A SELECTIVE CHRONOLOGY OF DEFINING
EVENTS IN NASA HISTORY
by Roger Launius, Colin Fries, and Abe
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
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 con¬ference 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
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
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 by 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
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
5 May 1961 Freedom 7, the first piloted Mercury spacecraft
(No. 7) carrying Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., was launched
from Cape Canaveral by Mercury Redstone (MR 3) 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 Nike Zeus antimissile missile 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 per¬sonifica¬tion of heroism
and dignity. Among other engagements, Glenn addressed a
joint session of Congress and par¬ticipated 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
adequate¬ly its feasibility and that any further conten¬tion
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
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
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
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
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
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 Jun. 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 27 January 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
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
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
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 Moon walkers 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 chair¬manship
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
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
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 develop¬ment
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,
nuclear powered, spin stabilized spacecraft that Atlas Centaur
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 land use
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 world wide 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
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
lift off 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 near circular orbit at the desired altitude
of 270 miles. While NASA technicians worked on a solution
to the problem, an intensive ten day 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
3 Dec. 1973 Pioneer 10: The first flyby of Jupiter.
17 May 1974 SMS-A: The launch of the first geosynchronous
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
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 two day 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 one half 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
(OV 101)—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 close up 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 Titan Centaur
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 touch¬down.
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
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. Crippen
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
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
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. Crippen 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 communica¬tions 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
3-11 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
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.
3 Oct. 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
24 Jan. 1986-25 Aug. 1989 Voyager 2 encounters Uranus and
28 Jan. 1986 28 January 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.
May 1986 The National Commission on Space, chaired by Thomas
O. Paine, issued its report on the U.S. civil space program.
Entitled Pioneering the Space Frontier: An Exciting Vision
of Our Next Fifty Years in Space, the report advocated an
aggressive space effort oriented toward the exploration
and eventual colonization of the Moon and the other planets
of the Solar System.
12 May 1986 James C. Fletcher became the NASA Administrator
for a second time. He had previously served between 1971
6 Jun. 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.
8 Jul. 1986 NASA created the Office of Safety, Reliability,
Maintainability, and Quality Assurance in response to findings
from the teams investigating the Challenger accident.
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
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
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 gravity assisted 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 umbrella like, high gain
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 43 foot-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
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 control¬lers
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. The STS-61 mission landed successfully on December
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
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
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
27 Jun.-7 Jul. 1995 Twenty years after the world's two greatest
spacefaring nations and Cold War rivals staged a dramatic
link up 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 STS 71 mission by Atlantis was the first of seven planned
shuttle/Mir link ups 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 Mir 18 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 STS 71
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 Skylab 4 crew with 84 days in 1973 1974. 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
22-31 Mar. 1996 In this Atlantis shuttle mission, STS-76,
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, STS-79, 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
25 Jun. 1997 During the attempted docking of the Russian
resupply vessel, Progress, with the Russian space station
Mir the vessel collided with the science module, Spektor,
attached to the station. The module decompressed and its
solar arrays were knocked out of service. Although the crew
of two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut, Michael
Foale, were uninjured, the accident crippled the space station
and led to a series of crises in space. In a courageous
decision, the Russian Space Agency refused to abandon the
station, and managed to keep it operational until it could
be resupplied and its critical systems restored. Despite
political pressure to remove American astronauts from the
Mir after the accident, NASA officials assessed the risks
and decided to continue the cooperative missions.
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
11 Sep. 1997 The Mars Global Surveyor space probe, launched
on 7 Nov. 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 time
periods. The spacecraft continued to provide spectacular
scientific data about the planet thereafter. Providing the
first 3-D map of Mars, it discovered an impact basin deep
enough to swallow Mount Everest and surprising slopes in
Valles Marineris highlight a global map of Mars that will
influence scientific understanding of the red planet for
years. Generated by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA),
the high-resolution map represented 27 million measurements
gathered in 1998 and 1999.
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
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.
