My Own Personal Space Agency – Spaceflight Blunders – Greatness

My Own Personal Space Agency

I’m a chronic computer gamer.

Lately, I tend to limit my addictions to one game at a time. For years, this has kept me limited to spending still a little too much time in the multiplayer world of “Dungeons & Dragons Online,” a very enjoyable world of adventurers based in the Eberron and Forgotten Realms campaign worlds. When that game is offline or time prohibits me from playing in a world where you can’t press “pause” (a multiplayer world is a real-time environment), I’ve normally revisited some classic games, installed on my computer, in single-player mode.

But I had heard for years about a game–a simulator, actually–called “Kerbal Space Program.” A few weeks ago, I took the plunge.

I am now hopelessly engrossed in the thing. It’s about spaceflight. I blunder through it. It’s great!

KSP (the popular short-name) involves a solar system that’s not very different from our own. A yellow sun. The third world is a blue-green watery world like Earth…except it’s populated by (literally) little green men and women, who are just starting out into space.

KSP’s Earth-like world is Kerbin. It’s smaller than our Earth but with similar features. Your concern is centered on the infant space complex, conveniently located on an eastern shore nearer to the equator for better rocket launches.

The Kerbal Space Center at dusk. You have a Vertical Assembly building, a Mission Control, a tracking station, research-and-development labs, an astronaut complex, administration offices, and a spaceplane/airplane port. Look at the beautiful Mun in the low sky.

But your space agency barely have anything sufficiently advanced to reach their version of the Karman Line, much less orbit. So, in Career Mode, you’re tasked to aid the kerbals (the name of the actual little green people) in testing technology, launching anything they have to improve their cash flow, improve their science, better train their “kerbonauts” and improve their reputation to obtain more missions, technology and improved facilities.

As you reach suborbital and orbital status, you’re greeted by a whole solar system of your own to explore. The worlds are typically analogues of Earth’s solar system worlds with a few creative exceptions.

  • Kerbol: A yellow star not unlike Sol.
  • Moho: A hot, barren planet (analogue to Mercury)
  • Eve: A purple, heavy gravity planet with a thick atmosphere and seas of effectively rocket fuel. It has a small moon, likely a captured asteroid. (Analogue to Venus)
  • Kerbin: The kerbal’s Earth-like home planet. It has two moons: The Mun (analogue to Earth’s Moon) and Minmus, a small greenish icy moon, perhaps a captured comet. The Mun is tidally-locked to Kerbin, like our Moon.
  • Duna: A red planet with large polar ice caps, no water, no axial tilt and a thin atmosphere, with one large moon named Ike. (Analogue to Mars with a little Pluto-Charon double-planet vibe)
  • Dres: A barren, small gray world (Analogue to Ceres, the dwarf planet)
  • Jool: The system’s only gas giant, big and green, surrounded by five moons, one of which has blue skies and is dominantly ocean-covered. (Analogue to Jupiter)
  • Eeloo: A distant icy small world with a very eccentric orbit. (Analogue to Pluto)

Progression begins with testing simple solid and liquid fueled rockets and related tech, learning to build and fly a jet plane, working your way up to your first sub-orbital and orbital missions.

Then things get complicated as you learn orbital rendezvous, first by close-proximity non-docking rescues of stranded kerbonauts, later with docking. Precision orbital insertion of space probes come next, then your first flyby and landing missions to the Moon-analogue called the Mun, and then to a unique tiny greenish icy moon, Minmus.

One of my landers on descent above Mimmus, Kerbin’s second moon.

Spaceplanes may be next on your menu, although I’ve skipped this progression for now in the Science tree of my first game save. Missions related to technologies only appear if you progress. Space stations and advanced rescues from stranded kerbals on a munar surface or at high orbital inclinations relative to Kerbin are offered before you’re invited to make flybys and landings on other planets, starting with Duna, naturally, as a Mars analogue. Documenting and even capturing asteroids are possible.

KSP is very free-form. There’s no forced path at all. Want to take a break and just fly something? Go for it. Want a cis-munar station? Okies.

One area that fascinates me are space probes. In KSP, you get manned spacecraft as well as robotic control modules, which are both known as command pods. A piloted spacecraft (you must have a kerbal pilot aboard) fly according to the experience of the pilot). Probe command bodies have varying abilities but have one weakness: Since they are remotely controlled, they must have a communication link. Go out of the antenna range available to the probe (including orbiting behind a celestial body), and you lose control of it.

A Pathfinder/Sojourner-like rover on powered descent to Mimmus. Skycrane deployments are popular in KSP, emulating what was used to land the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. This rover landed successfully but, in the low gravity of this moon, couldn’t roll around.

So you’ll need to launch relays–space probes with antenna which not only extend the range of space probes to work within Kerbin space but can also keep probes commandable as they go interplanetary. This communications network, CommNet, is also essential for piloted spacecraft to transmit back science data with minimum data loss for a more effective science score.

Each celestial body, except for the sun, have biomes, areas of unique science interest. To unlock more technology by earning more science points, you use your science tools to scan each biome you can find on a planet. (The term is a misnomer in that biomes imply life existing in a region, where it’s really implying a unique location on a body.) Special achievements (first flyby, orbit, landing, walk flag-planting and surface samples) have varying weight in science points depending on the planet.

Naturally, some places can’t be reached. You can’t land on the sun or the gas giant Jool unless you like suicide. KSP limits you to its solar system; no interstellar flights (at least without mods). There’s lots to see and do despite that limit.

As for the probes, I’m looking forward to getting rovers on Duna and Ike and in getting a ion engine-powered probe flying by the outer planets for now.

KSP’s visuals are a delight. The worlds smoothly render from far away to close up on a surface. The game freely supports third-party modifications, or mods, to add passive and advanced features and even new parts and challenges. For instance, KSP normally doesn’t bother you with life support issues, but one mod, for instance, can add food, water, air and waste heat as limitations to press your time.

KSP loves to offer you complex orbital mechanics. Inclinations and delta-V all have to be accounted. You can use slingshot maneuvers, aerobraking and aerocapture. Heavy-gravity or heavy-atmosphere worlds have special needs. Eve, the Venus-analogue, is more terrifying than its Solar System counterpart with seas of “Explodium”–what might be easily converted into rocket fuel.

KSP works in game time, so it may take the better part of several game days (a Kerbin day is 6 hours long). So you can use “Time warp”, to speed up the game to move your mission along. The only problems in using time warp are that you can’t fully control any spacecraft while in this mode, and any other missions in your solar system are also accelerated. If you forgot that you left one spacecraft in a suborbital trajectory for atmospheric re-entry while you time warped to get another spacecraft to the Mun, well, one of these crews are going to die!

Depending on your game settings, your kerbals will re-spawn eventually–but it’s bad form to use them as fodder, since, like humans, there are things that only a Kerbal can do and probes cannot.

My first space station on the launch pad at night.

Some players just use time-acceleration to move things along, playing one mission at a time, especially interplanetary ones. I, for one, have enjoyed the vistas. After landing a small rover on the Mun, I decided to travel over 30 km to a crater at 10 meters/second (22 mph), taking over 45 minutes in real-time to drive there. You can’t time-accelerate the game while driving on terrain. Others have complained of the fragility of rovers, often damaging wheels or overturning them.

I, for one, know better. While we players have the benefit of operating rovers in “real-time” as if driving a car, rovers aren’t cars. Better to plan a straight-line trip for a few kilometers, making very minute changes to avoid rocks or grades, stop to assess, then continue. In a much shorter way, this is how NASA has done it since they can only safely plot movement of their two rovers this way. Real rovers move glacially slow for a reason.

I’ve developed a rover with twice the speed of my first, that should work in many more places. It’s un-flippable on Kerbin at speed, but lower-gravity terrain is less forgiving. I’m more worried about control authority as the rover makes its landing attempt on airless worlds. Duna should be easier with drogue chutes, a wide inflatable aerobraking heat shield and thrusters to stabilize.

