1 Oct. 1958 On this date the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began operation. At the time it consisted of only about 8,000 employees and an annual budget of $100 million. In addition to a small headquarters staff in Washington that directed operations, NASA had at the time three major research laboratories inherited from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics-the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory established in 1918, the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory activated near San Francisco in 1940, and the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory built at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1941-and two small test facilities, one for high-speed flight research at Muroc Dry Lake in the high desert of California and one for sounding rockets at Wallops Island, Virginia. It soon added several other government research organizations.
11 Oct. 1958 Pioneer I: First NASA launch.
7 Nov. 1958 NASA research pilot John McKay made the last flight in the X-1E, the final model flown of the X-1 series. The various models of the X-1, together with the D-558-I and -II, the X-2, X-3, X-4, X-5, and XF-92A, provided data to correlate test results from the slotted throat wind tunnel at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory (now NASA's Langley Research Center) with actual flight values. Together, results of flight research and wind tunnel testing enabled the U.S. aeronautical community to solve many of the problems that occur in the transonic speed range (0.7 to 1.3 times the speed of sound). The flight research investigated flight loads, buffeting, aeroelastic effects, pitch-up, instability, longitudinal control, and the effects of wing sweep, contributing to design principles that enabled reliable and routine flight of such aircraft as the century series of fighters (F-100, F-102, F-104, etc.). It contributed equally to the development of all commercial transport aircraft from the mid-1950s to the present.
6 Dec. 1958 The United States launched Pioneer 3, the first U.S. satellite to ascend to an altitude of 63,580 miles.
18 Dec. 1958 An Air Force Atlas booster placed into orbit a communications relay satellite, PROJECT SCORE or the "talking atlas." A total of 8,750 pounds was placed in orbit, of which 150 pounds was the payload. On 19 Dec. President Eisenhower's Christmas message was beamed from the PROJECT SCORE satellite in orbit, the first voice sent from space.
17 Feb. 1959 The United States launched Vanguard 2, the first successful launch of this principal IGY scientific satellite.
28 Feb. 1959 The liquid-hydrogen Thor first stage, and an Agena upper stage, both originally developed by the U.S. Air Force, were used by NASA to launch Discoverer 1, a reconnaissance satellite for the Air Force on 28 Feb.
3 Mar. 1959 The United States sent Pioneer 4 to the Moon, successfully making the first U.S. lunar flyby.
9 Apr. 1959 After a two month selection process, on this date NASA unveiled the Mercury astronaut corps. NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan publicly introduced the astronauts in a press conference in Washington. The seven men-from the Marine Corps, Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr. (1921- ); from the Navy, Lt. Cdr. Walter M. Schirra, Jr. (1923- ), Lt. Cdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr. (1923- ), and Lt. M. Scott Carpenter (1925- ); and from the Air Force, Capt. L. Gordon Cooper (1927- ), Capt. Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom (1926-1967), and Capt. Donald K. Slayton (1924-1993)-became heroes in the eyes of the American public almost immediately.
28 May 1959 The United States launches and recovers two monkeys, Able and Baker, after launch in Jupiter nosecone during a suborbital flight. The flight is successful, testing the capability to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and to recover spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean, but Able later died.
8 Jun. 1959 North American Aviation, Inc. research pilot
Scott Crossfield made the first unpowered glide flight in the
joint X-15 hypersonic research program NASA conducted with the
Air Force, the Navy, and North American. The program completed
its 199th and final flight on 24 October 1968 in what many consider
to have been the most successful flight research effort in history.
It resulted in more than 765 research reports and provided significant
data in a variety of hypersonic disciplines ranging from aircraft
performance, stability and control, aerodynamic heating, the use
of heat-resistant materials, shock interaction, and use of reaction
controls. This data led to improved design tools for future hypersonic
vehicles and contributed in important ways to the development
of the Space Shuttle, including information from flights to the
edge of space and back in 1961-1963. Data from these flights were
important in designing the Shuttle's reentry flight profile. Also
involved in the X-15 research was the development of energy management
techniques for the return of the vehicle to its landing site that
were essential for the future reentry and horizontal landing of
the Shuttle and all future reusable launch vehicles.
1 Apr. 1960 The United States launched TIROS 1, the first successful meteorological satellite, observing Earth's weather.
13 Apr. 1960 The United States launched Transit 1B, the first experimental orbital navigation system.
1 Jul. 1960 The first launch of the Scout launch vehicle took place on this date. The Scout's four-stage booster could place a 330 pound satellite into orbit, and it quickly became a workhorse in orbiting scientific payloads during the 1960s.
1 Jul. 1960 On this date the Army Ballistic Missile Agency of the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, formally became a part of NASA and was renamed the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. This organization included the German "rocket team" led by Wernher von Braun that came to the United States at the conclusion of World War II. This group had been instrumental in building the V-2 rocket, the world's first operational long-range ballistic missile.
12 Aug. 1960 NASA successfully orbited Echo 1, a 100-foot inflatable, aluminized balloon passive communications satellite. The objective was to bounce radio beams off the satellite as a means of long-distance communications. This effort, though successful, was quickly superseded be active-repeater communications satellites such as Telstar.
19 Dec. 1960 NASA launched Mercury 1, the first Mercury-Redstone capsule-launch vehicle combination. This was an unoccupied test flight.
31 Jan. 1961 NASA launched Mercury 2, a test mission of the Mercury-Redstone capsule-launch vehicle combination with the chimpanzee Ham aboard during a 16 1/2 minute flight in suborbital space. Ham and his capsule is successfully recovered.
5 May 1961 Freedom 7, the first piloted Mercury spacecraft (No. 7) carrying Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., was launched from Cape Canaveral by MercuryRedstone (MR3) launch vehicle, to an altitude of 115 nautical miles and a range of 302 miles. It was the first American space flight involving human beings, and during his 15-minute suborbital flight, Shepard rode a Redstone booster to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard demonstrated that individuals can control a vehicle during weightlessness and high G stresses, and significant scientific biomedical data were acquired. He reached a speed of 5,100 miles per hour and his flight lasted 14.8 minutes. Shepard was the second human and the first American to fly in space.
25 May 1961 President John F. Kennedy unveiled the commitment to execute Project Apollo on this date in a speech on "Urgent National Needs," billed as a second State of the Union message. He told Congress that the U.S. faced extraordinary challenges and needed to respond extraordinarily. In announcing the lunar landing commitment he said: "I believe this Nation should commitment itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to 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."
21 Jul. 1961 The second piloted flight of a Mercury spacecraft took place on this date when astronaut "Gus" Grissom undertook a sub-orbital mission. The flight had problems. The hatch blew off prematurely from the Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, and it sank into the Atlantic Ocean before it could be recovered. In the process the astronaut nearly drowned before being hoisted to safety in a helicopter. These suborbital flights, however, proved valuable for NASA technicians who found ways to solve or work around literally thousands of obstacles to successful space flight.
23 Aug. 1961 NASA launched Ranger 1 on this date, with the mission of photographing and mapping part of the Moon's surface, but it failed to achieve its planned orbit.
19 Sep. 1961 NASA Administrator James E. Webb announced on this date that the site of the NASA center dedicated to human space flight would be Houston, Texas. This became the Manned Spacecraft Center, renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973.
25 Oct. 1961 On this date NASA announced the establishment on a deep south bayou the Mississippi Test Facility, renamed the John C. Stennis Space Center in 1988. This installation became the test site for the large Saturn boosters developed for Project Apollo.
27 Oct. 1961 NASA accomplished the first successful test of the Saturn I rocket.
21 Nov. 1961 On this date the Air Force launched a Titan ICBM from Cape Canaveral carrying target nose cone to be used in NikeZeus antimissilemissile tests. This was first Titan ICBM to be fired from Cape Canaveral by a military crew, the 6555th Aerospace Test Wing. The Titan rocket became a standard launch vehicle for the United States in the years that followed, going through several modifications to make it more reliable and capable.
20 Feb. 1962 John Glenn became the first American to circle the Earth, making three orbits in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. Despite some problems with spacecraft-Glenn flew parts of the last two orbits manually because of an autopilot failure and left his normally jettisoned retrorocket pack attached to his capsule during reentry because of a loose heat shield-this flight was enormously successful. The public, more than celebrating the technological success, embraced Glenn as a personification of heroism and dignity. Among other engagements, Glenn addressed a joint session of Congress and participated in several ticker-tape parades around the country.
7 Jun. 1962 At an all-day meeting at the Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA leaders met to hash out differences over the method of going to the Moon with Project Apollo, with the debate getting heated at times. The contention was essentially between Earth-orbit versus lunar-orbit rendezvous. After more than six hours of discussion those in favor of Earth-orbit rendezvous finally gave in to the lunar-orbit rendezvous mode, saying that its advocates had demonstrated adequately its feasibility and that any further contention would jeopardize the president's timetable. This cleared the path for the development of the hardware necessary to accomplish the president's goal.
