7 Accidents and Disasters in Spaceflight History, Britannica

7 Accidents and Disasters in Spaceflight History

Closed quarters, vehicles faster than the speed of sound, zero gravity, and extremely volatile rockets. Do any of these things sound particularly prone to accidents? Space travel is tricky work that takes careful calculations and even more careful actions when situations get tough. Here is a list of seven accidents and disasters that have occurred during space expeditions.

ISS Expedition 36: Water Leak in Astronaut’s Suit

Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency, took on a bit of water as he was working outside of the International Space Station (ISS) on July 16, 2013. During a spacewalk on the 36th expedition to the ISS, Parmitano’s helmet began to unexpectedly fill with liquid, and, being in space, the water was free to float around his entire head, eventually making it impossible for him to hear or speak to the other astronauts. Though it might seem like the solution to Parmitano’s problem was obvious, alas, the water was not from a drinking bag but from a leak in a liquid coolant system and would not have been the safest thing to drink. Plus, imagine drinking water that is floating freely in the air—doesn’t seem so easy. The spacewalk continued for over an hour before he was back in the ISS and free from his wetsuit, completely unharmed but in need of a fresh towel (which he received promptly). The accident and subsequent cancellation of the spacewalk made it the second shortest spacewalk in the station’s history.

STS-51-L: Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

The space shuttle Challenger disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986, marked one of the most devastating days in the history of space exploration. Just over a minute after the space shuttle lifted off, a malfunction in the spacecraft’s O-rings—rubber seals that separated its rocket boosters—caused a fire to start that destabilized the boosters and spread up the rocket itself. The shuttle was moving faster than the speed of sound and quickly began to break apart. The disaster led to the deaths of all astronauts on board, including civilian Christa McAuliffe, a participant in NASA’s Teacher in Space project who was to teach classes and perform experiments while in space. The extended mission of the shuttle included deployment of satellites and the test of tools for studying astronomy and Halley’s Comet. The shuttle’s launch was not widely televised, but the explosion and breakup of the shuttle was visible to spectators on the ground. The launch itself, performed in 26 °F (−3 °C) weather, was predicted to encounter issues by members of the engineering team who knew of the dangers posed to O-rings by such low temperatures. Despite vocalizing these concerns, the mission continued as planned because NASA was against delaying the shuttle’s launch any more, as it had already been delayed multiple times. The disaster resulted in the temporary suspension of the space shuttle program and the creation of the Rogers Commission to determine the cause and fault of the disaster.

Apollo 12: Lightning Strikes and a Head Scrape

The second manned lunar expedition, a feat astronaut Charles Conrad called, “a small step for Neil [Armstrong], but…a long one for me,” was not without a few mishaps. As Apollo 12 was beginning to lift off on November 14, 1969, the top of the shuttle was hit by two different lightning strikes that had the potential to compromise the spacecraft and the mission. The first strike was even visible to the spectating audience, creating a stir and concern about the safety of the mission. But despite the scare, it was determined in a quick check of all the spacecraft’s systems that no damage was done to the vehicle, and it set off to the Moon just as planned. It was the return to Earth that caused a little more trouble. As the spacecraft “splashed down” in the ocean during its return to Earth, a strong wave hit the body of the craft, causing it to jostle and swing from its parachutes. This force toppled a 16-mm film camera from where it was secured into astronaut Alan Bean’s head, causing a 1-inch (2.5-cm) cut. Bean turned out A-OK though, as Conrad quickly served as medic and bandaged the wound.

Soyuz 1: Parachute Failure

Vladimir Komarov was one of Soviet Russia’s first group of cosmonauts selected to attempt space travel. He was also the first person to enter outer space twice, though his second time would sadly be his last. During the expedition of Soyuz 1, the Soviets’ first space vehicle intended to eventually reach the Moon, Komarov encountered issues with the design of his spacecraft that led to his death. The mission plan for Soyuz 1 was a difficult one: the spacecraft was to orbit Earth and then have a rendezvous with Soyuz 2. The two vehicles would have precisely matched their orbital velocities to test the first step in docking two spacecraft together. After Komarov was in orbit around Earth and it was time for Soyuz 2 to launch and meet him, problems with the spacecraft that had been largely ignored became apparent, and the Soyuz 2 mission was halted. The mission control was able to determine that one of the solar panels on Soyuz 1 had not deployed and was limiting the power to the spacecraft dramatically. Equipment that needed the power from this solar panel was malfunctioning, creating difficulties in controlling the vehicle. It was decided that the mission could not continue, and Komarov began preparing for his return to Earth. After some trouble breaching the atmosphere, the parachutes on Soyuz 1 were deployed but did not unfold correctly, making the spacecraft impossible to slow down. Soyuz 1 crashed into Earth on April 24, 1967, killing cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Komarov was the first fatality in spaceflight and, since his death, has been honored with memorials and monuments near the site of the crash and in Russia for his bravery and skill.

Mir-18: Exercise Equipment to the Eye

Space explorers need to stay in good physical health during their time in outer space. Because of this necessity, space stations have exercise equipment that astronauts or cosmonauts can use to stay fit. During a mission to the Mir space station in 1995, astronaut Norman Thagard was attempting to do just that with a piece of exercise equipment for performing deep knee bends. The equipment used a strap of elastic that is secured to a foot in order to create resistance. While Thagard was exercising, one of the straps snapped off of his foot and flew upward, hitting him in the eye. After the initial shock of the injury, Thagard was in pain and had trouble looking at light (something hard to avoid in outer space). After being prescribed steroid eye drops, which apparently the space station had readily available, Thagard’s eye began to heal and all was back to normal.

STS-107: Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

The disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003, as it reentered the atmosphere was another of the most traumatic accidents in the history of space expedition. The Columbia disaster was the second that occurred during NASA’s space shuttle program after the Challenger, also causing widespread sadness and concerns about the space programs. The accident was caused during liftoff by the breaking off of a piece of foam that was intended to absorb and insulate the fuel tank of the shuttle from heat and to stop ice from forming. The large piece of foam fell on the shuttle’s left wing and created a hole. Though NASA officials were aware of the damage, the severity of it was unclear because of the low-quality cameras used to observe the shuttle’s launch. Knowing that the foam regularly had fallen off of previous shuttles and had not caused critical damage, NASA officials believed there was nothing to worry about. But when the Columbia attempted reentry after its mission was complete, gases and smoke entered the left wing through the hole and caused the wing to break off, leading to the disintegration of the rest of the shuttle seven minutes from landing. The entire crew of six American astronauts and the first Israeli astronaut in space died in the accident. NASA’s space shuttle program was again suspended after this disaster. Despite the tragedy, an experiment performed during the expedition that studied the effects of weightlessness on the physiology of worms was recovered from the wreckage. The worms, left in a petri dish, were still alive, a symbol of the dedication of the Columbia crew and a monument to their efforts.

The History of Spaceflight, 2011


The History of Spaceflight

The reference:
M. Gruntman. The History of Spaceflight,
in Space Mission Engineering: The New SMAD, eds. J.R. Wertz, D.F. Everett, and J.J. Puschell,
pp. 4-10, Microcosm Press, Hawthorne, Calif., 2011.

Chapter 1.2. The History of Spaceflight

University of Southern California

The heavens had been attracting the imagination of humans for millennia. Some even argue that ancient texts, including the Old Testament, described spaceships in the sky. Reaching the cosmos requires powerful rockets. So, the first steps of the humans toward spaceflight were in rocketry. For centuries an essentially international endeavor of the pursuit of spaceflight attracted people from various lands who advanced the enabling science and technology.

Ancient Greeks observed the principle of jet propulsion more than 2,000 years ago. One thousand years later the first primitive rockets appeared in China and perhaps in India, later rediscovered in many other lands. A combination of charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter—black powder— propelled the missiles. Natural abundance of saltpeter in China and India facilitated the emergence of the first war rockets in these countries.

Rockets had established a foothold in Europe some time in the 13th century. The word ‘rocket’ likely originated from the ‘rocchetta,’ a diminutive of the Italian word ‘rocca’ for distaff, a staff for holding the bunch of flux or wool from which the thread is drawn by spinning.

The early 19th century witnessed a major step in perfecting the rocket. A British inventor, William Congreve, turned ineffective and erratic missiles into a modern weapon system with standardized and interchangeable parts. These British war rockets, known as the Congreves ( Fig. 1-3 — see pdf), debuted during the Napoleonic wars. Then brought across the Atlantic Ocean, the Congreves bombarded Fort McHenry near Baltimore in 1813. Francis Scott Keys immortalized the deadly missiles in his famous line “. And the rockets’ red glare. ” in the American National Anthem

Fig. 1-3. Nineteenth Century Rockets; Hale (front), Congreve (with the centrally mounted guiding stick), and skyrocket (back). [Scoffern, 1859; Gruntman, 2004] — see pdf

War rocketry rapidly proliferated throughout Europe and reached North and South Americas and Asia. The young Chilean republic was among the first to employ the domestically-made rockets—in 1819—in the fight against its former colonial ruler, Spain. Many European countries — particularly Austria, France, and Russia — established large-scale manufacturing of war rockets. The Russian army even built in 1834 an iron-clad submarine with a crew of 10 men which fired missiles from a submerged position.

The Mexican War, 1846–1848, advanced rocketry beyond an occasional experimentation in the United States. In a short period of a few months, the Army and the Navy completed the purchase, evaluation, prototyping, and testing of a new type of spin-stabilized war rockets. (These rockets became known as the Hales, after their inventor William Hale.) The US Army formed the first missile unit, the Rocket and Mountain Howitzer battery. The mass-produced new missiles quickly reached the rocket battery deployed in Mexico with the American expeditionary force. Thus the two military services succeeded in 1840s in a joint procurement and fielding of a new technologically advanced weapon system in less than one year.

By the end of the 19th century, war rocketry had lost the competition to artillery with the introduction of rifled barrels, breech loading, and the Bessemer steel process. At this time the writers stepped in and replaced the men of sword as keepers of the interest in rocketry and spaceflight.

Nobody captured public imagination in space adventures more than the French writer Jules Verne (See Fig.1-4 – see pdf). His novels “put on fire” and motivated many young men who would decades later transform a dream of spaceflight into a reality. Jules Verne’s classic novel From the Earth to the Moon (first published in 1865) became a seminal work on spaceflight.

Fig. 1-4. Jules From the Earth to the Moon — The future express. “Yes, gentleman,” continued the orator, “in spite of the opinion of certain narrow-minded people, who would shut up the human race upon this globe . we shall one day travel to the Moon, the planets, and the stars . ” [Horne, 1911; Gruntman, 2004] — see pdf

Early science fiction writers sent main characters on space voyages to satisfy their curiosity, as a bet, or to escape debts. Then, an American author, Edward Everett Hale, published a novel The Brick Moon in 1870. The story described a launch of an artificial satellite into orbit along a meridian to help sailors at sea in determining their longitude, in the same way as the Moon aids in determining latitude. It was the first description of an application satellite.

The late 19th century brought the realization that until the rocket was perfected there would be no trips through outer space, no landing on the Moon, and no visits to other planets to meet possible inhabitants. A long period followed when isolated visionaries and thinkers, including amateurs, began practical work and sketched out the sinews of the spaceflight concept. Many “intellectuals” of the day and assorted “competent authorities” dismissed the idea of space travel as ridiculous.

A number of outstanding individuals at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century laid the foundations of practical rocketry and spaceflight. Four visionaries in 4 countries working under very different conditions became the great pioneers of the space age: the Russian Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky; the French Robert Esnault-Pelterie; the American Robert H. Goddard; and the German Hermann Oberth. They contributed in unique ways to advancing the concept of spaceflight.

The writings of Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) combined development of scientific and technological ideas with the vision of space applications. While he never built rockets, Tsiolkovsky inspired a generation of Soviet rocket enthusiasts, including Sergei P. Korolev and Valentin P. Glushko, who achieved the first satellite.

An engineering graduate of the Sorbonne University, Robert Esnault-Pelterie, 1881–1957, first gained fame as an aviation pioneer who had introduced among other things an enclosed fuselage, aileron, joystick for plane control, four-bladed propeller, and safety belt. His prestige brought the much-needed credibility to the emerging space effort. It was Esnault-Pelterie who first published a spaceflight-related article in a mainstream archival physics journal in 1913; he also introduced the word “astronautics” in the language of science.