But that super-rover was just too super–too large and so too expensive to fly, requiring large boosters to get it anywhere. I’ve since redesigned it to be 1/2 the size for easier flights.

I was captivated by the details of the Mun, so much like Earth’s moon. I had to work out traverses over large craters and steep slopes without flipping, colliding or falling off precipices. Eventually the sun would rise and set slowly on this tidally-locked moon and I’d have to stop travel due to the loss of battery power while my solar panels passed into shadow, forcing me to move to another mission until sunrise.

My Sojourner-like rover on the surface of the Mun.

As you unlock the technology in Career Mode (or choose to have everything available to you in Sandbox mode) KSP offers advanced science such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators for weak-sun missions such as to Eeloo (Pluto-ish world) and Jool, the gas giant. Fuel cells are available, too. Rather than gases, they generate electricity from your liquid fuel and oxidizer stores.

KSP doesn’t require you to emulate NASA’s progression. For kicks and giggles, the first space station I built looked a lot like America’s first station.

But unlike NASA’s version, not only did my station reach planetary orbit without calamity, after docking a Command/Service Module with it, I sent it to the Mun!

KSP relaxes some of the design constraints of actual spacecraft. You can send a single-pilot munar lander and skip an Apollo-style CSM/LM version. I’ve done some of these just because it’s cool, but KSP allows fuel transfer between docked vehicles, allowing you to refuel and send landers for additional excursions. Likewise, separating lander and ascent modules aren’t required unless weight becomes a serious concern.

Your kerbals have varying personalities, noted simply by two criteria: Courage and stupidity. Some love perilous events, right to their doom. Others freak out at the slightest vibration. You have pilots (who can fly any spacecraft without need for a commlink from home), scientists (who can reset one-use experiments and generate more science points over time) and engineers (useful for repairing things should they break when far from home, as well as improving the efficiency of mining operations). KSP shamelessly takes on tourists who pay KSP big bucks for joyrides around Kerbin orbit or the moons to boost your funding for other things.

Non-player character kerbals are peppered throughout. A white-vested Gene Kerman offers you missions from Mission Control. Wernher von Kerman is near the Vertical Assembly Building and the Research & Development labs to guide you along. KSP is loaded with all kinds of humor, hidden and obvious.

Mass and stability are a big concern that can bite you in the ass. I had just docked yet another fuel tank on a space station around Mimmus when the station literally shook itself apart. It took me a second try–and subsequent explosion–to realize that the station’s elements were too imbalanced. Thankfully I had made the station modular and could rearrange everything to put things to rest. (The station you see in the preview image is the rearranged station, which looks like Skylab fused with the International Space Station–it actually wasn’t intentionally built that way.)

I had a great time emulating an Apollo-style Mun mission, complete with transposition and docking. The docking indicator to the right is a mod that greatly aids in accurate, safe docking.

I mentioned ion engines are available–highly efficient, although slow. Advanced science gets you a nuclear engine for sufficiently powerful but fuel-efficient manned interplanetary ventures.

As for spaceplanes, you can make Space Shuttle-like vehicles or go for a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. You’re not limited to low-Kerbin-orbit versions, either. You start off by making small jet aircraft (emphasizing the aeronautical side of KSP) with an airstrip, and can gradually unlike tech for high-speed jets and then go for space in whatever way you’d like.

As for my first spaceplane, I thinking of going Jurassic on KSP and revive Dyna-Soar. Or, for something practical for low-Kerbin orbit crew or cargo ferries, I’ll make a Dream Chaser-like variant.

One thing that pleasantly annoys me about KSP is how you’ll find yourself spending far more time (at least for me) in planning and construction of missions over actually flying. The permutations of how to do something, especially the way you want, preoccupy my subconscious each night, often causing me to wake up earlier than I should if I’m to complete my work days without nodding off. While you’re in build mode, all mission time is suspended, so you’re not penalized in time.

Inside your Vertical Assembly Building, you’re in build mode. Here’s my Skylab-like space station, with a fairing protecting its telescope mount, in a rather non-Saturn V launch arrangement.

Reusability is a feature. You can design your boosters to go all SpaceX and make powered landings. Such vehicles can be then recovered and its cost partially refunded to you.

Like the real universe, you also have to wait for transfer windows to more efficiently get to other planets. You really begin to get a better understanding of orbital mechanics with KSP and how what seemed to be counter-intuitive burns make sense to get your spacecraft where you want them.

But the accomplishment value of these tasks–landing on the Mun, or getting your first probes and stations away–it’s indescribable. KSP makes creativity and thinking fun.

Interplanetary missions require you to carefully monitor your fuel needs. You may need to consider using advanced tools for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) that search for ore you can mine from a moon, planet or even asteroid that can be converted into fuel at distant locations.

An expansion of KSP, “Making History,” adds parts that look much like American and Russian spacecraft and launch vehicles. You can make an R-7/Soyuz launch vehicle as well as Saturn rockets, and even go down the Nova route. Vostok and Voshkod modules are available, although you’ll have to hack about a Soyuz spacecraft variant from your own creativity. There is a Munar Excursion Module, or MEM–the ascent stage analogue of a Lunar Module. You have to build your own descent stage. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Orbiter elements can also be fully recreated, and you can choose to make your spaceplane glide back to Kerbin or add some jet engines to it.

A mission planner also allows you to generate your own missions with failure modes where your kerbals’ skills will be essential to completing a task.

My Munar Module separates and lands on the Mun. Like the real LM, fuel is at a premium for a Mun landing. You’ll have a better time on Mimmus landings. You can choose to fly up the ascent stage, but most of the time, keeping the descent engine as your sole engine works better.

KSP has a great player community with the mods available. You can add more environmental effects, such as clouds, to make the planets more realistic. The downside is that mods can cause bugs, particularly after a game update. I’ve stuck to three essential mods: Kerbin Alarm Clock, which allows me to coordinate many missions at once by having it remind me to manage another spacecraft as well as calculating launch windows for landing; a docking tool that makes that task much more easier than in-game resources; and Kerbal Engineer Redux, which gives you stats, accurate burn times and delta-V calculations to ensure you don’t make an under- or over-powered launch vehicle or spacecraft.

My knowledge of actual space travel has made my progress a bit faster in Career Mode than I liked in my first campaign. You can adjust the difficulty settings to force you to be more determined in unlocking parts in the science tree than where I’m at.

Kerbal Space Program is a treat. If you love space exploration, it’s an inexpensive way to enjoy having one of your own–with much less political issues that underfund our actual space programs on Earth.

LIVE REAL TIME SATELLITE TRACKING AND PREDICTIONS

Spaceflight now live

ASTRONAUTS CAPTURE SPACEX CARGO CAPSULE WITH ROBOT ARM FOR FINAL TIME – For the final time, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule approached the International Space Station Monday for capture with the research lab’s robotic arm, delivering more than 4,300 pounds of food, experiments and spare parts. Future Dragon resupply missions will use a new spaceship design to automatically dock with the space station. The unpiloted cargo freighter completed a two-day pursuit of the space station Monday with an automated approach to the orbiting research outpost. More
(Source: SpaceFlight Now – Mar 10)

OLYMPIC ORBITER: ‘GUNDAM SATELLITE’ HITCHES RIDE TO ISS TO PROMOTE 2020 GAMES – A microsatellite carrying model robots from the popular science fiction anime “Mobile Suit Gundam” was successfully launched to promote the Olympics, organizers said Saturday. The so-called G-Satellite, which contains two figurines from the animated series, hitched a ride to the International Space Station on Friday aboard a SpaceX/Dragon cargo flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will reach the ISS on Monday at 8 p.m. Japan time. More
(Source: The Japan Times – Mar 8)

