1945—70 Years Ago
4 July—The NACA’s Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD) launched from Wallops Island, Maryland, its first test vehicle, a small two-stage, solid-fuel rocket to check out the installation’s instrumentation. The group soon began serious work to learn about the aerodynamics of spaceflight. By 1952 the NACA’s involvement in rocketry and spaceflight research had transformed the Laboratory into one of the world’s leading facilities involved in this entirely new field of flight research.
August—The U.S. Army shipped components for approximately 100 V-2 ballistic missiles from Germany to the White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. Aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun and several of his key technical staff working on the V-2 program in Germany during World War II also came to the United States.
26 September—The Army’s liquid-fueled WAC Corporal rocket was launched to a height of 43.5 miles on its first development flight at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.
1950—65 Years Ago
1 April—The U.S. Army missile staff headed by Wernher von Braun was moved from White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico to Army Ordnance’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
1955—60 Years Ago
2 May—The U.S. Air Force approved a plan to inaugurate the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile (SM-68).
26 May—The National Security Council, the senior defense policy board in the United States, approved a plan to place into orbit a scientific satellite as part of the nation’s involvement in the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958.
11 June—The U.S. Air Force successfully launched the first Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile, and it became operational on 1 September 1959.
9 September—To execute the United States’ International Geophysical Year commitment, the Department of Defense approved Project Vanguard to develop a small scientific satellite to go into Earth orbit, managed by the Naval Research Laboratory.
1960—55 Years Ago
1 April—The United States launched Tiros 1, the first successful meteorological satellite observing Earth’s weather.
13 April—The United States launched Transit 1B, the first experimental orbital navigation system.
1 July—The Army Ballistic Missile Agency of the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, formally became a part of NASA and was renamed the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.
12 August—NASA successfully orbited Echo 1, a 100-foot inflatable, aluminized balloon for passive communications with a satellite.
1965—50 Years Ago
18 March—During the Soviet Union’s Voskhod 2 orbital mission, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA).
23 March—Following two unoccupied test flights, the first operational mission of Project Gemini took place with astronauts Gus Grissom and John W. Young aboard in Gemini III.
6 April—The United States launched Intelsat I, the first commercial satellite (communications), into geostationary orbit.
3-7 June—The second piloted Gemini mission, Gemini IV, stayed aloft for four days; astronaut Edward H. White II performed the first EVA, or spacewalk, by an American.
14 July—An American space probe, Mariner 4, flew within 6,118 miles of Mars after an eight-month journey, providing the first close-up images of the red planet.
21-29 August—During the flight of Gemini V, American astronauts Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad set a record with an eight-day orbital flight.
4-18 December—During the flight of Gemini VII, American astronauts Frank Borman and James A. Lovell set a duration record of 14 days in Earth orbit; this record held for five years.
15-16 December—During the flight of Gemini VI, U.S. astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford completed the first true space rendezvous by flying within a few feet of Gemini VII.
1970—45 Years Ago
11-17 April—The flight of Apollo 13 became one of the near-disasters of the Apollo program when an oxygen tank in the Apollo service module exploded and the crew worked with ground controllers to find a way safely back to Earth.
1-18 June—In the Soviet Union’s Soyuz 9, cosmonauts Nikolayev and Sevastyanov set an 18-day endurance record that broke the Gemini VII record of 1965.
12 September—Failing to win the race to place a human on the Moon, the Soviet Union succeeded in returning to Earth lunar samples from a robotic probe, Luna 16.
10 November—The Soviet Union launched Luna 17, a robotic probe to the Moon that carried Lunokhod 1—a small Moon rover that operated under remote control for several months.
1975—40 Years Ago
15-24 July—NASA conducted the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project as an international docking mission between the United States and the Soviet Union, demonstrating graphically the détente between the two Cold War superpowers.