With a Ph.D. degree in what we would call today solid-state physics, Robert H. Goddard, 1882–1945, actually demonstrated the first liquid-propellant rocket engine in 1926. Goddard achieved numerous other firsts in rocketry. One of his rockets reached a 9,000 ft (2,700 m) altitude in 1937. Many results of Goddard’s work remained largely unknown to contemporary scientists and engineers because of self-imposed secrecy, caused in part by ridicule by the ignorant and arrogant mainstream media.

Hermann Oberth, 1894–1989, published a detailed design of a sophisticated rocket in his book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space [Oberth, 1923]. He introduced numerous ideas including staging, film cooling of engine walls, and pressurization of propellant tanks. Oberth played an important role in early practical development of rocketry in Germany and provided inspiration for a generation of European space enthusiasts.

1.2.3 Building the Foundation

Powerful rockets belonged to a category of inherently complex advanced technologies where a lonely creative and gifted inventor could not succeed. Only concerted efforts of numerous well-organized professional scientists and engineers supported by significant resources could lead to practical systems. The totalitarian states were first to marshal the necessary resources and organize a large-scale development of ballistic missiles. In the Soviet Union, the military-sponsored Jet Propulsion Scientific Research Institute (RNII) employed 400 engineers and technicians in a sprawling complex in Moscow in the early 1930s. Later in the decade the Soviet program suffered from political purges and resumed its growth after 1944.

The German Army stepped up its rocket effort in 1932 by establishing a dedicated group that included Wernher von Braun. The German program grew immensely and by 1942 produced the first truly modern ballistic missile the A-4, better known as the V-2. The fueled A-4 weighed more than 12.5 metric tons and delivered a 1,000 kg warhead to distances up to 300 km. The German accomplishments also included mass production of the missiles. In a short period, under tremendous difficulties of wartime, the industry built 5,800 A-4’s, with 3,000 fired operationally against England and liberated parts of Europe. The rocket manufacturing widely used slave labor from concentration camps, accompanied by atrocities especially during the construction of the underground facilities.

In the United States during WWII, rocketry concentrated on jet assisted take off (JATO) of the airplanes and on barrage solid-propellant missiles. The first American private rocket enterprises Reaction Motors and Aerojet Engineering Corp. were formed in December 1941 and in March 1942, respectively. After the war, several centers of rocketry emerged in the industry and government under sponsorship of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

The US Army brought a number of captured German V-2 missiles to the United States. Military personnel and industrial contractors launched more than 60 V-2’s from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico by 1951. Many missiles carried science payloads studying the upper atmosphere, ionosphere, solar radiation, and cosmic rays. These first rocket experiments gave birth to a vibrant experimental space science. Subsequently, many government and university scientists became energetic advocates of space exploration.

The US Army followed its century-long tradition of the arsenal system with significant in-house engineering capabilities. By the early 1950s, it had concentrated the development of ballistic missiles and emerging space activities at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) managed another important Army rocket center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, CA. The JPL grew out of pioneering research and development programs from the group of Theodore von Karman at Caltech.

The Redstone Arsenal became the home to more than 100 “imported” German rocketeers, headed by Wernher von Braun. The Germans had come to work in the United States under contracts through Operation Paperclip. While von Braun’s rocketeers got the most publicity, the Paperclip program brought to the United States in total more than 600 German specialists in various areas of science and technology. In contrast to the compact von Braun’s group, the other scientists and engineers were dispersed among various American industrial and research organizations.

The Army, the Air Force, and the Navy were carrying out essentially independent development programs in guided missiles, with some overlap, occasional cooperation, and determined rivalry. In 1956, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson attempted to resolve the problem of duplication by defining the “roles and missions” of the services. Consequently, the Air Force asserted control over intercontinental warfare, with the Army’s role reduced to shorter range missiles.

The fateful roles-and-missions decision did not stop a most active leader of the Army’s missile program, General John B. Medaris, and von Braun from finding ways to advance their visionary space agenda. In addition to such Army achievements as the development of the operationally-deployed ballistic missiles Redstone and Jupiter in 1950s, they would succeed in launching the first American artificial satellite, Explorer I, to space. Only by the end of 1950s, the Army had finally lost its programs in long-range ballistic missiles and space when the newly formed civilian space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), took over and absorbed the JPL and von Braun’s team at Redstone.

In contrast to the Army, the Navy and especially the new service Air Force (formed in 1947) relied primarily on the contractors from the aircraft industry in their ballistic missile programs. In late 1940s and early 1950s, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) with Glenn L. Martin Co. developed the Viking sounding rocket as a replacement of the dwindling supply of the captured V-2’s. This program laid the foundation for Martin’s future contributions to ballistic missiles that would include the Titan family of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and space launchers.

In 1946, the Air Force initiated development of a new test missile, the MX-774. The Convair (Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp.) team led by Karel J. (Charlie) Bossart introduced many innovations in the MX-774 missiles that reached an altitude of 30 miles. Based on this early experience, Convair later developed the first American ICBM, the Atlas. The Atlas program, including missile deployment became a truly national effort that dwarfed the Manhattan Project of World War II.

Other major ballistic missile programs initiated in 1950s included ICBMs Titan and Minuteman and Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Thor. The Glenn L. Martin Company, Boeing Company, and Douglas Aircraft Company led the development, as prime contractors, of these missiles, respectively. Aerojet and the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation emerged as leading developers of liquid-propellant rocket engines. The Navy selected the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation as the prime contractor for its submarinelaunched solid-propellant IRBM Polaris.

The Soviet government made rocket development a top national priority in 1946. The rocketeers first reproduced the German V-2 and then proceeded with building larger and more capable ballistic missiles. Soviet rocket pioneers from the early 1930s Korolev and Glushko emerged as the chief designer of ballistic missile systems and the main developer of the enabling liquid-propellant engines.

Both the Soviet Union and United States pursued development of the ICBMs, R-7, and Atlas. These large ballistic missiles called for new testing sites — the existing American White Sands and the Soviet Kapustin Yar did not meet the requirements of safety and security. Consequently, the United States established a new missile test range at Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1949 and later another site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 1958. Cape Canaveral would subsequently support space launches into low-inclination orbit while Vandenberg would send satellites into polar orbit, especially important for reconnaissance payloads. The Soviet Union initiated the construction of a new missile test site at Tyuratam (now commonly known as Baikonur) in Kazakhstan in 1955 and another site later in Plesetsk.

1.2.4 The Breakthrough to Space

In the 1950s, spaceflight advocates scattered among various parts of the US government, industry, and academia pressed for the American satellite. The national security policies would shape the path to space. Rapidly progressing development of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons threatened devastating consequences should the Cold War turn into a fullscale military conflict. New technologies allowed no time for preparation for hostilities and mobilization and made an intelligence failure such as Pearl Harbor absolutely unacceptable. Therefore, monitoring military developments of the adversary, with accurate knowledge of its offensive potential and deployment of forces, became a key to national survival and (avoiding a fatal miscalculation,) reduced the risk of war.

Obtaining accurate information about closed societies of the communist world presented a major challenge. The perceived “bomber gap” and later the “missile gap” clearly demonstrated the importance of such information for the national policies. Consequently, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized development of overhead reconnaissance programs to be conducted in peacetime. The U-2 aircraft first overflew the Soviet Union in 1956, resolving the uncertainties of the bomber gap. Reconnaissance from space became a top priority for President Eisenhower who considered rare and sporadic U-2 overflights only a temporary measure because of improving Soviet air defenses. In 1956, the Air Force selected Lockheed’s Missile Systems Division to build reconnaissance satellites.

The international legality and acceptability of overflights of other countries by Earth-circling satellites — freedom of space — was uncertain in the 1950s. The Eisenhower administration considered testing the principle of freedom of space by launching a purely scientific satellite critically important for establishing a precedent enabling future space reconnaissance.

This was the time when scientists in many countries were preparing for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) to be conducted from July 1957–December 1958. They planned comprehensive world-wide measurements of the upper atmosphere, ionosphere, geomagnetic field, cosmic rays, and auroras. Space advocates emphasized that artificial satellites could greatly advance such studies. Consequently, both the United States and the Soviet Union announced their plans of placing into orbit artificial satellites for scientific purposes during the IGY. Both countries succeeded.

President Eisenhower insisted on clear decoupling of American scientific satellites from military applications in order to first assert freedom of space. This national security imperative determined the publicly visible path to the satellite. In 1955, the US government selected the NRL proposal to develop a new space launch vehicle and a scientific satellite, both known as the Vanguard. The choice of the new system was made over a more mature technology of the Project Orbiter advocated by Army’s Medaris and von Braun. The Army proposed to use the Jupiter C, an augmented Redstone ballistic missile. In fact, a test launch of the Jupiter C on September 20, 1956, could have put a simple satellite into orbit had the Army been permitted to use a solid-propellant missile — as it would later do launching the Explorer I—instead of an inactive fourth stage.

John P. Hagen led the Vanguard program with Glenn L. Martin Co. as the prime contractor of the launch vehicle and with NRL providing technical direction. The Vanguard program also built scientific satellites and established a process of calling for proposals and selecting space science experiments. In addition, it deployed a network of the Minitrack ground stations to detect and communicate with the satellites which laid the foundation for the future NASA’s Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network (STDN). Many optical stations around the world would also observe the satellites by the specially designed Baker-Nunn telescope tracking cameras.

The Soviet Union focused its resources on demonstrating the first ICBM. After the R-7 had successfully flown for the full range, Korolev launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit on October 4, 1957. Ironically, this Soviet success had finally resolved the lingering issue of the space overflight rights that so concerned President Eisenhower: no country protested the overflight by the Soviet satellite, thus establishing the principle of freedom of space (see Fig. 1-5 ).

Fig. 1-5. Comparative Sizes and Masses of the Earth Satellites Sputnik 1, Explorer I, and Vanguard I [Gruntman, 2004]. — see pdf

The second, much larger Soviet satellite with the dog Laika aboard successfully reached orbit on November 3, 1957. The Vanguard program had been steadily progressing but was not ready for launch yet. On November 8, the Secretary of Defense gave the permission to the eager Army team led by Medaris and von Braun to also attempt launching satellites. On January 31, 1958, the Army’s modified Jupiter C missile successfully placed the first American satellite Explorer I into orbit.

Subsequently the Vanguard launch vehicle deployed the Vanguard I satellite into orbit on March 17, 1958. Popular sentiments in the United States have sometimes blamed the Vanguard program for losing the competition to the Soviet Union. It is grossly unfair. The Vanguard program demonstrated a record fast development of a new space launcher, with only 30 months from the vehicle authorization in August 1955 to the first successful launch in March 1958. The Vanguard spacecraft remains today the oldest man-made object in orbit, and it will reenter the atmosphere in a couple hundred years. We have time to find funding to bring the satellite back to the planet Earth for a place of honor in a museum.

There was no technological gap between the Soviet Union and the United States in the beginning of the space age. Being the first in launching the satellite was a matter of focus and national commitment. Fourteen months after the launch of Sputnik, the United States had placed spacecraft into orbit by 3 entirely different launchers developed by 3 different teams of government agencies and industrial contractors. (The Air Force’s Atlas deployed the first communications satellite SCORE in December 1958.)

The last years of the Eisenhower administration shaped the structure of the American space program. The president established a new Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, the predecessor of DARPA), to fund and direct the growing national space effort. The security-conscious president resisted expansion of the government programs but always supported advancement of spaceflight in the interests of national security.

Bending to powerful political forces Eisenhower reluctantly agreed to establish a new government agency responsible for a civilian effort in space. The president signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law which formed NASA on October 1, 1958. Within a short period of time, NASA subsumed the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), Army’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and major elements of the ballistic missile program in Huntsville, and NRL’s Vanguard group.

NASA vigorously embarked on scientific exploration of space, launching increasingly capable spacecraft to study the space environment and the Sun and creating space astronomy. The missions to flyby the Moon and, later, nearby planets followed. These first space missions began a new era of discovery that laid the foundation for the flourishing American space science and planetary exploration of today. At the same time, NASA embarked on preparation for human spaceflight.