THE DSCOVR EARTH AND SPACE WEATHER SATELLITE IS BACK ONLINE AFTER A MONTHS-LONG GLITCH – A disabled satellite that tracks space weather is back online after nine months of efforts to get it communicating with Earth, according to a U.S. government update. The nearly five-year-old Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) went into a safe mode lockdown on June 27, 2019, due to issues with the attitude control system that keeps it properly oriented in space to receive commands and send data. More
(Source: Space.com – Mar 8)

SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW THE IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS – A crowd at Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Kaaba on Feb. 14, 2020 (top) and a much smaller group of visitors on March 3, 2020, a day before fears over the novel coronavirus led to the the suspension of the “umrah” pilgrimage. Satellite images released on March 5, 2020 by Maxar Technologies reveal the impact of coronavirus on activities around the world. More
(Source: USA TODAY – Mar 7)

ROCKET ISSUE DELAYS LAUNCH OF UAE’S FALCON EYE 2 SATELLITE FOR A MONTH: REPORT – A sharp-eyed satellite’s launch has been pushed back from its expected Thursday (March 5) launch date until no earlier than April due to a rocket problem, according to a media report. Arianespace, which will be providing the launch from French Guiana, has not disclosed a reason for the delay. Nor did it release a new launch date for Falcon Eye 2, which is a high-performance optical observation satellite for commercial and military users in the United Arab Emirates. More
(Source: Space.com – Mar 7)

SPACEX LAUNCHES CARGO TOWARD SPACE STATION, ACES 50TH ROCKET LANDING – SpaceX successfully launched an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft for NASA today (March 6), sending fresh supplies toward the International Space Station (ISS) — and also sticking another rocket landing, the 50th for the company overall. The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket used in today’s flight is a veteran; its first stage also lofted the previous Dragon cargo mission, in December 2019. The rocket blasted off from Pad 40 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:50 p.m. EST (0450 GMT on Saturday, March 7), illuminating the skies above Florida’s Space Coast. More
(Source: Space.com – Mar 7)

ROCKET LAB TO SEND CAPELLA RADAR SATELLITE TO MID-INCLINATION ORBIT – Capella Space will send a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite into a mid-inclination orbit later this year on a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle, the two companies announced March 5. “It will be the first commercial SAR satellite in a mid-inclination orbit,” Payam Banazadeh, Capella Space CEO, told SpaceNews. “Customers want to monitor areas around Korea, the Middle East, some portions of Europe and North America. Putting a satellite in a 45-degree-inclination orbit allows you to have good coverage of those areas.” More
(Source: SpaceNews – Mar 6)

ISRO POSTPONES LAUNCH OF GEO IMAGING SATELLITE GISAT-1 DUE TO TECHNICAL REASONS – The launch of Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro) Gisat-1, scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed due to technical reasons. Isro said that a new launch date for Gisat-1 will be announced in due course. The launch of Gisat-1 was scheduled for March 5 from the second launchpad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. More
(Source: India Today – Mar 5)

DARPA PICKS NORTHROP GRUMMAN AS ITS COMMERCIAL PARTNER FOR SATELLITE SERVICING PROGRAM – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency selected Northrop Grumman as its commercial partner for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program, the company announced March 4. The announcement comes on the heels of Northrop Grumman’s successful operation of its first satellite servicing Mission Extension Vehicle. The MEV-1 launched in October 2019 and last month docked in-orbit with an Intelsat communications satellite in an effort to keep the spacecraft in operation for an additional five years. More
(Source: SpaceNews – Mar 5)

AUSTRALIA DEVELOPING SATELLITE TO PREDICT BUSHFIRE DANGER ZONES – Australian scientists are developing the country’s first satellite designed to predict where bushfires are likely to start, following months of devastating fires. The Australian National University said Wednesday a team is creating a “shoebox-sized” satellite that will measure forest ground cover and moisture levels using infrared detectors. It is hoped the data will help determine where bushfires are likely to start and where they may be difficult to contain. More
(Source: Phys.org – Mar 5)

EXPANDING, AND EVENTUALLY REPLACING, THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION – Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), humanity has managed to maintain an uninterrupted foothold in low Earth orbit for just shy of 20 years. There are people reading these words who have had the ISS orbiting overhead for their entire lives, the first generation born into a truly spacefaring civilization. But as the saying goes, what goes up must eventually come down. The ISS is at too low of an altitude to remain in orbit indefinitely, and core modules of the structure are already operating years beyond their original design lifetimes. More
(Source: Hackaday – Mar 4)

YOUR PHONE MAY SOON RECEIVE 4G SERVICE . FROM SPACE! – In the United States it’s easy to take cell reception for granted. With few exceptions, you can use your phone to text, call, and get online from pretty much anywhere in the country. Yet about 2 billion people around the world live in areas that lack mobile coverage, mostly far from major cities, which makes building a network of terrestrial cell towers to connect them prohibitively expensive. If you built a cell network in space, it could plug the gaps in global mobile coverage by raining 4G service from satellites to users on the ground. More
(Source: WIRED – Mar 4)

AFTER LAST-MINUTE ABORT, DARPA LAUNCH CHALLENGE ENDS WITHOUT A WINNER – Astra engineers scrubbed a launch attempt Monday at Kodiak Island, Alaska, to assess troubling data from a guidance, navigation and control sensor on the company’s new small satellite launcher, ending a bid to win up to $12 million in prize money from a U.S. military research agency. Monday’s countdown was aborted on the final day of a 15-day window set by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which offered Astra a $2 million prize if it successfully placed three small CubeSats into orbit. More
(Source: SpaceFlight Now – Mar 3)

SPACEX TEST-FIRES ROCKET, PREPS FOR FINAL FLIGHT OF FIRST-GENERATION DRAGON CAPSULE – The Falcon 9 booster for SpaceX’s next mission fired up briefly on a Cape Canaveral launch pad Sunday in a routine pre-flight test before a scheduled launch Friday night to kick off the final flight of the first version of the company’s Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station. Nine Merlin 1D main engines at the base of the Falcon 9 booster fired up at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) Sunday at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. More
(Source: SpaceFlight Now – Mar 3)

NITROGEN DIOXIDE POLLUTION OVER CHINA PLUMMETS IN NEW SATELLITE IMAGES – The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has caused widespread alarm, travel bans, and the quarantine of multiple cities across the world. But there’s also been an unexpected effect on the environment, in the form of a notable drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions levels across China. Data collected from the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite shows a significant drop of nitrogen dioxide – a gas mainly emitted by cars, trucks, power plants and some industrial plants – between January 1 and February 25. More
(Source: ScienceAlert – Mar 2)

NASA WANTS YOU TO PHOTOGRAPH STARLINK SATELLITES WITH YOUR SMARTPHONE – SpaceX and others plan to launch thousands of new satellites into low-Earth orbit, creating streaks that cut through astronomers’ images. Now educators at NASA are asking citizen scientists to help document the problem. Over the coming years, Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company, SpaceX, will launch thousands of small satellites as part of an effort to provide global, space-based internet. More
(Source: Discover Magezine – Mar 1)

CHINA TO COMPLETE ITS ANSWER TO GPS WITH BEIDOU NAVIGATION SATELLITE LAUNCHES IN MARCH, MAY – China will launch Beidou navigation satellites in March and May this year, completing a constellation designed for an array of civil and military applications. A Long March 3B rocket arrived at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center Feb. 14, according to China News Service. The Beidou satellite for the launch has also arrived at Xichang, the report states. Both missions will launch single satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbits using enhanced hypergolic Long March 3B rockets. More
(Source: SpaceNews – Feb 29)

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION RESUPPLY MISSION TO CARRY NEW ARISS HAM RADIO GEAR – The scheduled March 7 SpaceX CRS-20 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will include the initial Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Interoperable Radio System (IORS) flight unit. The IORS is the foundation of the ARISS next-generation amateur radio system on the space station. The ARISS hardware team built four flight units, and the first will be installed in the ISS Columbus module. More
(Source: ARRL – Feb 29)

Why Single Stage to Orbit rockets SUCK

Why Single Stage to Orbit rockets SUCK. The wacky history and future maybes of SSTOs.