10 Jul. 1962 Telstar l: NASA launch of the first privately built satellite (for communications). First telephone and television signals carried via satellite.
3 Oct. 1962 On this date astronaut Wally Schirra flew six orbits in the Mercury spacecraft Sigma 7.
14 Dec. 1962 Mariner 2: First successful planetary flyby (Venus).
15-16 May 1963 The capstone of Project Mercury took place on this date with the flight of astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, who circled the Earth 22 times in 34 hours aboard the Mercury capsule Faith 7.
22 Aug. 1963 Experimental aircraft X-15 sets altitude record of 354,200 feet (67 miles).
29 Jan. 1964 NASA's largest launch vehicle, Saturn SA-5, sends a record of 19 tons into orbit during a test flight.
8 Apr. 1964 The first American Gemini flight took place on this date, an unpiloted test that made four orbits and was successfully recovered.
28 May 1964 The United States placed the first Apollo Command Module (CM) in orbit. This Apollo capsule was launched during an automated test flight atop a Saturn I in preparation of the lunar landing program.
28 Jul. 1964 The United States' Ranger 7 sends back to Earth 4,300 close-up images of the Moon before it impacts on the surface.
30 Oct. 1964 NASA pilot Joseph Walker conducted the first flight in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), known for its unusual shape as the "Flying Bedstead." Two LLRVs and three Lunar Landing Training Vehicles developed from them provided realistic simulation that was critical for landing a spacecraft on the Moon in the Apollo program. The LLRVs also provided the controls design data base for the lunar module.
23 Mar. 1965 Following two unoccupied test flights, the first operational mission-Gemini III-of Project Gemini took place. Former Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom commanded the mission, with John W. Young, a Naval aviator chosen as an astronaut in 1962, accompanying him.
6 Apr. 1965 The United States launched Intelsat I, the first commercial satellite (communications), into geostationary orbit.
3-7 Jun. 1965 The second piloted Gemini mission, Gemini
IV, stayed aloft for four days and astronaut Edward H. White
II performed the first EVA or spacewalk by an American. This was
a critical task that would have to be mastered before landing
on the Moon.
14 Jul. 1965 An American space probe, Mariner 4, flies within 6,118 miles of Mars after an eight month journey. This mission provided the first close-up images of the red planet. The mission had been launched 28 Nov. 1964.
21-29 Aug. 1965 During the flight of Gemini V, American astronauts Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad set record with an eight day orbital flight.
4-18 Dec. 1965 During the flight of Gemini VII, American astronauts Frank Borman and James A. Lovell set a duration record of fourteen days in Earth-orbit that holds for five years.
15-16 Dec. 1965 During Gemini VI, U.S. astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford complete the first true space rendezvous by flying within a few feet of Gemini VII.
16 Mar. 1966 During Gemini VIII American astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and David Scott performed the first orbital docking their spacecraft to an Agena target vehicle, becoming the first coupling of two spacecraft. This was a critical task to master before attempting to land on the Moon, a mission that required several dockings and undockings of spacecraft.
3 Apr. 1966 On this date the Soviet Union achieved lunar orbit with its Luna 10 space probe, the first such vehicle to do so. This robotic flight had been launched on 31 Mar. 1966 and it provided scientific data about the Moon to Earth for several weeks.
2 Jun. 1966 On this date Surveyor 1 landed on the Moon and transmitted more than 10,000 high-quality photographs of the surface. This was the first American spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon. It had been launch on 30 May, and it touched down on the "Ocean of Storms," a possible site for the Apollo landings.
3-6 Jul. 1966 During the flight of Gemini IX on this date, American astronauts Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan make a two-hour EVA.
18-21 Jul. 1966 During Gemini X American astronauts Mike Collins and John Young make two rendezvous and docking maneuvers with Agena target vehicles, plus complete a complex EVA.
10 Aug. 1966-1 Aug. 1967 The Lunar Orbiter project was
conducted for a year between these dates. This project, originally
not intended to support Apollo, was reconfigured in 1962 and 1963
to further the Kennedy mandate more specifically by mapping the
surface. In addition to a powerful camera that could send photographs
to Earth tracking stations, it carried three scientific experiments-selnodesy
(the lunar equivalent of geodesy), meteoroid detection, and radiation
measurement. While the returns from these instruments interested
scientists in and of themselves, they were critical to Apollo.
NASA launched five Lunar Orbiter satellites, all successfully
achieving their objectives.
11-15 Nov. 1966 The last Gemini flight, Gemini XII, was launched on this date. During this mission, American astronauts Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin completed three EVAs and a docking with an Agena target vehicle.
27 Jan. 1967 At 6:31 p.m. on this date, during a simulation aboard Apollo-Saturn (AS) 204 on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, after several hours of work, a flash fire broke out in the pure oxygen atmosphere of the capsule and flames engulfed the capsule and the three astronauts aboard-Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee-died of asphyxiation. Although three other astronauts had been killed before this time-all in plane crashes-these were the first deaths directly attributable to the U.S. space program. As a result of this accident the Apollo program went into hiatus until the spacecraft could be redesigned. The program returned to flight status during Apollo 7 in October 1968.
25 Apr. 1967 Air Force Col. Joseph Cotton and NASA research pilot Fitzhugh Fulton made the first NASA flight in the XB-70A. The 23 NASA flights in the 129-flight joint program with the Air Force investigated the stability and handling qualities of large, delta-wing aircraft flying at high supersonic speeds. Together these flights contributed data for designing future supersonic aircraft in such areas as environmental noise (including sonic booms), potential flight corridors, flight control, operational problems, and clear-air turbulence. It also validated wind tunnel data and revealed drag components not consistent with or not simulated by wind tunnel testing.
3 Oct. 1967 The X-15 experimental rocket plane set a speed record for piloted vehicles by reaching 4,534 mph (mach 6.72) at a 99,000 feet altitude over the Mojave Desert in California. Piloted by Maj. William J. Knight, USAF, the X-15 no. 2 flight undertook experiments to: (1) test Martin ablative coating and ramjet local flow; (2) check out stability and control with dummy ramjets and characteristics of external tank separation; and (3) conduct fluidic temperature probes. The previous space record of 4,250 mph (mach 6.33) had been set by Maj. Knight on 18 Nov. 1966.
9 Nov. 1967 During Apollo 4, an unpiloted test of the launcher and spacecraft, NASA proves that the combination could safely reach the Moon.
22 Jan. 1968 In Apollo 5, NASA made the first flight test of the propulsion systems of the Lunar Module ascent/descent capability.
14 Sep. 1968 In a significant first, the Soviet Union sent its Zond 5, lunar mission capsule around the Moon and brought it back safely to Earth. This was an unpiloted test of the system.
11-22 Oct. 1968 The first piloted flight of the Apollo
spacecraft, Apollo 7, and Saturn IB launch vehicle, this
flight involved astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and
Walter Cunningham who tested hardware in Earth orbit.
21-27 Dec. 1968 On 21 Dec. 1968, Apollo 8 took off atop a Saturn V booster from the Kennedy Space Center with three astronauts aboard-Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders-for a historic mission to orbit the Moon. At first it was planned as a mission to test Apollo hardware in the relatively safe confines of low Earth orbit, but senior engineer George M. Low of the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas (renamed the Johnson Space Center in 1973), and Samuel C. Phillips, Apollo Program Manager at NASA headquarters, pressed for approval to make it a circumlunar flight. The advantages of this could be important, both in technical and scientific knowledge gained as well as in a public demonstration of what the U.S. could achieve. In the summer of 1968 Low broached the idea to Phillips, who then carried it to the administrator, and in Nov. the agency reconfigured the mission for a lunar trip. After Apollo 8 made one and a half Earth orbits its third stage began a burn to put the spacecraft on a lunar trajectory. As it traveled outward the crew focused a portable television camera on Earth and for the first time humanity saw its home from afar, a tiny, lovely, and fragile "blue marble" hanging in the blackness of space. When it arrived at the Moon on Christmas Eve this image of Earth was even more strongly reinforced when the crew sent images of the planet back while reading the first part of the Bible-"God created the heavens and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void"-before sending Christmas greetings to humanity. The next day they fired the boosters for a return flight and "splashed down" in the Pacific Ocean on 27 Dec. It was an enormously significant accomplishment coming at a time when American society was in crisis over Vietnam, race relations, urban problems, and a host of other difficulties. And if only for a few moments the nation united as one to focus on this epochal event. Two more Apollo missions occurred before the climax of the program, but they did little more than confirm that the time had come for a lunar landing.