Rocketry Industry “Namescape” (text box)

Merges and acquisition have significantly changed the “namescape” of rocket industry. Titan’s prime contractor, the Martin Company, merged with Marietta in 1961, forming Martin Marietta. Convair became Space System Division of General Dynamics in 1954, known as General Dynamics—Astronautics. Martin Marietta acquired General Dynamics’ Space System Division in 1995 and then merged in the same year with Lockheed, forming The Lockheed Martin Corporation. Thus both, the Atlas and the Titan families of space launchers ended up under the same corporate roof. Another important component of Lockheed Martin’s rocket assets is the submarinelaunched solid-propellant Tridents. Boeing added to its Minuteman missiles the Delta family of space launchers after acquiring McDonnell-Douglas in 1997. [Gruntman, 2004, p. 253]

At the same time the military space program focused on communications, early warning, command and control, and support of military operations. The Air Force led this effort with the Navy engaged in selected important programs, such as space based navigation. The Army preserved the responsibility for major elements of missile defense.

Another national security program dealt with space reconnaissance and was directed jointly by the intelligence community and the military. In 1960, President Eisenhower established a special office in the Department of Defense (DoD), staffed by military officers and government civilians, to direct space reconnaissance, separated from military procurement and hidden by an extra protective layer of secrecy. This organization would become the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) overseen by the Air Force and the CIA. The image intelligence satellite Corona achieved the first successful overflight of the Soviet Union in August 1960, returning images that effectively resolved the uncertainties of the perceived missile gap.

President Eisenhower handed over to his successor in the White House a structure of the national space program that has essentially survived in its main features until the present day. NASA leads the civilian space effort. National security space consists of two main components. The services are responsible for military space while the intelligence community and military direct gathering and processing of the intelligence information from space. While these 3 programs are sometimes viewed as separate, they all had originated from the early military space effort and they all have been interacting to varying degrees during the years.

The heating up competition in space with the Soviet Union erupted into the public focus when the first man, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961. President Kennedy responded by challenging the nation to land “a man on the Moon and returning him safely [back] to the Earth.” The resulting Apollo program culminated with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin making man’s first steps on the Moon in July 1969.

The late 1950s and early 1960s witnessed emerging commercial applications in space. The first transatlantic telephone cable had connected Europe and North America in 1956 to meet the increasing demand in communications. Space offered a cost-competitive alternative, and industrial companies showed much interest and enthusiasm for it, especially AT&T, RCA, General Electric, and Hughes Aircraft. The DoD supported the development of space communications on the government side. It was not clear at the time whether satellites in low, medium, or geostationary orbits would offer the best solution. While geostationary satellites provided excellent coverage, the technical challenges of building and deploying such satellites and their control had not yet been met.

Initially, the industry invested significant resources in the development of space communications. The situation drastically changed when President Kennedy signed the Communications Satellite Act in 1962. Now government, including NASA, became a major player in commercial space communications, with the authority to regulate and to a significant extent dictate the development. Consequently, the Communications Satellite (Comsat) Corporation was formed in 1963 to manage procurement of satellites for the international communications consortium Intelsat.

The Hughes Aircraft Company demonstrated a practical geostationary communication satellite with launches of 3 test spin-stabilized Syncom satellites in 1963–1964. As the technology progressed, several companies introduced 3-axis stabilized geostationary satellites. Since the beginning of the space age, satellite communications have been dominating commercial space, with most of activities today concentrated in the direct-to-home TV broadcasting and fixed satellite services. Figure 1-6 (see pdf) demonstrates the astounding increase in capabilities of geostationary communication satellites with the example of one family of satellites built by Hughes, now part of the Boeing Company.

Fig. 1-6. Spectacular Growth of Communication Satellite Capabilities. Example of satellites developed by Hughes/Boeing [Gruntman, 2008]. — see pdf; this figure in color is given in course notes of Mike’s ASTE-520 (perhaps the largest graduate spacecraft design class in the country) or in notes for his short courses offered for government and industry.

Military and reconnaissance satellites provided critically important capabilities essential for national survival. NASA missions, especially manned missions, were highly visible and reflected on the nation’s international prestige, so important in the Cold War battles. As a result, National Security Space (NSS) and NASA missions had one feature in common: failure was not an option which inevitably led to a culture of building highly-reliable systems. Space missions were thus performance driven, with cost being of secondary importance. The consequent high-cost of the space undertaking led, in turn, to increased government oversight which drove the schedules and costs further up. The government-regulated commercial space, dominated by the same industrial contractors, could not develop a different culture.

After landing twelve astronauts on the Moon, NASA brought to us spectacular achievements in space science and in exploration of the Solar system. Numerous space missions advanced our understanding of the Sun’s activity and the near-Earth environment. NASA spacecraft visited all planets of the Solar system with the exception of Pluto (Ed.: Pluto is now officially a dwarf planet.) — the New Horizons mission is presently enroute to the latter.

The Soviet Union established a permanent space station, Mir, in low-Earth orbit. The American human space flight concentrated on the development of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). The Space Shuttle carried astronauts to low-Earth orbit from 1981 to 2011. The ISS, with a mass of about 400 metric tons, has the opportunity to demonstrate what humans can do in space.

Today, space affects government, business, and culture. Many countries project military power, commercial interests, and national image though space missions. It is a truly high-technology frontier, expensive and government-controlled or government-regulated. Space has become an integral part of everyday lives of people. We are accustomed to weather forecasts based on space-based sensors. Satellites deliver TV broadcasts to individual homes. The Global Positioning System (GPS) reaches hundreds of millions of users worldwide, guiding drivers on the road, aircraft in the air, and hikers in the mountains.

After the end of the Cold War, the transformation of space from a primarily strategic asset into increasingly integrated tactical applications, supporting the warfighter, accelerated. NSS provides critically important capabilities in command and control, communications, reconnaissance, monitoring of international treaties, and guiding precision munitions to targets. Missile defense heavily relies on space sensors and communications for early warning and intercept guidance. NSS spends annually twice as much as NASA.

The space enterprise has become a true international endeavor. Seven countries joined the Soviet Union and United States in the elite club of nations that launched their own satellites on their own space launchers: France (1965), Japan (1970), People’s Republic of China (1970), United Kingdom (1971), India (1980), Israel (1988), and Iran (2009). The European countries have combined their efforts and launch their satellites today through the European Space Agency (ESA). Canada also conducts an active space program. Brazil has an active space program and it is only a question of time until it successfully launches its satellite. South Korea also pursues development of space launch capabilities, with Russia initially providing important parts of launch technology. The secretive North Korea tries to launch a satellite. In addition, numerous other countries bought and operate various satellite systems.

MG: Since publication of this book in 2011, North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — DPRK) and South Korea (Republic of Korea — ROK) launched their satellites in December 2012 and January 2013, respectively. See analysis of North Korea’s launch.

Very few countries presently match the American commitment to space exploration and space applications. “Only France (and the old Soviet Union in the past) approaches the US space expenditures in terms of the fraction of the gross domestic product (GDP). Most other industrialized countries (Europe and Japan) spend in space, as fraction of GDP, 4 to 6 times less than the United States.” [Gruntman, 2004, p. 462] People’s Republic of China and India are expanding their space programs. The highly space-capable Russia is also increasing its space activities after the decline of the 1990s.

For many years, the United States has led the world in space. The health and the future of the American space enterprise depend on the national commitment—there is no limit to what we can do. President Kennedy observed that “for while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first [in space], we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort [in space] will make us last . ” [Gruntman, 2004, p.383].

Public policy. Copyright &copy 2004–2016. All rights reserved.

Timeline: 50 Years of Spaceflight, Space

Timeline: 50 Years of Spaceflight

On Oct. 4, 2007, the Space Age celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, by the former Soviet Union.

The space shot also launched the Space Race to the moon between the United States and the Soviet Union. But despite that turbulent beginning, the initial launch has led to five decades of triumphs and tragedies in space science and exploration.

Below is a timeline by Space News and SPACE.com chronicling the first 50 years of spaceflight. You are invited to walk through the half century of space exploration and click related links for more in depth information:

Sometime in the 11th century: China combines sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter (potassium nitrate) to make gunpowder, the first fuel used to propel early rockets in Chinese warfare.

July 4, 1054: Chinese astronomers observe the supernova in Taurus that formed the Crab Nebula.

Mid-1700s: Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysome in India, begins manufacturing rockets sheathed in iron, not cardboard or paper, to improve their range and stability.

March 16, 1926: Robert Goddard, sometimes referred to as the “Father of Modern Rocketry,” launches the first successful liquid-fueled rocket.

July 17, 1929: Robert Goddard launches a rocket that carries with it the first set of scientific tools — a barometer and a camera — in Auburn, Mass. The launch was Goddard’s fourth.

Feb. 18, 1930: The dwarf planet Pluto is discovered by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Oct. 3, 1942: Germany successfully test launches the first ballistic missile, the A4, more commonly known as the V-2, and later uses it near the end of European combat in World War II.

Sep. 29, 1945: Wernher von Braun arrives at Ft. Bliss, Texas, with six other German rocket specialists.

Oct. 14, 1947: American test pilot Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier for the first time in the X-1, also known as Glamorous Glennis.

Oct. 4, 1957: A modified R-7 two-stage ICBM launches the satellite Sputnik 1 from Tyuratam. The Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States begins.

Nov. 3, 1957: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 2 with the first living passenger, the dog Laika, aboard.

Dec. 6, 1957: A Vanguard TV-3 carrying a grapefruit-sized satellite explodes at launch; a failed response to the Sputnik launch by the United States.

Jan. 31, 1958: Explorer 1, the first satellite with an onboard telemetry system, is launched by the United States into orbit aboard a Juno rocket and returns data from space.

Oct. 7, 1958: NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan publicly announces NASA’s manned spaceflight program along with the formation of the Space Task Group, a panel of scientist and engineers from space-policy organizations absorbed by NASA. The announcement came just six days after NASA was founded.

Jan. 2, 1959: The U.S.S.R. launches Luna 1, which misses the moon but becomes the first artificial object to leave Earth orbit.

Jan. 12, 1959: NASA awards McDonnell Corp. the contract to manufacture the Mercury capsules.

Feb. 28, 1959: NASA launches Discover 1, the U.S. first spy satellite, but it is not until the Aug. 11, 1960, launch of Discover 13 that film is recovered successfully.

May 28, 1959: The United States launches the first primates in space, Able and Baker, on a suborbital flight.

Aug. 7, 1959: NASA’s Explorer 6 launches and provides the first photographs of the Earth from space.

Sept. 12, 1959: The Soviet Union’s Luna 2 is launched and two days later is intentionally crashed into the Moon.

Sept. 17, 1959: NASA’s X-15 hypersonic research plane, capable of speeds to Mach 6.7, makes its first powered flight.

Oct. 24, 1960: To rush the launch of a Mars probe before the Nov. 7 anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Field Marshall Mitrofan Nedelin ignored several safety protocols and 126 people are killed when the R-16 ICBM explodes at the Baikonur Cosmodrome during launch preparations.

Feb. 12, 1961: The Soviet Union launches Venera to Venus, but the probe stops responding after a week.

April 12, 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space with a 108-minute flight on Vostok 1 in which he completed one orbit.

May 5, 1961: Mercury Freedom 7 launches on a Redstone rocket for a 15-minute suborbital flight, making Alan Shepard the first American in space.

May 25, 1961: In a speech before Congress, President John Kennedy announces that an American will land on the moon and be returned safely to Earth before the end of the decade.

Oct. 27, 1961: Saturn 1, the rocket for the initial Apollo missions, is tested for the first time.

Feb. 20, 1962: John Glenn makes the first U.S. manned orbital flight aboard Mercury 6.

June 7, 1962: Wernher von Braun backs the idea of a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mission.

July 10, 1962: The United States launches Telstar 1, which enables the trans-Atlantic transmission of television signals.

June 14, 1962: Agreements are signed establishing the European Space Research Organisation and the European Launcher Development Organisation. Both eventually were dissolved.

July 28, 1962: The U.S.S.R launches its first successful spy satellite, designated Cosmos 7.

Aug. 27, 1962: Mariner 2 launches and eventually performs the first successful interplanetary flyby when it passes by Venus.

Sept. 29, 1962: Canada’s Alouette 1 launches aboard a NASA Thor-Agena B rocket, becoming the first satellite from a country other than the United States or Soviet Union.

June 16, 1963: Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to fly into space.

