Ramadan headlines from 1970-90: From a lunar lander to 'Lawnchair Larry'

Remembering events that fell during the holy month from 1970 to 1989

A view of Sydney, Australia, with the rercently completed Sydney Opera House on the left, 22nd November 1973. (Photo by J. R. T. Richardson/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Ramadan 2020, in the Islamic year 1441, will always be remembered for one thing: Covid-19. But momentous events have always occurred during the holy month down the years.

As part of a series delving into Ramadan over recent decades, starting in 1950, we look back over the last 70 years and the next three weeks at some of the headlines from previous Ramadans, with an emphasis on the positive, of news that shows the strength and creativity of the human spirit.

The LK-3 lunar lander from 1969 (L) and the Lunokhod 1 lunar roving vehicle from 1970 are displayed in London on September 17, 2015, during a press preview for the Science Museum's latest exhibition "Cosmonaut". The exhibition charts Russia's space programme, from early theories and predictions by artists and scientists through to recent work on the International Space Station. The exhibition is due to run from September 18, 2015 to March 13, 2016.    AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo by LEON NEAL / AFP)
The LK-3 lunar lander from 1969 and the Lunokhod 1 lunar roving vehicle from 1970 are displayed in London in September 2015. Leon Neal /AFP

1970 (1390) October 31 to November 30  

On November 17, 1970, midway through Ramadan, a strange vehicle, looking a little bit like a large bin on wheels, trundled for the first time across the surface of the Moon.

This was Lunokhod 1, the first remote controlled robot vehicle to move over another celestial body.

If the 1960s had been dominated by the race to the Moon, won by the US and Nasa in July 1969, the coming decade would see space exploration push ever deeper into our Solar System.

For this next phase, remote, unmanned craft that could operate millions of miles from Earth, would be the key.

The Soviet Union had attempted to land a rover on the Moon in 1969, a mission that ended with a launchpad explosion.

A year later, it attempted again, with the Luna 17 spacecraft successfully taking Lonokhod 1 or Spacewalker to the Mare Imbrium, or Sea of Rains.

Moving on eight independently powered wheels, the vehicle carried four television cameras and a battery of scientific equipment, including a probe to examine lunar soil.

Intended to end after three months, the mission actually extended until September 1971, with Lunokhod recharging its batteries using solar power.

Its exact location was discovered and photographed in 2010, and the craft is still used for research, with scientists able to bounce laser pulses off its radiation reflector for precise measurements between Earth and the Moon.

A view of Sydney, Australia, with the rercently completed Sydney Opera House on the left, 22nd November 1973. (Photo by J. R. T. Richardson/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A view of Sydney, Australia, with the recently completed Sydney Opera House on November 22, 1973. Getty

1973 (1393) September 28  - October 27 

Ramadan 1973 will always be remembered for the October War, also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, which began on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur and ended two days before Eid Al Fitr.

It also overshadowed the opening of one of the most iconic buildings of the 20th Century,

The Sydney Opera House was officially opened on October 20, 1973, by Queen Elizabeth and with a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

Now an international landmark, the building had a troubled history.

It was conceived in 1957, with a budget of AUS $7 million (Dh16.8 m) but had overrun by a staggering 1,357 per cent and ten years before it was finished.

The ground breaking design by Danish architect Jørn Urzon caused numerous structural revisions and arguments, which eventually saw him resign from the project, and he was not invited to the official opening.

Hosting everyone from Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela to such diverse singers as Joan Sutherland and Michael Buble, the opera house is now an instantly recognised icon of Australia.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Martyn Goddard/Shutterstock (761533bq)
U2 - Larry Mullen Jnr, Adam Clayton, Bono and The Edge
Various personalities
U2, comprised of Larry Mullen Jnr, Adam Clayton, Bono and The Edge, formed in 1976. Martyn Goddard / Shutterstock

1976 (1396) August 27 to September 25

On September 25 1976, a group of Dublin schoolboys met for the first time with the aim of creating a rock band. Initially called Feedback and with a repertoire of cover songs, they would eventually find fame as U2.