3-13 Mar. 1969 In Apollo 9, astronauts James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart orbit the Earth and test all of the hardware needed for a lunar landing.
18-26 May 1969 In Apollo 10, Eugene Cernan, John Young, and Tom Stafford run the last dress rehearsal for the Moon landing. They take the Lunar Module (LM) for a test run within 10 miles of the lunar surface.
16-24 Jul. 1969 The first lunar landing mission, Apollo 11 lifted off on 16 Jul. 1969, and after confirming that the hardware was working well began the three day trip to the Moon. At 4:18 p.m. EST on 20 Jul. 1969 the LM-with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin-landed on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo command module. After checkout, Armstrong set foot on the surface, telling the millions of listeners that it was "one small step for man-one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin soon followed him out and the two plodded around the landing site in the 1/6 lunar gravity, planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the U.S. as had routinely been done during European exploration of the Americas, collected soil and rock samples, and set up some experiments. After more than 21 hours on the lunar surface, they returned to Collins on board "Columbia," bringing 20.87 kilograms of lunar samples with them. The two Moonwalkers had left behind scientific instruments, an American flag and other mementos, including a plaque bearing the inscription: "Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon. Jul. 1969 A.D. We came in Peace For All Mankind." The next day they began the return trip to Earth, "splashing down" in the Pacific on 24 Jul.
15 Sep. 1969 The presidentially-appointed Space Task Group issued its report on the post-Apollo space program on this date. Chartered on 13 Feb. 1969 under the chairmanship of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, this group met throughout the spring and summer to plot a course for the space program. The politics of this effort was intense. NASA lobbied hard with the Group and especially its chair for a far-reaching post-Apollo space program that included development of a space station, a reusable Space Shuttle, a Moon base, and a human expedition to Mars. The NASA position was well reflected in the group's Sep. report, but Nixon did not act on the Group's recommendations. Instead, he was silent on the future of the U.S. space program until a Mar. 1970 statement that said "we must also recognize that many critical problems here on this planet make high priority demands on our attention and our resources."
14-24 Nov. 1969 In Apollo 12 U.S. astronauts Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean go to the Moon for second manned landing. They landed near the Surveyor 3 landing sight on 18 Nov. They spend 7.5 hours walking on the surface, including an inspection of the Surveyor probe.
5 Mar. 1970 First NASA flight in a YF-12A with Fitzhugh Fulton as pilot. In a joint program with the Air Force, two YF-12As and a YF-12C were flown 296 times over nine years to explore high-speed, high-altitude flight. The program yielded a wealth of information on thermal stress, aerodynamics, the high-altitude environment, propulsion (including mixed compression inlet research), precision measurement of gust velocity, and flight control systems that will still be useful for designing future vehicles that will fly at three times the speed of sound or faster. It complemented the X-15 program in that it yielded information about sustained flight at Mach 3, whereas the much faster X-15 could only fly for comparatively short periods of time. Since 1990, SR-71 Blackbirds have done follow-on research to the work done by the XB-70 and YF-12s in support of NASA's High Speed Research program. (The SR-71s are similar to the YF-12s but improved by an integrated propulsion/flight control system developed in 1978 on the YF-12 to reduce the occurrence of inlet unstarts.)
11-17 Apr. 1970 The flight of Apollo 13 was one of the near disasters of the Apollo program. At 56 hours into the flight, an oxygen tank in the Apollo service module ruptured and damaged several of the power, electrical, and life support systems. People throughout the world watched and waited and hoped as NASA personnel on the ground and the crew, well on their way to the Moon and with no way of returning until they went around it, worked together to find a way safely home. While NASA engineers quickly determined that sufficient air, water, and electricity did not exist in the Apollo capsule to sustain the three astronauts until they could return to Earth, they found that the LM-a self-contained spacecraft unaffected by the accident-could be used as a "lifeboat" to provide austere life support for the return trip. It was a close-run thing, but the crew returned safely on 17 Apr. 1970. The near disaster served several important purposes for the civil space program-especially prompting reconsideration of the propriety of the whole effort while also solidifying in the popular mind NASA's technological genius.
31 Jan.-9 Feb. 1971 Apollo 14 was the third U.S. lunar landing mission, and the first since the near disaster of Apollo 13. Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell went to the Moon while Stuart Roosa piloted the CM. They perform nine hours of moonwalks and brought back 98 pounds of lunar material.
9 Mar. 1971 NASA research pilot Thomas McMurtry completed the first flight in an F-8A modified with Langley researcher Richard Whitcomb's supercritical wing. The flight research program, which lasted until 1973, demonstrated that Whitcombís design reduced drag and therefore increased the fuel efficiency of an airplane flying in the transonic speed range. The concept is now widely used on commercial and military aircraft throughout the world. Follow-on research with the F-111 Transonic Aircraft Technology (TACT), Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT), Advanced Fighter Technology Integration F-16, and X-29 aircraft through the year 1988 has demonstrated the effects of various planforms and sweeps of the supercritical airfoil.
26 Jul.-7 Aug. 1971 The first of the longer, expedition-style lunar landing missions, Apollo 15 was the first to include the lunar rover to extend the range of the astronauts on the Moon. They brought back 173 pounds of moon rocks, including one of the prize artifacts of the Apollo program, a sample of ancient lunar crust called the "Genesis Rock."
13 Nov. 1971 Mariner 9: The first mission to orbit another planet (Mars).
5 Jan. 1972 NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher met with President Richard M. Nixon at the "Western White House" in San Clemente, California, to discuss the future of the space program and then issued a statement to the media announcing the decision to "proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970s into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980s and '90s." This became the Space Shuttle, first flown in space on 12-14 Apr. 1981.
3 Mar. 1972-Present To prepare the way for a possible mission to the four giant planets of the outer Solar System, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 were launched to Jupiter. Both were small, nuclearpowered, spinstabilized spacecraft that AtlasCentaur launched. The first of these was launched on 3 Mar. 1972, traveled outward to Jupiter, and in May 1991 was about 52 Astronautical Units (AU), roughly twice the distance from Jupiter to the Sun, and still transmitting data. In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11, providing scientists with their closest view of Jupiter, from 26,600 miles above the cloud tops in Dec. 1974.
16-27 Apr. 1972 During Apollo 16 astronauts John
Young, Thomas Mattingly II, and Charles Duke make the fifth American
landing on the Moon. Young and Duke spend 3 days with the lunar
rover near the Descartes crater
25 May 1972 NASA research pilot Gary Krier flew an F-8C modified with an all-electric, digital-fly-by-wire flight control system, kicking off the F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire (DFBW) program that demonstrated its effectiveness by operating the aircraft without a mechanical back-up system. The F-8 DFBW laid the groundwork for and proved the concept of digital fly-by-wire that is now used in a variety of airplanes ranging from the F/A-18 to the Boeing 777 and the Space Shuttle. More advanced versions of DFBW were also used in the flight control systems of both the X-29 and X-31 research aircraft, which would have been uncontrollable without them.
23 Jul. 1972-Present Landsat 1 was launched from Kennedy Space Center, to perform an Earth resource mapping mission. Initially called the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS) and later renamed, Landsat 1 changed the way in which Americans looked at the planet. It provided data on vegetation, insect infestations, crop growth, and associated landuse information. Two more Landsat vehicles were launched in Jan. 1975 and Mar. 1978, performed their missions and exited service in the 1980s. Landsat 4, launched 16 Jul. 1982, and Landsat 5, launched 1 Mar. 1984, were "second generation" spacecraft, with greater capabilities to produce more detailed land-use data. The system enhanced the ability to develop a worldwide crop forecasting system, to devise a strategy for deploying equipment to contain oil spills, to aid navigation, to monitor pollution, to assist in water management, to site new power plants and pipelines, and to aid in agricultural development.
7-19 Dec. 1972 Apollo 17 was the last of the six Apollo missions to the Moon, and the only one to include a scientist-astronaut/geologist Harrison Schmitt-as a member of the crew. Schmitt and Eugene Cernan, had extended EVAs on the Moon, 22 hours, 4 minutes for each. Ronald Evans piloted the CM.