July 28, 1964: Ranger 7 launches and is the Ranger series’ first success, taking photographs of the moon until it crashes into its surface four days later.

April 8, 1964: Gemini 1, a two-seat spacecraft system, launches in an unmanned flight.

Aug. 19, 1964: NASA’s Syncom 3 launches aboard a Thor-Delta rocket, becoming the first geostationary telecommunications satellite.

Oct. 12, 1964: The Soviet Union launches Voskhod 1, a modified Vostok orbiter with a three-person crew.

March 18, 1965: Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov makes the first spacewalk from the Voskhod 2 orbiter.

March 23, 1965: Gemini 3, the first of the manned Gemini missions, launches with a two-person crew on a Titan 2 rocket, making astronaut Gus Grissom the first man to travel in space twice.

June 3, 1965: Ed White, during the Gemini 4 mission, becomes the first American to walk in space.

July 14, 1965: Mariner 4 executes the first successful Mars flyby.

Aug. 21, 1965: Gemini 5 launches on an eight-day mission.

Dec. 15, 1965: Gemini 6 launches and performs a rendezvous with Gemini 7.

Jan. 14, 1966: The Soviet Union’s chief designer, Sergei Korolev, dies from complications stemming from routine surgery, leaving the Soviet space program without its most influential leader of the preceding 20 years.

Feb. 3, 1966: The unmanned Soviet spacecraft Luna 9 makes the first soft landing on the Moon.

March 1, 1966: The Soviet Union’s Venera 3 probe becomes the first spacecraft to land on the planetVenus, but its communications system failed before data could be returned.

March 16, 1966: Gemini 8 launches on a Titan 2 rocket and later docks with a previously launched Agena rocket — the first docking between two orbiting spacecraft.

April 3, 1966: The Soviet Luna 10 space probe enters lunar orbit, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon.

June 2, 1966: Surveyor 1, a lunar lander, performs the first successful U.S. soft landing on the Moon.

Jan. 27, 1967: All three astronauts for NASA’s Apollo 1 mission suffocate from smoke inhalationin a cabin fire during a launch pad test.

April 5, 1967: A review board delivers a damning report to NASA Administrator James Webb about problem areas in the Apollo spacecraft. The recommended modifications are completed by Oct. 9, 1968.

April 23, 1967: Soyuz 1 launches but myriad problems surface. The solar panels do not unfold, there are stability problems and the parachute fails to open on descent causing the death of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov.

Oct. 11, 1968: Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, launches on a Saturn 1 for an 11-day mission in Earth orbit. The mission also featured the first live TV broadcast of humans in space.

Dec. 21, 1968: Apollo 8 launches on a Saturn V and becomes the first manned mission to orbit the moon.

Jan. 16, 1969: Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 rendezvous and dock and perform the first in-orbit crew transfer.

March 3, 1969: Apollo 9 launches. During the mission, tests of the lunar module are conducted in Earth orbit.

May 22, 1969: Apollo 10’s Lunar Module Snoopy comes within 8.6 miles (14 kilometers) of the moon’s surface.

July 20, 1969: Six years after U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Apollo 11 crew lands on the Moon, fulfilling his promise to put an American there by the end of the decade and return him safely to Earth.

Nov. 26, 1965: France launches its first satellite, Astérix, on a Diamant A rocket, becoming the third nation to do so.

Feb. 11, 1970: Japan’s Lambda 4 rocket launches a Japanese test satellite, Ohsumi into orbit.

April 13, 1970: An explosion ruptures thecommand module of Apollo 13, days after launch and within reach of the moon. Abandoning the mission to save their lives, the astronauts climb into the Lunar Module and slingshot around the Moon to speed their return back to Earth.

April 24, 1970: The People’s Republic of China launches its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong-1, on a Long March 1 rocket, becoming the fifth nation capable of launching its own satellites into space.

Sept. 12: 1970: The Soviet Union launches Luna 16, the first successful automated lunar sample retrieval mission.

April 19, 1971: A Proton rocket launches thefirst space station, Salyut 1, from Baikonur.

June 6, 1971: Soyuz 11 launches successfully, docking with Salyut 1. The three cosmonauts are killed during re-entry from a pressure leak in the cabin.

July 26, 1971: Apollo 15 launches with a Boeing-built Lunar Roving Vehicle and better life-support equipment to explore the Moon.

Oct. 28, 1971: The United Kingdom successfully launches its Prospero satellite into orbit on a Black Arrow rocket, becoming the sixth nation capable of launching its own satellites into space.

Nov. 13, 1971: Mariner 9 becomes the first spacecraft to orbit Mars and provides the first complete map of the planet’s surface.

Jan. 5, 1972: U.S. President Richard Nixon announces that NASA is developing a reusable launch vehicle, the space shuttle.

March 3, 1972: Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to leave the solar system, launches from Cape Kennedy, Fla.

Dec. 19, 1972: Apollo 17, the last mission to the moon, returns to Earth.

May 14, 1973: A Saturn V rocket launches Skylab, the United States’ first space station.

March 29, 1974: Mariner 10 becomes the first spacecraft to fly by Mercury.

April 19, 1975: The Soviet Union launches India’s first satellite, Aryabhata.

May 31, 1975: The European Space Agency is formed.

July 17 1975: Soyuz-19 and Apollo 18 dock.

Aug. 9, 1975: ESA launches its first satellite, Cos-B, aboard a Thor-Delta rocket.

Sept. 9, 1975: Viking 2, composed of a lander and an orbiter, launches for Mars.

July 20, 1976: The U.S. Viking 1 lands on Mars, becoming the first successful Mars lander.

Aug. 20, 1977: Voyager 2 is launched on a course toward Uranus and Neptune.

Sept. 5, 1977: Voyager 1 is launched to perform flybys of Jupiter and Saturn.

Sept. 29, 1977: Salyut 6 reaches orbit. It is the first space station equipped with docking stations on either end, which allow for two vehicles to dock at once, including the Progress supply ship.

Feb. 22, 1978: The first GPS satellite, Navstar 1, launches aboard an Atlas F rocket.

July 11, 1979: Skylab, the first American space station, crashes back to Earth in the sparsely populated grasslands of western Australia.

Sept. 1, 1979: Pioneer 11 becomes the first spacecraft to fly past Saturn.

Dec. 24, 1979: The French-built Ariane rocket, Europe’s first launch vehicle, launches successfully.

July 18 1980: India launches its Rohini 1 satellite. By using its domestically developed SLV-3 rocket, India becomes the seventh nation capable of sending objects into space by itself.

April 12, 1981: Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from Cape Canaveral, beginning the first space mission for NASA’s new astronaut transportation system.

June 24, 1982: French air force test pilot Jean-Loup Chrétien launches to the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 aboard Soyuz T-6.

Nov. 11, 1982: Shuttle Columbia launches. During its mission, it deploys two commercial communications satellites.

June 18, 1983: Sally Ride aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger becomes the first American woman in space.

Feb. 7, 1984: Astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart maneuver as many as 328 feet (100 meters) from the Space Shuttle Challenger using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, which contains small thrusters, in the first ever untethered spacewalks.

April 8, 1984: Challenger crew repairs the Solar Max satellite during a spacewalk.

Sept. 11: 1985: The International Cometary Explorer, launched by NASA in 1978, performs the first comet flyby.

Jan. 24, 1986: Voyager 2 completes the first and only spacecraft flyby of Uranus.

Jan. 28, 1986: Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after launch after its external tank exploded, grounding the shuttle fleet for more than two years.

Feb. 20, 1986: The Soviet Union launches theMir space station.

March 13, 1986: A two-cosmonaut crew launches aboard Soyuz T-15 to power up the Mir space station. During their 18-month mission, they also revive the abandoned Salyut 7, and take parts that are later placed aboard Mir.

June 15, 1988: PanAmSat launches its first satellite, PanAmSat 1, on an Ariane 4 rocket, giving Intelsat its first taste of competition.

Sept. 19, 1988: Israel launches its first satellite, the Ofeq 1 reconnaissance probe, aboard an Israeli Shavit rocket.

Nov. 15, 1988: The Soviet Union launches its Buran space shuttle on its only flight, an unpiloted test.

May 4, 1989: The Space Shuttle Atlantis launches the Magellan space probe to use radar to map the surface of Venus.

Oct. 18, 1989: Shuttle Atlantis launches with Jupiter-bound Galileo space probe on board.

April 7, 1990: China launches the Asiasat-1 communications satellite, completing its first commercial contract.

April 25, 1990: The Space Shuttle Discovery releases the Hubble Space Telescopeinto Earth orbit.

Oct. 29, 1991: The U.S. Galileo spacecraft, on its way to Jupiter, successfully encounters the asteroid Gaspra, obtaining images and other data during its flyby.

April 23, 1992: The U.S. Cosmic Background Explorer spacecraft detects the first evidence of structure in the residual radiation left over from the Big Bang that created the Universe.

Dec. 28, 1992: Lockheed and Khrunichev Enterprise announce plans to form Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia International, a new company to market Proton rockets.

June 21, 1993: Shuttle Endeavour launches carrying Spacehab, a privately owned laboratory that sits in the shuttle cargo bay.

Dec. 2, 1993: Endeavour launches on a mission to repair theHubble Space Telescope.

Dec. 17, 1993: DirecTV launches its first satellite, DirecTV 1, aboard an Ariane 4 rocket.

Feb. 7, 1994: The first Milstar secure communications satellite launches. The geosynchronous satellites are used by battlefield commanders and for strategic communications.

Oct. 15, 1994: India launches its four-stage PolarSatellite Launch Vehicle for the first time.

Jan. 26, 1995: A Chinese Long March rocket carrying the Hughes-built Apstar-1 rocket fails. The accident investigation, along with the probe of a subsequent Long March failure that destroyed an Intelsat satellite, leads to technology-transfer allegations that ultimately result in the U.S. government barring launches of American-built satellites on Chinese rockets.

Feb. 3, 1995: The Space Shuttle Discovery launches anddocks with the Mir space station.

March 15, 1995: Aerospace giants Lockheed Corp. and Martin Marietta Corp. merge.

July 13, 1995: Galileo releases its space probe, which is bound for Jupiter and its moons.

Aug. 7, 1996: NASA and Stanford University researchers announce a paper contending that a 4-billion-year-old Martian meteorite, called ALH 84001, found in Antarctica in 1984, contains fossilized traces of carbonate materials that suggest primitive life might once have existed on Mars. That contention remains controversial.

May 5, 1997: Satellite mobile phone company Iridium launches its first five satellites on a Delta 2 rocket.

June 25 1997: An unmanned Russian Progress supply spacecraft collides with the Mir space station.

July 4, 1997: The Mars Pathfinder lander and its accompanying Sojourner rover touch down on the surface of Mars.

Aug. 1, 1997: The Boeing Co. and the McDonnell Douglas Corp. merge, keeping Boeing’s name.

Feb. 14, 1998: Globalstar, a satellite mobile telephone company, launches its first four satellites on a Delta 2 rocket.

Sept. 9, 1998: A Russian Zenit 2 rocket launches and subsequently crashes, destroying all 12 Loral-built Globalstar satellites aboard. The payload had an estimated value of about $180 million.

Nov. 20, 1998: Russia’s Zarya control module, the first segment of the International Space Station, launches into space and unfurls its solar arrays.

March 27, 1999: Sea Launch Co. launches a demonstration satellite, successfully completing its first launch.

July 23, 1999: The Chandra X-ray observatory, NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy, launches aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Aug. 13, 1999: Iridium files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after being unable to pay its creditors. Iridium Satellite LLC later acquired the original Iridium’s assets from bankruptcy.

Nov. 19, 1999: China successfully test launches the unmanned Shenzhou 1.

July 10, 2000: Europe’s largest aerospace company, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., EADS, forms with the consolidation of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG of Munich, Aerospatiale Matra S.A. of Paris, and Construcciones Aeronáuticas S.A. of Madrid.

March 18, 2001: After launch delays with XM-1, XM Satellite Radio’s XM-2 satellite becomes the company’s first satellite in orbit when it is launched by Sea Launch Co.

March 23, 2001: After being mothballed in 1999, Mir descends into the Earth’s atmosphere and breaks up over the Pacific Ocean.

May 6, 2001: U.S. entrepreneur Dennis Tito returns to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to become the world’s first paying tourist to visit the International Space Station.

