1942—75 Years Ago
3 October—Germany launched its V-2 rocket and is the first spacecraft to cross the Kármán line (100 km).
1947—70 Years Ago
20 February—The United States sent fruit flies into space.
1952—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.
17 April–The Bell Aircraft Company offered a proposal to the Wright Air Development Center for a piloted bomber-missile, known as Bomi.
18 June—Researchers established that heat during re-entry from Earth orbit would be survivable by a craft of blunt shape, which would absorb only one-half of 1 percent of the heat generated by re-entry into the atmosphere.
1957—60 Years Ago
7 August—An 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.
21 August—The Soviet Union launched the R-7 Semyorka/SS-6 Sapwood, the first intercontinental ballistic missile.
4 October—Sputnik 1 reached orbit to become the first artificial satellite, and sent the first signals from space.
3 November—The Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2 and its passenger, Laika (a dog), who died during the flight.
1962—55 Years Ago
20 February—John Glenn became the first American to be launched into Earth orbit, making three orbits in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft.
7 March—The United States launched OSO-1, the first orbital solar observatory.
7 June—Mariner 4 (US) sent back first close-up photos of Mars.
14 December—Mariner 2 got within 35,000 km of Venus.
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.
3 October—Astronaut Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr. flew six orbits in the Mercury spacecraft Sigma 7.
1967—50 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.
25 April—NASA conducted first XB-70A flight, studying delta-wing flying at supersonic speeds
3 October—The X-15 experimental rocket plane set a speed record for piloted vehicles when it reached 4,534 mps (mach 6.72).
30 October—Cosmos 186 and Cosmos 188 (both USSR) performed the first automated docking.
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.
1972—45 Years Ago
5 January—NASA administrator James Fletcher met with President Richard Nixon, who later decided to proceed with development of the Space Shuttle, which was first flown in space on 12-14 April 1981.
3 March—Pioneer 10 (US) launched toward Jupiter. Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 went to Jupiter and Saturn and, from there, outside the solar system.
16–27 April—Apollo 16 was the fifth American landing on the Moon.
25 May—The first Digital Fly-By-Wire program was tested, laying the groundwork for later use by the Space Shuttle.
15 July—Pioneer 10 entered the asteroid belt (leaves the inner solar system).
23 July—Landsat 1 was launched, providing extensive image-mapping photos of Earth. This was 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.
15 November—SAS 2 (US) became the first orbital gamma ray observatory.
7-19 December—Apollo 17 was the last of the six Apollo landing missions to the Moon, and the only one to include a scientist-—astronaut/geologist Harrison Schmitt-—as a member of the crew.
1977—40 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.
2 May—Dr. Alan M. Lovelace was appointed acting administrator of NASA and served 49 days.
21 June—President Jimmy Carter appointed Dr. Robert Frosch as NASA’s next administrator.
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.
1982—35 Years Ago
1 March—Venera 13 (USSR) provided analysis of Venus soil samples and the first sound recording of another world.
11–16 November—STS-5 launched two commercial communications satellites during its mission.
11 November—Viking 1’s last transmission reached Earth.
1987—30 Years Ago
December–Cosmonaut Yuri V. Romanenko returned from the space station Mir, having arrived there from Soyuz-TM 2, and sets a (then) space endurance record of 326 days.
1992—25 Years Ago
8 February—Ulysses (joint US/ESA) completed the first polar orbit around the sun.
1 April—Daniel S. Goldin was appointed administrator by President George H. W. Bush.
2 May—First flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, which captured and repaired a private satellite.
25 September—The Mars Observer was launched, but failed to respond after 21 August 1993, three days before it was scheduled to enter Mars’ orbit.
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.
1997-20 Years Ago
13 January—NASA announced discovery of three black holes, indicating that nearly all galaxies once had these.
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-infrared camera (NICMOS), the two-dimensional spectrograph, and repaired insulation on the telescope.
20 February—Galileo discovered icebergs on Europa, suggesting subsurface oceans.
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—NASA landed Pathfinder onto the surface of Mars.
11 September—The Global Surveyor space probe reached orbit around Mars and began to provide 3-D maps of the red planet.
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.
2002—15 Years Ago
5 February—NASA launched the High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager to study solar flares.
February—The Mars Odyssey 2001 began mapping the surface of Mars in detail.
8–19 April—Atlantis carried with it significant sections to extend the ISS, which it successfully deployed.
5–19 June—Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-111, delivered Expedition 5 as well as logistics and equipment.
3 July—Comet Nucleus Tour was launched to meet the path of two comets, but apparently broke up shortly after launch.
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.
7-18 October—STS-112 continued on-orbit construction of the ISS.
23 November–7 December—Expedition 6 was launched on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, STS-113.
2007—10 Years Ago
4 August—Phoenix, a small Mars scout lander, was launched by NASA.
14 September—Japan launched Kaguya (SELENE), a lunar orbiter.
27 September—NASA launched Dawn to study asteroids.
24 October—The PRC launched Chang’e 1, a lunar orbiter
2012—5 Years Ago
22 May—SpaceX launched its Dragon C2+ mission to resupply the International Space Station.
August—Voyager 1 (US) transitioned into interstellar space.
6 August—NASA’s Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars.
“9 November 1967—During the flight of Apollo 4, an unpiloted test of the launcher and spacecraft, NASA proved that the combination could safely reach the Moon.”
Not mentioned was the fact that this was the maiden flight of the Saturn V. And I’m not sure they proved “that the combination could safely reach the Moon”.
Quite right. Thanks for this comment.
It should be mentioned here that there’s a centennial anniversary this year for the place where America’s aeronautics and space programs began. On July 17th, 2017, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., turns 100. Langley was America’s first aeronautical research lab, but went on to become home to America’s first space project, the Space Task Group, and managed the Mercury Program and Mercury 7 astronauts. Here’s to the next 100 years of amazing advancements in aerospace!
Rob, thanks for this note. Yes, this is the 100th anniversary of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. And it has a superb history that deserves commemoration and requires new and ongoing historical investigation, especially with all of the new knowledge emerging about its evolution. But I think Samuel P. Langley, the Wright brothers, Robert H. Goddard, the U.S. Army, the Navy, MIT, and Caltech, to name just a few, would differ with you that this was “the place where America’s aeronautics and space programs began.”