25 May-22 Jun. 1973 Following the launch of the United States' orbital workshop, Skylab 1, on 14 May 1973, the Skylab 2 mission began in which astronauts aboard Apollo spacecraft rendezvoused and docked with the orbital workshop. The workshop had developed technical problems due to vibrations during liftoff and the meteoroid shield-designed also to shade Skylab's workshop from the Sun's rays-ripped off, taking with it one of the spacecraft's two solar panels, and another piece wrapped around the other panel keeping it from properly deploying. In spite of this, the space station achieved a nearcircular orbit at the desired altitude of 270 miles. While NASA technicians worked on a solution to the problem, an intensive tenday period followed before the Skylab 2 crew launched to repair the workshop. This crew carried a parasol, tools, and replacement film to repair the orbital workshop. After substantial repairs requiring extravehicular activity (EVA), including deployment of a parasol sunshade that cooled the inside temperatures to 75 degrees Fahrenheit on 4 Jun., by the workshop was habitable. During a 7 Jun. EVA the crew freed the jammed solar array and increased power to the workshop. In orbit the crew conducted solar astronomy and Earth resources experiments, medical studies, and five student experiments. This crew made 404 orbits and carried out experiments for 392 hours, in the process making three EVAs totalling six hours and 20 minutes. The first group of astronauts returned to Earth on 22 Jun. 1973, and two other Skylab missions followed. The first of these, Skylab 3, was launched using Apollo hardware on 28 Jul. 1973 and its mission lasted 59 days. Skylab 4, the last mission on the workshop was launched on 16 Nov. 1973 and remained in orbit for 84 days. At the conclusion of Skylab 4 the orbital workshop was powered down for four years.
3 Dec. 1973 Pioneer 10: The first flyby of Jupiter.
17 May 1974 SMS-A: The launch of the first geosynchronous weather satellite.
1 Sep. 1974 The interplanetary scientific probe Pioneer 11, launched 5 April 1973, began an encounter with Jupiter that brought it to within three times closer than sister space probe, Pioneer 10, visiting the planet a year earlier. It also sent back the first polar images of the planet. Because of the successful earlier Pioneer 10 mission, NASA was able to attempt a somewhat more risky approach with this space probe, a clockwise trajectory by the south polar region and then straight back up through the intense inner radiation belt by the equator and back out over Jupiter's north pole. Pioneer 11 closed to its closest point with Jupiter on 3 December, coming within 42,000 km of the surface at a speed of 171,000 kph. This mission gathered data on the planet's magnetic field, measured distributions of high-energy electrons and protons in the radiation belts; measured planetary geophysical characteristics, and studied gravity and atmosphere. It then headed on toward a September 1979 encounter with Saturn and eventual departure from the Solar System.
15-24 Jul. 1975 The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was the first
international human space flight, taking place at the height of
the détente between the United States and the Soviet Union
during the mid-1970s. It was specifically designed to test the
compatibility of rendezvous and docking systems for American and
Soviet spacecraft, and to open the way for international space
rescue as well as future joint missions. To carry out this mission
existing American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft were used.
The Apollo spacecraft was nearly identical to the one that orbited
the Moon and later carried astronauts to Skylab, while the Soyuz
craft was the primary Soviet vehicle used for cosmonaut flight
since its introduction in 1967. A universal docking module was
designed and constructed by NASA to serve as an airlock and transfer
corridor between the two craft. Astronauts Tom Stafford, Vance
D. Brand, and Donald K. Slayton took off from Kennedy Space Center
on 15 Jul., to meet the already orbiting Soyuz spacecraft. Some
45 hours later the two craft rendezvoused and docked, and then
Apollo and Soyuz crews conducted a variety of experiments over
a twoday period. The two spacecraft remained docked for
44 hours, separated, then redocked, separating finally a few hours
later. After separation, the Apollo vehicle remained in space
an additional six days while Soyuz returned to Earth approximately
43 hours after separation. The flight was more a symbol of the
lessening of tensions between the two superpowers than a significant
scientific endeavor, a sharp contrast with the competition for
international prestige that had fueled much of the space activities
of both nations since the late 1950s. This was the last Apollo
spacecraft to be flown.
5 Aug. 1975 NASA research pilot John Manke landed the X-24B lifting body on the Edwards Air Force Base runway, demonstrating that a Space Shuttle-like vehicle could be landed safely without a separate power source for landings on a designated runway after returning from orbit. Lasting from 1963 to 1975, the lifting-body program included the M2-F1, M2-F2, M2-F3, HL-10, X-24A, and X-24B wingless lifting vehicles and served as a precursor not only to the Space Shuttle but to the X-33 technology demonstrator for next-generation reusable space vehicles and the X-38 prototype for a crew return vehicle from the international space station.
20 Aug. 1975-21 May 1983 Viking 1 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, on a trip to Mars. The probe landed on 20 Jul. 1976, on the Chryse Planitia (Golden Plains). Viking 2 was launched for Mars on 9 Nov. 1975 and landed on 3 Sep. 1976. The Viking project's primary mission ended on 15 Nov. 1976, 11 days before Mars' superior conjunction (its passage behind the Sun), although the Viking spacecraft continued to operate for six years after first reaching Mars. Its last transmission reached Earth on 11 Nov. 1982. Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory tried unsuccessfully for another six and onehalf months to regain contact with the lander, but finally closed down the overall mission on 21 May 1983.
20 Jul. 1976 The Viking 1 planetary lander touched down on this date on the Chryse Planitia (Golden Plains) of Mars after a voyage of nearly one year. The Viking project's primary mission ended on 15 Nov. 1976, although the Viking spacecraft continued to transmit to Earth for six years after first reaching Mars.
18 Feb. 1977 The first Space Shuttle orbiter, Enterprise (OV101)-named for the spacecraft made famous in the "Star Trek" television series after a promotional campaign by "trekkers" such as had never been seen before in space program history-was first flown in flight tests atop the Boeing 747 ferrying aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in southern California. The Enterprise also made its first free flight test at Dryden on 12 August 1977. The fifth and last free test flight of the Enterprise took place on 26 October 1977 with NASA astronauts Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton at the controls. The captive and free-flight tests demonstrated that the Shuttle could fly attached to the 747, which has served since 1981 as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to ferry the Orbiters from Dryden, where they landed for many years, to NASA's launch location at the Kennedy Space Center. The free-flight tests demonstrated that the Shuttle could glide to a landing on a runway, and the last landing uncovered a time delay problem with the Shuttle's flight control system that was corrected in a research program using NASA's F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire aircraft between 1977 and 1981.
20 Aug. 1977-Present During the latter 1960s NASA scientists found that once every 176 years both the Earth and all the giant planets of the Solar System gather on one side of the Sun. This geometric line-up made possible closeup observation of all the planets in the outer solar system (with the exception of Pluto) in a single flight, the "Grand Tour." NASA launched two of these from Cape Canaveral, Florida: Voyager 2 lifting off on 20 Aug. 1977 and Voyager 1 entering space on a faster, shorter trajectory on 5 Sep. 1977. Both spacecraft were delivered to space aboard TitanCentaur expendable rockets. On Feb. 1979 Voyager 1 entered the Jovian system, its primary objective, yet it took until 5 Mar. 1979 to arc in to the closest point where it could explore the moons Io and Europa. In Jul. 1979 Voyager 2 its sister probe and explored Jupiter's moons. The spacecraft then traveled on to Saturn and in Jul. 1981 Voyager 2 began returning data from Saturn. A critical part of this encounter took place on 26 Aug. 1981 when Voyager 2 emerged from behind Saturn only to find the aiming mechanism was jammed, causing the instruments to be pointed out into space. This was corrected and Voyager 2 remained responsive to Earth-bound controller. Not so Voyager 1. It went up over the Saturn's orbital plane, never to be seen again. In Sep. 1981 Voyager 2 left Saturn behind. As the mission progressed, with the successful achievement of all its objectives at Jupiter and Saturn in Dec. 1980, additional flybys by Voyager 2 of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. In Jan. 1986 Voyager 2 encountered Uranus and in 1989 it encountered Neptune. Eventually, between them, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 explored all the giant outer planets, 48 of their moons, and the unique systems of rings and magnetic fields those planets possess. In 1993 Voyager 2 also provided the first direct evidence of the long-sought after heliopause-the boundary between our Solar System and interstellar space.
26 Oct. 1977 The fifth and last free test flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise took place. In that flight the Enterprise encountered control problems at touchdown. While trying to slow the spacecraft for landing the pilot experienced a left roll, corrected for it, and touched down too hard. The Shuttle bounced once and eventually settled down to a longer landing than expected. This "Pilot Induced Oscillation," as it was called, was occasioned by the pilot taking over from an automated system too late and not allowing himself sufficient time to get the "feel" of the craft. It was, fortunately, self-correcting when the pilot relaxed the controls, and the positive result led to a decision to take the Enterprise on to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for a series of ground vibration tests.