Aug. 29, 2001: Japan’s workhorse launch system, the two-stage H-2A rocket, launches for the first time.

Feb. 15, 2002: After having trouble selling its satellite mobile phone service, Globalstar voluntarily files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from escalating creditor debt. The company emerged from bankruptcy April 14, 2004.

Feb. 1, 2003: The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, killing the crew. Damage from insulating foam hitting the orbiter’s leading wing on liftoff is later cited as the cause of the accident.

Aug 22, 2003: The VLS-V03, a Brazilian prototype rocket, explodes on the launch pad at Alcántara killing 21 people.

Aug. 25, 2003: NASA launches the Spitzer Space Telescope aboard a Delta rocket.

Oct. 1, 2003: Japan’s two space agencies, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science and the National Space Development Agency of Japan, merge into the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Oct. 15, 2003: Yang Liwei becomes China’s first taikonaut, having launched aboard Shenzhou 5.

Jan. 4, 2004: The first Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, lands on Mars. Its twin, Opportunity lands Jan. 25.

Jan. 14, 2004: President George W. Bush advocates space exploration missions to the moon and Mars for NASA in his Vision for Space Exploration speech.

Sept. 20, 2004: India launches its three-stage Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle for the first time.

Oct. 4, 2004: Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne piloted craft wins the X Prize by flying over 100 kilometers above Earth twice within two weeks.

July 26, 2005: Discovery becomes the first shuttle to launch since the Columbia disaster more than two years before. While the crew returned safely, the loss of several pieces of foam debris prompted further investigation, which delayed future shuttle missions.

Oct. 12, 2005: A two-taikonaut crew launches aboard the Chinese Shenzhou 6.

Oct 19, 2005: The last of the Martin Marietta-built Titan 4 heavy-lift rockets launches.

Jan. 19, 2006: New Horizons, NASA’s first-ever mission to the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons, launches atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Flies past Jupiter one year later in what is billed as NASA’s fastest mission to date.

July 3, 2006: Intelsat acquires fellow fixed satellite service provider PanAmSat for $6.4 billion.

July 4, 2006: NASA’s second post-Columbia accident test flight, STS-121 aboard Discovery, begins a successful space station-bound mission, returning the U.S. orbiter fleet to flight status.

Sept. 9., 2006: NASA resumes construction of the International Space Station with the launch of the shuttle Atlantis on STS-115 after two successful return to flight test missions. Atlantis’ launch occurs after nearly four years without a station construction flight.

Oct. 11, 2006: Lockheed Martin completes the sale of its majority share in International Launch Services to Space Transport Inc. for $60 million.

Jan. 11, 2007: China downs one of its weather satellites, Fengyun-1C, with a ground launched missile. In doing so, China joins Russia and the United States as the only nations to have successfully tested anti-satellite weapons.

April 6, 2007: The European Commission approves the acquisition of French-Italian Alcatel Alenia by Paris-based Thales, thus creating satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space.?

Aug. 8, 2007: NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour launches toward the International Space Station on the STS-118 construction mission. The shuttle crew includes teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, NASA’s first educator spaceflyer, who originally served backup for the first Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe who was lost with six crewmates during the 1986 Challenger accident.

Sept. 27, 2007: Dawn, the first ion-powered probe to visit two celestial bodies in one go, launches on an eight-year mission to the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres, the two largest space rocks in the solar system.

Oct. 1, 2007: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station, prepares for an Oct. 10 launch with her Expedition 16 crewmate Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysia’s first astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. Whitson, and NASA’s second female shuttle commander Pamela Melroy, will command a joint space station construction mission in late October.

Oct. 4, 2007: The Space Age turns 50, five decades after the historic launch of Sputnik 1.

A brief history of space flight – in numbers, New Scientist

A brief history of space flight – in numbers

Thirty-one astronauts have made a return-trip to Mars. Well, not quite – but they have put in the requisite hours in space. That’s just one of the surprising insights to come out of a recent attempt to chart humanity’s 52-year history in space.

Gilles Clément and Angelia Bukley of the International Space University in Illkirch-Graffenstaden, France, used publicly available information from the US, Russian and Chinese space programmes. Between 12 April 1961, when Yuri Gagarin took a single orbit around the Earth on board the Soviet Vostok-1 craft and December 2013, they counted the humans who have flown to space, how long they collectively spent there and who they were.

We picked out our favourites six insights, then put them in context with data from elsewhere.

1. Astronauts are as common as Nobel prizewinners


As of 31 December 2013, 539 individuals had been to space, defined as reaching an altitude of 100 kilometres or more. That’s a rate of about 10 per year, and roughly equivalent to the 566 people who have ever won a Nobel prize in a science subject (physics, chemistry, or physiology/medicine).

(Note: Clément and Bukley’s analysis does not include the two commercial astronauts who piloted the SpaceShipOne test flights in 2004, who were in space for just a few minutes each.)

2. Space trips last days, months… but rarely years

Gagarin’s single orbit of the Earth lasted just 108 minutes. Clément and Bukley found that of a total of 1211 person-flights, defined as a single crew member flying one mission, most last less than a month. Presumably these short hops were trips to the moon and missions spent inside NASA’s now-retired space shuttle, to build and repair the International Space Station. But a significant minority spent five or six months, representing stays on board the ISS.

3. Many astronauts spend more than a year of their life in space

Though no single trip has been longer than Valeri Polyakov’s 437 days aboard the Soviet space station Mir, if you count total time in space over a lifetime, the figures are quite different.

4. Thirty-one astronauts have been to Mars and back, sort of

One of Clément and Bukley’s most surprising observations is that 31 travellers have spent over a year in total in space, enough to make a trip to Mars and back – though the exact travel time depends on relative positions of Earth and the Red Planet.

5. Like many adventures, space is sexist

Last year, a private foundation announced plans to send a man and woman on a 501-day round-trip to Mars, to “represent all of humanity”. Spaceflight so far has been far from representative when it comes to gender, though it is not the only extreme pursuit with a skew.

6. Space travel is not as dangerous as you might expect

Clément and Bukley also examined the risks of space travel. Counting two lost shuttles and two lost Soyuz capsules, the pair calculated that the chance of dying on a space mission is 1.5 per cent, markedly less than the percentage of people who die attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

The 5 Deadliest Disasters of the Space Race

After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the United States entered a fierce competition with their Communist rivals for dominance in space. The ensuing space race was filled with many notable successes – including American astronauts walking and playing golf on the Moon – but the era was not without its failures, including some deadly catastrophes.

Apollo 1 – 1967
The first fatal accident in the history of U.S. space flight occurred on January 27, 1967, during preparations for the first manned mission of the Apollo space program. A flash fire broke out in the command module of Apollo 204 during a simulated launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, killing astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee of asphyxiation. A stray spark started the fire in the pure oxygen environment inside the module, and design flaws in the hatch door made it impossible to open in time to save the astronauts. In the aftermath of the accident, NASA officially designated the mission as Apollo 1.

VIDEO: Engineering Disasters- Apollos 1 and 13

In this video from Modern Marvels, we learn about the Apollo spaceflight program and the engineering disasters that plagued it. Three astronauts died while training for the first planned mission, Apollo 1, in 1967. Then, one year after Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the Moon, the Apollo 13 mission almost ended in disaster when an explosion occurred on board.

Soyuz 1 – 1967
Just three months after the Apollo 1 fire, Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov became the first fatality in space flight when Soyuz 1, the first Soviet space vehicle aimed at eventually reaching the moon, crashed into Earth on April 24, 1967. Soyuz 1 was still in the experimental stage at the time of the mission, and problems began almost immediately after it entered orbit, some nine minutes after launch. One of the solar panels failed to deploy, which cut the power supply and interfered with the spacecraft’s controls. The mission was aborted, but after a difficult reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, the Soyuz 1 parachutes failed to deploy correctly, and Komarov was unable to escape before the spacecraft crashed violently to the ground in southeastern Russia.

Soyuz 11 – 1971
Eager to outstrip their counterparts in the U.S. space program after the success of the moon landings, the Russians launched the world’s first space station, Salyut-1, in April 1971. That June, three cosmonauts aboard Soyuz 11 spent three weeks conducting experiments and observations at the space station, earning hero status back at home. Upon their return trip on June 30, the spacecraft made a normal reentry and a perfect (automatic) landing. But when the ground team opened the hatch, they found all three cosmonauts unresponsive. A faulty air vent had opened when the orbital and descent modules of Soyuz 11 separated, and the cabin had depressurized; the cosmonauts, none of whom were wearing space suits, likely suffocated to death 30 minutes before landing. As a legacy of the Soyuz 11 disaster, the Soviet and U.S. space programs would pass requirements ensuring their cosmonauts and astronauts wear space suits during any phases of a mission where depressurization could possibly occur.

VIDEO: Challenger Explosion

On January 28, 1986, the tenth mission of the space shuttle Challenger ended in tragic disaster. We remember the seven astronauts who lost their lives that day, including Christa McAuliffe, who was chosen by NASA to pioneer its Teacher in Space program.

Challenger – 1986
On the bitterly cold morning of January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after its launch from Cape Canaveral, crashing into the Atlantic Ocean from an altitude of some 50,000 feet. All seven astronauts aboard were killed including Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher who had been selected as part of a national “Teacher in Space” initiative. An investigation later found that NASA had known that extreme cold temperatures could result in damage to the spacecraft’s rubber O-rings—which separated its rocket boosters and prevented fuel leaks—but elected to go ahead with the launch anyway, prompting widespread outrage and the temporary suspension of the space shuttle program.

Human spaceflight – Space History

Taking human spaceflight to new heights

40-plus years of expertise

Shuttle Columbia during STS-50 with Spacelab Module LM1 and tunnel in its cargo bay

Airbus has played an important role in human spaceflight, beginning with the Spacelab reusable laboratory flown on the U.S. Space Shuttle, followed by development of the Columbus module for the International Space Station (ISS) and the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) resupply spacecraft that serviced ISS. All share a common heritage, with Airbus’ expertise now being applied to the European Service Module (ESM) that will equip Orion – the next U.S. NASA spacecraft that will send humans into space.

With construction beginning in 1974, Spacelab was built by Airbus predecessor company VFW/ERNO in Bremen, Germany, and enabled astronauts to perform microgravity experiments in a “shirtsleeve” laboratory environment while the Space Shuttle was in orbit. It consisted of multiple components, including a 4.06-metre wide pressurised cylindrical module that would accommodate crew members for research work during a Space Shuttle flight, along with an unpressurised pallet and other related hardware – all securely fitted in the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay.

Depending on specific mission and payload requirements, these components were assembled in different configurations (one or two module segments, and up to five pallets). The initial Spacelab laboratory module was financed by the European Space Agency (at that time ESRO) in exchange for European astronaut flight opportunities on the Space Shuttle, while a second module was purchased by NASA from VFW/ERNO. Some 22 major Spacelab missions were performed on Space Shuttles launched from Florida between 1983 and 1998, and Spacelab hardware was used on several other Space Shuttle flights – with some of the pallets being flown through 2008.

The legacy of Spacelab continued with the Columbus science laboratory module, which is permanently mated to the International Space Station. Its functional equipment and software were designed by Airbus forerunner company EADS Astrium Space Transportation in Bremen, and the module was fully integrated in Bremen before being flown to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in February 2008.

Columbus meets the space station

ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel works on Columbus’ exterior.

Columbus originally was part of a European Space Agency (ESA) programme that supplemented America’s then-envisioned Freedom space station. Managed by prime contractor MBB-ERNO, it foresaw the development of three elements – of which a Man-Tended Free Flyer (MTFF) was the most ambitious. The MTFF would serve as an autonomous mini-station for microgravity experiments, serviced by France’s Hermes spaceplane (under development by Airbus predecessor company Aerospatiale), and which could fly periodically to the Freedom space station for maintenance and reconfiguration. The other two elements were an Attached Pressurized Module (APM) to be docked with the Freedom space station and used by crews for in-orbit activities, and an unmanned Polar Platform (PPF) for remote sensing.

Due to the projection of high programme costs and other factors, the Man-Tended Free Flyer was cancelled, along with Hermes – which faced funding issues, challenging performance goals and delays of its own. The Attached Pressurized Module subsequently became the Columbus module that ultimately docked with the International Space Station in 2008, while the Polar Platform (PPF) evolved into a separate programme – leading to the future series of European-developed polar-orbiting spacecraft for Earth monitoring and weather forecasting.

