1971 Russia launched the Mars 2 space probe, consisting of an orbiter and an attached lander. It was the first human artifact to impact the surface of Mars. After entering the atmosphere, the descent system on the module malfunctioned, possibly because the angle of entry was too steep. The descent sequence did not operate as planned and the parachute did not deploy, causing the lander to crash on the surface. The lander contained a small rover on board, but because of the demise of the lander, the rover never saw action.
1961 Russia’s Venera 1 space probe made its fly-by of Venus. It was the first man-made object to fly-by another planet and was the first spacecraft designed to perform mid-course corrections. Unfortunately, it had lost contact with Earth a month earlier and did not send back any data.
1762 German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born in Rammenau. He was one of the founding figures of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, and is thought of by some as the father of German nationalism. He also made important original insights into the nature of self-consciousness or self-awareness, and the problem of subjectivity and consciousness motivated much of his philosophical meditation.
1593 Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens was born in Antwerp. He painted altarpieces, mythological, and allegorical scenes, and is best-known today for his numerous large genre scenes based on proverbs.
1969 NASA launched Apollo 10, the fourth manned mission in the American Apollo space program, crewed by Commander Thomas P. Stafford, Command Module Pilot John W. Young, and Lunar Module Pilot Eugene A. Cernan. Its purpose was to be a “dry run” for the Apollo 11 mission, testing all of the procedures and components of a Moon landing without actually landing on the Moon itself. Apollo 10 set the record for the highest speed attained by a manned vehicle at 39,897 km/h (11.08 km/s or 24,791 mph) during the return from the Moon on May 26, 1969.
1958 A United States Air Force F-104A Starfighter set a world speed record of 2,259.82 km/h (1,404.19 mph).
1953 American aviation pioneer Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier. She flew a Canadair F-86 Sabre jet borrowed from the Royal Canadian Air Force at an average speed of 652.337 mph at Rogers Dry Lake in California.
1897 Irish author Bram Stoker first published Dracula. It was his fifth and by far his most famous novel.
1711 Croatian physicist, astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher Roger Joseph Boscovich was born in Dubrovnik. He is famous for his atomic theory and made many important contributions to astronomy, including the first geometric procedure for determining the equator of a rotating planet from three observations of a surface feature and for computing the orbit of a planet from three observations of its position. In 1753 he also discovered the absence of atmosphere on the Moon.
1868 American automobile manufacturing pioneer Horace Elgin Dodge was born in Niles, Michigan. In 1900, he and his brother founded the Dodge Brothers Company to supply parts and assemblies for Detroit’s growing auto industry. Dodge began making its own complete vehicles in 1914 and was sold to Chrysler Corporation in 1928.
1814 The Constitution of Norway was signed and dated by the Norwegian Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll. It was considered one of the most radically democratic constitutions in the world at the time, and is today the oldest constitution in Europe still in force. May 17 is now the National Day of Norway.
1792 The Buttonwood Agreement was signed by 24 stock brokers outside of 68 Wall Street in New York under a buttonwood tree. This is considered the origin of the New York Stock Exchange.
1969 Russia’s Venera 5 space probe jettisoned a capsule to the surface of Venus. The capsule contained scientific instruments to study the planet’s atomosphere. During its descent towards the surface of the planet, a parachute opened to slow the rate of descent and for 53 minutes while the capsule was suspended from the parachute, data from the Venusian atmosphere were returned.
1866 Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires invented root beer. He called his new formula “Hires Root Beer”, and soon became a millionaire from selling it.
1763 French pharmacist and chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin was born in Saint-André-d’Hébertot, Normandy. He discovered the elements beryllium in 1798 and chromium in 1797.
1718 Italian linguist, mathematician, and philosopher Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in Milan. She is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus in 1748, called Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana.
1963 NASA launched Mercury-Atlas 9, the last Mercury manned space mission. It completed 22 Earth orbits piloted by astronaut Gordon Cooper.
1960 Russia launched Sputnik 4. It was a test-flight of the Vostok spacecraft that would be used for the first human spaceflight.
1958 Russia launched Sputnik 3, carrying a large array of instruments for geophysical research.
1953 Italian-American heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano knocked out “Jersey” Joe Walcott in Chicago.
1718 English inventor and lawyer James Puckle patented the world’s 1st machine gun. Puckle demonstrated two versions of the basic design: one, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets, which were considered to be more damaging.
1602 English navigator Bartholomew Gosnold led the first recorded European expedition to visit Cape Cod. Throughout 1602 he explored the New England coast from Maine to Narragansett Bay, and gave Cape Cod its name. Gosnold was also second in command on the voyage that brought colonists to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, where they established the first permanent English settlement in America. He died of malaria later in the year.