1961 Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space From Cape Canaveral, Florida, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The suborbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere, was a major triumph for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA was established in 1958 to keep U.S. space efforts abreast of recent Soviet achievements, such as the launching of the world’s first artificial satellite–Sputnik 1–in 1957. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the two superpowers raced to become the first country to put a man in space and return him to Earth. On April 12, 1961, the Soviet space program won the race when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into space, put in orbit around the planet, and safely returned to Earth. One month later, Shepard’s suborbital flight restored faith in the U.S. space program. NASA continued to trail the Soviets closely until the late 1960s and the successes of the Apollo lunar program. In July 1969, the Americans took a giant leap forward with Apollo 11, a three-stage spacecraft that took U.S. astronauts to the surface of the moon and returned them to Earth. On February 5, 1971, Alan Shepard, the first American in space, became the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission. 1945 Six killed in Oregon by Japanese bomb In Lakeview, Oregon, Mrs. Elsie Mitchell and five neighborhood children are killed while attempting to drag a Japanese balloon out the woods. Unbeknownst to Mitchell and the children, the balloon was armed, and it exploded soon after they began tampering with it. They were the first and only known American civilians to be killed in the continental United States during World War II. The U.S. government eventually gave $5,000 in compensation to Mitchell’s husband, and $3,000 each to the families of Edward Engen, Sherman Shoemaker, Jay Gifford, and Richard and Ethel Patzke, the five slain children. The explosive balloon found at Lakeview was a product of one of only a handful of Japanese attacks against the continental United States, which were conducted early in the war by Japanese submarines and later by high-altitude balloons carrying explosives or incendiaries. In comparison, three years earlier, on April 18, 1942, the first squadron of U.S. bombers dropped bombs on the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Kobe, and Nagoyo, surprising the Japanese military command, who believed their home islands to be out of reach of Allied air attacks. When the war ended on August 14, 1945, some 160,000 tons of conventional explosives and two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan by the United States. Approximately 500,000 Japanese civilians were killed as a result of these bombing attacks. 1877 Sitting Bull leads his people into Canada Nearly a year after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull and a band of followers cross into Canada hoping to find safe haven from the U.S. Army. On June 25, 1876, Sitting Bull’s warriors had joined with other Indians in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, which resulted in the massacre of George Custer and five troops of the 7th Cavalry. Worried that their great victory would provoke a massive retaliation by the U.S. military, the Indians scattered into smaller bands. During the following year, the U.S. Army tracked down and attacked several of these groups, forcing them to surrender and move to reservations. Sitting Bull and his followers, however, managed to avoid a decisive confrontation with the U.S. Army. They spent the summer and winter after Little Big Horn hunting buffalo in Montana and fighting small skirmishes with soldiers. In the fall of 1876, Colonel Nelson A. Miles met with Sitting Bull at a neutral location and tried to talk him into surrendering and relocating to a reservation. Although anxious for peace, Sitting Bull refused. As the victor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull felt he should be dictating terms to Miles, not the other way around. Angered by what he saw as Sitting Bull’s foolish obstinacy, Miles stepped up his campaign of harassment against the chief and his people. Sitting Bull’s band continued to roam about Montana in search of increasingly scarce buffalo, but the constant travel, lack of food, and military pressure began to take a toll. On this day in 1877, Sitting Bull abandoned his traditional homeland in Montana and led his people north across the border into Canada. Sitting Bull and his band stayed in the Grandmother’s Country—so called in honor of the British Queen Victoria—for the next four years. The first year was idyllic. The band found plenty of buffalo and Sitting Bull could rest and play with his children in peace. The younger warriors, though, soon tired of the quiet life. The braves made trouble with neighboring tribes, attracting the displeasure of the Canadian Mounties. While the Canadian leaders were more reasonable and sensitive about Indian affairs than their aggressive counterparts to the south, they became increasingly nervous and pressured Sitting Bull to return to the U.S. Ultimately, though, Sitting Bull’s attempt to remain independent was undermined by the disappearance of the buffalo, which were being wiped out by Indians, settlers, and hide hunters. Without meat, Sitting Bull gave up his dream of independence and asked the Canadian government for rations. Meanwhile, emissaries from the U.S. came to his camp and promised Sitting Bull’s followers they would be rich and happy if they joined the American reservations. The temptation was too great, and many stole away at night and headed south. By early 1881, Sitting Bull was the chief of only a small band of mostly older and sick people. Finally, Sitting Bull relented. On July 10, 1881, more than five years after the fateful battle at the Little Big Horn, the great chief led 187 Indians from their Canadian refuge to the United States. After a period of confinement, Sitting Bull was assigned to the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota in 1883. Seven years later he was dead, killed by Indian police when he resisted their attempt to arrest him for his supposed participation in the Ghost Dance uprising. 1944 Driving pioneer Bertha Benz dies Bertha Benz, the wife of inventor Karl Benz and the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance, dies on this day in 1944, in Ladenburg, Germany. Born Bertha Ringer, she married Karl Benz around 1870. Karl Benz received a patent for his horseless carriage, called the Motorwagen, in January 1886. The wooden vehicle had two wheels in the back, one in the front, and a handle-like contraption as a steering wheel. Powered by a single-cylinder, 2.5-horsepower engine, it could reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. Benz was having trouble selling the Motorwagen, however: Early press reports were not altogether positive, and customers were reluctant to take a chance on a vehicle that had so far only been tested over short distances. In early August 1888, Bertha and her two teenage sons, Richard and Eugen, hatched a plan to take the car on a surprise visit to her mother in Pforzheim, Germany. Knowing that Karl would never allow it, they left early in the morning, while he was still sleeping. The trio drove from their home in Mannheim to Pforzheim and back, a total distance of 106 kilometers (65 miles). Though big streets in the cities were often paved, there were no real roads outside urban areas yet, and Bertha had to drive along railway lines in order to find her way. To refuel the car, she bought Ligroin, a detergent then used as fuel, at local pharmacies. When the car’s fuel line clogged, she unclogged it using one of her hairpins. She also used the garter on her stocking to fix a broken ignition.