Airbus’ heritage in developing, producing and equipping space-qualified modules led to another important programme: Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a servicing spacecraft for the International Space Station with the delivery of propellant, water, air, payload and experiment equipment. The ATV development contract was awarded in December 1998 by the European Space Agency to Airbus predecessor company Aérospatiale as principal contractor, which worked multiple major subcontractors, including Franco-British firm Matra Marconi Space and Germany’s DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA) – both of which subsequently became part of today’s Airbus as part of restructuring and ownership changes.

ATV: an important step ahead

ATV approaching the ISS representing a significant milestone in European space

In total, five ATVs were built and orbited by Ariane 5 heavy-lift launchers from French Guiana for docking with the International Space Station, spanning a period from March 2008 to July 2014. During their use, the ATVs delivered to more than 31,500 kg. of supplies to the International Space Station. They also served as a “tug,” raising the station’s orbital altitude numerous times and helping manoeuvre the facility clear of potential contact with space debris. Upon completing their duties while attached to the International Space Station, the ATVs could be would often be filled with up to 6,500 kg. for a controlled destructive re-entry in the atmosphere.

The ATVs reinforced the ability of Airbus and European industry to undertake complex spacecraft and systems that support human spaceflight, including the ability to perform automatic dockings with orbital facilities such as the International Space Station. As a result, Airbus achieved a status long precluded by the U.S. – treatment as full partner to NASA in major space programme. This occurred with Airbus’ 2014 selection as prime contractor for development and manufacture of the European Service Module (ESM) to equip NASA’s Orion – the next-generation spacecraft that will transport astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

For the first time, NASA will use a European-built system as a critical element to power and propel an American spacecraft, with the cylindrically-shaped ESM functioning as Orion’s powerhouse – supplying it with the electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air and water it needs in space. The ESM’s radiators and heat exchangers will keep the astronauts and equipment at a comfortable temperature, while the module’s structure forms the Orion vehicle’s backbone.

Airbus delivered the first European Service Module from its site in Bremen, Germany during November 2018, marking an important step toward Orion’s first flight, known as Exploration Mission-1, scheduled for 2020. This mission – performed without a crew – will take the spacecraft more than 64,000 km. beyond the Moon in order to demonstrate its capabilities. The initial human spaceflight mission, Exploration Mission-2, is planned for 2022.

Looking to the future, the European Space Agency in 2018 commissioned Airbus for two studies on possible European involvement in a future lunar-orbiting human base known as the Gateway. As part of a far-reaching European partnership, Airbus is tasked with developing a concept for a Gateway habitation and research module, followed by defining an infrastructure element for refuelling, docking and telecommunications functions at the human base, which will also serve as an airlock for scientific equipment.

A Brief History of Space Exploration, The Aerospace Corporation

A Brief History of Space Exploration

Humans have always looked up into the night sky and dreamed about space.

In the latter half of the 20th century, rockets were developed that were powerful enough to overcome the force of gravity to reach orbital velocities, paving the way for space exploration to become a reality.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Nazi Germany saw the possibilities of using long-distance rockets as weapons. Late in World War II, London was attacked by 200-mile-range V-2 missiles, which arched 60 miles high over the English Channel at more than 3,500 miles per hour. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union created their own missile programs.

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into space. Four years later on April 12, 1961, Russian Lt. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth in Vostok 1. His flight lasted 108 minutes, and Gagarin reached an altitude of 327 kilometers (about 202 miles).

The first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, went into orbit on Jan. 31, 1958. In 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space. On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn’s historic flight made him the first American to orbit Earth.

Landing On The Moon

Landing on the moon: Apollo 12 launches for second moon landing Nov. 14, 1969.

“Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth within a decade” was a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind” as he stepped onto the moon. Six Apollo missions were made to explore the moon between 1969 and 1972.

During the 1960s, unmanned spacecraft photographed and probed the moon before astronauts ever landed. By the early 1970s, orbiting communications and navigation satellites were in everyday use, and the Mariner spacecraft was orbiting and mapping the surface of Mars. By the end of the decade, the Voyager spacecraft had sent back detailed images of Jupiter and Saturn, their rings, and their moons.

Skylab, America’s first space station, was a human-spaceflight highlight of the 1970s, as was the Apollo Soyuz Test Project, the world’s first internationally crewed (American and Russian) space mission.

In the 1980s, satellite communications expanded to carry television programs, and people were able to pick up the satellite signals on their home dish antennas. Satellites discovered an ozone hole over Antarctica, pinpointed forest fires, and gave us photographs of the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. Astronomical satellites found new stars and gave us a new view of the center of our galaxy.

Space Shuttle

In April 1981, the launch of the space shuttle Columbia ushered in a period of reliance on the reusable shuttle for most civilian and military space missions. Twenty-four successful shuttle launches fulfilled many scientific and military requirements until Jan. 28,1986, when just 73 seconds after liftoff, the space shuttle Challenger exploded. The crew of seven was killed, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire who would have been the first civilian in space.

The Space Shuttle was the first reusable spacecraft to carry people into orbit; launch, recover, and repair satellites; conduct cutting-edge research; and help build the International Space Station.

The Columbia disaster was the second shuttle tragedy. On Feb. 1, 2003, the shuttle broke apart while reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. The disaster occurred over Texas, and only minutes before it was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center. An investigation determined the catastrophe was caused by a piece of foam insulation that broke off the shuttle’s propellant tank and damaged the edge of the shuttle’s left wing. It was the second loss of a shuttle in 113 shuttle flights. After each of the disasters, space shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years.

Discovery was the first of the three active space shuttles to be retired, completing its final mission on March 9, 2011; Endeavour did so on June 1. The final shuttle mission was completed with the landing of Atlantis on July 21, 2011, closing the 30-year space shuttle program.

The Gulf War proved the value of satellites in modern conflicts. During this war, allied forces were able to use their control of the “high ground” of space to achieve a decisive advantage. Satellites were used to provide information on enemy troop formations and movements, early warning of enemy missile attacks, and precise navigation in the featureless desert terrain. The advantages of satellites allowed the coalition forces to quickly bring the war to a conclusion, saving many lives.

Space systems continue to become more and more integral to homeland defense, weather surveillance, communication, navigation, imaging, and remote sensing for chemicals, fires, and other disasters.

International Space Station

The International Space Station is a research laboratory in low Earth orbit. With many different partners contributing to its design and construction, this high-flying laboratory has become a symbol of cooperation in space exploration, with former competitors now working together.

The station has been continuously occupied since the arrival of Expedition 1 in November of 2000. The station is serviced by a variety of visiting spacecraft: the Russian Soyuz and Progress; the American Dragon and Cygnus; the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle; and formerly the Space Shuttle and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle. It has been visited by astronauts, cosmonauts, and space tourists from 17 different nations.

Space launch systems have been designed to reduce costs and improve dependability, safety, and reliability. Most U.S. military and scientific satellites are launched into orbit by a family of expendable launch vehicles designed for a variety of missions. Other nations have their own launch systems, and there is strong competition in the commercial launch market to develop the next generation of launch systems.

The Future Of Space Exploration

Modern space exploration is reaching areas once only dreamed about. Mars is focal point of modern space exploration, and manned Mars exploration is a long-term goal of the

United States. NASA is on a journey to Mars, with a goal of sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

NASA and its partners have sent orbiters, landers, and rovers, increasing our knowledge about the planet. The Curiosity Rover has gathered radiation data to protect astronauts, and the MARS 2020 Rover will study the availability of oxygen and other Martian resources.

The Space Review: An alternate, rocket-free history of spaceflight

An alternate, rocket-free history of spaceflight

by John Hollaway
Monday, October 12, 2015

To be present at the birth of the Space Age was not necessarily a happy experience. My sister, my mother, and I were asleep in the confines of a Morrison shelter—a steel table designed to reduce casualties if a German bomb fell on your house—at seven o’clock in the dark morning of Thursday, January 25, 1945. The impact of the V-2 rocket at the road junction of Lavender Hill and Gordon Hill, about a mile away, shook the ground and jerked us awake. I guessed what it was: a five-year old growing up in wartime was of necessity pretty knowledgeable about doodlebugs (the V-1) and rocket bombs.

I believe that, despite the universal adoption of its technology, the success of the V-2 as a launch vehicle was inimical to the development of space travel.

Like all small boys I was an eager rubbernecker and I remember my disappointment when I found that I could not see the devastation because the bus route to my school that morning was blocked by debris. But the next day we ground up Lavender Hill past a wide area of destruction. Eight people had been killed and 68 seriously injured, but in a gesture of defiance a small tree had been decorated with the sort of Union Jacks that we waved on loyal or royal occasions.

Yet the V-2 rocket was not the war-winning device that Hitler had counted on. It killed about 9,000 people, almost all civilians, but did great economic damage to Germany. It cost the equivalent of about $20 billion—of the same order as the Apollo program—but in a far smaller economy and to no significant military advantage. What the V-2 did do was to lock space launch technology into a system that dominates the sector to this day.

In the 1930s, Robert Goddard in the US and Herman Oberth in Germany had already shown that oxygen and hydrocarbon fuels, used in conjunction with de Laval nozzles, gave exceptional thrust from a standing start. The V-2 demonstrated that stabilizing and guidance systems could transform this combination into extraordinary effective missiles. Come the atomic bomb it created the ultimate weapon, the ICBM. The Great Designer (Sergei Korolev) used it in the Soviet version to put up the Sputniks, then Yuri Gagarin and so on and so forth. In response, from America came Mercury, Gemini, and so on and so forth. To this day the only sure way to get things off the planet is to use liquid oxygen and a fuel and go straight up.

I must now give a health warning. My mental health, actually. Because I believe that, despite the universal adoption of its technology, the success of the V-2 as a launch vehicle was inimical to the development of space travel. To see why let us assume that World War II did not happen.

That is not quite as far-fetched as it might seem. In the British National Archives at Kew in the south of London are once-very-secret plans that envisaged the elimination of the German battle fleet by surprise and an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein. If they had been carried out and had been successful then the Kaiser—who was not necessarily the warlord he aspired to be—might have been brought to the negotiating table in early 1916. Poland could have been reconstituted as a buffer state between Russia and Germany, Alsace and Lorraine turned into independent duchies and so removed as friction points between France and Germany, the Russian revolution would not have occurred, and Germany would have continued its interrupted evolution into a social democracy. (I speak with a little authority; I hunted in the National Archives for this information and wrote an alternative history of World War I on this basis, The Iron Dice.)

In our hypothetical peaceful planet, perhaps by 1950 we would be sending satellites up to broadcast wireless programs. By 1960 it may be that (black and white) television was also being transmitted. And so on and so forth.

Then Goddard and Oberth might have gained some modest funding for their work and be driven to the conclusion that the enormous investments in technology needed to get man into space by blasting him up on a column of fire from a liquid oxygen and kerosene combination were not going to materialise during what Winston Churchill called the “sunlit uplands” of peacetime. A simpler approach would be needed. Perhaps the trick would be to fly him up through the stratosphere in something resembling an airplane and then have a more modest rocket to take him from there into low Earth orbit.

The ramjet had been patented in the 1920s and, in 1936, René LeDuc demonstrated that it would work—and if fast enough could presumably work in the thin air of the upper atmosphere. The trouble, of course, is that it needs to be rushing through the air at perhaps 160 kilometers per hour before it starts to give a useful thrust. But railroad trains in Europe were already achieving that on a regular basis. So, an all-metal airplane with big ramjets under its wings sitting on a railroad wagon might lift off and hurtle skywards.

And then what? Well, solid fuel rockets capable of carrying the aircraft to low Earth orbit were invented in the early 1940s. Arthur C. Clarke proposed the geostationary satellite in 1945. In our hypothetical peaceful planet, perhaps by 1950 we would be sending satellites up to broadcast wireless programs. By 1960 it may be that (black and white) television was also being transmitted. And so on and so forth.

The big problem would be that to send people up in these things would require some method of bringing them back. The challenge of reentry would loom large. Not having sent them up in a capsule, but in an airplane, would mean that they would have to come back in the aieplane. It would not be possible to use blunt body theory and ablate away the nose and leading edges. Or would it?