28 May 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.
29 Oct.-7 Nov. 1998 In one of the most heralded missions
in the Shuttle era, during the flight of STS-95, John Glenn
returned to space. The primary mission objectives of this
flight were to successfully perform the planned operations
of the four primary payloads: SPACEHAB, HOST, IEH-03, and
SPARTAN-201. This involved more than eighty scientific experiments
investigating mysteries that span the realm from the inner
universe of the human body to studies of our own Sun and
its solar activity. But these scientific activities were
overshadowed by Glenn’s presence. One of the original
Mercury 7 astronauts, he was the first American to orbit
the Earth on 20 Feb. 1962. When Glenn flew in his Friendship
7 Mercury capsule, the largest mystery facing the young
NASA space program was whether humans could even survive
in the hostile environment of space. In the 121 space missions
since Glenn’s flight during the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo,
Skylab, and Shuttle programs, more than 200 Americans have
flown in space. The wealth of scientific data accumulated
during these space flights validated apparent similarities
between the effects of space flight and aging. Glenn will
be a test subject for specific investigations which mimic
the effect of aging, including loss of muscle mass and bone
density; disrupted sleep patterns; a depressed immune system;
and loss of balance.
20 Nov. 1998 Assembly of the International Space Station,
the most complex space project ever, began on this date
with the launch of the Zarya control module. A Russian Proton
rocket launched the Zarya ("Sunrise") control
module from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch
proceeded smoothly, and the module entered an elliptical
orbit ranging from 387 by 405 kilometers (240 by 251 miles).
Zarya's orbit naturally decayed into a circular 390-km (242-mi.)
orbit in early Dec. The Zarya control module, previously
known as the Functional Cargo Block (FGB) provides the initial
power and propulsion to the station until the Service Module
arrives. It will later be used primarily for storage.
4-12 Dec. 1998 The Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-88, was
launched on 4 Dec. and rendezvoused with the Zarya the next
day. The crew mated the Unity module, contained in the shuttle’s
cargo bay, to the Zarya. Then, in a series of complex spacewalks
astronauts connected cables between the two modules, affixed
antennae and other elements to the exterior, and opened
the hatches between the two spacecraft.
11 Dec. 1998-23 Sep. 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter, a mission
to study the Martian weather, climate, and water and carbon
dioxide budget, in order to understand the reservoirs, behavior,
and atmospheric role of volatiles and to search for evidence
of long-term and episodic climate changes was launched on
a Delta II from Pad A of Launch Complex 17 at Cape Canaveral
Air Station, Florida. After a brief cruise in Earth orbit,
the Delta II 3rd stage put the spacecraft into trans-Mars
trajectory and about 15 days after launch the largest trajectory
correction maneuver (TCM) was executed using the hydrazine
thrusters. During cruise to Mars, three additional TCM's
using the hydrazine thrusters were performed on 4 Mar.,
25 Jul., and 15 Sept. 1999. The spacecraft reached Mars
and executed a 16 minute 23 second orbit insertion main
engine burn on 23 Sep. 1999. The spacecraft passed behind
Mars and was to re-emerge and establish radio contact with
Earth, however contact was never re-established and no signal
was ever received from the spacecraft. Findings of the failure
review board indicate that a navigation error resulted from
some spacecraft commands being sent in English units instead
of being converted to metric. This caused the spacecraft
to miss its intended 140-150 km altitude above Mars during
orbit insertion, instead entering the martian atmosphere
at about 57 km. Atmospheric stresses and friction at this
low altitude would have destroyed the spacecraft.
3 Jan. 1999-3 Dec. 1999 Mars Polar Lander and its attached
Deep Space 2 probes were launched on a Delta II rocket which
placed them into a low-Earth parking orbit. The third stage
fired for 88 seconds to put the spacecraft into a Mars transfer
trajectory. Trajectory correction maneuvers were performed
on 21 Jan., 15 Mar., 1 Sep., 30 Oct., and 30 Nov. 1999.