20 August 1975-21 May 1983—NASA conducted the Viking soft-landing mission to Mars, landing two probes on the surface that successfully revolutionized scientific understanding of the red planet. The first of two probes was launched on this date, landed in 1976, and the end of the mission took place in 1983.
1980—35 Years Ago
12 November—Voyager 1 makes the closest approach to Saturn, 124,000 kilometers.
1985—30 Years Ago
3-7 October—In the first U.S. Department of Defense-dedicated mission, the Atlantis (STS-51J) deployed a classified satellite.
1990—25 Years Ago
24 April 1990-Present—The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed from a space shuttle in Earth orbit. The instrument proved faulty, and had to be repaired in orbit in December 1993. It was also serviced two other times during decade of the 1990s.
17 December—The presidentially chartered Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program issued a report advocating human space flight, robotic probes, space science, applications, and exploration within a tightly constrained budget.
1995-20 Years Ago
3-11 February—Exactly one year after a cooperative flight with the Russians in STS-60, NASA’s Discovery flew by the Russian space station Mir under the control of the first woman pilot, Eileen M. Collins.
27 June-7 July—A significant mission occurred when U.S. astronaut Norman E. Thagard, a physician, spent more than three months on the Russian space station Mir and then was returned to Earth on the space shuttle Atlantis after it completed the first shuttle/Mir docking mission.
11-20 November—This mission by the space shuttle Atlantis carried up and attached a Russian-built docking port and orbiter docking system to the Mir space station for use in future shuttle dockings.
2000—15 Years Ago
31 October—Expedition One of the International Space Station, the first crew to occupy the station, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan—the same launch pad from which Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Prior to their return on 21 March 2001, the crew prepared the station for long-term occupation and conducted a few scientific experiments.
2005—10 Years Ago
14 January—NASA’s Cassini spacecraft released the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Huygens probe into the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Cassini and the probe discovered that the moon was remarkably Earth-like, complete with evidence of methane rain, erosion, stream-like drainage channels, dry lakebeds, volcanism, and very few craters.
4 July—NASA’ Deep Impact spacecraft arrived at Comet Tempel 1 to impact it with a 820-lbs. mass. On impact, ice and dust debris was ejected from the crater revealing fresh material beneath. The data analyzed from this impact helped to better understand both the solar system’s formation and the implications of comets colliding with Earth.
26 July–9 August—The Space Shuttle Discovery’s flight marked the return to flight for the shuttle fleet, two and half years after the loss of Columbia and its crew on mission STS-107, and the 17th flight to the International Space Station, and was denoted Logistics Flight 1 (LF1). During the mission, Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Raffaello was lifted from Discovery’s cargo bay for attachment to the Unity module by the Station’s Canadarm 2, allowing the transfer of supplies and equipment to the station. Three thousand two hundred kilograms (7,055 pounds) of unneeded equipment and trash were transferred from the Station to the Raffaello module prior to its stowage inside Discovery’s cargo bay. Three spacewalks were planned and performed by Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi for a total of 20 hours and 5 minutes. During those spacewalks, the astronauts tested repair techniques on thermal tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon tiles; rerouted power to one the four Station gyroscopes; replaced another gyroscope with a new one; pulled the two protruding gap fillers from between thermal protection tiles; and, finally, installed a fifth Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which exposes samples of various materials to the harsh space environment for several months.
2010—5 Years Ago
21 May—Japan launched the Akatsuki (Planet-C) orbiter and the IKAROS solar-sailing probe toward Venus. It reached Venus on 8 December, but failed to enter into orbit. It will return to Venus in 2015 and the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) will make a second attempt at orbital insertion.
13 June—Launched on May 9, 2003, Japan’s MUSES-C (Hayabusa) spacecraft landed in Woomera, Australia, with soil samples of asteroid Itokawa.
8 December—This was the first flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral with a prototype of the Dragon spacecraft, both developed under a NASA contract by SpaceX. Three hours, 19 minutes, 52 seconds after a liftoff, Dragon successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, some 800 kilometers west of Mexican coast.