Rockets are HUGE, complicated and expensive. As a matter of fact, the rocket that took humans to the moon, the Saturn 5, was 111 meters or 363 feet tall, and had more separation events than dating teenagers.

So why do rockets always split themselves into multiple parts. Isn’t that complicated and risky? Why throw so much away? I mean, there’s got to be a better way.

Well how about if rockets were only ONE stage? How awesome would that be? Well this idea isn’t new… it’s called single stage to orbit or SSTO and it’s often considered the holy grail of rocketry.

Well, today, I’m going to SMASH THAT HOLY GRAIL and explain why I think SSTO’s SUCK.

Woah woah woah, yes, I’m sure you DID build an awesome SSTO space plane in Kerbal Space Program that can put 2 large Orange fuel tanks to orbit, yeah me too… but… In order to drill this point in we’ll teach you all about the tyranny of the rocket equation and help you understand why every orbital rocket, well, ever is multistage.

Then we’ll take a stroll down SSTO history and look at some crazy designs that in some cases almost worked…

And not to be a huge downer, we will take a look at some SSTO designs that MIGHT actually work, including the Skylon spaceplane that uses the awesome SABRE hybrid engine.

Ok, Everyday Astronaut VS SSTO’s… but hear me out, let’s get started!

But what if I told you, I can’t hardly think of one good reason to build an SSTO in real life? Well there’s a few potential benefits, but do they outweigh all the negatives?

Ok… ok… so before I sound like some old grump here “Get off my lawn you darn kids with your SSTOs”, let’s talk about why SSTO’s are considered desirable by some and why people dream about a time when launch vehicles are only one stage…

Imagine a world where a launch vehicle takes off, goes to space, comes back, refuels and does that multiple times a day. No problem. Sounds like a real life millenium falcon.

When most people use the term SSTO it’s inferred that the vehicle would be reusable… it would go up in space and come back down all in one piece, throwing away only fuel to get it there and back.

And again, when talking about reusable SSTOs most people and concepts utilize a spaceplane design. A vehicle which takes off and lands like a plane.

Sounds great right? One vehicle to do it all! Nice and simple. Take off from a runway like any other jetliner at an airport, and then instead of leveling out at a boring old 10 kms or 35,000 feet or so, keep accelerating and increase your altitude until you’re in orbit!

Then when your mission’s done, just come back down from space and land on any old runway, again, like any other jetliner.

OK, SSTO’s don’t sound bad… do they? Uh oh, have I lost my mind. Well, before we keep on dreaming about our potential sci-fi future, let’s take a quick look at the history of rockets to see why so far, SSTOs haven’t been attainable.

The first liquid fuel rockets ever made were just one stage. Basically a rocket engine, some propellant inside the fuselage and in most a cases, some kind of warhead on top. Rocket’s were mostly used as an advanced weapon delivery system at first, but lucky for us, they also so happen to be able to be used for spaceflight!

The V2 rocket built by Germany, were the first rockets to ever reach the edge of space. In June, 1944, a V2 rocket on a test flight reached beyond the karman line, the most commonly agreed upon boundary of space at 100 kms or 62 miles in altitude.

Sure, a single stage rocket could get up to space, but what about stay in space? Well in order to stay in space, an object needs to reach orbital velocity. To orbit the earth, a vehicle needs to be traveling at about 28,000 km/h or 17,500 miles per hour to stay in space.

Ok… so now we have a new goal for humanity. Get something into orbit.

Well on October 4th, 1957 the Soviet Union managed to place Sputnik 1 into orbit. The shiny metal ball with scary looking spiky antennas weighed only 83.6 KG or 184 pounds, hey that’s pretty much my weight!

The vehicle that carried Sputnik to low Earth orbit was a two stage launch vehicle most commonly known as the R7. This rocket was revolutionary and allowed the vehicle to ditch unnecessary weight on ascent by ejecting spent fuel tanks and rocket engines that were no longer necessary.

This is called staging. It was revolutionary and pivotal in putting anything of significance into space.

Staging is the number one cure for the tyranny of the rocket equation. The tyranny of the rocket equation is basically the diminishing returns on adding fuel.

If you were to double the fuel in your rocket, you don’t double the delta V or change in velocity… Due to now having to push around all the weight of the extra fuel and fuel tank, the rocket is able to burn longer, but it doesn’t receive anywhere near double the change in velocity.

And it only gets worse the further you go until the rocket actually gets too heavy for the engine and next thing you know you’re adding engines to lift the extra fuel and so on and so on.

So this is where staging comes in. Once the rocket empties a fuel tank, why not throw it away? Even better, if the rocket is throttling down an engine to stay accelerating at a safe speed, why not throw away the heavy, unnecessary engines.

This is what the R7 rocket did. It was basically a good sized rocket with 4 extra rockets attached to it. Once those side rockets were spent, they were discarded in this really cool formation known as the korolev cross, named after Sergei Korolev… who you can think of as the Werner Von Bruan of the Soviet space program.

BTW, you can still see the Korolev Cross on any of today’s Soyuz launches. I love watching that! So cool!

Separation events are often a breath holding moment in flight. There are two main types of staging events.

First there’s parallel staging where multiple stages are fired and active at once, like Soyuz, or the Space Shuttle, or Falcon Heavy.

Everyone holds their breath during staging because if a booster doesn’t separate, the mission will fail. It was definitely a big moment when the side boosters of the Falcon Heavy separated safely.

Or there’s an even more complex and nail biting type of staging called tandem staging. This is what a more traditional multistage rocket does.

It fires one stage first, then that engine cuts off, the 1st stage and 2nd stage separate, the 2nd stage fires and keeps going to orbit as a brand new fresh rocket.

Not only is the 2nd basically a new fully fueled little baby rocket, but their engines are also optimized for vacuum operation by having a much larger exhaust nozzle. We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming video, but, that’s another huge advantage for staging. Having different engines optimized for different environments.

The first rocket to ever do any kind of tandem staging was called the RTV-G-4 Bumper. It was literally a V-2 rocket with a small sounding rocket on top of it. It was launched between 1948 and 1950 and launched 8 times, creating a lot of valuable data on multi staging.

But this stage separation event was really hard to accomplish and almost considered impossible for a long time. That’s why many early rockets utilized parallel staging.

As a matter of fact, separation events, or more specifically a botched separation event almost lead to SpaceX being another forgotten aerospace company who went bankrupt after only 3 flights attempts.

Flight 3 of their Falcon 1 rocket had a separation event go wrong when the first stage had a little residual thrust after stage separation, causing it to bump into the upper stage, leading to a failed mission.

So if it was so coveted and necessary to make multistage launchers, why are SSTO’s so sought after?

Well, there’s something to say about making a less complicated launch vehicle. Maybe SSTOs are good for something…

Alright, so I can already hear you over there saying but but but… and the first but is probably “but Elon musk said the Falcon 9 booster could reach orbital velocities…”

Sure it can. Now good job. You just put a $30 million dollar piece of hardware up in space where it has no spare margin to carry anything more than a small backpack and no remaining fuel to re-enter or land. I think there’s better ways to put a backpack in space…

And again… Elon said that the BFS, the spaceship portion of the big falcon rocket is capable of reaching orbit by itself with a low payload but using the booster, it can deliver more than an order of magnitude more payload.

Well first off, it would require firing the 4 vacuum raptor engines at sea level which Elon says, “I wouldn’t recommend.” Ok, so combustion instability aside, let’s pretend it could put 15 tons into orbit AND somehow have enough margins to deorbit, and safely land…

So… now we flew a BFS to space and back so it could deliver something smaller than a Falcon 9 could do. The cost of range, personnel and of course refurbishment of the ship need to be considered.

These things considered, do you think it’s cheaper to just fuel up the booster too, since a lot of the costs are inherent to the launch cost and the fuel is relatively cheap.