20 May 1978-9 May 1979 The United States undertook a pugnacious mission to Venus that was intended to capitalize on scientific knowledge gained from the earlier Soviet Venera 9 and Venera 10 probes. It launched Pioneer Venus Orbiter on a mission to Venus on 20 May 1978 and Pioneer Venus 2 on 8 Aug. 1978. The latter mission was to plunge into the atmosphere and return scientific data about the planet before destruction of the vehicle. On 14 Dec. 1978 the Pioneer Venus Orbiter went into orbit around Venus and relayed data until its systems failed. On 9 May 1979 Pioneer Venus 2 sent five separate parts into the atmosphere of Venus at an average speed of 26,100 mph. Before their destruction they relayed scientific data on the climate, chemical makeup, and atmospheric conditions of the planet.
26 Jun. 1978 Seasat-A was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, by an Atlas-Agena launch vehicle on this date. It was the first satellite to make global observations of the Earth's oceans. Attached to the Atlas-Agena launch vehicle was a sensor module which carried the payload of five microwave instruments and their antennas. The modules were about 21 meters long with a maximum diameter of 1.5 m without appendages deployed and weighed 2,300 kg. In orbit the satellite appeared to stand on end with the sensor and communications antennas pointing toward Earth and the Agena rocket nozzle and solar panels pointing toward space. Seasat-A was stabilized by a momentum wheel/horizon sensing system. The satellite was designed to demonstrate techniques for global monitoring of oceanographic phenomena and features, to provide oceanographic data, and to determine key features of an operational ocean-dynamics monitoring system. The major difference between Seasat-A and previous Earth observation satellites was the use of active and passive microwave sensors to achieve an all-weather capability. After 106 days of returning data, contact with Seasat-A was lost when a short circuit drained all power from its batteries.
14 Aug. 1978 NASA research pilot William Dana flew the first of 27 data flights in an F-15 equipped with a 10-degree cone in an experiment to improve predictions based on wind-tunnel data. This flight research was sponsored by the USAF Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) and conducted by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in cooperation with the AEDC. Researchers acquired data on the cone, using the same instrumentation and technique over a wide range of speeds and Reynolds numbers (for scaling of model-test measurements to full-scale vehicles in flight) in 23 wind tunnels and in the F-15. This experiment provided an assessment of flow quality in each of the tunnels as compared to free flight. Thus, it yielded valuable insights for interpreting data from models in individual tunnels and for choosing which tunnels should be used for particular transonic and supersonic tests.
24 Oct. 1978 Nimbus 7: Launched environmental research satellite with multiple instruments, one that provided the global evidence of Antarctic ozone depletion in the 1980s.
9 May 1979 The United States undertook a pugnacious mission to Venus that was intended to capitalize on scientific knowledge gained from the earlier Soviet Venera 9 and Venera 10 probes. It launched Pioneer Venus Orbiter on a mission to Venus on 20 May 1978 and Pioneer Venus 2 on 8 August 1978. The latter mission was to plunge into the atmosphere and return scientific data about the planet before destruction of the vehicle. On 14 December 1978 the Pioneer Venus Orbiter went into orbit around Venus and relayed data until its systems failed. On 9 May 1979 Pioneer Venus 2 sent five separate parts into the atmosphere of Venus at an average speed of 26,100 mph. Before their destruction they relayed scientific data on the climate, chemical makeup, and atmospheric conditions of the planet.
11 Jul. 1979 Following the final occupied phase of the
Skylab mission in 1974, NASA controllers performed some engineering
tests of certain Skylab systems, positioned Skylab into a stable
attitude and shut down its systems. In the fall of 1977 agency
officials determined that Skylab had entered a rapidly decaying
orbit-resulting from greater than predicted solar activity-and
that it would reenter the Earth's atmosphere within two years.
They steered the orbital workshop as best they could so that debris
from reentry would fall over oceans and unpopulated areas of the
planet. On 11 Jul. 1979, Skylab finally impacted the Earth's surface.
The debris dispersion area stretched from the Southeastern Indian
Ocean across a sparsely populated section of Western Australia.
24 Jul. 1979 NASA research pilot Thomas McMurtry conducted the first flight of a KC-135 jet cargo/tanker aircraft modified with winglets developed by NASA Langley Research Center's Richard T. Whitcomb. In a joint program with the Air Force, NASA and AF pilots flew the KC-135 to demonstrate fuel efficiencies that could result from the use of the winglets. Whitcomb had tested several designs in Langley's wind tunnels before selecting roughly nine-foot long vertical fins tapering from about two to six feet in width from their tips to the base where they were attached to the airplane's wingtips. The program showed that, as Whitcomb had anticipated, the winglets helped produce a forward thrust in the vortices that typically swirl off the end of the wing, thereby reducing drag. This increased an aircraft's range by as much as seven percent at cruise speeds, resulting in the adoption of the concept by many transport and business aircraft such as the Gulfstream III and IV, the Boeing 747-400, the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) MD-11 and C-17.
14 Feb. 1980 Solar Maximum Mission: The first launch/mission to study the Sun in detail, over the course of heavy sunspot activity.
7 Mar. 1980 Research pilot John Manke made several test flights in the Gossamer Albatross, part of a joint Dryden Flight Research Center/Langley Research Center project using humanpowered aircraft to collect data on large lightweight craft. Manke's flights were propelled by pedals on a bicycle-like arrangement that turned the propeller. Manke researched an altitude of 20 feet, and reported that the Albatross was like nothing he had ever flown before.
12 Apr. 1981 Astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippin flew Space Shuttle Columbia on the first flight of the Space Transportation System (STS-1). Columbia, which takes its name from three famous vessels including one of the first U.S. Navy ships to circumnavigate the globe, became the first airplane-like craft to land from orbit for reuse when it touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California at approximately 10:21 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on 14 Apr. after a flight of 2 days, 6 hours and almost 21 minutes. The mission also was the first to employ both liquid- and solid-propellant rocket engines for the launch of a spacecraft carrying humans.
Jun. 1981-Feb. 1983 NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility performed flight research in an F-15 jet aircraft with an advanced, digitally controlled engine designed by Pratt & Whitney. Flight evaluation at Dryden and engine tests at NASA's Lewis Research Center led to significant improvements in the operability and performance of the engine. The Digital Electronic Engine Control program demonstrated that the engine achieved stall-free performance throughout the entire F-15 flight envelope, faster throttle response, improved airstart capability, and an increase of 10,000 feet of altitude in afterburner capability. The system also eliminated the need to trim the engine periodically, which would translate to fuel savings and longer life for the engine. The results were impressive enough that the Air Force committed to full-scale development and production of what became the F-100-PW-220/229 engines. In a follow-on program, the Flight Research Facility conceived and tested active engine stall margin control in 1986-1987 on the F-15 Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control program, leading to engine and airplane performance improvements without adding weight that were used on the F-15E and F-22 airplanes.
11-16 Nov. 1982 The United States launched STS-5, the Space Shuttle Columbia. The highlight of this mission was that the four astronauts aboard deployed two commercial communications satellites.
4-9 Apr. 1983 The United States flew STS-6, the Space Shuttle Challenger. During this mission, the crew deployed the first of three new shuttle launch Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRSS) into geostationary orbit.
18-24 Jun. 1983 Astronauts Robert L. Crippin and Frederick H. Hauck piloted Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-7) on a mission to launch two communications satellites and the reusable Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS 01). Sally K. Ride, one of three mission specialists on the first Shuttle flight with five crewmembers, became the first woman astronaut. Challenger was named after the HMS Challenger, an English research vessel operating from 1872 to 1876.
30 Aug. 1983 Astronauts Richard H. Truly and Daniel C. Brandstein piloted Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-8) on another historic mission, carrying the first black American astronaut, Guion S. Bluford, into space as a mission specialist. The astronauts launched communications satellite Insat 1B into orbit.
28 Nov. 1983 Astronauts John W. Young and Brewster W. Shaw piloted Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) on a mission that carried the first non-U.S. astronaut to fly in the U.S. space program, West German Ulf Merbold. Columbia also transported Spacelab 1, the first flight of this laboratory in space, carrying more than 70 experiments in 5 areas of scientific research: astronomy and solar physics, space plasma physics, atmospheric physics and Earth observations, life sciences, and materials science.
25 Jan. 1984 President Ronald Reagan made an Apollo-like announcement to build a Space Station within a decade as part of the State of the Union Address before Congress. Reagan's decision came after a long internal discussion as to the viability of the station in the national space program.
3-10 Feb. 1984 The flight of STS-41B, the Space Shuttle Challenger, took place. During this mission on 4 Feb. the first unteathered flights by American astronauts took place wearing the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).
6 Apr. 1984 STS-41C: First on-orbit satellite repair mission (Solar Maximum Mission aboard Space Shuttle Challenger); Crippen, Dick Scobee, Terry Hart, George Nelson, James Von Hoften).