Provoking as much irritation as adulation, the group’s lead singer Bono is a high profile social activist and rarely out of the limelight, along with his trademark sunglasses.

But Ramadan 1976 also saw a true hero emerge, one whose name is today all but forgotten.

On September 16, as the sun was setting over the Armenian capital Yerevan, a trolleybus carrying around 90 passengers crashed over a dam wall and plunged into the city’s reservoir.

The noise of the accident alerted Shavarsh Karapetyan, a 23-year-old on a training jog with his brother Kamo. Both siblings were competitive fin swimmers, with ambitions at the highest level.

Without hesitation, Mr Karapetyan discarded the 20 kilo weighted backpack he was wearing and plunged into waters 10 metres deep and with almost zero visibility.

Although the exact numbers remain unknown, it is estimated he saved the lives of at least 20 people and possibly 35, dragging them to the surface where his brother helped to bring them ashore.

With multiple cuts from the broken glass of the windows he smashed, Mr Karapetyan later contracted sepsis, compounded by pneumonia from the cold water. Although he recovered, it left him unable to continue his sporting career.

Bad news was rarely publicised in Armenia, then part of the Soviet Union, and for two years his heroics remained unknown until the publication of a report in Pravda headlined The Underwater Battle of the Champion that finally made him a household name.

Now 66, Mr Karapetyan lives in Moscow, where he founded a shoe company called...Second Breath.

1982 (1402) June 23 July 23

When recalling the Ramadan of 1982, we might chose to highlight the month for the decision to end commercial whaling or the extraordinary story of British Airways Flight 9, which lost all four engines after flying through volcanic dust but miraculously regained enough power to land safely in Jakarta.

But then there is the story of Larry Walters.

Walters was 33 years old in the summer of 1982, with his dreams of a career as fighter pilot with the US airforce dashed by poor eyesight.

On July 2, he attached 45 2.4 metre weather balloons to a lawn chair and filled them with helium.

After strapping on a parachute, and supplies that included sandwiches, a citizen’s band radio and a pellet gun, Walter’s friends cut the cord attaching the chair to his Jeep.

“Lawnchair Larry” as he would soon become known, rose rapidity to nearly 5,000 meters where he was spotted by two commercial airliners.

After 45 minutes he used the gun to shoot some of the balloons to begin his descent, but then accidentally dropped it.

He eventually landed safely despite becoming briefly tangled in electricity lines in Long Beach, California to be promptly arrested for offences that including not having a pilot’s licence.

Instant celebrity followed, with "Lawnchair Larry" inspiring a host of imitators, as well as the 2003 film Danny Deckchair, an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants, and, reportedly, Pixar's Up.

Things ended tragically for Walters. Quitting his job as a truck driver, he failed to make it as a motivational speaker and ended up as a part time security guard. Ten years after his famous voyage he took his life with a single gunshot.

Spirited Away. Courtesy Studio Ghibli - NDDTM
The Studio Ghibli catalogue includes 'Spirited Away'. Courtesy Studio Ghibli 

1985 (1405) May 21 to June 20

In the Libyan Arabic it is qibliyy, meaning “from behind the Qibla”, and referring to the hot wind that blows north from the Sahara.

The Italians, who took Libya as a colony in the early 20th Century, interpreted it as the noun ghibli, and named a reconnaissance aircraft after it.

For Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese filmmaker and animator with a passion for vintage aircraft, it was the ideal name for his new company that would “blow a new wind” through the industry.

And so, on June 15, 1985, Studio Ghibli was born, with Miyazaki forming a partnership with director and scriptwriter Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki.

In the 35 years since, Studio Ghibli has been a creative and imaginative force in animation to rival Disney and Pixar.

Its output includes My Neighbour Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, which won the Oscar for best animated film in 2003.

Takahata passed away in 2018, but Studio Ghibli continues to make films, with How Do You Live?, due for release next year.