Category Archives: Space

This Day in Space History – August 12th, 1977 – First Free Shuttle Approach & Landing Flight

A spaceship named Enterprise had its first free flight as part of testing for the Space Shuttle on this day in history.

The Space Shuttle Enterprise was used for a series of Approach & Landing tests to give astronauts and NASA researchers a chance to evaluate how the ship called the “flying brick” would glide to a landing upon returning from space. The first free flight would take place on August 12th, 1977.

shuttle approach and landing test

Courtesy: NASA

The Enterprise was taken into the skies attached to a specially-modified Boeing 747 jet. It then detached from the jet. The first flight had a nosecone covering where the engines would be and would land on a lakebed instead of a normal runway.

Fred Haise Jr. and C. Gordon Fullerton were the crew of the first flight. The orbiter achieved speeds of over 300 hours on a successful mission.

Four more free flights would take place, before the shuttle Columbia became the first shuttle to fly into space years later.


This Day in Space History – August 12th, 1960 – Echo 1A Communications Balloon Launched

On August 12, 1960, the Echo 1-A Communications Satellite was launched, becoming one of the very first satellites used to send and receive transmissions from Earth.

Unlike modern communications satellite, the Echo satellites could only reflect signals instead of processing and re-sending them.

echo 1

Courtesy: NASA

This was achieved through the fact that the Echo satellites were a giant balloon of Mylar, measuring 100 feet across.

Due to its high reflectivity and size, the Echo 1A was easily visible to the naked eye when it was still in orbit. The satellite lasted nearly 8 years before burning up on re-entry in May of 1968.

A second satellite, Echo 2, was launched in 1964. It burned up in 1969 and was the last of its kind.

This Day in Space History – July 7th, 1988 – Phobos 1 Mars Probe Launched

The first of two twin Mars probes that failed in their space exploration mission was launched on this day in history.

Phobos 1 was a Soviet Union unmanned spacecraft launched to Mars on July 7th, 1988. The mission of the probe was to study not only the Red Planet, but the largest of its two moons, Phobos.

phobos 1

Courtesy: RSA / NASA

Communications with the probe was lost in September, because of loss of power caused by deactivation of attitude control. It was tracked back to an error in the coding of the probe’s software.

The sister probe, Phobos 2, did make it to Mars and returned some data and photos, but a planned pair of landers for Phobos did not succeed.

This Day in Space History – July 5th, 1966 – Apollo AS-203 Launched

An unmanned mission as part of NASA’s quest to send men to the moon was launched on this day in history.

AS-203 is an unmanned mission that was part of the Apollo program. The unmanned test flight blasted off from Cape Kennedy on July 5th, 1966.

apollo as 203

Courtesy: NASA

The mission involved the Saturn 1B booster and no Apollo spacecraft. Instead, the main objective of this mission was to test the second stage of the rocket. That stage would be used as part of manned missions with Apollo sending men into Earth orbit and later to the moon.

The rocket successfully made it to Earth orbit on that day. Despite an apparent explosion destroying the stage after a couple of orbits during testing, the mission was declared a success. Thus, the rocket stage would be used in future missions in the Apollo program.

Today in Space History – July 2nd, 1985 – Giotto Probe Launched

A probe with a mission to encounter Halley’s Comet was launched on this day in history.

giotto space probe

Courtesy: ESA

Giotto, a European Space Agency unmanned spacecraft, was launched into space on July 2nd, 1985. It was one of several probes from a variety of nations known as the Halley Armada, unmanned spacecraft that studied Halley’s Comet, which passes by Earth every 75 years or so.

Giotto’s encounter with Halley, in March of the next year, was a success, although some minor damage was suffered during the encounter. It analyzed the makeup of the comet’s tail, and made the closest approach to perhaps the most well-known comet.

Giotto would later fly back by Earth and then encounter another comet in 1992.

Twenty Years Ago Today, STS-94 Space Shuttle Mission Launched

Twenty years ago today, a Space Shuttle mission with a variety of scientific experiments was launched into orbit.

STS-94 was a NASA Space Shuttle mission with the orbiter Columbia. It was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on July 1st, 1997.

sts-94 patch

Courtesy: NASA

It featured a crew of 7, led by Commander James Halsell. Interestingly, the crew was identical to the one on STS-83, the only time to date that a spaceflight featuring more than one astronaut had identical crews. 83 had to be cut short due to fuel issues.

STS-94 featured the Microgravity Science Laboratory mission, which had a variety of experiments done inside a European Space Agency module. These dealt with everything from metals to combustion and more.

The 16 day mission was a success, with Columbia landing back on Earth on July 17th, 1997.

Today in Space History – May 18th, 1969 – Apollo 10 Moon Mission Launches

The final Apollo mission before men would land on the moon was launched on this day in history.

apollo 10 patch

Courtesy: NASA

Apollo 10 was launched aboard a Saturn V booster on May 18th, 1969. Three astronauts were onboard the spacecraft: Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan. The mission featured a fully functional command module (nicknamed Charlie Brown) and lunar module (nicknamed Snoopy).

However, the mission would not land them on the moon. Instead, it consisted of a test run that took the men to the moon. Two of them, Stafford and Cernan, boarded the Lunar Module and took it down towards the moon, but didn’t land. This was to test conditions for separation and docking, as well as how the Lunar Module would behave near the moon.

The crew of three returned to Earth on May 26th. Two months later, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would land of the moon in the historic Apollo 11 mission.