May 24, 1543 — Copernicus publishes ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’

Technically, this is actually the date of Copernicus’ death, however, since no authoritative dating other than ‘shortly before his death’ exists for the publication of ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’, I have chosen to use this date.

‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’, or in English, ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” is the single most famous work regarding the heliocentric theory of the solar system, i.e. the theory that the planets revolve around the Sun. It inspired considerable controversy in its day, which is one reason why Copernicus published it when he did – the historical evidence suggests that it was written between 1510 and 1530 – and effectively disproved the Platonic theory that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth.

November 22, 1963 — U.S. President John F Kennedy is assassinated

One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.

While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.

On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.

February 6, 1971 – Alan Shepard plays golf on the Moon

The commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard holds several unique distinctions. He is the only member of the Mercury 7 astronauts to have walked on the Moon and also the oldest person to have walked there (in terms of age at the time he did it). His mission was the first to broadcast colour video from the surface of the Moon and made the most accurate landing of all the Apollo missions. And, of course, he is the first man to have hit golf balls (two of them) on the Moon.

Shepard came home to the hero’s welcome that astronauts traditionally received, and was promoted from Captain to Rear-Admiral after the successful completion of his mission. He retired from the US Navy and NASA, becoming a successful businessman, and eventually died from leukemia in 1998, 21 years to the day from Armstrong’s first moon walk.

His golf balls are presumably still somewhere on the lunar surface.

January 15, 1990 — They Might Be Giants release “Flood”

They Might Be Giants’ third studio album, and probably their best known, “Flood” features their single best known song – a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” – as well as “Birdhouse in Your Soul” which was a top ten hit in both the US and UK. It would go on to be their best selling album, achieving platinum status in 2009.

The album as a whole is one of the most consistently excellent of all their albums, and is widely regarded as their best (although that may be something of an artifact of it being the most widely owned of their albums). It would be followed up by “Apollo 18” two years later.