Anniversary of First Spacecraft Docking, 16 January 1969
Soyuz 5 was a Soyuz mission using the Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft launched by the Soviet Union on January 15, 1969, which docked with Soyuz 4 in orbit. It was the first-ever docking of two manned spacecraft of any nation, and the first-ever transfer of crew from one space vehicle to another of any nation, the only time a transfer was accomplished with a space walk – two months before the US Apollo 9 performed the first ever internal crew transfer.
US Space Program’s Birthday, 10 January 1946
Project Diana, named for the Roman moon goddess Diana, was a project of the US Army Signal Corps to bounce radio signals off the moon and receive the reflected signals. Today called EME (Earth-Moon-Earth), this was the first attempt to “touch” another celestial body.
The first successful echo detection came on 10 January 1946 at 11:58am local time by John H. DeWitt and his chief scientist E. King Stodola.
Project Diana marked the birth of the US space program, as well as that of radar astronomy. It was the first demonstration that artificially-created signals could penetrate the ionosphere, opening the possibility of radio communications beyond the earth for space probes and human explorers. It also established the practice of naming space projects after Roman gods, e.g., Mercury and Apollo.
NASA’s Project Gemini Naming Anniversary (3 January 1962)
Project Gemini was the second human spaceflight program of NASA, the civilian space agency of the United States government. Project Gemini was conducted between projects Mercury and Apollo, with ten manned flights occurring in 1965 and 1966.
Its objective was to develop space travel techniques in support of Apollo, which had the goal of landing men on the Moon. Gemini achieved missions long enough for a trip to the Moon and back, perfected extra-vehicular activity (working outside a spacecraft), and orbital maneuvers necessary to achieve rendezvous and docking.
Originally introduced on December 7 as Mercury Mark II, it was re-christened Project Gemini on January 3, 1962, from the fact that the spacecraft would hold two crewmen, seated abreast, as gemini in Latin means “twins” or “side-by-side”.
Wernher von Braun
Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977) was a German-American rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany during World War II and, subsequently, in the United States.
In his 20s and early 30s, von Braun was the central figure in Germany’s rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket during World War II. After the war, he and some select members of his rocket team were taken to the United States as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip. Von Braun worked on the United States Army intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) program before his group was assimilated by NASA, under which he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. According to one NASA source, he is “without doubt, the greatest rocket scientist in history”. His crowning achievement was to lead the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon in July 1969. In 1975 he received the National Medal of Science.
Happy Birthday Neil Armstrong!
Neil Alden Armstrong (born August 5, 1930) is an American former NASA astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon.
Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was in the United States Navy and served in the Korean War. After the war, he served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station, now known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, where he flew over 900 flights in a variety of aircraft. As a research pilot, Armstrong served as project pilot on the F-100 Super Sabre A and C variants, F-101 Voodoo, and the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter. He also flew the Bell X-1B, Bell X-5, North American X-15, F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart, B-47 Stratojet, KC-135 Stratotanker, and was one of eight elite pilots involved in the paraglider research vehicle program (Paresev). He graduated from Purdue University and the University of Southern California.
A participant in the U.S. Air Force’s Man In Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programs, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962. His first spaceflight was the NASA Gemini 8 mission in 1966, for which he was the command pilot, becoming one of the first U.S. civilians to fly in space. On this mission, he performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft with pilot David Scott. Armstrong’s second and last spaceflight was as mission commander of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission on July 20, 1969. On this mission, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent 2½ hours exploring while Michael Collins remained in orbit in the Command Module. Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon along with Collins and Aldrin, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Apollo 15 Launch Anniversary
Apollo 15 was the ninth manned mission in the United States Apollo space program, the fourth to land on the Moon and the eighth successful manned mission. It was the first of what were termed “J missions”, long duration stays on the Moon with a greater focus on science than had been possible on previous missions. It was also the first mission where the Lunar Roving Vehicle was used.
The mission began on July 26, 1971, and concluded on August 7. At the time, NASA called it the most successful manned flight ever achieved.
Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin spent three days on the Moon and a total of 18½ hours outside the spacecraft on lunar extra-vehicular activity. The mission was the first not to land in a lunar mare, instead landing near Hadley rille in an area of the Mare Imbrium called Palus Putredinus (Marsh of Decay). The crew explored the area using the first Lunar Rover, allowing them to travel much farther from the Lunar Module lander than had previously been possible. They collected a total of 77 kg (170 lbs) of lunar surface material. At the same time, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden orbited the Moon, using a Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) in the Service Module to study the lunar surface and environment in great detail with a panoramic camera, gamma ray spectrometer, mapping camera, laser altimeter, mass spectrometer, and lunar sub-satellite deployed at the end of Apollo 15’s stay in lunar orbit (an Apollo program first).
Dawn of the Dish
Wandering planets Venus and Jupiter were joined by an old crescent Moon near the eastern horizon on July 15. This serene southern skyview of the much anticipated predawn conjunction includes the lovely Pleiades star cluster and bright stars Aldebaran and Betelgeuse in the celestial lineup. For help identifying the stars and constellations, just slide your cursor over the image. Of course, the radio telescope in the foreground is the Parkes 64 meter dish of New South Wales, Australia. Known for its exploration of the distant Universe at radio wavelengths, the large, steerable antenna is also famous for its superior lunar television reception. On July 21, 1969 the dish received broadcasts from the Moon that allowed denizens of planet Earth to watch the Apollo 11 moonwalk.
