This Week in Awesome History – Vol. 11

From Russian technology to weird politicians, we've got a little bit of everything this week.

Nash Herringtonby Nash Herrington

October 3rd, 1992: Sinéad O’Connor tears up photo of Pope on SNL

On this day in ’92, Irish singer/songwriter Sinéad O’Connor took to the Saturday Night Live stage and, following a strange a capella performance of Bob Marley’s “War”, proceeded to tear up a photo of Pope John Paul II in front of the silent live audience, shouting “fight the real enemy!” after doing so.

NBC received over 4,000 complaints following the broadcast and were forced to apologize to viewers for the incident, although O’Connor refused to do so. Her career would spiral downwards from this moment on.


October 4th, 1957: Sputnik satellite launched

On this day in ’57 the Russian satellite Sputnik was launched into space – the first man-made object to ever leave the Earth’s atmosphere. Traveling at 18,000 mph, Sputnik transmitted radio signals back to earth that were strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators. The satellite could fly across America several times per day, and enthusiastic listeners could hear its beeps through their radios as it did so. In January 1958 the satellite burned up in the atmosphere, thus bringing an end to the first incarnation of Sputnik.

In 1957 Russia launched Sputnik 2 into the Earth’s atmosphere, this time with a dog named Laika onboard. Laika died within hours of the launch due to a combination of overheating and stress, likely caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. It was later revealed in 2002 that Laika was never expected to survive the journey, and scientists had planned to use the satellites food dispensary unit to euthanize the dog with poison pills as she would have burned up in the atmosphere during re-entry.


October 6, 1886: First US train robbery

On this day in 1886, the Reno gang held up a moving train in Jackson County, Indiana and made off with $10,000, a breakthrough in crime that saw many other gangs in this time period follow suit.

Although trains had been robbed prior to the Reno gang’s innovation, they had always taken place whilst the trains were stationary at either freight yards or stations. Word of the Reno gang’s holdup spread quickly, and soon wrongdoers were following locomotives in areas of low law enforcement on horseback, stealing thousands by gunpoint; gangs such as Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch found train robbery so simple that it quickly became their specialty.

However, railroad owners eventually fought back, protecting their trains’ valuables with large safes and employing armed guards to fend away attackers. By the late 1800’s train robbery was considered the most dangerous criminal practise and was largely abandoned.


October 7, 2003: Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes The Governator

On this day in ’03 80s icon Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, instantly earning him the title of “The Governator”. Arnie announced his running for governor on an episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and his heavily-criticised campaign largely consisted of terrible one-liners and knowing nods to his celebrity status.

He defeated his closest rival the Democratic lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, by 1 million votes.


October 8th, 1957: Jerry Lee Lewis records “Great Balls of Fire”

Originally penned by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, Jerry “The Killer” Lee Lewis almost passed Great Balls of Fire over to another musician after worrying that its lyrics were “blasphemous”. Lewis was a devout Christian, but his concerns over the songs offensive lyrics were founded after many Christians decried his music as that of the devils.

Great Balls of Fire went on to top the Billboard chart, and in its wake came the American rock ‘n’ roll renaissance. It is considered to be one of the most influential songs of all time.