After an 11-month hyperbolic transfer cruise, the Mars Polar
Lander reached Mars on 3 Dec. 1999. The lander was to make
a direct entry into Mars' atmosphere at 6.8 km/s but was
lost during the landing sequence. JPL lost contact with
the spacecraft and due to lack of communication, it is not
known whether the probe followed the descent plan or was
lost in some other manner.
27 May-6 Jun. 1999 In STS-96, the Space Shuttle Discovery
became the first spacecraft to dock with elements of the
International Space Station (ISS) in orbit. The ISS included
the American-built Unity module and the Russian-built Zarya
module at that time; these assembled in orbit by the crew
of STS-88 in December 1998. During this flight, the crew
delivered more than 3600 pounds of supplies—ranging
from food and clothes to laptop computers—for the
first crew to live on the station next year.
22-27 Jul. 1999 The Space Shuttle Columbia's 26th flight
was led by Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman
to command a Shuttle mission. STS-93 successfully carried
to orbit the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the third of NASA's
"Great Observatories," joining the Hubble Space
Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.
18 Dec. 1999 The flagship of NASA's Earth Observing System,
Terra, was launched on this date from Vandenberg Air Force
Base, CA. It is part of an international program to monitor
climate and environmental change on Earth over the next
15 years. Part of a series of EOS satellites, Terra will
enable new research into the ways that Earth's lands, oceans,
air, ice, and life function as a total environmental system.
19-27 Dec. 1999 The third Hubble Space Telescope servicing
mission, STS-103, required Shuttle Discovery’s seven-astronaut
crew to perform three space walks to install new and replace
11-22 Feb. 2000 For STS-99, the Shuttle Endeavour was tasked
with the goal of obtaining the most complete high-resolution
digital topographical database of the Earth. The Shuttle
Radar Topography Mission was organized by the National Imagery
and Mapping Agency and NASA, with participation by the German
Aerospace Center, DLR.
19-29 May 2000 Following liftoff, Shuttle Atlantis, STS-101,
delivered supplies to the International Space Station and
boosted the ISS’s orbit from 230 miles to 250 miles.
The crew also replaced batteries on Zarya, assembled a Russian
crane, tested an U.S. crane, replaced a communications antenna,
and installed handrails.
8-20 Sep. 2000 The crew of Atlantis, STS-106, successfully
prepared the International Space Station for arrival of
the first permanent crew. During the mission, the crew delivered
6,600 pounds of supplies, installed batteries, a toilet,
power converters, and a treadmill. Also, during a space
walk, the crew connected power, data, and communications
cables to the Zvezda Service Module.
11-24 Oct. 2000 Discovery, STS-92, completed a successful
mission to the International Space Station. While there,
the crew installed the “Z-1 Truss” (a base structure
for the U.S. solar array), the “Pressurized Mating
Adapter 3” (an orbiter docking station for the U.S.
segment of the International Space Station), and completed
four space walks.
31 Oct. 2000 Expedition One of the International Space Station
launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan –
the same launch pad from which Yuri Gagarin became the first
human in space. Prior to their return on 21 March 2001,
the crew prepared the station for long-term occupation and
conducted a few scientific experiments.
30 Nov. – 11 Dec. 2000 Shuttle Endeavour, STS-97,
delivered the first set of U.S. solar arrays, batteries,
and cooling radiators. Three space walks were conducted
and a communications system for voice and telemetry was
7-20 Feb. 2001 The Shuttle Atlantis, STS-98, installed the
U.S. Destiny Laboratory Module, relocated a docking port,
delivered supplies to the crew of Expedition One and conducted
three successful space walks.
8-21 Mar. 2001 The Shuttle Discovery, STS-102, successfully
retrieved the Expedition One crew of the International Space
Station and also delivered the crew of Expedition Two. The
eighth shuttle mission to reach the space station, the team
also had two successful space walks, and delivered the contents
of the Leonardo Multi-purpose Logistics Module and then
returned Leonardo to Earth. Leonardo is a reusable cargo
carrier built by the Italian Space Agency.
23 Mar. 2001 As a step in the development of the International
Space Station, the Soviet/Russian orbital laboratory Mir,
the heaviest object orbiting our planet other than the Moon
itself, returned to Earth early in the morning of 23 Mar.
