2012 is another year containing many important anniversaries in space history. I have compiled a basic list of key anniversaries. Many of the most important are coming soon, especially the upcoming fiftieth anniversaries of John Glenn’s orbital flight in February, the launch of TELSTAR 1 in July, and the launch of the first successful planetary probe in August. Are there any anniversaries that I should add?
55 Years Ago
7 August—A U.S. Army-JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Jupiter C rocket fired a scale-model nosecone 1,200 miles down range into the Atlantic Ocean with a summit altitude of 600 miles.
4 October—The Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, from its rocket testing facility in the desert near Tyuratam in the Kazakh Republic.
3 November—The Soviet Union launched Sputnik II, which carried female husky Laika.
8 December—The first test of the Viking rocket and a satellite, TV-3, failed on the launch pad.
17 December—The U.S. Air Force first successfully tested the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile by launching from its Atlantic complex at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
50 Years Ago
20 February—Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to circle the Earth, making three orbits in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft.
10 July—The United States launches the world’s first successful active repeater communications satellite into Earth orbit, TELSTAR 1.
11-15 August—The Soviet Union completed the first long-duration space flight. Cosmonaut Andrian Nicolayev spent four days in space aboard Vostok 3.
12 August—In the first double flight (occurring at the same time as Vostok 3 with cosmonaut Nicolayev), the Soviet Union launched Vostok 4, with cosmonaut Papel Popovich.
27 August—Launch of Mariner 2, the first space probe to complete a successful planetary encounter. It successfully measured the radiometric temperature and magnetic field of Venus.
3 October—Astronaut Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr. flew six orbits in the Mercury spacecraft Sigma 7.
45 Years Ago
27 January—At 6:31 p.m., 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. Flames engulfed the capsule, and the three astronauts aboard-—Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White-—died of asphyxiation.
24 April—During the return of Soyuz 1, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died when the capsule returned to Earth in a spin.
9 November—During the flight of Apollo 4, an unpiloted test of the launcher and spacecraft, NASA proved that the combination could safely reach the Moon.
40 Years Ago
5 January—President Richard M. Nixon announced the decision to develop a space shuttle, which was first flown in space on 12-14 April 1981.
3 March 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 went to Jupiter and Saturn and, from there, outside the solar system.
23 July 1972-Present—Landsat 1, the first of a series that would operate through the end of the century, was launched from Kennedy Space Center to carry out an Earth resource mapping mission that provided data on vegetation, insect infestations, crop growth, and associated land-use information.
7-19 December—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.
35 Years Ago
18 February—The first orbiter, Enterprise (OV-101), was first flown in flight tests atop Boeing 747 ferrying aircraft at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Facility in southern California.
12 August—The Enterprise had its first free flight test at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Facility in the high desert of southern California at Muroc Dry Lake.
20 August 1977-Present—NASA undertook the Voyager program, with two probes, to the outermost giant planets, thereby greatly expanding knowledge of the outer solar system.
29 September—The Soviet Union launched Salyut 6, a civilian space station that remained operational for three and a half years. The last mission to it was Soyuz T-4, launched on 12 March 1981. During active life, Salyut 6 was home for 16 crews and was occupied for 676 days.
30 Years Ago
4 July—President Ronald Reagan announced the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 42. The new space policy retains the language used in PD/NSC 37 with respect to peaceful use and purposeful interference. It also includes a specific policy on space arms control for the first time: “The United States will consider verifiable and equitable arms control measure that would ban or otherwise limit testing and deployment of specific weapons systems should those measure be compatible with United States national security.” The fact sheet accompanying the policy stated the Reagan administration’s intent to develop an ASAT capability to deter threats to American space systems.
25 Years Ago
14 July—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 Accident that took place the year before.
20 Years Ago
25 September—The Mars Observer satellite mission was launched, although it was lost as it neared the red planet in 1993.
6 October—NASA administrator Daniel S. Goldin and Russian Space Agency director Yuri Koptev signed two cooperative agreements in Moscow regarding human space flight, including participation in an international consortium to build a space station, with the United States as the senior partner.
15 Years Ago
11-21 February—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), the two-dimensional spectrograph, and repaired insulation on the telescope.
25 June—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 Mir. The module decompressed and its solar arrays were knocked out of service. Although the crew of two Russian cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut, Michael Foale, are uninjured, the accident crippled the space station and led to a series of crises in space. The Russian Space Agency managed to keep the station operational until it could be resupplied and repaired.
4 July—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 August 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.
25 September-6 October—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). They also delivered a Spektor module repair kit (500 pounds), which enabled the station crew to begin seriously needed repairs from the Progress collision of June 25. 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 David Wolf.
15 October—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.
10 Years Ago
3 July—The Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) Discovery class mission was launched toward close fly-bys of two comet nuclei: Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, with a possible third target of d’Arrest. The spacecraft failed as it was to leave Earth orbit toward a heliocentric trajectory; following the scheduled firing time no further contact was made with the craft.
16 September—The NASA administrator named the first science officer for the International Space Station, Expedition Five crewmember Peggy Whitson. The post of science officer would be a permanent designation for one crewmember aboard ISS, and the person occupying it would have exclusive responsibility for overseeing and enhancing the scientific activities taking place on the station.
5 Years Ago
4 August—Launch of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander. The trip took ten months before it performed a soft landing on Mars in May 2008 and pursued data collection on the polar climate and weather, atmospheric readings, the geomorphology of the near surface, and determined the role and history of water and ice.