I’ll stop now, but you get the idea. A quieter, slower, less priapic space race.

John Hollaway is a retired mining consultant in Zimbabwe.

The WIRED Guide to Commercial Human Space Flight, WIRED

The WIRED Guide to Commercial Human Space Flight

On the morning of December 13, 2018, the Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo wheeled down a stark runway in Mojave, California, ready to take off. Whining like a regular passenger jet, the twin-hulled catamaran of an airplane passed by owner Richard Branson, who stood clapping in an aviator jacket on the pavement. But WhiteKnightTwo wasn’t just any plane: Hooked between the two hulls was a space plane called SpaceShipTwo, set to be the first private craft to regularly carry tourists away from this planet.

WhiteKnightTwo rumbled along and lifted off, getting ready to climb to an altitude of 50,000 feet. From that height, the jet would release SpaceShipTwo; its two pilots would fire the engines and boost the craft into space.

“3 … 2 … 1 …” came the words over the radio.

SpaceShipTwo dropped like a sleek stone, free.

“Fire, fire,” said a controller.

On command, flame shot from the craft’s engines. A contrail smoked over the folds of the mountains as the spaceship flew up and up and up. Soon, both contrail and fire stopped: SpaceShipTwo was simply floating. The arc of Earth curved across its window, up against the blackness of the rest of the universe. A hanging dashboard ornament, shaped like a snowflake, wheeled in the microgravity of the cabin.

“Welcome to space,” said base. And with that, Virgin Galactic had flown its first astronauts, who were not the government-sponsored heroes of old but private citizens working for a private company.

For most of the history of spaceflight, humans have left such exploits to governments. From the midcentury Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days to the 30-year-long shuttle program, NASA has dominated the United States’ spacefaring pursuits. But today, companies run by powerful billionaires—who made their big bucks in other industries and are now using them to fulfill starry-eyed dreams—are taking the torch, or at least part of its fire.

Projection range of potential revenue from space tourism in 2022.

Virgin Galactic, for its part, styles itself as a tourism outfit, and space-hopefuls of this sort often speak of the philosophical uplift—the perspective shift that happens when humans view Earth as an actual planet in for-real space. Other companies want to help set up permanent residence on the moon and/or Mars, and they sometimes speak of destiny and salvation. There’s much gesturing toward the strength of the human spirit and the irrepressible exploratory nature of our species.

But let us not forget, of course, that there’s the money to be theoretically made; and the federal government isn’t itself actually flying astronauts anymore. After the closure of the space shuttle program in 2011, the US no longer had the ability to send humans to space and has since relied on Russia. But that’s about to change: Today, two private companies—Boeing and SpaceX—have contracts to fly humans to the International Space Station.

But even before NASA’s programs for sending people to space started to dwindle, business magnates recognized what they could do if they had their own private rockets. They could ferry supplies to the Space Station for the budget-conscious government. They could launch satellites. They could take tourists on suborbital jaunts. They could foster industrial infrastructure in deep space. They could settle the moon and Mars. Humans could become the spacetime-defying species they were always meant to be, and travel often—or even live long-term—away from Earth. It’s exciting: After all, science fiction—that great predictor and creator of the future—has told us for decades that space is the next (the final) frontier, and we should (will, can) not just go but also live there.

Global launch industry revenue in 2017

The private space companies are taking small steps toward that long-term, large-scale presence in space, and 2019 holds more promise than most years. But the deadlines keep slipping: Like cold fusion, private human space travel is perpetually just around the corner. Perhaps part of the lag is because private human space travel—and especially extended private human space travel—is a nearly untested business model, and most of these companies make much of their money on enterprises that have little to do with humans: Often, the operations that generate revenue in the here and now involve schlepping satellites and supplies close by, not sending humans far off. But because the most promising plans are backed by billionaires with big agendas—and are, in some sense, aimed at other rich people—science fiction could nevertheless become space fact.

Today, the capitalists of the space-jet set call their industry New Space, although in earlier days forward-thinkers spoke about “alt.space.” You could say it all started in 1982, when a company called Space Services launched the first privately funded rocket: a modified Minuteman missile, which it christened Conestoga I (after the wagon, get it?). The flight was just a demonstration, deploying a dummy payload of 40 pounds of water. But two years later, the US passed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, clearing the pad for more private activity.

Human passengers climbed aboard in 2001, when a financier named Dennis Tito bought a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket and took a $20 million, nearly eight-day vacation to the Space Station. Space Adventures, which arranged this pricey flight, would go on to send six more astro-dilettantes to orbit through the Russian Space Agency.

That same year, some guy named Elon Musk, about to be rich from selling PayPal, announced a plan called Mars Oasis. With his many monies, he wanted to amp up public support for human settlement on the Red Planet, so that public pressure would impel Congress to mandate a mission to Mars. Through an organization he founded called the Life to Mars Foundation, Musk proposed the following privately funded opening shot: a $20 million Mars lander, carrying a greenhouse that could fill itself with martian soil, to be launched maybe in 2005.

Potential value of NASA’s contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to take astronauts to and from the Space Station.

This, let us note, never happened—in part because the cost of launching such a future-garden was so high. A US rocket would have cost him $65 million (around $92 million in 2018 dollars), a reconstituted Russian ICBM around $10 million. A year later, Musk set out to lower the rocket barrier. Switching from “foundation” to “corporation,” he started SpaceX, a rocket company with the explicit end-goal of Mars habitation.

In the early aughts, Musk wasn’t the only one who wanted to send people to space. Pilot (and then astronaut) Mike Melvill flew SpaceShipOne, which resembled a bullet that grew frog legs, to space in 2004. After that test flight and two subsequent trips, SpaceShipOne won a $10 million X-Prize. These flights brought together two New Space dreams: a privately developed craft and private astronaut pilots. After the victory, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites developed the high-flying technology into SpaceShipTwo. Unveiled by Virgin in 2009, this passenger vessel was intented to send tourists to space … for the cost of an average house. (After all, why have a home forever when you can go to space for five minutes??)

Value of NASA’s first contracts with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (now part of Northrop Grumman) to deliver supplies to the ISS, from 2009 to 2016

Virgin Galactic has always kept its focus close to home and on short but frequent flights that stay suborbital. Musk, though, has stuck to his original martian mission. After launching its first rocket to orbit in 2008, SpaceX won a NASA contract to bus supplies to and from the Space Station, and it’s still shuttling cargo there for the agency. But the startup really got its legs in 2012 and 2013, when it launched a squatty rocket called the Grasshopper. Though it didn’t hop high into the air, it landed back on the launch pad, from where it could go up again (like, say, a grasshopper). This recyclability paved the way for today’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets, which have gone up and down and helped transform the ethos of rocket science from one of dispensability to one of recyclability.

From Virgin Records to the airline Virgin Atlantic to the cell provider Virgin Mobile, Richard Branson has made money around the block.

The beknighted Virgin Galactic plane carries a space plane that can ferry up to six passengers and two pilots just over the border of space, so they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness and an incredible view. Richard Branson hopes to go up himself toward the middle of this year, with tourists soon to follow.

Musk’s goal, since the failure of Mars Oasis, has always been to cut launch costs. Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rockets cost $50–60 million—still a lot, but less than the $100 million-plus of some of its competitors. Getting to space, the thinking goes, should not be the biggest barrier a would-be space-farer faces. If SpaceX can accomplish that, the company can—someday, theoretically—send to Mars the many shipments of supplies and humans that are necessary to fulfill Musk’s “MAKE LIFE MULTIPLANETARY” tagline.

But the road to multiplanetarity hasn’t always been smooth for SpaceX. Its reusable rockets have crashed into the ocean, tipped over in the sea, crashed into barges, tipped over on ships, tumbled through the air, spun out, exploded midflight, and exploded on the launch pad.

The course of true New Space, though, never did run smooth, and SpaceX is far from the only company that has experienced crashes. Virgin Galactic, for instance, faced tragedy in 2014 when pilot Pete Siebold and copilot Michael Alsbury were in SpaceShipTwo underneath the WhiteKnight jet.

Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame and fortune, is still very much married to space pursuits.

Blue Origin’s reusable rocket will take crews and payloads on 11-minute suborbital flights, landing as softly as the feather painted on its body. The goal is to send the first crew up this year.

Blue Origin says it wants this heavy-lift, recyclable rocket to “build a road to space.” This launcher will likely debut in 2021.

The flight of SpaceShipTwo did not go as planned. SpaceShipTwo has a “feathering mechanism” that, when unlocked and enabled, slows the ship so that it can land safely. But Alsbury unlocked it early, and it dragged the craft while its rockets were still firing. The aerodynamic forces ripped SpaceShipTwo apart, killing Alsbury. Siebold parachuted, alive, to the ground. A few customers canceled. Most still wanted to go to space, even though the industry has higher-risk and lower-regulation than lower-altitude commercial flights.

Meanwhile, another major corporation—Blue Origin—was quietly crafting its human-mission plans. This celestial venture, funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, started in 2000—before Musk started SpaceX—but stayed pretty stealthy for years. Then, in an April 2015 test launch, the would-be-reusable New Shepard rocket lifted off. It successfully deployed a capsule but failed to land. That November, though, a New Shepard did what it was supposed to: touched back down, beating SpaceX to that launch-and-land goal.

Blue Origin, like Virgin Galactic, wants to use its little rocket to send up suborbital space tourists. And it wants, with bigger dick–lookalike rockets, to help facilitate a permanent moon colony. Bezos has suggested heavy industry should happen off this planet, in places that kind of suck already but have minable resources. The first lunar touchdown, he says, could be in 2023, facilitating an Earth that’s zoned mostly residential and light-industrial.

SpaceX, too, has big 2023 plans. The company announced last September that in 2023 it will send Japanese magnate Yusaka Maezawa and a passel of artist companions on a trip around the moon. NASA has also contracted with the company, and with Boeing, to shuttle astronauts to and from the ISS as part of the commercial crew program, which begins human testing later this year.

Still, for all the hype around these wider-vision companies, Virgin Galactic remains the only private enterprise that has actually sent a private someone to space on a private vehicle.

The way these companies see the future, they (humbly, of course) will be the ones to normalize space travel—whether that travel takes you just over the Karman line or to another celestial body. Space planes will ferry passengers and experiments to suborbital spots, touching back down in less time than it takes to watch The Right Stuff. Rockets will launch and land and launch again, sending up satellites and ferrying physical and biological cargo to an industrial base on the moon or the martian home base, where settlers will ensure the species persists even if there’s an apocalypse (nuclear, climatic) on terra firma. Homo sapiens will have manifested its destiny, shown itself to be the brave pioneer it always knew it was. And the idea that we don’t have to be stuck in one cosmic spot forever is exciting!

But all of these enterprises are businesses, not philanthropic vision boards. Is making life casually spacefaring and seriously interplanetary actually a plausible financial prospect? And—more important—is it actually a desirable one?

Let’s start with low-key suborbital space tourism, of the type Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin would like to offer. Some economists see this as fairly feasible: If we know one thing about the world, it’s that some subset of the population will always have too much money and will get to spend it on cool things unattainable for the plebs. If such flights become routine, though, their price could go down, and space tourism could follow the trajectory of the commercial aviation industry, which used to be for the wealthy and is now home to Spirit Airlines. Some also speculate that longer, orbital flights—and sleepovers in cushy six-star space hotels (the extra star is for the space part)—could follow.

After there’s a market for space hotels, more infrastructure could follow. And if you’re going to build something for space, it might be easier and cheaper to build it in space, with materials from space, rather than spending billions to launch all the materials you need. Maybe moon miners and manufacturers could establish a proto-colony, which could lead to some people living there permanently.

Or not. Who knows? I can’t see the future, and neither can you, and neither can these billionaires.

But with long journeys or permanent residence come problems more complicated than whether money is makeable or whether it’s possible to build a cute town square out of moon dust. The most complicated part of human space exploration will always be the human.

We weak creatures evolved in the environment of this planet. Mutations and adaptations cropped up to make us uniquely suited to living here—and so uniquely not suited to living in space, or in Valles Marineris. It’s too cold or too hot; there’s no air to breathe; you can’t eat potatoes grown in your own shit for the rest of your unnatural life. Your personal microbes may influence everything from digestion to immunity to mood, in ways scientists don’t yet understand, and although they also don’t understand how space affects that microbiome, it probably won’t be the same if you live on an extraterrestrial crater as it would be in your apartment.