2001. Fragments from the massive complex splashed down in
the South Pacific Ocean just as ground controllers had planned.
No one was hurt. On the contrary, onlookers who saw Mir's
blazing described it as the experience of a lifetime. Of
Mir's 135 tons, only about 20 tons reached the surface,
and mostly in small pieces. During its fifteen-year lifetime,
Mir set endurance and space-adventure records that are going
to stand for a long time.
19 Apr. – 1 May 2001 The ninth shuttle mission to
the International Space Station, the Enterprise, STS-100,
successfully delivered 6000 pounds of supplies and equipment
from the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, conducted
two space walks, and installed Canadarm2 – a robotic
arm supplied by the Canadian Space Agency.
7 Apr. 2001 Originally planned as one aspect of the two-part
Mars Surveyor 2001 Project, the 2001 Mars Odyssey is a Mars
orbiter scheduled to reach the planet on 24 October 2001.
While in orbit, the satellite will conduct mineral research
and serve as a communications relay for future Mars missions.
The Odyssey is expected to serve in this capacity for the
next five years. The Mars lander/rover aspect of the project
has been cancelled.
29 Apr. – 7 May 2001 Over the objections of the majority
of the International Space Station partners Californian
Dennis A. Tito becomes the first “Space-Tourist.”
The controversial trip, whereby Mr. Tito spent $20 million,
took him for an eight-day trip aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule
and the International Space Station.
2 Jun. 2001 X-43A Hyper-X, a hypersonic research vehicle,
was lost after a malfunction caused the stack to go out
of control and the Pegasus booster rocket had to be destroyed.
The X-43A is designed to be the first scramjet powered vehicle,
capable of attaining speeds as high as Mach-10.
30 Jun. 2001 MAP (Microwave Anisotropy Probe) is an American
astrophysics satellite that was launched by a Delta 2 rocket
from Cape Canaveral. The probe will scan the sky in five
wavelength bands after "parking" itself over the
second Lagrangian point (L-2) at 1.5 million km in the nightside.
MAP is a NASA Explorer mission that is measuring the temperature
of the cosmic background radiation over the full sky with
unprecedented accuracy. This map of the remnant heat from
the Big Bang will provide answers to fundamental questions
about the origin and fate of our universe.
12-24 Jul. 2001 The Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS 104, launched
from Cape Canaveral on July 12, 2001 and docked with the
ISS on 13 July 2001. It carried a crew of five American
astronauts who delivered the Quest Airlock and installed
it on the station's Unity Node. The six tonne Airlock is
a pressurizable unit consisting of two cylinders of diameter
four meters and a total length six meters. They were installed
and secured by the crew during three EVAs.
13 Aug. 2001 The Helios Prototype Remotely Piloted Aircraft
(RPV), a proof-of-concept solar-electric flying wing, set
a world altitude record for winged aircraft of 96,863 feet.
8 Aug. 2001 Genesis was launched by a Delta 2 rocket from
Cape Canaveral. The mission is among NASA's Discovery Program
and Genesis seeks to discover the origin/genesis of solar
system. The spacecraft was directly injected into the Langrangian-1
(L-1) region (located at about 1.5 million km in the sunward
direction) to collect solar wind samples from October 2001
to April 2004.
10-21 Aug. 2001 The Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-105, launched
from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Aug. 2001,
bound for the International Space Station, where it would
attach the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) during
three EVAs. This mission carried to the ISS Expedition Crew
Three with astronaut Frank L. Culbertson, Jr., commander,
and cosmonauts Mikhail Tyurin and Vladimir Dezhurov, both
flight engineers representing Rosaviakosmos.
