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Today, In History

image (c) Space.com

As I sat and watched what was to be the final space shuttle launch in American history, the nerd in my cried out not ignore this historic moment. I wish I could have been to see one of these launches, especially today’s launch of Atlantis, but it’s something I will have to tell my children that I never did. Today marks the end of an era, but not the end of NASA. There are still plans for the future, but first, let’s talk about the past.


Though it was a Soviet project, the launching of Sputnik 1 on October 4th, 1957 moved the Space Race into high gear. Having been caught off guard by the launch of the unmanned satellite by the Soviets, the United States established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, on October 1st, 1958. At the beginning it had only 8,000 employees and a budget of $100 million.

Pioneer I

This was the first NASA launch, which took place on October 11th, 1958.

Pioneer 4

On March 3rd, 1959, Pioneer 4 became the first American spacecraft to accomplish a lunar flyby.

Freedom 7

Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the second human and first American to fly in space when he successfully completed a 14.8 minute flight in Freedom 7 on May 5th, 1961. The flight ended with a controlled splash down into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Urgent National Needs”

On May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told the nation: “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.”

John Glenn

On February 20th, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. He orbited three times in the Friendship 7 Mercury craft, and was forced to fly parts of the mission manually after an autopilot malfunction.

Gemini V

Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad completed a record eight-day orbital flight between August 21st and 29th, 1965. Frank Borman and James A. Lovell beat them out with a 14-day orbital flight that December, though (December 4th through the 18th).

Fatal Accident

John Glenn

On January 27th, 1967, a fire broke out during a simulation aboard Apollo-Saturn 204, which was on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. The fire killed the three astronauts inside; Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. As a result, the Apollo project was put on hiatus until the crafts could be redesigned.

Apollo 8

Between December 21st and 27th, 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders orbited the Moon, sending back images of Earth from afar, lifting the spirits of a nation in heated protest against the Vietnam War.

Apollo 11

On July 20th, 1969, Neil A. Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin. Micheal Collins orbited above the surface in the command module.

Apollo 13

One of the most famous near-disasters in space. During the April 11th to 17th flight of 1970, and oxygen tank ruptured, causing substantial damage. The astronauts aboard were forced to use the undamaged landing module to return home.

Mariner 9

On November 13th, 1971, Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it orbited Mars.


The orbital workshop, Skylab 1, was launched on May 14th, 1973.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

This was the first international manned mission, between the United States and the Soviet Union. Between July 15th and 24th, 1975, several docking and rendezvous exercises were carried out to test the compatibility of the crafts for rescues and joint missions.

Viking I

Launched on August 20th, 1975, Viking I became the first probe to be sent to Mars. It landed on July 20th, 1976.

Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong - Collins - Aldrin

Skylab Impact

After its use was over in 1974, Skylab was shut down and its orbit was allowed to decay so that it would eventually re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. On July 11, 1979, it finally impacted Earth as planned, leaving debris stretching from the Indian Ocean to Australia.


The first flight of Space Shuttle Columbia took place between November 11th and 16th, 1982.


The first flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger took place between April 4th and 9th, 1983. During its second voyage (June 18th to 24th, 1983) Sally K. Ride became the first woman astronaut.


The first launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery took place on August 30th, 1984.


The first launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis took place on October 3rd, 1985.

Challenger Disaster

On January 28th, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger experienced an explosion 73 seconds into its flight. All seven astronauts aboard were killed; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.


On April 24th, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.



The first flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour took place between May 2nd and 16th, 1992.

International Space Station

Construction began on November 20th, 1998. It was completed in 2000.

Columbia Disaster

On February 1st, 2003, the Space Shuttle Discovery broke up while re-entering the atmosphere, killing all astronauts aboard; Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

Mars Rovers

On January 3rd, 2004, Spirit successfully landed on Mars, followed by Opportunity on January 24th. They quickly discovered evidence that water may have existed on Mars.

New Horizons

On January 19th, 2006, New Horizons was launched. The probe’s destination is Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. It should arrive in 2015.

Final Mission to Hubble

The last mission to provide repairs and upgrades to the Hubble Telescope occurred on May 11th, 2009. It is likely that eventually it will return to Earth as Skylab did, burning up in the atmosphere.

The End of an Era

July 8th, 2011: the final launch of an American space shuttle, Atlantis. What comes next? Will the future be nothing but probes and rovers? It may be, as we seek to explore further into space. There are few places humans can go because of the risks and time involved. But private companies will surely pick up the slack, NASA says. People will never stop wanting to leave the planet. Anyway, the Space Station is scheduled to remain in operation until 2020. And President Obama has challenged us to go to an asteroid and land on Mars. There are many more discoveries to be made.

“America will continue the dream,” said the commentator. I certainly hope so.

Most info came from http://history.nasa.gov/timeline.html.

July 8, 2011 - Posted by | History

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