Since the booster experiences much less reentry heat than the upper stage, it can be flown a lot more often without maintenance and refurbishment costs.

Just like how block 5 of the Falcon 9 should be able to fly about 10 times without any scheduled maintenance or refurbishment yet the upper stage is still elusive when it comes to reuse.

So why not utilize the entire vehicle? In the best case scenario you just launched 1/10th the payload capacity just to save a little on gas money. Once an entire vehicle is routinely rapidly and reliably reusable, woah that’s a lot of R’s… then who cares if it’s two stages or one.

In best case scenario 2 stages is better than one and in worst case scenario one stage doesn’t even work at all.

Ok, but let’s not be all poo poo. Let’s take a look at some SSTO designs past, present and future to see if there’s any that seem promising.

Let’s start off with some previously proposed and pursued SSTOs and look at why they failed.

Well, one of the earliest proposals was the One Stage Orbital Space Truck or OOST by Phil Bono of Douglas Space in the 1960’s. Later he proposed a reusable version called ROOST.

Another proposal from the 60’s was the NEXUS rocket which would’ve been HUGE. I’m talking HUGE. It would’ve been 122 meters or 400 feet tall, and a width of 50 meters or 164 feet. HOLY MOLY.

Ok, so paper rockets are one thing, but how about a rocket that was actually being tested? Look no further than the DC-X or Delta Clipper Experimental made my McDonnell Douglas.

The DC-X was was an actual working 1/3rd scale prototype of a proposed DC-Y SSTO that was to be capable of putting about 1,300 kgs or 3,000 pounds into orbit.

The DC-X was just to demonstrate vertical take off and landing and it actually flew 8 times between August 1993 and July 1995 and pretty successfully… but it only reached a maximum altitude of 2,500m. Think of it like SpaceX’s grasshopper.

In 1996 NASA took the program and turned it into the DC-XA which made some improvements to the vehicle. It flew four times, including a 26 hour turn around and setting a new altitude record of 3,140 meters or 10,300 feet.

It’s last flight was on July 7th of 1996. After a landing strut failed to extend and a lox tank leaked, causing a fire and damaging the vehicle.

Despite a relatively low cost to repair and continue working, NASA cancelled the program and looked to pursue Lockheed Martin’s VentureStar… So let’s talk about that!

VentureStar is probably one of my all time favorite spacecraft designs. See… I don’t HATE SSTOs….

Lockheed Martin proposed a space shuttle replacement in the mid 90’s and received funding from the U.S. government to work on development.

The VentureStar ticked all the SSTO boxes. It would’ve been amazing and it actually got painfully close to flying… well at least a subscale, suborbital version. But here’s the rundown.

It had advanced carbon fiber construction, a giant linear aerospike engine and could take 20,000 kgs or 45,000 pounds to LEO. That’s close to a Falcon 9!

It would take off vertically like a rocket and land horizontally, just like the space shuttle.

Unfortunately, the subscale x-33 demonstrator was cancelled in 2001 despite being really close to flying. The X-33 demonstrator had 96% of its parts manufactured and was 85% assembled… and even the launch facility was complete!

The reason for its cancellation was a long series of technical difficulties, flight instability and excess weight. DARN YOU WEIGHT!

That got so close to flying, it hurts.

Next how about maybe the craziest proposed SSTO of all time. The Roton. This thing is hilarious. This… is a helicopter that could get to orbit.. Supposedly.

So basically it was a helicopter powered by jet tips… So some small thrusters at the end of the rotors. It would lift itself using the low powered jet tips spinning the helicopter rotors until the atmosphere got too low where it would then light up a rocket engine and ascend to orbit using the rocket engine.

The rotors weren’t just dead weight once in space either. Instead of providing lift, they would continue spinning to power the turbopump for the rocket engine. Then they would also be used to slow down through descent in the atmosphere and used to land softly.

Despite a full scale atmospheric test vehicle being built, and flying… well sort of… the program was cancelled in 2001 due to lack of funding and people saying the technology wasn’t valid and it was technically impossible on available technology.

Apparently it was horribly unstable when flying like a helicopter… actually the vehicle was found to be unflyable by anyone except the test pilots who even then had periods of being entirely out of control… yikes.

But I still LOVE that wacky thing.

Ok so what about some current proposals? It’s been more than a decade since those last proposals ended, there’s got to be some new technology we can apply and make these things happen, right?

Well, you can’t talk about SSTOs without talking about perhaps the most alluring SSTO, the Skylon space plane. The Skylon is being designed by the United Kingdom’s Reaction Engines Limited and utilizes an amazing combined-cycle hybrid rocket engine called the SABRE engine.

Now this is the one concept I can sort of get behind. The Skylon’s SABRE engines act like a fairly traditional jet engine. It uses the atmosphere to its advantage.

Instead of a traditional rocket that tries to get out of the atmosphere as quickly as possible by ascending virtually straight up for a minute or so, the Skylon will reach 5 times the speed of sound or around 6,000 km/h or 3,800 mph while pulling in oxygen from the atmosphere, just like a any other jet.

Then the SABRE engine then closes its intake and turns into a more traditional rocket engine where it’ll burn fuel and oxidizer to reach orbital speeds.

The SABRE engine has received even further funding from the United States’ DARPA, Boeing & Rolls Royce to build a high temperature test facility which hopefully will begin testing this year.

So the Skylon actually has some promise! But… even though it’s technically theoretically possible, even the makers of the Skylon seem to be backing down on its SSTO potential, at least for now.

Reaction Engines is currently pursuing non SSTO vehicles first, much before the Skylon will ever fly.

In 2017, Mark Thomas of Reaction Engines said they’re currently pursuing a spaceplane as a 2 stage vehicle where it would deploy an upper stage at a high altitude and a high velocity and then the space plane would turn around and land.

So… even with this crazy awesome air breathing engine, they’re finding it too impractical currently to make the Skylon an SSTO. Again, it’s just plain hard.

And one more thing while we’re talking about Skylon. Remember the SR-71 blackbird? Even though it could only reach mach 3… it still experienced so much heat that it needed to have large gaps in body panels since it expanded by 60 cms when flying at speed.

This led to it basically peeing its pants and dripping fuel when fully fueled on the runway. Now can you imagine something going even faster in the atmosphere? Well this is the 21st century after all, I don’t think the Skylon will pee its pants on the runway, but the crazy heat at high mach speeds in the atmosphere might be a huge hurdle.

I personally foresee there being many fairly substantial issues to making the Skylon actually work. It’ll be amazing if it does, but for now, it’s stuck in future hopes and wishes to me.

If you guys want me to do more about Skylon, let me know. We could probably do a whole article on it, it’s really a cool vehicle.

And lastly… we should probably mention Arca space’s Haas 2CA… This to me, is pretty silly.

It’s an SSTO rocket with a linear aerospike engine… cool. BUT, it’s only capable of 100kg or 220 pounds to orbit… ummm. Maybe they should just add a small upper stage on that thing and put 1,000 kgs into orbit since they’re throwing away the whole thing anyway.

My big question for Arca is… why. What’s the point? The ONLY thing they claim thats an advantage is they can launch inland because there are no spent stages… Hmmmm….

Not sure how I feel about that. I mean yay for aerospikes, but boo for a rocket with such limited capability.

Ok… so all past SSTOs have failed, all current SSTOs are either not going to be SSTOs or are kind of pointless in my opinion… and there really isn’t much on the table for a usable SSTO in the near future without some major breakthrough in material science or propulsion.

BUT WAIT. There’s ONE MORE THING. So far I’m here talking about how all SSTOs failed… that’s not true! As a matter of fact, one of the most famous spacecraft in all of history was an SSTO… the lunar excursion module!

Of course it could, but only on the moon! The LEM was capable of achieving lunar orbit using only one stage. But… that’s the moon. The moon’s gravity is much weaker than Earth’s gravity AND there’s no atmosphere to fight against.