5 -17 Dec. 2001 The Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-108 flight
was the12th shuttle flight to visit the International Space
Station and the fourth flight of an Italian-built Multipurpose
Logistics Module (MPLM), The crew performed an extravehicular
activity (EVA) to install thermal blankets over two pieces
of equipment at the bases of the Space Station’s solar
wings. The ISS Expedition Four crew (ISS Commander Yury
Onufrienko and Flight Engineers Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz)
replaced the Expedition Three crew (ISS Commander Frank
Culbertson, Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin, and Pilot Vladimir
Dezhurov), who were launched to the station in August 2001.
7 Dec. 2001 Launch of the TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere,
Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) mission in December.
TIMED is studying a region of Earth’s atmosphere that
has never been the subject of a comprehensive, long-term
5 Feb. 2002 NASA launched the High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic
Imager (HESSI), which is a mission to study solar flares
and the gamma rays they emit. Just over 1 month after launch,
HESSI made its debut by observing a huge explosion in the
atmosphere of the Sun. The solar flare was equal to 1 million
megatons of TNT and gave off powerful bursts of x rays.
The new solar flare satellite was renamed RHESSI—the
Reuven Ramaty High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager—in
honor of the late NASA scientist who pioneered the fields
of solar-flare physics, gamma-ray astronomy, and cosmic-ray
Feb. 2002 The Mars Odyssey 2001 spacecraft began mapping
the Red Planet. The spacecraft successfully achieved orbit
In October 2001 around Mars following a 6-month, 286-million-mile
journey. Following aerobraking operations, Odyssey entered
its science-mapping orbit in February 2002 and began characterizing
the composition of the Martian surface at unprecedented
levels of detail.
1-12 Mar. 2002 The Space Shuttle Columbia, STS-109 was the
fourth mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The crew of
seven installed efficient solar arrays, a new power control
unit, a resuscitated Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object
Spectrometer (NICMOS), and a powerful new resource called
the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The first results
from this new instrument were released on April 30, 2002,
and made news around the world. The remarkable images let
us see deep into the universe with unprecedented detail.
One image of the Tadpole galaxy had a bonus: a background
that showed approximately 6,000 other galaxies—twice
the number of galaxies that are visible in the now-famous
Hubble Deep Field image.
8 Mar. 2002 The first of three second-generation Tracking
and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) satellites, TDRS-8, was
transitioned into operations. TDRS-I was launched on 8 March
2002, and preparations were made for the launch of TDRS-J.
The Data Services Management Center at White Sands Complex
(WSC) was transitioned to operations, providing cost savings
and centralized scheduling capabilities for the Space Network
and Ground Network.
8-19 Apr. 2002 The Space Shuttle Atlantis expanded the ISS
on mission STS-110 (ISS Assembly Flight 8A), installing
the initial section of a framework that eventually will
hold systems needed to provide power and cooling for future
research laboratories. Atlantis’s mission was one
of the most complex ISS assembly flights NASA has accomplished.
It included four EVAs and operations with both the Shuttle’s
robotic arm and the Station’s robotic arm. The Station’s
Canadarm2 robotic arm was used to hoist the 13-ton truss
section, called the S-Zero (S0) Integrated Truss Structure,
from Atlantis’s payload bay and attach it to the ISS.
The flight marked the first time that the Station’s
arm was used. This was also the first Space Shuttle flight
in which all spacewalks originated from the ISS’s
5-19 Jun. 2002 Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-111 delivered
the Expedition Five crew (ISS Commander Valery Korzun and
Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Sergei Treschev) to the
ISS and returned the Expedition Four crew, who had been
in space since December 2001. During docked operations,
the crew transferred several thousand pounds of logistics
and equipment to the ISS. There were three successful spacewalks
during which the Mobile Remote Servicer Base System was
removed from Endeavour’s cargo bay and installed on
the Mobile Transporter on the ISS. Endeavour delivered replacement
parts for a faulty wrist joint on the ISS’s robot
arm, Canadarm2. The suspect parts were successfully replaced
on this mission, enabling use of this key piece of ISS assembly
3 Jul. 2002 CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) is an American
(NASA) heliospheric spacecraft that was launched by a Delta
2 rocket from Cape Canaveral. The 970 kg spacecraft was
designed to meet at least two comets, Comet Encke on 12
November 2003, and Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3) on
19 June 2006, at a distance of 100 km from each nucleus.
Ground-based telescope images indicated that CONTOUR had
broken up near the scheduled end of the burn. Without data
from the spacecraft, however, the mission team could only
infer whether CONTOUR was fatally damaged. Attempts to contact
the craft in the weeks after the anomaly proved unsuccessful.
