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On This Day in History | April 17

Apollo 13 returns to Earth

With the world anxiously watching, Apollo 13, a U.S. lunar spacecraft that suffered a severe malfunction on its journey to the moon, safely returns to Earth.

On April 11, the third manned lunar landing mission was launched from Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise. The mission was headed for a landing on the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon. However, two days into the mission, disaster struck 200,000 miles from Earth when oxygen tank No. 2 blew up in the spacecraft. Swigert reported to mission control on Earth, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” and it was discovered that the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light and water had been disrupted.

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The Bay of Pigs invasion begins

The Bay of Pigs invasion begins when a CIA-financed and -trained group of Cuban refugees lands in Cuba and attempts to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The attack was an utter failure.

Fidel Castro had been a concern to U.S. policymakers since he seized power in Cuba with a revolution in January 1959. Castro’s attacks on U.S. companies and interests in Cuba, his inflammatory anti-American rhetoric, and Cuba’s movement toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union led U.S. officials to conclude that the Cuban leader was a threat to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to train and arm a force of Cuban exiles for an armed attack on Cuba. John F. Kennedy inherited this program when he became president in 1961.

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Benjamin Franklin dies

On April 17, 1790, American statesman, printer, scientist and writer Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia at age 84.

Born in Boston in 1706, Franklin became at 12 years old an apprentice to his half brother James, a printer and publisher. He learned the printing trade and in 1723 went to Philadelphia to work after a dispute with his brother. After a sojourn in London, he started a printing and publishing press with a friend in 1728. In 1729, the company won a contract to publish Pennsylvania’s paper currency and also began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was regarded as one of the better colonial newspapers. From 1732 to 1757, he wrote and published Poor Richard’s Almanack, an instructive and humorous periodical in which Franklin coined such practical American proverbs as “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

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