30 Aug. 1984 STS-41D: First flight of Space Shuttle Discovery.
15 Dec. 1984-Mar. 1986 An international armada of spacecraft encounter the Comet Halley during its nearest approach to the Earth in 76 years. The Soviet Union launched Vega 1 (14 Dec. 1984) and Vega 2 (21 Dec. 1984), both probes that would encounter Venus and deploy landers on their way to their primary target, Halley's Comet. In 1985 the European Space Agency launched the Giotto probe to intercept Halley's Comet. Vega 1 deployed a lander to Venus on 11 Jun. 1985. Its lander released a balloon as it descended, taking measurements. On 15 Jun. 1985 Vega 2 performed the released a similar balloon. Both Soviet spacecraft continued on their way to Halley's Comet. Vega 1 had its closet encounter with the comet on 6 Mar. 1986, closing to within a distance of 5,525 miles. Three days later, 9 Mar., Vega 2 approached to within 4,991 miles of Halley's Comet. Finally, on 13-14 Mar. 1986 Giotto approached Halley's Comet at about 360 miles.
8 Aug. 1985 STS-51J: First flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis.
3-7 Oct. 1985 In the first Department of Defense-dedicated mission, the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-51J) deployed a classified satellite.
24 Jan. 1986-25 Aug. 1989 Voyager 2 encounters Uranus and Neptune.
28 Jan. 1986 The Space Shuttle Challenger, STS-51L, was destroyed and its crew of seven-Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe-was killed, during its launch from the Kennedy Space Center about 11:40 a.m. The explosion occurred 73 seconds into the flight as a result of a leak in one of two Solid Rocket Boosters that ignited the main liquid fuel tank. The crewmembers of the Challenger represented a cross-section of the American population in terms of race, gender, geography, background, and religion. The explosion became one of the most significant events of the 1980s, as billions around the world saw the accident on television and empathized with any one of the seven crewmembers killed. With this accident the Space Shuttle program went into hiatus as investigations, restructuring of management, and technical alterations to systems took place. On 12 May 1986 James C. Fletcher became the NASA Administrator for a second time, having previously served between 1971 and 1977, with the explicit task of overseeing the Agency's recovery from the accident. On 6 June 1986 the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident was issued. The White House-appointed commission, chaired by former Secretary of State William P. Rogers, was deliberate and thorough and its findings gave as much emphasis to the accident's managerial as to its technical origins. Astronaut Richard H. Truly became the head of NASA's Shuttle program and directed much of the recovery effort. NASA also created the Office of Safety, Reliability, Maintainability, and Quality Assurance in response to findings from the teams investigating the Challenger accident. The return to flight came on 29 September 1988 when STS-26, Discovery, was launched.
15 Aug. 1986 President Ronald Reagan announced that NASA would no longer launch commercial satellites, except those that were shuttle-unique or have national security o foreign policy implications.
15 Aug. 1986 NASA secured Presidential and Congressional support for the acquisition of a replacement orbiter for Challenger. This would enable the Agency to continue its efforts to build the international Space Station.
14 Jul. 1987 NASA submitted to President Ronald Reagan a report on the agency's implementation of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.
Dec. 1987 The NASA Lewis Research Center's Advanced Turboprop Project (1976-1987) received the Robert Collier Trophy for outstanding research and development in aerospace activities. It was an ambitious project to return to fuel saving, propeller-driven aircraft. At its height it involved over 40 industrial contracts, 15 university grants, and contracts with all four NASA research centers, Lewis, Langley, Dryden, and Ames. The progress of the advanced turboprop development seemed to foreshadow its future dominance of commercial flight. The project had four technical stages: "concept development" from 1976 to 1978; "enabling technology" from 1978 to 1980; "large scale integration" from 1981 to 1987; and finally "flight research" in 1987. During each of these stages NASA's engineers confronted and solved specific technical problems that were necessary for the advanced turboprop project to meet the defined government objectives concerning safety, efficiency, and environmental protection. NASA Lewis marshaled the resources and support of the United States aeronautical community to bring the development of the new technology to the point of successful flight testing.
29 Sep.-3 Oct. 1988 The twenty-sixth shuttle flight, this one by Discovery, represented the return to flight for the Space Shuttle. During this mission the crew launched the TDRS 3 satellite.
4 May 1989-1993 The highly successful Magellan mission to Venus began on this date following launch on STS-30. The Magellan spacecraft set out for Venus to map the surface from orbit with imaging radar. The probe arrived at Venus in Sep. 1990 and mapped 99 percent of the surface at high resolution, parts of it in stereo. The amount of digital imaging data the spacecraft returned was more than twice the sum of all returns from previous missions. This data provided some surprises: among them the discovery that plate tectonics was at work on Venus and that lava flows showed clearly the evidence of volcanic activity. In 1993, at the end of its mission, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shut down the major functions of the Magellan spacecraft and scientists turned their attention to a detailed analysis of its data.
18 Oct. 1989-Present The Galileo spacecraft was launched from STS-34 on this date and began a gravityassisted journey to Jupiter, where it would send a probe into the atmosphere and observe the planet and its satellites for two years beginning in 1995. On the way to Jupiter Galileo encountered both Venus and the Earth and made the first close flyby of asteroid Gaspra in 1991, providing scientific data on all. But soon after deployment from the Space Shuttle, NASA engineers learned that Galileo's umbrellalike, highgain antenna could not be fully deployed. Without this antenna, communication with the spacecraft was both more difficult and time-consuming, and data transmission was greatly hampered. The engineering team working on the project tried a series of cooling exercises designed to shrink the antenna central tower and enable its deployment. Over a period of several months they worked on this maneuver repeatedly, but were unable to free the antenna.
24 Apr. 1990-Present Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope from the Space Shuttle after more than a decade of puritanically-funded but productive research and development on the project in the 1970s and early 1980s. Soon after launch, controllers found that the telescope was flawed by a "spherical aberration," a mirror defect only 1/25th the width of a human hair, that prevented Hubble from focusing all light to a single point. At first many believed that the spherical aberration would cripple the 43foot-long telescope, and NASA received considerable negative publicity, but soon scientists found a way with computer enhancement to work around the abnormality and engineers planned a Shuttle repair mission to fully correct it with an additional instrument. Even with the aberration, Hubble has made many important astronomical discoveries, including striking images of galaxy M87, providing evidence of a potentially massive black hole.
17 Dec. 1990 Because of the difficulties NASA encountered in its major programs at the end of the 1980s, as well as the need periodically to review status and chart the course for the future, in 1990 President George Bush chartered an Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program under the leadership of Norman Augustine, chief executive officer of Martin Marietta. On this date Augustine submitted his commission's report, delineating the chief objectives of the agency and recommending several key actions. All of these related to the need to create a balanced space program-one that included human space flight, robotic probes, space science, applications, and exploration-within a tightly constrained budget.
15 Jul. 1991 In a joint program involving NASA's Ames, Dryden, Langley, and Lewis research centers, research pilot Edward Schneider flew the F/A-18 High Angle-of-Attack Research Vehicle (HARV) for the first time with thrust-vectoring paddles engaged to enhance control and maneuvering at high angles of attack (angles at which the wind in the aircraft's flight path hit the wing). This research was important because the tendency of airplanes to stall at low speeds and high angles of attack severely limited their ability to maneuver. The HARV vehicle had begun control flights without the paddles to study airflow at up to 55 degrees angle of attack in 1987. Then in the five years after 1991, the HARV reached a controllable angle of attack of 70 degrees and also explored the maneuverability and control benefits of thrust vectoring. Together with related programs in the X-31 and F-15 ACTIVE (Advanced Controls for Integrated Vehicles), the HARV demonstrated a significant enhancement of high angle-of-attack agility and maneuverability. In addition, the HARV made a significant contribution to the applicability of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to high angle-of-attack flows by providing a comparison of CFD, wind-tunnel, and flight data at the same scale.
2-16 May 1992 STS-49: First flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour,
including the first three-person spacewalk, which captured a private
satellite for repair and reboost.
25 Sep. 1992-29 Oct. 1993 The Mars Observer was launched for an epic-making flight to the Red Planet. The spacecraft was to provide the most detailed data available about Mars as it orbited the planet since what had been collected by the Viking probes of the mid-1970s. The mission was progressing smoothly until about 9 p.m. on Saturday, 21 Aug. 1993, three days before the spacecraft's entry into orbit around Mars, when controllers lost contact with it. The engineering team working on the project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory responded with a series of commands to turn on the spacecraft's transmitter and to point the spacecraft's antennas toward Earth. No signal from the spacecraft, however; the Mars Observer was not heard from again, probably because of an explosion in the propulsion system's tanks as they were pressurized. With no response from the Mars Observer, on 29 Oct. 1993, flight controllers concluded scheduled operations.