25 Aug. 2002 A massive NASA balloon began a journey that
took it from a small gold-mining town called Lynn Lake located
in the Northwest region of Manitoba, Canada to the fringes
of space. The balloon carried a solar and heliosphere experiment
called Low Energy Electrons (LEE) that weighed 1,500 pounds
(690 kg). Besides establishing a new record for balloon
volume (50 percent greater than NASA’s standard balloon
designs), this flight should help establish a new platform
for science such as ultraviolet and x-ray astronomy.
7-18 Oct. 2002 The Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS 112 carried
a crew of five American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut
to continue the on-orbit construction of the International
Space Station with the delivery of the S-1Truss. The S-1,
the third piece of the station's 11-piece Integrated Truss
Structure, was attached to the starboard end of the S-0
(S-Zero) Truss on Flight Day 4. The crew performed three
spacewalks to outfit and activate the new component. The
crew also transferred cargo between the two vehicles and
used the shuttle's thruster jets during two maneuvers to
raise the station's orbit. STS-112 was also the first shuttle
mission to use a camera on the External Tank.
23 Nov.–7 Dec. 2002 The Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS
113 carried a crew of seven astronauts (six American and
one Russian) to the International Space Station (ISS) and
was the15th mission to the ISS. It continued the station's
outward expansion with the delivery of the P1 (P-One) Truss
and exchanged the Expedition Five and Six crews.
25 Jan. 2003 SORCE (SOlar Radiation and Climate Experiment)
is an American (NASA) Sun-Earth Connection satellite that
was launched by a Pegasus XL rocket released from a L-1011
cargo aircraft flying out of Cape Canaveral. Its purpose
is to measure solar irradiance in a number of wavelength-bands
through three spectrometers and a photometer.
1 Feb. 2003 The Space Shuttle Columbia, STS-107, broke up
about fifteen minutes before the scheduled landing and all
seven astronauts aboard lost their lives. It was the first
flight in recent years that was not related to the International
Space Station (ISS) activities. The seven crew members (Rick
Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana
Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon) helped oversee 80
microgravity experiments on board. These ranged from K-12
interest to significant commercial and scientific potential.
The mission began on January 16, 2003. After a 16-day mission,
the crew was lost during reentry, when communications failed
and the orbiter disintegrated over western Texas on its
path towards Cape Canaveral. It was the 28th mission for
13 Jan. 2003 CHIPS (Cosmic Hot Interstellar Spectrometer)
is an American (NASA) astrophysics spacecraft that was launched
by a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg AFB. The 60 kg. spacecraft
has a spectrograph scanning the entire sky for hot and diffuse
nebulae at about a million degrees temperature.
13 Jan. 2003 ICESAT is an American (NASA) Earth Observing
System spacecraft that was launched by a Delta 2 rocket
from Vandenberg AFB. It carried a single instrument, GLAS
(Geoscience Laser Altimeter System) which enables accurate
surface level measurements of ice sheets. Ice surface variations
in Greenland and Antarctica are important predictors of
28 Apr. 2003 Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) launched.
GALEX employs an ultraviolet telescope in an effort to explore
the origins and evolution of galaxies, stars and heavy elements.
GALEX is expected to detect millions of galaxies to a distance
of several billion light years and to conduct an all-sky
ultraviolet survey. GALEX is an American (NASA) spacecraft
that was launched by a Pegasus XL rocketr released from
a L-1011 cargo plane flying out of Cape Canaveral.
