A sculptor's rendering of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis © Dave Einsel/Getty Images
1954 – First and only meteorite to strike a person
‘A fireball’ is witnessed plummeting across the sky of Eastern Alabama, hurtling through the ceiling of one home and colliding with a radio before finally smashing into the upper thigh of the sleeping resident, Ann Hodges. The object was analysed and identified a as a meteorite; this verdict made Ann Hodges the first person to be struck by a meteorite. Despite miraculously surviving the impact of the space rock, the overwhelming public attention induced a nervous breakdown and Ann subsequently died of kidney disease, aged just 52. Ann remains the only known person ever to have been hit by a meteorite, because the vast majority of meteorites plunge into the ocean or one of the vast expanses of uninhabited land.
1964 – USSR launches Zond 2
The USSR’s Tyazheliy Sputnik ejects the Zond 2 spacecraft into Earth’s orbit in an experimental mission testing equipment and conducting scientific investigations. After orbiting Earth, Zond 2 embarked on a journey to Mars. The experimental spacecraft featured two solar panels and six low-thrust electrojet plasma ion engines upon which trials were performed over 10 days. Despite one of the solar panels failing to open, the ion engines fired successfully becoming the first to do so on an interplanetary mission. On 6 August 1965, Zond 2 passed 1,500km away from the as yet unexplored planet, but by then the USSR had already lost communication with the spacecraft.
1974 – Discovery of the most complete early human skeleton
The skeleton of a woman belonging to a species of early humans is unearthed by Donald Johanson in Afar, Ethiopia. Nicknamed Lucy after the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the excavated bones totalled 40 per cent of her whole skeleton – the most complete hominin (early human) skeleton to ever be discovered. Argon dating aged her at 3.2 million years old.
Lucy exhibited many ape-like features: a very short forehead encasing a chimpanzee-sized brain as well as prominent brows and cheekbones. She likely spent as much time strolling on her hind legs as swinging through the treetops. After more discoveries of hominin bones, Lucy was finally assigned to a new species, Australopithecus afarensis, another piece in the puzzle of human evolution.
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