1959b

Twelve alternate histories from the year 1959.Text by Michael Baccam. Visual stimuli by The New Gravy Cake.

1.
Mechta escapes Earth’s gravity, January 4

Anya chortled in the sink. Her grandmother was giving her a bath. Neither seemed interested in joining us. We watched the screen as the craft trembled in a numbing wash of air and fire. “The thing we dread,” sighed the grandmother, “is losing Mechta altogether.” Pavel turned the volume up so we could hear the noise.

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2.
American Airlines Electra crashes in NY’s East River, February 3

They were hurled forward violently into their shoulder harnesses. Jolted and spun about, the plane floated weightless in air for a moment before falling. Another “controlled crash” successfully completed. Sixty-five dead.

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3.
Robert Foster sets record by staying underwater 13 m 42.5 s, March 15

Someone asked Foster why he didn’t celebrate coming out of the tank.

“As the sounds of life come back,” Foster said, “you listen.” Then he closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. His voice muffled, he said, “Man is three machines. A tank, a motorcycle.”

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4.
Castro begins U.S. Goodwill Tour; Cops on prowl for boots, April 15

The new Prime Minister of Cuba met with Secretary of State Herter. Before entering the State Department building, Castro demanded that he be the only person wearing boots. A half-hour was spent negotiating the definition of boots. U.S. security personnel were allowed to keep their footwear; twenty-three civilian staff were removed from the premises.

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5.
1st house with built-in bomb shelter exhibited (Pleasant Hills Pa), May 24

The compartments are fairly spacious and the beds have springs. In the jukebox of “The Pit,” four silent records are available. Two have beeps, the others have only needle scratch.

“After, we’re going to record our own music,” Bill says. “But we have to wait.”

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6.
1st official “missile mail” lands (Jacksonville, Fla), June 8

Summerfield proclaimed the launch of missile mail from the U.S. Navy submarine a groundbreaking moment. “California to DC in only a couple of hours,” he said.

Eugenia Hughes of Palatka was impressed. “I like the little parachutes,” she said. “Maybe someday the rockets will land right on our porches.”

The cost will be four cents domestic and eight international.

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7.
VP Richard Nixon visits southern Siberian city, July 29

Nixon was given a tour of Novosibirsk’s hydroelectric station and treated to a ballet in the evening. Before leaving the next morning, he stopped the motorcade in the middle of the town—a town of dusty, unpaved roads, freely roaming livestock, and wood houses reminiscent of Depression-era shacks—and gave an impromptu speech while standing on the hood of his car.

He thanked the crowd for their kindness, complimented their technological advancement, and then, in Russian, declared that he would seek to ban promotional cheesecake.

The people cheered for nearly five straight minutes.

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8.
Discoverer 5 launched into polar orbit, August 13

The sailor at the control console took a last look at the television screen and at his check list. The chief officer said, almost laconically, “Push the pickle.” The sailor’s thumb went down, and the spy satellite on the screen dissolved into a cloud of smoke.

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9.
Soviet Union’s Lunik 2 is 1st spacecraft to land on the Moon, September 14

His robot creation, hurled aloft on raging streamers of fire, finally reached its destination. It was the first time a manmade object had impacted the moon. Both the Soviets and Americans had already flown by but missed their target.

Sikorsky smiled. He said, “Maybe they’re sending rockets back at us now.”

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10.
Far side of Moon seen for 1st time, compliments of USSR’s Lunik 3, October 18

Bogdan took 29 photos on October 8. He processed the film, let it dry, scanned it, and began transmission to Moscow. He waited for a response.

They kept sending commands to resend the photos. Lunik drifted back toward Earth. Bogdan pushed the button. On October 18, they sent their last transmission, saying they received 17 photos. Bogdan asked which ones.

Lunik would orbit the Earth for three more years.

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11.
Kilauea volcano erupts, November 14

As the earthquakes subsided, we heard reports of lava pouring from the crater. Someone said the trees sparked bright yellow and disintegrated in seconds.

At the base of the volcano, Kaholo was distraught. His pigs had run off through a break in the fence. We stood in his yard, and I asked if he was worried about his home.

He nodded. “Some pigs, like some people, always end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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12.
Antarctica’s Heritage Range visited for first time, December 26

After the helicopter dropped us at the high ice plateau, Thiel and Craddock immediately began drilling into the ice underfoot. They didn’t speak for ten minutes, then Craddock asked, “Which leg is phony?” Thiel shook his head. “What’s it matter?” he said. “I couldn’t tell,” Craddock said. Thiel told him not to worry.

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About Stephen Knezovich

I'm tired of the soup du jour.
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