26 June 2003 The Helios Prototype Remotely Piloted Aircraft
(RPV), a proof-of-concept solar-electric flying wing, crashed
during a checkout flight from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile
Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii. The Helios Prototype
is one of several remotely piloted aircraft whose technological
development has been sponsored and funded by NASA under
the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology
2 Jan. 2004 NASA’s Stardust mission, the first sample
return mission to a comet, successfully navigated through
the nebulous cloud of ice and dust surrounding the nucleus
of comet Wild 2. The flyby yielded the most detailed images
of a comet ever taken.
3 and 24 Jan. 2004 NASA successfully landed two mobile
geology labs on the surface of Mars in the span of three
weeks. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers drew worldwide
attention, making the NASA web portal the most visited website
in the world during the week of the landings. Within weeks,
Opportunity discovered evidence that water had once occupied
its landing site, raising the possibility that the necessary
ingredients for life may have once existed on Mars.
14 Jan. 2004 President George W. Bush announced the new
Vision for Space Exploration in a speech at NASA Headquarters
in Washington, D.C. The President declared that the “cause
of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose;
it is a desire written in the human heart.” Among
its goals and objectives, the Vision aimed for a human return
to the moon by 2020, in preparation for human exploration
of Mars and other destinations.
20 Apr. 2004 The Gravity Probe B spacecraft launched successfully.
In an effort to test Einstein’s famous hypotheses,
the GP-B examined the extent to which general relativity
affects both Earth’s precession and the space immediately
surrounding the Earth.
1 July 2004 Following a 7-year, 2-billion-mile journey,
Cassini-Huygens became the first spacecraft to go into orbit
around Saturn. In October, the spacecraft flew within 800
miles of Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons and
the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere.
3 Aug. 2004 NASA launched the MESSENGER (MErcury Surface,
Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) interplanetary
probe to conduct an in-depth study of Mercury, the least
explored of the solar system’s terrestrial planets.
MESSENGER will enter into a yearlong orbit around Mercury
12 Nov. 2004 Traveling at Mach 10 – nearly 7,000
miles per hour – the X-43A research vehicle, part
of NASA’s Hyper-X Program, set a new world speed record
by a jet-powered aircraft. The X-43A’s air-breathing
scramjet engine had no moving parts, instead compressing
the air passing through it to ignite the fuel.
12 Jan. 2005 NASA launched Deep Impact, the first space
mission to probe beneath the surface of a comet. Six months
later, on July 3, the spacecraft jettisoned an impactor
that crashed into comet Tempel 1. The crash provided the
most up-close data and images of a comet in the history
of space exploration.
14 Jan. 2005 NASA’s Cassini spacecraft released the
European Space Agency’s Huygens probe into the murky
atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Cassini
and the probe discovered that the moon was remarkably Earth-like,
complete with evidence of methane rain, erosion, stream-like
drainage channels, dry lakebeds, volcanism, and very few
25 May 2005 NASA announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft,
having traveled 8.7 billion miles from the Sun, had crossed
outside the termination shock and had at last entered the
heliosheath. It remains the most distant artificial object
26 July 2005 The Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-114) launched
successfully into orbit, marking NASA’s first return
to human space flight since the Columbia (STS-107) accident
in 2003. Discovery safely returned to Earth on August 9,
12 Aug. 2005 The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) launched
from Cape Canaveral aboard the first Atlas V launch vehicle
used for an interplanetary mission. NASA designed the spacecraft
to scrutinize the physical features of Mars, including its
atmosphere and its subterranean layering.
15 Jan. 2006 The Stardust capsule landed in the Utah desert,
returning samples of interstellar dust that could offer
vital clues about the origins of our solar system. Its speed
upon return – 28,860 miles per hour – rendered
it the fastest man-made object to achieve atmospheric re-entry,
besting the record set by Apollo 10 in 1969.
19 Jan. 2006 New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral,
beginning its nine-year trek toward Pluto and the Kuiper
Belt. The first spacecraft to visit Pluto, New Horizons
was the first in NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-class
3 Oct. 2006 Dr. John Mather, of NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Center, received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics
(with University of California’s George Smoot) for
his work on the “discovery of the black body form
and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation.”
It was the first time a NASA civil servant received the