On September 17, 1976, NASA publicly unveils its first space shuttle, the Enterprise, during a ceremony in Palmdale, California. Development of the aircraft-like spacecraft cost almost $10 billion and took nearly a decade. In 1977, the Enterprise became the first space shuttle to fly freely when it was lifted to a height of 25,000 feet by a Boeing 747 airplane and then released, gliding back to Edwards Air Force Base on its own accord.
Regular flights of the space shuttle began on April 12, 1981, with the launching of Columbia from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the two-day mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider at California’s Edwards Air Force Base.
Early shuttles took satellite
equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. On
January 28, 1986, NASA and the space shuttle program suffered a major
setback when the Challenger exploded 74 seconds after takeoff and all seven people aboard were killed.
In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction and manning of the International Space Station.A tragedy in space again rocked the nation on February 1, 2003, when Columbia, on its 28th mission, disintegrated during re-entry of the earth’s atmosphere. All seven astronauts aboard were killed. In the aftermath, the space-shuttle program was grounded until Discovery returned to space in July 2005, amid concerns that the problems that had downed Columbia had not yet been fully solved.
On Sept. 9, 1982, the first private rocket launched from a Texas cattle ranch.
The Conestoga 1 rocket was designed by Space Services Inc. of America and built from spare parts of other rockets. It was named after a type of covered wagon that used to transport American settlers westward to the new frontier during the 19th century.
The 36-foot rocket lifted off from a private launch facility on
Matagorda Island, Texas and flew for 10 and a half minutes. It reached
an altitude of 195 miles and became the first privately funded rocket to
The only payload on board was 40 gallons of water, which didn’t serve much scientific purpose, but it was ejected from the spacecraft at peak altitude to serve as a visual marker so ground crews could watch.
Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was an American teacher who was chosen to be the first private citizen in space. Aboard the space shuttle Challenger, she was one of the seven astronauts killed when the rocket exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. The death of McAuliffe and her fellow crew members in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster was deeply felt by the nation and had a strong effect on the U.S. space program. Space shuttle flights were suspended until 1988. An independent U.S. commission blamed the disaster on unusually cold temperatures that morning and the failure of the O-rings, a set of gaskets in the rocket boosters.
India is on its way to the moon again — this time, to the lunar surface.
The nation’s robotic Chandrayaan-2 mission launched today (July 22) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, rising off the pad atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III) rocket at 5:13 a.m. EDT (0913 GMT; 2:43 p.m. local Indian time). The launch came after just over a weeklong delay due to a rocket glitch, and just days after NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
dear friends, today is a historical day for space and science
technology in India,” said K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space
Research Organisation (ISRO), adding that the GSLV Mk III rocket placed
Chandrayaan-2 in a better orbit than expected. “It is the beginning of a
historical journey of India towards the moon and to land at the place
near the south pole, to carry out scientific experiments, to explore the
The liftoff kicks off a long and looping deep-space trip. If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft will reach lunar orbit on Sept. 6 and then put a lander-rover duo down near the moon’s south pole shortly thereafter.
July 1969. It’s a little over eight years since the flights of Gagarin and Shepard, followed quickly by President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out.
Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an
equipment storage area on the lunar module. This is one of the few
photos that show Armstrong during the moonwalk. Click image to enlarge.
Smoke and flames signal the opening of a historic journey as the Saturn V clears the launch pad. Click image to enlarge.
Buzz Aldrin climbs down the Eagle’s ladder to the surface. Click image to enlarge.
Crater 308 stands out in sharp relief in this photo from lunar orbit. Click image to enlarge.
It is only seven months since NASA’s made a bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.
Now, on the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history.
At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the engines fire and Apollo 11 clears the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew is in Earth orbit.
After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 gets a “go” for what mission controllers call “Translunar Injection” – in other words, it’s time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia.
Collins later writes that Eagle is “the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky,” but it will prove its worth.
When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle’s computer is sounding alarms.
It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, “unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems.”
When the lunar module lands at 4:18 p.m EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. Armstrong radios “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Mission control erupts in celebration as the tension breaks, and a controller tells the crew “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.”
Armstrong will later confirm that landing was his biggest concern, saying “the unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”
At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin joins him shortly, and offers a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: “magnificent desolation.” They explore the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs.
They leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs. It reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
Armstrong and Aldrin blast off and dock with Collins in Columbia. Collins later says that “for the first time,” he “really felt that we were going to carry this thing off.”
The crew splashes down off Hawaii on July 24. Kennedy’s challenge has been met. Men from Earth have walked on the moon and returned safely home.
In an interview years later, Armstrong praises the “hundreds of thousands” of people behind the project. “Every guy that’s setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, ‘If anything goes wrong here, it’s not going to be my fault.'”
In a post-flight press conference, Armstrong calls the flight “a beginning of a new age,” while Collins talks about future journeys to Mars.
Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts will follow in their footsteps. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission leaves the lunar surface with these words: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”
Atlantis was the last of NASA’s space shuttles to fly into space. It went on 33 missions since 1985, ferrying astronauts to and from space stations, and even doing some top-secret missions for the U.S. military. Mission STS-135 and its 4-member crew brought much-needed supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.
Atlantis landed for a final time on July 21, 2011. By the end of this final mission, Atlantis had traveled nearly 126,000,000 miles and orbited Earth 4,848 times.
Club members met Papal Astronomer Bro Guy Consolmagno, author of Turn Left at Orion, at Blackrock Castle Observatory on Saturday 10 August, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. Bro Guy will gave a talk “Discarded Worlds: Astronomical ideas that were almost correct …”. You can read his abstract below. As well as astronomers who were wrong he cited those who were right but for the wrong reasons – Galileo being a prime example.
Astronomy is more than just observing; it’s making sense of those observations. A good theorist needs to blend a knowledge of what’s been observed, with a good imagination … and no fear of being wrong. Ptolemy in ancient Rome, the medieval bishops Oresme and Cusa, the 19th century astronomers Schiaparelli and Pickering, all rose to the challenge; and they were all almost correct. Which is to say, they were wrong … sometimes hilariously, sometimes heartbreakingly so. What lessons can 21st century astronomers take from these discarded images of the universe?
Tom Bonner will again run his popular astronomy evening class at Ballincollig Community School. Ten Wednesdays, starting 25th September, cost €70. This is a course designed to give an overview of the important basics that any person who wants to pursue an interest in Astronomy will need. Tom is a prominent member of Cork Astronomy Club, and we are happy to recommend this course. Click for enrollment details – this takes you to the school’s website, where you’ll find the astronomy course under Wednesdays.
You’ll also find a link which enables you to enroll online, and the astronomy course is W2.
On June 25, 1997, a Russian Progress M-34 spacecraft collided with the Russian Mir space station.
uncrewed cargo spacecraft was doing an experimental test of the docking
system when it crashed into the space station’s Spektr module. The
collision ended up puncturing Spektr’s hull, causing a slow leak and
damaging one of its solar panels. The crew had time to prevent
depressurization of the Mir station by installing a hatch cover.
The Mir space station was an icon of human spaceflight. Its first module launched in 1986 and assembly continued through 1996. At the end of its mission life, Mir was intentionally deorbited over the Pacific Ocean in 2001.