And then we have SpaceX’s BFS which will be capable of not only SSTO from the surface of Mars, but even have enough performance to get all the way back to Earth from the surface of Mars in a single stage.

This is mostly due to Mars having only 38% the amount of gravity of Earth AND having only 1% the atmosphere of Earth. Making achieving orbit, much much easier.

So maybe SSTOs don’t suck. Maybe Earth sucks. It has just enough gravity to make it barely possible to achieve orbit with rocket engines and it has that pesky atmosphere which slows vehicles down on ascent.

So…. how are you feeling? I still stand by the fact that as cool as SSTOs are, and as much as I do actually love them, they just don’t really work in practice using currently available technology. Of course I’m not saying that’s how it’ll always be, but for now, give me them stages.

After all. I think we can all agree the most important aspect of an SSTO is the reusability thing. So what if a multi stage rocket IS fully reusable? Like the BFR? Isn’t that what matters most?

The first stage does what it needs to do then comes back and is refueled and reused. Same with the upper stage. So who cares if the vehicle does it in one peice or breaks off into two more dedicated pieces.

I can’t wait for a day when orbital flight is routine and reliable and fully reusable. And for the foreseeable future, I think it’ll continue to be done in stages…

So what do you think? Do you think SSTOs are still valid and practical or are you on team multistage? #teammultistage

Let me know your thoughts on SSTOs in the comments below. And PLEASE, spare me your Kerbal SSTO designs… It works in Kerbal Space Program is not a real argument… unfortunately.

And before you tell me all about how SSTOs can take off and land on runways… remember, that’s NOT exclusive to SSTOs. That’s an air launcher and or lifting body advantage. That is not exclusive to SSTOs, so I’m not going to say that’s much of a check box…

Let me know if you have any other questions or things you want me to cover in future articles!

As always, I owe a huge thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping make this and other Everyday Astronaut content possible. I owe a special thanks to those Patrons in our exclusive discord channel and our exclusive subreddit for helping me script and research. If you want to help contribute, please visit http://patreon.com/everydayastronaut

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Thanks everybody that does it for me. I’m Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut. Bringing space down to Earth for everyday people.

Kerbal Space Program – Ars Technica OpenForum

Kerbal Space Program

Honestly, it was late at night and I was so pissed I just cheated it down with such an abrupt lithobraking maneuver that the capsule would have become its own goo canister. This after a couple drops into the water. It appears that if you hit the water hard enough even with damage turned off, you still lose the craft.

The rescue contracts themselves are a little funny, conceptually. “Hey, let us know in the next couple days if you’ll be able to retrieve this noble Kerbal. And if so, no rush — if you can get around to it any time in the next five years, that’d be great. They’re fine up there.”

I definitely need mechjeb for 1.2

This is the release I think I’ll play for a good while. The comm net thing is fun + cool.

There’s a dev version of MechJeb that is 1.2-compatible: https://ksp.sarbian.com/jenkins/job/MechJeb2-Dev/

Seems to work pretty well without too many bugs (at least as far as I’ve seen), so you don’t necessarily have to wait for the actual release of the mod.

There’s a dev version of MechJeb that is 1.2-compatible: https://ksp.sarbian.com/jenkins/job/MechJeb2-Dev/

Seems to work pretty well without too many bugs (at least as far as I’ve seen), so you don’t necessarily have to wait for the actual release of the mod.

Built a few stations without MechJeb (one around Duna for delicious, delicious cash), but it’s much better to have it.

The orbit, delta-V info and the node planner are invaluable.

Relays work too. Most of my contract sats are relays.

It’s the deviation. Some contracts have “reasonable deviation”, some have “minimal deviation”. You have to be much, much more precise on the latter. They may also specify derived orbital characteristics like the longitude of the ascending node or argument of periapsis.

@relays, remember to place a relay capable antenna on your radio relay satellites. Not all antennas can relay. Most can’t, and can only receive signals meant for the ship they are attached to.

Okay now that we got comms, how long until we get life support? It is the only major piece of a spacecraft puzzle still missing from the game. Or would it be bad press if players started suffocating or starving the Kerbals to death? It’s one thing to crash them and they disappear in a puff of smoke. Having them die inside the ship? Maybe they could just have them disappear from the cabin? Or maybe if they ran out of life support they fall back to their EVA suits, but then they can’t pilot the ship or run experiments or fix broken parts? That’d then require a rescue mission.

Kerbal Life Support (IIRC) does exactly that, and is a pretty mature and well thought out mod.

Yes and I use it. It’s pretty good.

Word of caution to those with an old save. Your existing manned missions won’t have life support.

I think life support is, like monopropellant routing (it’s surprisingly hard to make hydrazine do what you want it to do without becoming explodey) and cryogenics, just handwaved away to make a better game

Besides, fanon holds that kerbals are photosynthetic.

They’d survive in the capsule since it has grow lights inside. Of course you would need power to run the lights and keep it warm.

Hmm, this may explain a bit about why Jeb always looks stoned during a flight.

It just means life support requires power to power the sunlight bulbs.

So I randomly decided to start playing Kerbal again, it finally hooked me.

I made orbit, finally got an airplane to take off, finally got Kerbins to survive an airplane flight (the plane not so much).

Is Ferram Aerospace Research still highly recomended?
MechJeb needs an update as well.

FAR is no longer a must-have mod since the game fixed its atmospheric model. The stock aerodynamics are fine now. FAR gives more nuanced models and plenty of data regarding atmospheric flight (like mach number or stall conditions etc. ) but that isn’t necessary.

Yep official Mechjeb needs updating. However there’s an updated dev package you can find here:

That’s a lot of fly-bys. Are you allowed to dock with tankers or fuel stations to gas up along the way?

I’m not sure. I didn’t. I left LKO with six of the largest solar panels, four RTGs,

18,000 m/s delta-V from three ion engines and a course set to Eeloo (via Mun gravity assist). It was done unmanned. The longer burns at Dres, Eeloo and Jool were done with two engines out due to lack of solar power.

The three ion engines were to get the planned very high energy transfer through Moho able to get to Eve properly, so for most of the flight, two of them were really unnecessary. They’re light enough, and some of the scientifics I took weren’t necessary either.

Mun > Eeloo > Jool > Laythe > Vall > Tylo > Bop > Pol > Dres > Duna > Ike > Moho > Eve > Gilly > Minmus > Suborbital at Kerbin (then orbital, as I’m going to fuel it back up a bit and send it back to Jool to be a relay). Eeloo to Jool was really easy, less than 300 m/s after leaving Eeloo. Jool to Dres was a bitch and a very high energy transfer. Duna to Moho was the highest delta-V and the probe screamed past Moho, with no opportunity for an assist to Eve, so the probe had to cancel its own velocity (which was enough to take it back out past Duna) to reach Eve.

The worst are Duna and Eve, because they have moons. You can’t just scream by and do a quick course correction to reach the next target (like I did at Eeloo), you need to burn into orbit. Duna wasn’t so bad, Ike’s SOI is huge, so you can usually catch it with a pure fly-by, and I did. No chance of that at Eve.

I arrived back in suborbital spaceflight at Kerbin with about 500 m/s of delta-V left. After re-establishing orbit once the contract came in complete, that was zero.

How do you set up your fly-bys/grav-assists? Just hand-tweaked maneuver nodes, or is there some tool for assisting? There are plenty of tools for doing regular transfers, from MechJeb on down, but not much I’ve seen for helping setting up assists.

They’re mostly by-hand nodes. For interplanetary transfers, I use MechJeb’s porkchop plot to find an exit trajectory on the map/orbit view, then try to find a parallel trajectory manually after a Hohmann to whatever body I want to do an assist from, typically Mun. With a bit of practice (maybe a lot) you won’t need much of a mid-course correction. You’ll often find that the assist costs more delta-V than the straight course. This basically means it isn’t possible with the position of the Mun, or whatever else you’re swinging around. For fly-bys, it’s important to get on the right side of the object, typically day or night sides.