Image Credit & Copyright: Alex Cherney (Terrastro, TWAN)
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born
On July 17, 1975, something momentous happened: two Cold War-rivals met in space. When their respective spacecraft rendezvoused and docked, a new era of cooperative ventures in space began.
For more than a decade, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have been regularly living and working together in Earth orbit, first in the Shuttle-Mir program, and now on the International Space Station. But, before the two Cold War-rivals first met in orbit in 1975, such a partnership seemed unlikely. Since Sputnik bleeped into orbit in 1957, there had been a Space Race, with the U.S. and then-Soviet Union driven more by competition than cooperation. When President Kennedy called for a manned moon landing in 1961, he spoke of “battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny” and referred to the “head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines.”
But by the mid-70s things had changed. The U.S. had “won” the race to the moon, with six Apollo landings between 1969 and 1972. Both nations had launched space stations, the Russian Salyut and American Skylab. With the space shuttle still a few years off and the diplomatic chill thawing, the time was right for a joint mission.
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would send NASA astronauts Tom Stafford, Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and Vance Brand in an Apollo Command and Service Module to meet Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov in a Soyuz capsule. A jointly designed, U.S.-built docking module fulfilled the main technical goal of the mission, demonstrating that two dissimilar craft could dock in orbit. But the human side of the mission went far beyond that.
Image Credit: NASA
(via The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born)
Apollo 11 Launch Anniversary
Apollo 11 was the spaceflight which landed the first humans, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the Moon on July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC. The landing occurred on July 21, 02:56 UTC, and Armstrong became the first to step onto the lunar surface 6 hours later. A third member of the mission, Michael Collins, remained alone in lunar orbit until they returned from the surface about 15 hours later. All 3 returned to Earth safely after travelling in space for 8 days.
Launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida on July 16, Apollo 11 was the fifth manned mission of NASA’s Apollo program. Two of these had orbited the Moon, and one had practiced the lunar mission maneuvers in orbit around the Earth. The Apollo (spacecraft) had three parts: a Command Module with the three astronauts and their supplies in it, a Service Module with fuel and engines for changing course and a Lunar landing Module. After being brought onto a course to the Moon by the launch rocket, they separated the spacecraft from it and travelled for three days until they entered into an orbit around the Moon. Here Armstrong and Aldrin moved to the Lunar Module and landed it on the Moon in the Sea of Tranquility, a part of the Moon facing the Earth. The two astronauts stayed a total of about 21½ hours on the lunar surface, including about 2½ hours outside the spacecraft. After lifting off in the upper part of the Lunar Module and rejoining Collins in the Command Module, they returned to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
Stepping down on the Moon, Armstrong described the event: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” which was heard by people world-wide as the landing was broadcasted on live TV. Apollo 11 effectively ended the Space Race and fulfilled late U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a 1961 mission statement before the United States Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Lunar Orbit Rendezvous
Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) is a key concept for human landing on the Moon and returning to Earth.
In a LOR mission a main spacecraft and a smaller lunar module travel together into lunar orbit. The lunar module then independently descends to the lunar surface. After completion of the mission there, a part of it returns to lunar orbit and conducts a rendezvous with the main spacecraft. The main spacecraft then returns to Earth.
First mention of LOR dates back to 1916. It was proposed by Yuri Kondratyuk, a self-educated Ukrainian, who calculated that LOR was the most economical way of landing a human on the Moon.
LOR was used by the Apollo missions for human spaceflight to the Moon. An unmanned LOR will be probably used by the Chinese Chang’e 5 sample return mission in 2017.
Now We Need a Bug
Fifty years ago this week, NASA decided how to get to the Moon. Two possible methods, Direct Ascent and Earth Orbit Rendezvous, involved launching a massive rocket (or two smaller rockets that would join up in Earth orbit) toward the Moon, landing, and then blasting off for Earth. But the powerful boosters and orbiting support facilities required for these methods could not be built in time. An obscure but elegant third solution, Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, finally won. LOR called for a Lunar Excursion Module (known as “the Bug”) to ferry astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface, and back again to the waiting Command Module. The Lunar Excursion Module Simulator, seen here, was suspended by cables and allowed Apollo astronauts to practice landing on the lunar surface.
Image credit: NASA
Apollo 17 at Shorty Crater
In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow valley, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. This sharp image was taken by Cernan as he and Schmitt roamed the valley floor. The image shows Schmitt on the left with the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater, near the spot where geologist Schmitt discovered orange lunar soil. The Apollo 17 crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than was returned from any of the other lunar landing sites. Now forty years later, Cernan and Schmitt are still the last to walk on the Moon.
Image Credit: Apollo 17 Crew, NASA
Readying Orion for Flight
The NASA team at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has completed the final weld on the first space-bound Orion capsule. The Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) Orion will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center for final assembly and checkout operations.
The EFT-1 flight will take Orion to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, more than 15 times farther away from Earth than the International Space Station. Orion will return home at a speed of 25,000 miles, almost 5,000 miles per hour faster than any human spacecraft. It will mimic the return conditions that astronauts experience as they come home from voyages beyond low Earth orbit. As Orion reenters the atmosphere, it will endure temperatures up to 4,000 degrees F., higher than any human spacecraft since astronauts returned from the moon.
Image Credit: NASA/Eric Bordelon
(via Readying Orion for Flight)
Today is the Anniversary of JFK Challenging the United States to Land a Man on the Moon
On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly in space, reinforcing American fears about being left behind in a technological competition with the Soviet Union. Kennedy was eager for the U.S. to take the lead in the Space Race for reasons of strategy and prestige. He first announced the goal of landing a man on the Moon in the speech to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, stating:
“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”