3 January 1999

The Mars Polar Lander is launched by NASA.

The Mars Polar Lander (MPL) was a NASA spacecraft designed to study the polar regions of Mars. It was part of the Mars Surveyor ’98 program, which included the Mars Climate Orbiter as well. The primary goal of the Mars Polar Lander was to analyze the Martian climate, atmosphere, and volatile surface materials at the planet’s south pole.

The spacecraft was launched on January 3, 1999, and it was scheduled to land near the Martian south pole on December 3, 1999. The landing site was specifically chosen for its high probability of containing water ice, which could provide valuable information about the planet’s history and potential habitability.

Unfortunately, contact with the Mars Polar Lander was lost during its descent to the Martian surface. The spacecraft was equipped with a series of sensors and instruments to study the Martian environment, including a robotic arm, a stereo camera, and a thermal and evolved gas analyzer. Due to the communication failure, scientists were unable to retrieve any data from the lander.

The failure was later attributed to issues with the spacecraft’s descent and landing system. It is believed that premature engine shutdown caused the Mars Polar Lander to enter the Martian atmosphere at a higher velocity than intended, leading to a probable crash. The specific details of the failure remain uncertain because the lander’s descent was not captured by any on-board cameras.

The loss of the Mars Polar Lander was a setback for NASA, leading to a reassessment of the Mars exploration program. Lessons learned from the failure contributed to improvements in subsequent Mars missions, such as the Phoenix Mars Lander, which successfully landed on Mars in 2008 and confirmed the presence of water ice in the Martian soil.

3 January 1956

Fire damages the top part of the Eiffel Tower.

An electrical fire briefly engulfed a top corner of the Eiffel Tower today, startling tourists and alarming people across the city.

There were no injuries and the fire was quickly extinguished. But the image of thick white smoke pouring from the city’s signature landmark was nonetheless unsettling after months of periodic terrorist threats in the French capital. Nearly a decade ago, French commandos foiled a plot by Algerian hijackers to fly a plane into the tower.

Commandant Christian Decolloredo, a spokesman for the Paris Fire Department, said the blaze was an ”electrical wire fire in a standard equipment room.”

The fire broke out at 7:21 p.m. in an area off limits to tourists. It started as a wisp of white smoke and quickly spread until orange flames could be seen from the ground. Cherry Quevy, 27, on vacation with her family, caught the fire on video while filming the top of the tower. People on the video could be seen dashing back and forth on the top outdoor observation deck, partly obscured by the smoke and flames.

About 2,000 to 3,000 visitors were evacuated down the 1,070-foot tower’s winding stairs.

”They were yelling at me to go down, and grabbed my arm and put me in front of the stairs,” said Jasper Noltes, 22, a student from the Netherlands.

About 125 firefighters and 20 fire trucks responded to the blaze and a red Civil Security helicopter circled the tower, filming the fire, which was put out in about an hour. The grounds beneath and surrounding the tower were cordoned off by the police. Many firefighters used the tower’s elevators, which are designed to work even during a fire.

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It was not the first blaze at the tower, which opened in 1889. A safety net caught fire in 2000, and there was a kitchen fire in a lower-level restaurant in 1998. On Jan. 3, 1956, a fire in a television transmitter swept through the top of the tower.

City officials said the tower would be open on Wednesday.

Frank Engelan, 23, a physical education teacher from the Netherlands, said he saw a visitor arguing to be allowed up to the top because he had paid 3.20 euros, about $3.60, for the elevator ride.

”I’m very disappointed,” said Mr. Engelan, who is to leave Paris on Wednesday. ”I want my money back, too.”

3 January 1925

Benito Mussolini takes dictatorial powers over Italy.

Benito Mussolini served as Italy’s 40th Prime Minister from 1922 until 1943. He is considered a central figure in the creation of fascism and was both an influence on and close ally of Adolf Hitler during World War II.

In 1943, Mussolini was replaced as Prime Minister and served as the head of the Italian Social Republic until his capture and execution by Italian partisans in 1945.

Dates: July 29, 1883 – April 28, 1945

Also Known As: Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, Il Duce

Benito Mussolini was born in Predappio, a hamlet above Verano di Costa in northern Italy. Mussolini’s father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith and an ardent socialist who scorned religion. His mother, Rosa Maltoni, was an elementary school teacher and a very pious, devout Catholic.

Mussolini had two younger siblings: a brother (Arnaldo) and a sister (Edvidge).

While growing up, Mussolini proved to be a difficult child. He was disobedient and had a quick temper. Twice he was expelled from school for assaulting fellow students with a penknife.

Despite all the trouble he caused at school, Mussolini still managed to obtain a diploma and then, a little surprisingly, Mussolini worked for a short time as a school teacher.

Looking for better job opportunities, Mussolini moved to Switzerland in July 1902.

In Switzerland, Mussolini worked at a variety of odd jobs and spent his evenings attending local socialist party meetings.

One of those jobs was working as a propagandist for a bricklayer trade union. Mussolini took a very aggressive stance, frequently advocated violence, and urged a general strike to create change.

All of which led to him being arrested several times.

Between his turbulent work at the trade union during the day and his many speeches and discussions with socialists at night, Mussolini soon made enough of a name for himself in socialist circles that he began writing and editing several socialist newspapers.

In 1904, Mussolini returned to Italy to serve his conscription requirement in Italy’s peace-time army. In 1909, he lived for a short time in Austria working for a trade union. He wrote for a socialist newspaper and his attacks on militarism and nationalism resulted in his expulsion from Austria.

Once again back in Italy, Mussolini continued to advocate for socialism and to develop his skills as an orator. He was forceful and authoritative, and while frequently wrong in his facts, his speeches were always compelling. His views and his oration skills quickly brought him to the attention of his fellow socialists. On December 1, 1912, Mussolini began work as the editor of the Italian Socialist newspaper, Avanti!

After elections were held, Mussolini controlled enough seats in parliament to appoint himself Il Duce (“the leader”) of Italy. On January 3, 1925, with the backing of his Fascist majority, Mussolini declared himself dictator of Italy.

For a decade, Italy prospered in peace. However, Mussolini was intent on turning Italy into an empire and to do that, Italy needed a colony. So, in October 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The conquest was brutal.

Other European countries criticized Italy, especially for Italy’s use of mustard gas.

In May 1936, Ethiopia surrendered and Mussolini had his empire.

This was the height of Mussolini’s popularity; it all went downhill from here.