Several events made headlines at this time in mainstream America. Headline News itself was newsworthy as an offshoot of the Cable News Network (CNN), created by Ted Turner, an Atlanta businessman, in 1980.
When others fled the Persian Gulf as war approached in 1991, CNN reporter Peter Arnett and others remained in Iraq and brought the air raids and Scud missile launches into people's homes as they occurred tens of thousands of miles away. Headline News ran half-hour capsulated versions of important news each day.
Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens, a volcano in the Cascade Range of Washington state that had been dormant for more than 120 years, erupted May 18, 1980, with rock and debris spewing 12 miles, and volcanic ash much farther.
Rumbles had been heard early in the year, but the sudden eruption measured 4.1 on the Richter scale. It blew off the top of the 9,675-foot peak, causing flooding, mudslides, and billions of dollars in property damage.
Millions watched the royal wedding of Britain's Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Americans quickly took a liking to the young princess, following the births of her children, her rise as a fashion icon and humanitarian, her divorce, and her tragic death in an automobile accident in 1997.
AIDS and HIV
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes it, came to everyone's attention in the mid-1980s as the killer virus was identified almost simultaneously at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
Actor Rock Hudson died of the disease in 1985; this loss and others galvanized those fighting for adequate research. As a longtime friend of Hudson's, President Reagan even had to re-evaluate his preconceptions about the dreaded disease.
In 1991, basketball fans were shocked to hear that Earvin “Magic” Johnson had tested positive for HIV and that lead singer of the rock group Queen, Freddie Mercury had succumbed to the disease. More than 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS since 1981.
The Challenger Tragedy
The space shuttle Challenger, with a crew of seven astronauts featuring America's first civilian and teacher sent into space, exploded in a burst of flames only 73 seconds into its flight, on January 28, 1986. Mission commander Francis R. Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik, and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from New Hampshire, all perished in the accident.
The launch program was halted during the investigation until designers modified the shuttle and implemented tighter safety measures. Shuttle missions resumed on September 28, 1988, with the flight of the space shuttle Discovery.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
On the night of March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, an American oil tanker, went aground on a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The 987 foot tanker began leaking oil in a spill that continued for two days, making it the worst oil disaster of its kind in U.S. history.
Remaining barrels of oil were transferred onto other tankers, and the cleanup moved slowly, at least at first. Approximately 1,100 miles of Alaskan shoreline was contaminated, killing birds, sea mammals, and fish. The captain of the tanker not only lost his job amid allegations of a substance-abuse problem, but faced criminal charges in the matter as well.
The World Series Earthquake
Another San Francisco earthquake, this time measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, struck the city as baseball fans were finding their seats for the third game of the World Series, October 17, 1989. The tremor erupted along the San Andreas Fault. Although it lasted a mere 15 seconds, it resulted in collapsed highways, dozens of deaths, and billions of dollars in property damage.