2 Dec. 1993 Astronauts Richard O. Covey and Kenneth D. Bowersox piloted Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-61) on a highly successful mission to repair the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and perform routine servicing on the orbiting observatory. Following a precise and flawless rendezvous, grapple, and berthing of the telescope in the cargo bay of the Shuttle, the Endeavour flight crew, in concert with controllers at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, and Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, completed all eleven planned servicing tasks during five extravehicular activities for full accomplishment of all STS-61 servicing objectives. This included installation of a new Wide Field & Planetary Camera and sets of corrective optics for all the other instruments, as well as replacement of faulty solar arrays, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and electrical components to restore the reliability of the observatory subsystem. The Endeavour then provided HST with a reboost into a 321-nautical-mile, nearly circular orbit. Re-deployment of a healthy HST back into orbit using the shuttle robotic arm occurred at 5:26 a.m. EST on 10 Dec., and the telescope was once again a fully operational, free-flying spacecraft with vastly improved optics. Orbital verification of HST's improved capabilities occurred in early Jan., well ahead of the March schedule. Endeavour, the newest of the orbiters, was named after the 18th century vessel captained by British explorer Capt. James Cook. The new Shuttle craft took its maiden voyage in May 1992.
25 Jan.-3 May 1994 After launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the joint Department of Defense/NASA Clementine mission mapped most of the lunar surface at a number of resolutions and wavelengths from Ultra Violet to Infrared. The spacecraft was launched on 25 Jan., at 16:34 local time, and the nominal lunar mission lasted until the spacecraft left lunar orbit on 3 May. A malfunction in one of the on-board computers on 7 May at 14:39 UTC (9:39 AM EST) caused a thruster to fire until it had used up all of its fuel, leaving the spacecraft spinning at about 80 RPM with no spin control. The spacecraft remained in geocentric orbit and continued testing the spacecraft components until the end of mission. Perhaps the most important scientific finding of the mission was the possibility of an abundant supply of water on the Moon that would make establishment of a self-sustaining lunar colony much more feasible and less expensive than presently thought. Study of lunar samples revealed that the interior of the Moon is essentially devoid of water, so no underground supplies could be used by lunar inhabitants. However, the lunar surface is bombarded with water-rich objects such as comets, and scientists have suspected that some of the water in these objects could migrate to permanently dark areas at the lunar poles, perhaps accumulating to useable quantities. Analysis of data returned from a radio-wave experiment performed by Clementine revealed that deposits of ice exist in permanently dark regions near the south pole of the Moon. Initial estimates suggested that the volume of a small lake exists, 1 billion cubic meters.
3-11 Feb. 1994 Astronauts Charles F. Bolden and Kenneth S. Reightler, Jr., flew Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-60) on a historic mission featuring the first Russian cosmonaut to fly on a U.S. mission in space, Mission Specialist Sergei K. Krikalev, veteran of two lengthy stays aboard the Russian Mir Space Station. This mission underlined the newly inaugurated cooperation in space between Russia and the U.S., featuring Russia's becoming an international partner in the international space station effort involving the U.S. and its international partners.
3-11 Feb. 1995 Exactly one year after a major cooperative flight with the Russians in STS-60, NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery, this time STS-63, flew another historic mission featuring the flyby of the Russian Mir Space Station. It also featured the first time that a woman pilot, Eileen M. Collins, flew the Space Shuttle. Vladimir Titov is also aboard, the first Russian to be launched aboard a U.S. spacecraft.
27 Jun.-7 Jul. 1995 Twenty years after the world's two greatest spacefaring nations and Cold War rivals staged a dramatic linkup between piloted spacecraft in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project during the summer of 1975, the space programs of the United States and Russia again met in Earth orbit when the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked to the Mir Space Station. The STS71 mission by Atlantis was the first of seven planned shuttle/Mir linkups between 1995 and 1997, including rendezvous, docking, and crew transfers. Atlantis docked with Mir on 29 Jul., and the combine crew of astronauts and cosmonauts performed several experiments. At the end of joint docked activities on 4 Jul., two Russian cosmonauts lifted to the Mir by the shuttle, assumed responsibility for operations of the Mir station. At the same time, the Mir18 crew, who had been aboard the station since 16 Mar. 1995-Commander Vladimir Dezhurov, Flight Engineer Gennady Strekalov, and American astronaut Norm Thagard-joined the STS71 crew for the return trip to Earth. Thagard returned home with the American record for a single space flight with more than 100 days in space. The previous record had been held by the Skylab4 crew with 84 days in 19731974. Thagard broke that record on 6 Jun. 1995.
11-20 Nov. 1995 This mission by the Space Shuttle Atlantis carried up and attached a Russian-built docking port and orbiter docking system to the Mir space station for use in future shuttle dockings.
28 Nov. 1995 A McDonnell-Douglas MD-11-equipped with a propulsion controlled aircraft (PCA) system developed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, and Honeywell, Inc.-made the first-ever safe, fully automated landing of a transport aircraft using only engine thrust for control. NASA Dryden engineers and pilots began developing the system in the wake of a long series of failures of hydraulic flight control systems in the 1970s, three of which resulted in crashes claiming the lives of over 1,200 people. The system evolved through landings by NASA research pilot Gordon Fullerton of a NASA F-15 research aircraft using a similar system in April 1993 and of the MD-11 in August 1995 with a prototype system that required him to use cockpit knobs and thumbwheels aided by a still-developing software system. The system used for landings on 28 and 30 November 1995 relieved the pilot of virtually all manual manipulation beyond engaging the auto-land system. The PCA system has the potential of providing aircraft a back-up system to enable safe landings in the event the airplane loses its hydraulic controls.
7 Dec. 1995 Galileo: Probe released into Jupiter's atmosphere.
22-31 Mar. 1996 In this Atlantis shuttle mission to dock with the Russian space station Mir, the United States left astronaut Shannon Lucid, the first U.S. woman to fly on the station, aboard for a total of five months.
7 Aug. 1996 NASA announced that a team of its scientists had uncovered evidence, however not conclusive proof, that microscopic life may have once existed on Mars. The team of scientists recounted the meteor's history, found in Antarctica in 1984 and why they suspect it is from Mars. The 4.2 pound, potato-sized rock, identified as ALH84001, is approximately the same age as the Red Planet. When ALH84001 formed as an igneous rock about 4.5 billion years ago, Mars was much warmer and probably contained oceans hospitable to life. Then, about 15 million years ago, a large asteroid hit the Red Planet and jettisoned the rock into space where it remained until it crashed into Antarctica about 11,000 B.C. The nine-member team of NASA and Stanford University scientists, led by Johnson Space Center scientists David S. McKay and Everett K. Gibson, Jr., presented three compelling, but not conclusive, pieces of evidence that suggest that fossil-like remains of Martian microorganisms, which date back 3.6 billion years, are present in ALH84001. During their two-and-a-half year investigation, the JSC team found trace minerals in the meteor that are usually associated with microscopic organisms. They also used a newly developed electron microscope to uncover possible microfossils that measure between 1/100 to 1/1000 the diameter of a human hair. Finally, discovered organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in ALH84001, usually resulting when microorganisms die and their complex organic molecules breakdown. They called for additional research from other scientists either to confirm or refute these findings.
13 Aug. 1996 Data from NASA's Galileo probe at Jupiter revealed that the gas giant's moon, Europa, may harbor "warm ice" or even liquid water-key elements in life-sustaining environments. Many scientists and science fiction writers have speculated that Europa-in addition to Mars and Saturn's moon Titan-is one of the three planetary bodies in this Solar System that might possess, or may have possessed, an environment where primitive life can exist. Galileo's photos of Europa were taken during a flyby of Ganymede some 96,000 miles away from Europa. They reveal what look like ice floes similar to those seen in Earth's polar regions. The pictures also reveal what look like giant cracks in Europa's ice where warm water "environmental niches" may exist. Although NASA officials stressed that the photos do not conclusively prove anything, they do think that the images are exciting, compelling, and suggestive.
16-26 Sep. 1996 The Atlantis docked with Mir and retrieved Shannon Lucid and left John Blaha for continued joint operations aboard the Russian station. Astronaut Lucid set a new record for an American living in space and broke the world's record for a woman living in space by spending 181 days aboard the Russian Mir Space Station. President Clinton presented Lucid, who conducted microgravity and life sciences experiments aboard the Mir, with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in an early December ceremony, citing Lucid "for her contributions to international cooperation in space...Shannon Lucid is an explorer in the best tradition of those who dare to challenge the unknown."