Plus, in lower gravity, your muscles go slack. The fluids inside you pool strangely. Drugs don’t always works as expected. The shape of your brain changes. Your mind goes foggy. The backs of your eyeballs flatten. And then there’s the radiation, which can deteriorate tissue, cause cardiovascular disease, mess with your nervous system, give you cancer, or just induce straight-up radiation sickness till you die. If your body holds up, you still might lose it on your fellow crew members, get homesick (planetsick), and you will certainly be bored out of your skull on the journey and during the tedium and toil to follow.

Maybe there’s a technological future in which we can mitigate all of those effects. After all, many things that were once unimaginable—from vaccines to quantum mechanics—are now fairly well understood. But the billionaires don’t, for the most part, work on the people problems: When they speak of space cities, they leave out the details—and their money goes toward the physics, not the biology.

They also don’t talk so much about the cost or the ways to offset it. But Blue Origin and SpaceX both hope to collaborate with NASA (i.e. use federal money) for their far-off-Earth ventures, making this particular kind of private spaceflight more of a public-private partnership. They’ve both already gotten many millions in contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense for nearer-term projects, like launching national-security satellites and developing more infrastructure to do so more often. Virgin, meanwhile, has a division called Virgin Orbit that will send up small satellites, and SpaceX aims to create its own giant smallsat constellation to provide global internet coverage. And at least for the foreseeable future, it’s likely their income will continue to flow more from satellites than from off-world infrastructure. In that sense, even though they’re New Space, they’re just conventional government contractors.

Elon Musk made his first fortune on PayPal.

SpaceX will also be ferrying astronauts and accessories to the International Space Station for NASA, and after its journey, the Falcon will land itself, while the Dragon capsule will splash down. Bonus: The company boasts that passengers can set the internal temperature anywhere from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Its first crewed test could occur in mid-2019.

Formerly called BFR (Big Falcon Rocket or Big Fucking Rocket, depending on what kind of person you are talking to), this SpaceX craft and its human capsule are supposed to take 100 people and 150 tons of cargo to the Red Planet. Musk unveiled a smaller, suborbital prototype in January, and its shiny silver sides and vintage sci-fi shape look like if a ‘50s diner dreamed it became a rocket. Its first test should take place sometime this year.

So, if the money is steadier nearby, why look farther off than Earth orbit? Why not stick to the lucrative business of sending up satellites or enabling communications? Yes, yes, the human spirit. OK, sure, survivability. Both noble, energizing goals. But the backers may also be interested in creating international-waters-type space states, full of the people who could afford the trip (or perhaps indentured workers who will labor in exchange for the ticket). Maybe the celestial population will coalesce into a utopian society, free of the messes we’ve made of this planet. Humans could start from scratch somewhere else, scribble something new and better on extraterrestrial tabula rasa soil. Or maybe, as it does on Earth, history would repeat itself, and human baggage will be the heaviest cargo on the colonial ships. After all, wherever you go, there you are.

Maybe we’d be better off as a species if we stayed home and looked our problems straight in the eye. That’s the conclusion science fiction author Gary Westfahl comes to in an essay called “The Case Against Space.” Westfahl doesn’t think innovation happens when you switch up your surroundings and run from your difficulties, but rather when you stick around and deal with the situation you created.

No billionaire here. Just the military-industrial complex joining forces with itself. Within the past 15 years, this rocket has had a 100 percent success rate.

The Atlas V rocket made by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will join with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule to send astronauts and science experiments to the ISS. The Starliner can fly 10 times, as long as it gets a six-month refractory period—for refurbishing and tests—between each trip. Its first crewed test could occur in mid-2019.

Besides, most Americans don’t think big-shot human space travel is a national must-do at all, at least not with their money. According to a 2018 Pew poll, more than 60 percent of people say NASA’s top priorities should be to monitor the climate and watch for Earth-smashing asteroids. Just 18 and 13 percent think the same of a human trip to Mars or the moon, respectively. The People, in other words, are more interested in caring for this planet, and preserving the life on it, than they are in making some other world livable.

But maybe that doesn’t matter: History is full of billionaires who do what they want, and it’s full of societal twists and turns dictated by their direction. Besides, if even a fraction of a percent of the US population signed on to a long-term space mission, their spaceship would still carry the biggest extraterrestrial settlement ever to travel the solar system. And even if it wasn’t an oasis, or a utopia, it would still be a giant leap.

It’s Time to Rethink Who’s Best Suited for Space Travel
The definition of the “right stuff” has changed since the military test-pilot astronauts of old became the first US astronauts. Maybe it should expand to include people with disabilities.

Meet the Astronauts Who Will Fly the First Private “Space Taxis”
Soon, NASA will be sending up its first cohort of commercial astronauts. Here’s who they are.

The Race to Get Suborital Tourists to Space Is Heating Up
There’s a new space race, and this time you’re not paying for it with your tax dollars but with your discretionary income.

The Japanese Space Bots That Could Build “Moon Valley”
If humans do develop a long-term presence in space, they’ll definitely need to help of a few good robots.

Jeff Bezos Wants Us All to Leave Earth—for Good
A billionaire’s got to dream, right? Here’s what Bezos and his money see in space’s future.

Last updated January 30, 2019

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5 Of The Most Frightening Moments In The History Of Spaceflight, IFLScience

5 Of The Most Frightening Moments In The History Of Spaceflight

By Jonathan O`Callaghan

Halloween is that time of year when we celebrate the scary, terrifying, and downright spooky. So what better time to look at some of the most hair-raising moments in space?

We’ve been a space-faring species for almost six decades now, and along the way there have been some nail-biting moments when catastrophe seemed imminent. From seemingly doomed manned space missions to an incredible landing on another world, we take a look at some of the most terrifying near-misses to occur in the history of spaceflight.

Out of control in Earth orbit

On March 16, 1966, Neil Armstrong launched on his first flight to space with David Scott aboard the Gemini 8 spacecraft, the sixth manned mission of the Gemini program – the precursor to the Apollo program. The mission was intended to practice docking techniques in Earth orbit, with an unmanned Agena target vehicle. Not long into the mission, though, things started to go wrong.

Several hours after launching, Gemini 8 docked with the Agena vehicle – the first ever successful space docking. However, half an hour later, both vehicles began to go into a violent spin. Armstrong, the pilot, managed to disengage Gemini 8 from Agena, but with the unnerving result of accelerating their spin – up to one revolution per second.

“We have serious problems here,” Scott radioed down to Houston. “We’re– we’re tumbling end over end up here. We’re disengaged from the Agena.”

Shown is the Agena target vehicle as seen by the Gemini 8 spacecraft. NASA.

Ultimately, Armstrong was able to wrestle back control by using the spacecraft’s re-entry thrusters. It took about 30 seconds to stabilize Gemini 8 – but using those thrusters meant that the mission had to be aborted two days early. Scott and Armstrong began re-entry procedures and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean less than 11 hours after launching. Both of them threw up, into the solitary sick bag.

It was an incredibly close call, but ultimately hugely rewarding for both astronauts. Armstrong, after avoiding a later test disaster on Earth, would become the first man on the Moon in July 1969. Scott would also go to the Moon, on the longer Apollo 15 mission. But how different things could have been if the Gemini 8 catastrophe had escalated.

Curiosity’s seven minutes of terror

Up until 2012, all Mars landings had taken place using large inflatable air bags to “bounce” unmanned landers across the surface before they came to rest. That all changed with the Curiosity rover, though – and it proved a frightening encounter for those in mission control.

Curiosity was too large and heavy for the airbag method, so instead, NASA devised an ambitious “Sky Crane” system for Curiosity’s landing on August 5, 2012. After plunging through the Martian atmosphere, four thrusters would turn on, hovering 20 meters (65 feet) above the surface and lowering the rover to the ground on a cable. Such a landing had never been attempted on another world before.

The time between Curiosity first encountering the Martian atmosphere and its planned landing was seven minutes. Owing to the time delay of communications between Earth and Mars, engineers on Earth had to let the whole system run autonomously, and hope everything worked as planned. NASA dubbed this the “seven minutes of terror.”

Thankfully, the landing passed without a hitch, to wild celebrations at NASA’s mission control. The rover was in extremely good health, and it is now continuing to make its way around the fascinating Gale Crater and its central peak, Mount Sharp. Thanks to that incredible landing system, we are finding out much more about how wet and habitable Mars once was.

The video above explains the challenges of landing Curiosity on Mars.

The infamous Apollo 13 mission

Apollo 13 was scheduled to be the third landing of humans on the Moon. And aside from a minor fault at liftoff on April 11, 1970, the mission had been going smoothly for its crew of John Swigert, Fred Haise, and James Lovell.

But 55 hours into the mission, at a distance of 320,000 kilometers (200,000 miles) from Earth on April 13,1970, one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks exploded. The crew faced the very serious prospect of being marooned in space. “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” Swigert famously radioed down to mission control.

Shown is the crippled Service Module, pictured by the crew. NASA.

With oxygen being vented into space, and available electricity falling, the crew were forced to seek refuge in the Lunar Module, which they would have used to land on the surface. With the landing aborted, the team swung around the Moon – rationing food and water – in a desperate attempt to return home.

The efforts of NASA and the crew proved successful. On April 17, 1970, the crew safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. “Some years later I went back to the log and looked up that mission,” Flight Director Gerald Griffin recalled at a later date. “My writing was almost illegible, I was so damned nervous.”

The full story of Apollo 13 is gripping and a great example of human ingenuity. If you’ve not seen the movie based on the mission, we’d highly recommend doing so.

The astronaut who nearly drowned in space

On July 16, 2013, Italian ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano exited the International Space Station (ISS) on what was supposed to be a routine spacewalk. It was anything but.

Parmitano began his spacewalk with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy at 7:57 a.m. EDT (11:57 a.m. GMT), and together they were to prepare the station for the arrival of a new Russian multipurpose laboratory module, called Nauka.

One hour and nine minutes into the spacewalk, however, Parmitano reported that his helmet was filling with water. It began to cover his nose, making it difficult to breathe, and he would later recount that he had the very real fear that he couldn’t be sure “that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid.”

Blinded by the water, Parmitano used his safety cable to make his way back to the hatch. Eventually, with the help of Cassidy, he made it inside, repressurized, and was able to get the suit off with his ears full of water. Cassidy later described it as a “scary situation.”

The problem was eventually found to be the result of a clogged filter, and the suits have since been fixed to ensure it doesn’t happen again. For Parmitano, almost drowning in space once was probably enough.

Shown is a recreation of the water problem Parmitano experienced. NASA.

When Mir almost had to be abandoned

Before the ISS we had Mir, a vast Russian-built space station that eclipsed in size all space stations before it: the Soviet Salyut stations and the American Skylab. It remained in orbit from 1986 to 2001, but in 1997 it very nearly had to be abandoned in a freak accident.

At the time, Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin were joined on the station by NASA astronaut Michael Foale, one of the joint US-Russian missions that would ultimately lead to cooperation in building the ISS.

On June 25, 1997, the Russians were attempting to undock and re-dock a Progress cargo spacecraft with the station to test the feasibility of manual dockings. Tsibliev was controlling the spacecraft, but he was unable to judge the speed. Lazutkin saw Progress coming in too fast, and despite firing the braking rockets, the station seemed doomed. “Michael, get in the escape ship!” He said to Foale.

The Progress impacted, tearing a hole in one of the solar panels and sending Mir into an uncontrollable spin. Foale, together with the crew on board and ground control, rushed to get the station back in operation. Power was dropping quickly, and there was a leak in one section that had to be contained. The reserve batteries eventually ran out, meaning the station was operating on solar power alone, and the crew was left without any power at all each time they were on the night side of Earth.

Shown is the damage to the space station. NASA.

Eventually, Foale and the Russians were able to bring the station back under partial control using a docked Soyuz spacecraft’s thrusters, and with ground control also firing the station’s own thrusters. An evacuation had looked imminent, but they were able to remain on the station, and Mir stayed in orbit for another four years.

This remains the most serious collision in the history of manned spaceflight, and for the crew on board, it was certainly a terrifying moment. You can read Foale’s account of what happened in a fascinating interview for the Shuttle-Mir Oral History Project.

The video above includes an animation of the collision.