It is the first successful soft landing on another planet.

Venera 7 was a Soviet spacecraft that achieved a significant milestone in space exploration by becoming the first spacecraft to successfully land on Venus and transmit data back to Earth.

Launch: Venera 7 was launched on August 17, 1970, using a Molniya-M launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Spacecraft Design: The spacecraft consisted of an orbiter and a lander. The lander, designed to withstand the harsh conditions on Venus, included a spherical descent module equipped with scientific instruments for studying the Venusian atmosphere and surface.

Venus Arrival and Descent: Venera 7 entered the atmosphere of Venus on December 15, 1970. During the descent, the spacecraft endured extreme temperatures, pressures, and sulfuric acid clouds. The descent module separated from the orbiter, and a parachute was deployed to slow its descent.

Surface Landing: Venera 7 successfully landed on the surface of Venus on December 15, 1970, becoming the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the planet. The lander transmitted data back to Earth from the surface.

Data Transmission: The transmission of data from the surface of Venus was a historic achievement. Venera 7 sent back information for about 23 minutes, providing valuable data on the Venusian environment. The data included details about temperature, pressure, and composition of the atmosphere.

Surface Conditions: The surface conditions on Venus were extremely challenging, with temperatures reaching around 465 degrees Celsius (869 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures about 90 times that of Earth’s atmosphere.

Legacy: Venera 7 demonstrated that it was possible to send spacecraft to the surface of Venus and transmit data, paving the way for subsequent missions to the planet. The Venera program, which included a series of missions to Venus, contributed significantly to our understanding of Earth’s neighboring planet.

Follow-up Missions: The success of Venera 7 led to subsequent Soviet missions to Venus, each building on the knowledge gained from the previous ones. These missions included orbiters, landers, and even some missions that deployed atmospheric balloons to study different aspects of Venus.

15 December 1960

Richard Pavlick is arrested for plotting to assassinate USA President-Elect John F. Kennedy.

In November of 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States. Three years later, he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, shot while in a motorcade going through Dallas, Texas.
Had Richard Paul Pavlick gotten his way, Oswald would have never gotten to pull the trigger. Because Pavlick wanted to kill JFK first.

On December 11, 1960, JFK was the President-Elect and Richard Paul Pavlick was a 73 year old retired postal worker. Both were in Palm Beach, Florida. JFK was there on a vacation of sorts, taking a trip to warmer climates as he prepared to assume the office of the President. Pavlick had followed Kennedy down there with the intention of blowing himself up and taking JFK with him. His plan was simple. He lined his car with dynamite — “enough to blow up a small mountain” per CNN — and outfitted it with a detonation switch. Then, he parked outside the Kennedy’s Palm Beach compound and waited for Kennedy to leave his house to go to Sunday Mass. Pavlick’s aim was to ram his car into JFK’s limo as the President-to-be left his home, blowing both assassin and politician to smithereens.

But JFK did not leave his house alone that morning. He made his way to his limo with his wife, Jacqueline, and children, Caroline and John, Jr., with him. While Pavlick was willing to kill their husband and father, he did not want to kill them, so he resigned himself to trying again another day. He would not get a second chance at murderous infamy. On December 15th, he was arrested by a Palm Beach police officer working off a tip from the Secret Service.

Pavlick’s undoing was the result of deranged postcards he sent to Thomas Murphy, then the Postmaster of Pavlick’s home town of Belmont, New Hampshire. Murphy was put off by the strange tone of the postcards and his curiosity led him to do what Postmasters do — look at the postmarks. He noticed a pattern: Pavlick happened to be in the same general area as JFK, dotting the landscape as Kennedy travelled. Murphy called the local police department who in turn called the Secret Service, and from there, Pavlick’s plan unraveled.

The would-be assassin was committed to a mental institution on January 27th of the following year, a week after Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, pending charges. These charges were eventually dropped as it became increasingly clear that Pavlick acted out of an inability to distinguish between right and wrong, but nevertheless, Pavlick remained in institutions until December 13, 1966, nearly six years after being apprehended. He died in 1975.

Bonus fact: If Pavlick seems old for a would-be Presidential assassin, your instincts are correct. Lee Harvey Oswald was just 24 years old, making him the youngest of all four of the men who assassinated Presidents. John Wilkes Booth was 26 when he killed Abraham Lincoln; Leon Czolgosz was 28 when he assassinated William McKinley, and Charles Guiteau was 39 when he murdered James A. Garfield.

15 December 2001

The Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens renovation.

On this day in 2001, Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after a team of experts spent 11 years and $27 million to fortify the tower without eliminating its famous lean.

In the 12th century, construction began on the bell tower for the cathedral of Pisa, a busy trade center on the Arno River in western Italy, some 50 miles from Florence. While construction was still in progress, the tower’s foundation began to sink into the soft, marshy ground, causing it to lean to one side. Its builders tried to compensate for the lean by making the top stories slightly taller on one side, but the extra masonry required only made the tower sink further. By the time it was completed in 1360, modern-day engineers say it was a miracle it didn’t fall down completely.

Though the cathedral itself and the adjoining baptistery also leaned slightly, it was the Torre Pendente di Pisa, or Leaning Tower of Pisa, that became the city’s most famous tourist attraction. By the 20th century, the 190-foot-high white marble tower leaned a dramatic 15 feet off the perpendicular. In the year before its closing in 1990, 1 million people visited the old tower, climbing its 293 weathered steps to the top and gazing out over the green Campo dei Miracoli outside. Fearing it was about to collapse, officials appointed a group of 14 archeologists, architects and soil experts to figure out how to take some–but not all–of the famous tilt away.

Though an initial attempt in 1994 almost toppled the tower, engineers were eventually able to reduce the lean by between 16 and 17 inches by removing earth from underneath the foundations. When the tower reopened on December 15, 2001, engineers predicted it would take 300 years to return to its 1990 position. Though entrance to the tower is now limited to guided tours, hordes of tourists can still be found outside, striking the classic pose–standing next to the tower pretending to hold it up–as cameras flash.

15 December 2010

A boat of asylum seekers crashes into rocks off the coast of Christmas Island, Australia, killing 48 people.

On 15 December 2010, a boat carrying around 90 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran, sank off the coast of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, killing 48 people aboard; 42 survivors were rescued.

At about 6.30 a.m. local time the boat collided with rocks north of Flying Fish Cove close to Rocky Point and was then smashed against the nearby cliffs, complicating rescue attempts. For a period of about one hour, the unpowered boat was washed back and forth as backwash pushed it away from the cliff. Many of those who entered the water grabbed onto the flotsam and jetsam as the boat quickly broke up.Residents tried to help victims by throwing them life jackets and other objects. Some refugees were battered by the debris from the disintegrating boat and some were able to use the life jackets thrown from the shore. Rescue efforts by Australian Customs and Border Protection included allocation of HMAS Pirie and ACV Triton, with at least 42 survivors having been recovered from the ocean. One man was able to scramble ashore himself with a great leap.[10] Poor weather conditions made rescue operations difficult. Two critical care teams from the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia left from Perth to provide medical assistance.