If you’re doing one from a fly-by, you burn in/out to get on the right side with as low a periapsis as you need (lower = more assist) then you just set up a node at periapsis and pull it around until you’re going where you want to go

FAR is no longer a must-have mod since the game fixed its atmospheric model. The stock aerodynamics are fine now. FAR gives more nuanced models and plenty of data regarding atmospheric flight (like mach number or stall conditions etc. ) but that isn’t necessary.

Yep official Mechjeb needs updating. However there’s an updated dev package you can find here:

MechJeb updated officially for 1.2 a week or two ago finally.

Found out I seriously need to practice on my Mun landing skills. Crashed twice trying to rescue an out of fuel early landing attempt.

Kerbal has hooked me hard now. I’m playing science mode, but unfortunely with constantly changing goals I’m kinda getting everything in the tech tree.

Getting to orbit is no problem, getting to the Mun is no problem, minimus isn’t too bad. I landed an airplane, and that was amazing. Built a few com relays for the hell out it (turned out to be rather nice for when I put a probe on Mun and landed on the wrong side).

For some reason I’ve been trying to figure out how to do things on my own before I look them up (not how I operate in life). Orbital intercepts are the thing I’m working on now. I’ve got a few fuel depos in orbit as targets. Couldn’t get that to work so I looked it up, and looks like my mistake was impatience and wanting to do launch and burn to dock, instead of orbit a few times to catch up.

So much fun, runs on the company laptop as well so that’ll make Christmas a bit nicer.

If you’re patient and don’t mind doing a bunch of repetitive “land on moon, but different biome this time” missions, you can complete the entire tech tree without ever leaving the Kerbin system. I find that gets a bit dull though; if you’re doing moon trips, you’re building rockets with nearly enough grunt to do flybys of both Duna and Eve. Getting to either the Mun or Minmus takes 4500-ish m/s dV, which will actually get you to at least a fly-by of either planet with a reasonably efficient transfer, and then allow for a fair amount of inefficiency if you’re setting up the transfer by hand and fiddling around until it’s “about right”. So, just build something a bit bigger, and enjoy the sweet sweet science from other planets (and their moons).

Not to defend drudgery, but Mun and Minmus have the virtue that you can put a station in orbit, dock a tanker to same, and support several landings with completely reusable ships that are simple to design. You could do the same with Ike and Gilly, of course.

Once you have a simple station in orbit of Minmus, you’ve essentially won the game.

For drudgery, Minmus is king, in science mode you can max out the tech tree without ever going anywhere else, and it’s the easiest object to reach and return from.

Were I doing that, I’d make a reusable vertical rocket SSTO (just a really big first stage, think of a Falcon 9 which can reach orbit), which is a lot more easy than it sounds, then use its payload fraction to deliver fuel. The fuel tankers reaching Minmus are disposed of by deorbit, or a relay antenna mounted and then they burned out to escape for a crude relay network.

I’m also a big fan of mounting relay antennae to any interplanetary mission, that’s saved my bacon a number of times.

On a lark I’ve been cost-optimizing my ground-to-orbit taxi, whose job is to rendezvous with a station in a 120 km orbit and then bring the crew home when they’re done.

CSM: Mk1-2 Command Pod, docking port, two radial parachutes, 4x RCS quads, FL-T100, 48-7S, and some OX-STATs, plus a stack sep and a couple size adapters.
2nd stage: FL-T400, FL-T200, LV-909, 4x basic fins, stack sep.
1st stage: 2x Kickbacks on radial decouplers, 3x delta deluxe winglets each.

After circularizing it’s got about 280 m/s left in the CSM, which if I get a good launch rendezvous is more than plenty. Cost is a bit over 20k credits for the lot.

Any suggestions for further cutting the cost? I’m not keen on spaceplanes because I suck at getting a good approach to KSC.

For me, the game begins when the tech tree is completed. My last two careers have focused on getting science labs to Minmus, banking tourist trips within the Kerbin system, and then turning Minmus into a staging area for further exploration.

After completing the tech tree, patents licencing turns the science into a trickle of money that recovers launch costs over time and I allow the missions to dictate the course of expansion.

This time I have the rather ambitious objective of putting an E-class asteroid with an outpost in orbit of every body in the Kerbolar system–and no, I don’t expect I’ll live long enough to actually pull that off. But Minmus and Dres look like Saturn right now in the map view!

I feel like 1.2 is probably going to be the apex of the game’s development, and I’m fine with that.

On a lark I’ve been cost-optimizing my ground-to-orbit taxi, whose job is to rendezvous with a station in a 120 km orbit and then bring the crew home when they’re done.

CSM: Mk1-2 Command Pod, docking port, two radial parachutes, 4x RCS quads, FL-T100, 48-7S, and some OX-STATs, plus a stack sep and a couple size adapters.
2nd stage: FL-T400, FL-T200, LV-909, 4x basic fins, stack sep.
1st stage: 2x Kickbacks on radial decouplers, 3x delta deluxe winglets each.

After circularizing it’s got about 280 m/s left in the CSM, which if I get a good launch rendezvous is more than plenty. Cost is a bit over 20k credits for the lot.

Any suggestions for further cutting the cost? I’m not keen on spaceplanes because I suck at getting a good approach to KSC.

Get your first stage to orbit or very nearly so. Send your payload on its way, circularising as needed. Switch BACK to the first stage, and here your genius takes hold: You’ve given it a probe core, batteries and maybe a few flat surface mount solar panels. It needs to be controllable because the top of it has airbrakes and parachutes and the bottom of it has some landing legs which have been retracted during ascent.

The first stage is much more expensive, but you get nearly all of that back by recovering it. I have a few pre-rolled designs if you need more inspiration.

I’ve got a .craft file someone else made which does what you’re proposing.

I could adapt that, I suppose. Wouldn’t use the upper stage as it is b/c in 1.2x it doesn’t seem to fly well on reentry (which might be my fault; mostly the jet engine can’t do anything but prolong the glide), and as I mentioned I suck at approaches.

Elon, is that you?

F***ing hell, that .craft file is overengineered! Happy to throw one together for you. Do you use KW Rocketry or any other stock-alike mods?

The only parts mods I’m using ATM are Sounding Rockets and Atomic Age.


This guy will get to a 120km circular orbit with 820 m/s left in the launcher (easily enough for a purely propulsive descent!) and a full command module payload. Feel free to replace the command module.

Take off and fly cost is 57,936 including the payload in this example.

It drops 2x Reliant liquid engines with 6x FL-T800 tanks on the way up. It should be fully stock, but let me know if it complains. With KW, you can ditch the strap-ons and use a 3.75m stack for full reusability.
http://upload.hattix.co.uk/uploads/Reus . Core.craft

Edit:
On recovery, you get 29,416 cash back if you nail the landing, as I very proudly did
Landing speed with just brakes and chutes is about 8.7m/s, so keep a little fuel left if you want to do a softer landing.

Non-recovered cost is 28,520, half of which is the payload at 14,300, 50% cash to orbit is very, very good! When you recover the payload, the launch has (ideally) cost around 14,000.

Fight Notes:
I didn’t asparagus stage it, but it’s very attractive to do so. I simply manually emptied the top two FL-T800s into the core using resource transfer during flight. This is necessary if you don’t asparagus it. If you’re aiming for a 120km station, I would personally do a holding orbit at 75-80km to allow phasing into a Hohmann transfer. The command module should have easily enough delta-V to do that itself.
On re-entry, the core rocket doesn’t need any thermal protection so long as you do a fairly steep descent. I usually wait until I’m over the desert spur just before the KSC continent, then burn such as my “impact” point is half way between the KSC shore and the island with the airfield. This usually allows you to shed more velocity on the way down if you need to. On my entry, I kept the airbrakes open all the way down for attitude control.

Cool, thanks. I’ll see if I can do a decent approach on this thing.