13 Jan. 1997 NASA scientists announced the discovery of three black holes in three normal galaxies, suggesting that nearly all galaxies may harbor supermassive black holes which once powered quasars (extremely luminous nuclei of galaxies), but now are quiescent. This conclusion was based on a census of 27 nearby galaxies carried out by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, which were used to conduct a spectroscopic and photometric survey of galaxies to find black holes which have consumed the mass of millions of Sun-like stars. The key results are: (1) supermassive black holes are so common that nearly every large galaxy has one, (2) a black hole's mass is proportional to the mass of the host galaxy, so that, for example, a galaxy twice as massive as another would have a black hole that is also twice as massive, (3) the number and masses of the black holes found are consistent with what would have been required to power the quasars.
11-21 Feb. 1997 In a record five extravehicular activity (EVA) operations, astronauts from the shuttle Discovery performed the second Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. This mission replaced the near-infra red camera (NICMOS) and the two-dimensional spectrograph and repaired insulation on the telescope.
20 Feb. 1997 The space probe Galileo exploring Jupiter and its moons discovered Icebergs on Europa. Images captured during Galileo's closest flyby of Europa showed features of the Jovian moon, lending credence to the possibility of hidden, subsurface oceans. The findings generated new questions about the possibility of life on Europa.
1-7 May 1997 A fleet of spacecraft with the International
Solar Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) program watched for a break in
Comet Hale-Bopp's plasma ion tail. Amateur astronomers around
the world were also put on watch the first week of May 1997 when
space scientists predicted based on earlier data from ISTP spacecraft
estimated that Comet Hale-Bopp's ion tail likely would be disrupted
when it enters a region around the Sun known as the "current
sheet." Scientists explained that the disruption was a complicated
interaction between the comet and the Sun's influence and magnetic
fields. The comet first appeared in the spring and excited astronomers
for its high visibility and ready analysis.
4 Jul. 1997 The inexpensive Mars Pathfinder (costing only $267 million) landed on Mars, after its launch in December 1996. A small, 23-pound robotic rover, named Sojourner, departed the main lander and began to record weather patterns, atmospheric opacity, and the chemical composition of rocks washed down into the Ares Vallis flood plain, an ancient outflow channel in Mars' northern hemisphere. This vehicle completed its projected milestone 30-day mission on 3 Aug. 1997, capturing far more data on the atmosphere, weather, and geology of Mars than scientists had expected. In all, the Pathfinder mission returned more than 1.2 gigabits (1.2 billion bits) of data and over 10,000 tantalizing pictures of the Martian landscape. The images from both craft were posted to the Internet, to which individuals turned for information about the mission more than 500 million times through the end of July.
25 Aug. 1997-Present Real-time data from NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer were incorporated into the daily weather forecasting system by the end of the year. NOAA's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colorado, used data from this system to track solar disturbances. Positioned between the Sun and the Earth, the spacecraft intercepts solar winds and geomagnetic activity and allows forecasters to warn users such as satellite operators, power control centers, and others of the threat to their electronic systems resulting from sudden fluctuations in solar energy reaching Earth.
11 Sep. 1997 The Mars Global Surveyor space probe,
launched in December 1996, entered orbit at the red planet. The
spacecraft's magnetometer, detected a magnetic field on 15 Sep.
The existence of a planetary magnetic field has important implications
for the geological history of Mars and for the possible development
and continued existence of life on Mars. The magnetic field had
important implications for the evolution of Mars. Planets like
Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn generate their magnetic fields by means
of a dynamo made up of moving molten metal at the core. This metal
is a very good conductor of electricity, and the rotation of the
planet creates electrical currents deep within the planet that
give rise to the magnetic field. A molten interior suggests the
existence of internal heat sources, which could give rise to volcanoes
and a flowing crust responsible for moving continents over geologic
25 Sep.-6 Oct. 1997 In this seventh docking mission with the Russian space station Mir, the shuttle Atlantis delivered three Russian air tanks and nine Mir batteries (170 pounds each). It also delivered a Spektor module repair kit (500 pounds), which enabled the station crew to begin serious repairs damaged in the Progress collision of 25 Jun. The mission also delivered 1,400 pounds of water; 1,033 pounds of U.S. science items; and 3,000 pounds of Russian supplies. During this mission Russian cosmonauts Parazynski and Titov conduct an EVA to retrieve four environmental effects space exposure experiments (MEEPS) on Mir's module. Atlantis also flew around Mir to assess the damage to the station. The astronaut Michael Foale also departed for Earth after a stay of nearly five months and was replaced by astronaut David Wolf.
15 Oct. 1997 The international Cassini space probe
mission left Earth bound for Saturn atop an Air Force Titan IV-B/Centaur
rocket in a picture-perfect launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
With the European Space Agency's Huygens probe and a high-gain
antenna provided by the Italian Space Agency, Cassini will
arrive at Saturn on 1 July 2004.
Dec. 1997 Scientists using the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft have discovered "jet streams" or "rivers" of hot, electrically charged plasma flowing beneath the surface of the Sun. These new findings will help scientists understand the famous 11-year sunspot cycle and associated increases in solar activity that can disrupt the Earth's power and communications systems.
6 Jan. 1998 Lunar Prospector was launched on this date for a one-year polar mission to explore the Moon, especially whether or not water ice is buried inside the lunar crust. Developed as part of the Discovery program of frequent, low-cost missions, Lunar Prospector carried a small payload of only five instruments. Besides water, Lunar Prospector was also to look for other natural resources, such as minerals and gases, that could be used to build and sustain a future human lunar base or in manufacturing fuel for launching spacecraft from the Moon to the rest of the Solar System. The spacecraft's Gamma Ray Spectrometer will also collect a large amount of scientific data about chemical composition of the lunar surface and will measure the Moon's magnetic and gravitational fields. Its Alpha Particle Spectrometer will sniff out small quantities of gases that leak out from the lunar interior. Collectively, the scientific data that Prospector will send back to Earth will help researchers construct a more complete and detailed map of the Moon. In Mar. 1998 Lunar Prospector detected the presence of water ice at both lunar poles, using data from the spacecraft's neutron spectrometer instrument. The lunar water ice is estimated at an overall range of eleven million to 330 million tons of lunar water ice dispersed over 3,600 to 18,000 square miles of water ice-bearing deposits across the northern pole, and an additional 1,800 to 7,200 square miles across the southern polar region. Furthermore, twice as much of the water ice mixture was detected by Lunar Prospector at the Moon's north pole as at the south.
29 Jan. 1998 An International Space Station agreement among 15 countries met in Washington to sign agreements to establish the framework for cooperation among the partners on the design, development, operation, and utilization of the Space Station. Acting Secretary of State Strobe Talbott signed the 1998 Intergovernmental Agreement on Space Station Cooperation, along with representatives of Russia, Japan, Canada and participating countries of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). Three bilateral memoranda of understanding were also signed by NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin separately with his counterparts: Russian Space Agency General Director Yuri Koptev, ESA Director General Antonio Rodota and Canadian Space Agency President William (Mac) Evans.
12 Mar. 1998 Development of the X-38, a spacecraft design planned for use as a future International Space Station emergency crew return "lifeboat," passed a major milestone today with a successful first unpiloted flight test. The first X-38 atmospheric test vehicle was dropped from under the wing of NASA's B-52 aircraft at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, at 11:30 a.m. EST and completed a descent from a 23,000 foot altitude at 11:38 a.m. EST. The test focused on the use of the X-38's parafoil parachute, which deployed as planned within seconds after the vehicle's release from the B-52 and guided the test craft to landing. Atmospheric tests of the X-38 will continue for the next two years using three increasingly complex test vehicles. The drop tests will increase in altitude to a height of 50,000 feet and include longer flight times for the test craft prior to deployment of the parafoil. In 2000, an unpiloted space test vehicle is planned to be deployed from a Space Shuttle and descend to a landing. The X-38 crew return vehicle is targeted to begin operations aboard the International Space Station in 2003. Eventually, the X-38 will become the first new human spacecraft designed to return humans from orbit in more than twenty years, and it is being developed at a fraction of the cost of past human space vehicles. The primary application of the new spacecraft would be as an International Space Station "lifeboat," but the project also aims at developing a design that could be easily modified for other uses, such as a possible joint U.S. and international human spacecraft that could be launched on expendable rockets as well as the Space Shuttle.
May 28, 1998 The Hubble Space Telescope gave humanity its
first direct image of what is probably a planet outside our solar
system-one apparently that has been ejected into deep space by
its parent stars. Located in a star-forming region in the constellation
Taurus, the object called TMR-1C, appears to lie at the end of
a strange filament of light that suggests it has apparently been
flung away from the vicinity of a newly forming pair of binary
stars. At a distance of 450 light-years, the same distance as
the newly formed stars, the candidate protoplanet would be ten
thousand times less luminous than the Sun. If the object is a
few hundred thousand years old, the same age as the newly formed
star system which appears to have ejected it, it was estimated
to be two to three times the mass of Jupiter, the largest gas
giant planet in our Solar System.