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.
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.
A space telescope that has snapped numerous pictures of space and made countless discoveries was launched on this day in history.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-31 mission on April 24th, 1990.
The unmanned space observatory, which could see deep into the universe without the interference of Earth’s atmosphere, was launched with a flawed mirror. Three years after launch, that mirror was corrected in the first of several servicing missions by space shuttle crews.
The Hubble has helped to explore the Moon, the other planets of the solar system, distant stars and galaxies and much more.
Despite being active for nearly three decades, Hubble continues to return a massive amount of data and photos of stellar phenomena. It could remain active for at least several more years. It’s successor, the James Webb telescope, is set to launch next year.
A mission that launched the first rover to wheel across another planet was launched 20 years ago today.
The Mars Pathfinder Mission, developed by NASA, was launched into space aboard a Delta II rocket on December 4th, 1996.
The rover with the Mars Pathfinder mission encounters a massive Martian rock! Courtesy: NASA
The mission included a pair of vehicles—a lander and a rover named Sojourner. The rover made history by becoming the first unmanned rover to explore another planet (several lunar rovers had already been done by this point). It successfully landed on Mars the next year, with a variety of instruments and cameras to study the Martian surface.
The mission was only expected to last a week or two, but ended up going on for nearly three months. During it’s time on the Red Planet, it studied many rocks and other elements of the Martian surface, studied the atmosphere, took over 15,000 photographs and returned even more scientific data.
Future Martian rovers have been even more successful in studying the Red Planet. The rover features prominently in the novel “The Martian” and its feature film adaptation.
A spacecraft destined for Mars, but would fail just before arrival was launched on this day in history.
Mars Observer was an unmanned NASA probe launched aboard a Titan III rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on September 25th, 1992. Courtesy: NASA / JPL
Mars Observer was an unmanned NASA probe launched aboard a Titan III rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on September 25th, 1992.
The probe, intended to orbit Mars, featured instruments to study the weather, geology, and magnetic field of Mars—among other objectives. It also featured cameras to photograph the surface of the Red Planet.
All was well until just days before reaching Mars orbit, contact was lost. A fuel leak is believed to be to blame for the failure. Although it never reached Mars, it still did return some photos as well as data on the space between Earth and Mars.