November 30, 1954: Stars Fell on Alabama

It was a pleasant afternoon on November 30, 1954, in Sylacauga, Alabama, a small town a few hours away from Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. Quiet — until folks saw something streaking across the sky — a bright red fireball like a Roman candle with a long tail of smoke. Some thought it was a visitor from outer space; others were sure it was a Russian invasion.

Ann Elizabeth Hodges thought neither. Under the weather, under a ann-hodges-meteoritequilt, napping, she didn’t see the thing — not until it crashed through her ceiling, bounced off her big console radio and onto the couch where she reclined, striking her in the hip. The eight-pound thing, which was indeed from outer space, left a bruise the size of a football. And to make matters worse, her house was soon overrun by curious Alabamans from miles around. A government geologist called to the scene identified the thing as a meteorite, many of which fall to earth but usually end up in an ocean or some remote wilderness.

A legal battle followed over who now owned the meteorite. “I feel like the meteorite is mine,” Elizabeth said. “I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!” Unfortunately, the law was not on her side. She and her husband rented their house, and their landlady claimed ownership. The case was settled out of court, with the landlady relinquishing control for a settlement of $500. After all, there was a hole in her roof.

Elizabeth’s husband thought they would be able to earn some big bucks by showing off the meteorite, but he was disappointed, and the Hodges eventually donated it to the Smithsonian.

Elizabeth did earn a spot in the record books, being the only person ever struck by a meteorite. Evidently, the odds of being struck by a meteorite are about the same as tripping over the body of a dead clown, falling into an open elevator shaft and being struck by lightning on the way down.


I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy — but that could change.  — Dan Quayle

October 18, 1963: Space, the Feline Frontier

The story of cats in space is a dramatic tale indeed. It begins in an unlikely place with the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik 2, carrying of all felicettethings a dog named Laika. Laika was a stray found on the streets of Moscow who could have been the star of a dandy rags-to-riches shaggy dog story, except that things didn’t go all that well and the pooch perished under mysterious circumstances.

This was viewed as an early skirmish in the superpower space race to which NASA responded by sending a chimp into space and successfully returning him.

The French meanwhile had been plotting their own animal space probe. Fifteen cats had been chosen to undergo extensive training involving centrifuges, compression chambers and other medieval torture devices for a space mission in which the French would prove that they belonged at the table with the big guys and a cat would demonstrate to its fanciers everywhere that cats were superior to dogs in yet another way.

A pretty black and white Parisian chatte was eventually selected for the mission, because she was the only one who hadn’t become overweight during training, something to do with croissants most likely. On October 18, 1963, at 8:09 am, Chatte Félicette boarded a Véronique AGI 47 rocket at a base in the Algerian Sahara Desert and was blasted 97 miles into space. Fifteen minutes later, she parachuted safely to earth and pussycat immortality. Voilà!

Inspirational Quote for 10/18/16


October 10, 1967: Old Devil Moon

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (commonly  known as TPGASEUOSMOCB?) is an agreement among nations that forms the basis of international space law. It entered into force on October 10, 1967, and remains in force today (although some U.S. House Republicans are demanding that President Obama abrogate the treaty in exchange for raising the debt ceiling – “treaties are for wusses.”).

The treaty expresses the Pollyanna notion that space (the final frontier to Trekkies) is the common

Nations are responsible for any damage done by their own space objects.
Nations are responsible for any damage done by their own space objects.

heritage of mankind and that the exploration of it shall be done for the benefit of the entire world and the nations therein.  Extra-terrestrial spokesbeings have not as yet weighed in on this declaration; it could prove amusing.

All parties to the treaty have agreed not to place nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction (including Justin Bieber recordings) in Earth orbit. Nor will they place such forbidden items on the Moon or any other celestial body (including but not limited to planets, asteroids and supermodels) or otherwise station them in outer space.  In a nod to Wayne Lapierre and his merry band of second amendment groupies, AK47s, Saturday Night Specials and other weapons of not-quite-mass destruction are not forbidden.

The treaty exclusively limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes such as church socials, love-ins and group sing-alongs. The jumping of cows over the Moon and other celestial bodies was not addressed.

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