Today in History

By The Associated Press

Today is Wednesday, Feb. 20, the 51st day of 2008. There are 315 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth as he flew aboard the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7.

On this date:

In 1790, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II died.

In 1792, President Washington signed an act creating the U.S. Post Office.

In 1809, the Supreme Court, in United States v. Peters, ruled the power of the federal government is greater than that of any individual state.

In 1839, Congress prohibited dueling in the District of Columbia.

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an immigration act which excluded "idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics, insane persons" from being admitted to the United States.

In 1938, Anthony Eden resigned as British foreign secretary following Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's decision to negotiate with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

In 1944, during World War II, U.S. bombers began raiding German aircraft manufacturing centers in a series of attacks that became known as "Big Week."

In 1965, the Ranger 8 spacecraft crashed on the moon after sending back thousands of pictures of the lunar surface.

In 1971, the National Emergency Warning Center in Colorado erroneously ordered U.S. radio and TV stations off the air; some stations heeded the alert, which was not lifted for about 40 minutes.

In 1987, Soviet authorities released Jewish activist Josef Begun.

Ten years ago: With the U.S. military poised to attack Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan began a final campaign to end the crisis over weapons inspections without bloodshed. Tara Lipinski of the U.S. won the ladies' figure skating title at Nagano, becoming at age 15 the youngest gold medalist in Winter Olympics history; Michelle Kwan won the silver.

Five years ago: A fire broke out during a rock concert at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., killing 100 people and injuring about 200 others. Former Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Patrick Regan was convicted in Alexandria, Va., of offering to sell U.S. intelligence to Iraq and China but acquitted of attempted spying for Libya. (Regan was later sentenced to life without parole.) A 17-year-old Mexican girl mistakenly given a heart and lungs with the wrong blood type received a second set of organs at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina; however, Jesica Santillan suffered brain damage and later died.

One year ago: In a victory for President Bush, a divided federal appeals court ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees could not use the U.S. court system to challenge their indefinite imprisonment. In New Orleans, thousands of hurricane-weary residents joined with rowdy visitors to celebrate the second Mardi Gras since Katrina.

Today's Birthdays: Fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt is 84. Actor Sidney Poitier is 81. Actress Marj Dusay is 72. Jazz-soul singer Nancy Wilson is 71. Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie is 67. Hockey Hall-of-Famer Phil Esposito is 66. Movie director Mike Leigh is 65. Actress Brenda Blethyn is 62. Actress Sandy Duncan is 62. Rock musician J. Geils is 62. Actor Peter Strauss is 61. Rock singer-musician-producer Walter Becker (Steely Dan) is 58. Country singer Kathie Baillie is 57. Newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst is 54. Actor Anthony Stewart Head is 54. Country singer Leland Martin is 51. Actor James Wilby is 50. Rock musician Sebastian Steinberg is 49. Comedian Joel Hodgson is 48. Basketball player Charles Barkley is 45. Rock musician Ian Brown (Stone Roses) is 45. Actor French Stewart is 44. Actor Ron Eldard is 43. Model Cindy Crawford is 42. Actor Andrew Shue is 41. Actress Lili Taylor is 41. Singer Brian Littrell is 33. Actress Lauren Ambrose is 30. Actor Jay Hernandez is 30. Actress Majandra Delfino is 27. Singer-musician Chris Thile is 27. Actor Jake Richardson is 23. Singer Rihanna is 20.

Thought for Today: "Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich." -- Sarah Bernhardt, French actress (1844-1923).