Monday, May 5, 2008

The Fifth of May

Launch of the Mercury-Redstone 3 spacecraft on 5 May 1961, 9:34 a.m. EST, with Alan Shepard onboard
All kinds of interesting historical events, today.

On this day in 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space when Mercury-Redstone 3 blasted-off from Cape Canaveral's Pad 5 and took Astronaut Shepard and his capsule Freedom 7 into space. Freedom 7 did not orbit, only going up, and then right back down (a "suborbital" flight), and he was only up for 16 minutes. After moon landings and space shuttles, it doesn't sound like much now, but if you have ever seen a real Mercury capsule (eleven and a half feet wide, just over six feet in diameter), you would understand how absolutely brave a stunt it really was to climb into this thing (actually, you pretty much wore it, you didn't get in it) and sit quietly on the pad while the smart boys fired up a rocket as likely to crash or explode as to fly.
Rear-Admiral Shepard, who later played golf on the Moon commanding Apollo 14, died in 1998. I will never forget, when I was about 16, having the honor to shake the man's hand and talk with him briefly.
Today is also the anniversary of the death in 1821 of French Emperor Napoléon I, while in British captivity on St. Helena in the South Atlantic. "To live defeated is to die every day" the Emperor said, during this bitter period of his life, and, passing his days at rat-infested Longwood house, he had ample time to ponder the subject. But Napoléon never gave up or accepted defeat lying down: as a captive exile he fought and won his last (political) battle for control of the popular imagination. Aided by the petty humiliations of his stupid and unimaginative British jailer, the Emperor constructed a political and historical narrative of his life (which was even a little bit true) describing a great man brought low by pygmies. The "Napoleonic legend" helped his nephew become Emperor Napoléon III.
Speaking of Emperor Napoléon III, on this day in 1862, his forces in Mexico (there to collect debts and carve out a Mexican Empire) suffered a check at the Battle of Puebla, on the road to Mexico city, in 1862. The Count of Lorencez, with his tough little army of line infantry; Chasseurs a Pied; Zouaves; mounted Chasseurs d'Afrique; sailors with rifles; and the Troupes de Marine -- the French Marines -- tried to overrun General Ignacio Zaragoza's dug-in Mexican Army and militia straight off the march, but soon learned that fighting even raw or half-trained troops in buildings and behind the walls and trenches of both regular and extemporized fortifications was quite different from catching them in the open.
General-de-Division Count Lorencez possibly deserves a marginally better press than he gets. True, he rushed into a fight after only slapdash reconnaissance and after ignoring advice from friendly Mexicans. But he had reasons for haste: he was trying to collapse resistance to the French and the Mexican faction they supported with a quick blow to the Mexican forces around Puebla. Plus, he had some really splendid troops, and had routed a similar Mexican force with ease on 28 April at Aculzingo. Count Lorencez would not be the first general confronted, without realizing it, with a politico-military situation that was quite beyond him. Possibly my Francophile side is showing. In any case, the anniversary of the Puebla engagement is celebrated in Mexico as Cinco de Mayo.

2 comments:

louielouie said...

ah, space exploration.
my only boondoggle.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Mine also. I'm glad to see the plans to return to the Moon,(Constellation) although I will be pleasantly surprised if the funds tun out to be available.