I was finally able to dock with my space station and deliver two scientists to it, super satisfying to pull off. They don’t have anything to study but I’ll figure that one out later.

Next up is a manned landing on the Mun with recovery.

Howdy all! Bought this over the winter sale and reaaally enjoyed playing through 1/2 the tutorials. Made it through the orbit tutorial (even successfully splashed down the command module) then decided I was itching to get into the actual game. Played about an hour of the career and got about 5 goals done.

I love the career mode’s small goals which helps me understand some of the ‘experiments’ I need to be trying with equipment. However, I do have a question or two for you veterans:

1) Does it matter what orientation the craft is in when it touches back down on the planet? Should I be worried about where to position chutes so the craft is always upright? I’ve been trying to save the booster of each launch but it doesn’t always land the right way. hasn’t blown up anything yet at least.

2) Do you have to click on the ‘science’ modules during a flight to get a benefit from them? I noticed that the goo module only gave me science like the first time I used one (right-clicked on it during flight) and hasn’t really done anything else since.

1. If you’re just floating down on parachutes, it doesn’t make a huge difference what the orientation is for the capsule. The first parachute that’s available is meant to go on top of the nose of a command module, so it will float down more or less upright, but once you get parachutes that can be side-mounted, you can change that if you want. Of course, if you’re trying to land something with wheels or legs, orientation matters a bit more.

2. You only get science points when you ‘run’ an experiment, otherwise they just sit there and take up weight. You can either Transmit the science back to base, or keep it in the capsule and recover it on landing. Depending on the type of experiment, transmitting the results will only give you a fraction of the possible science, but if you’re (for instance) building a probe that’s doing a one-way trip to a moon or other planet, you aren’t going to be recovering it so it’s better than nothing.

At the beginning of the game, there are only a few types of experiments that are available. Mystery Goo is a run-once experiment; once you run it in a given flight, it’s used up. A Scientist-class Kerbal can restore it so it can be reused (though you need to have the ability to do in-flight EVAs for that, which comes after you’ve upgraded a couple of your buildings at the space center). An easier approach in the early game is to just bring along multiple Goo cans; they don’t weigh very much, so it’s not a big deal to carry along 3 or 4 of them.

Crew Report and EVA Report experiments can be run multiple times in a mission, though for Crew Reports, you’ll either have to transmit the report immediately to base or do a slightly annoying dance involving a short EVA to move the report into long-term storage in your capsule to make room for another one. As you move through the tech tree, you’ll unlock additional experiments, most of which are like the crew report in that they can be run multiple times, but one (the Science Jr. materials bay) is like the Goo canister.

Drop tank mod. Compatible with Tweakscale and can wrap around other components.

1. If you’re just floating down on parachutes, it doesn’t make a huge difference what the orientation is for the capsule. The first parachute that’s available is meant to go on top of the nose of a command module, so it will float down more or less upright, but once you get parachutes that can be side-mounted, you can change that if you want. Of course, if you’re trying to land something with wheels or legs, orientation matters a bit more.

2. You only get science points when you ‘run’ an experiment, otherwise they just sit there and take up weight. You can either Transmit the science back to base, or keep it in the capsule and recover it on landing. Depending on the type of experiment, transmitting the results will only give you a fraction of the possible science, but if you’re (for instance) building a probe that’s doing a one-way trip to a moon or other planet, you aren’t going to be recovering it so it’s better than nothing.

At the beginning of the game, there are only a few types of experiments that are available. Mystery Goo is a run-once experiment; once you run it in a given flight, it’s used up. A Scientist-class Kerbal can restore it so it can be reused (though you need to have the ability to do in-flight EVAs for that, which comes after you’ve upgraded a couple of your buildings at the space center). An easier approach in the early game is to just bring along multiple Goo cans; they don’t weigh very much, so it’s not a big deal to carry along 3 or 4 of them.

Crew Report and EVA Report experiments can be run multiple times in a mission, though for Crew Reports, you’ll either have to transmit the report immediately to base or do a slightly annoying dance involving a short EVA to move the report into long-term storage in your capsule to make room for another one. As you move through the tech tree, you’ll unlock additional experiments, most of which are like the crew report in that they can be run multiple times, but one (the Science Jr. materials bay) is like the Goo canister.

Thanks!! I’ll have to dork around with the goo some more then. I’m assuming doing the ‘same’ experiment on different missions doesn’t produce any more science. I’ve been playing with the thermometer and I got science by clicking on it while my space ship was fire red and again when I was just under 70K meters up but haven’t figure out how to get any more science from it.

Still LOVING the game though.

You can do a given experiment multiple times on a given flight and get the same science from it, but on subsequent flights the science return reduces or is zero for experiments you have already done.

You can see a list of these somewhere, forget where, but you basically have a slew of locations / conditions in which to do given experiments. Measure temperature on the pad with engines off, measure pressure on pad with engines off, temp during lift-off before 10,000ft, pressure @ same, temp in orbit, temp on re-entry, temp at high altitude above water, temp at low altitude above water, temp while in water, etc.

You can kind of thus “cheat” science gains early on. Build a ship and give it all science-y things you currently have access to, multiples of each, and run tests while it is on the pad then recover vessel. Then do the same with a low-alt takeoff and land. Rinse repeat.

Astronauts explain why humans haven – t returned to the moon in decades – Business Insider

Astronauts explain why nobody has visited the moon in more than 45 years — and the reasons are depressing

  • The last time a person visited the moon was in December 1972, during NASA’s Apollo 17 mission.
  • Over the decades, NASA has planned to send people back to the moon but has yet to succeed. The Trump administration wants to get astronauts back there by 2024.
  • Astronauts often say the reasons humans haven’t returned to the lunar surface are budgetary and political hurdles, not scientific or technical challenges.
  • Private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX may be the first entities to return people to the moon.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Landing 12 people on the moon remains one of NASA’s greatest achievements, if not the greatest.

Astronauts collected rocks, took photos, performed experiments, planted flags, and then came home. But those stays during the Apollo program didn’t establish a lasting human presence on the moon.

More than 45 years after the most recent crewed moon landing — Apollo 17 in December 1972 — there are plenty of reasons to return people to Earth’s giant, dusty satellite and stay there.

Vice President Mike Pence has promised that we will see US astronauts on the moon by 2024 (including the first women to ever touch the lunar surface), in a program called Artemis.

But on a recent phone call with reporters, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that ambitious goal is going to require quite a lot more federal cash, something that’s historically been a political sticking point in Washington.

“If it wasn’t for the political risk, we would be on the moon right now,” Bridenstine said. “In fact, we would probably be on Mars.”

So why haven’t astronauts been back to the moon in nearly 47 years?

“It was the political risks that prevented it from happening,” Bridenstine said. “The program took too long and it costs too much money.”

Bridenstine said that’s a major part of why President Trump has requested an additional $1.6 billion in funding for the current plan to return to the moon, which is “largely focused on a lunar lander that at this point doesn’t exist.”

Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart recently told Business Insider that he wishes Bridenstine “good luck” with this goal.

“Accelerating something that ambitious is a real challenge, and it takes commitment and dollars, and that’s what’s going to be required,” Schweickart said. ” We’ve tried two other times — administrations have tried — and they’ve been stillborn.”

Researchers and entrepreneurs have long pushed for the creation of a crewed base on the moon — a lunar space station.

“A permanent human research station on the moon is the next logical step. It’s only three days away. We can afford to get it wrong and not kill everybody,” Chris Hadfield, a former astronaut, previously told Business Insider. “And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out.”

A lunar base could evolve into a fuel depot for deep-space missions, lead to the creation of unprecedented space telescopes, make it easier to live on Mars, and solve longstanding scientific mysteries about Earth and the moon’s creation. It could could even spur a thriving off-world economy, perhaps one built around lunar space tourism.

But many astronauts and other experts suggest the biggest impediments to making this (and moon missions in general) a reality are banal and somewhat depressing.

It’s really expensive to get to the moon — but not that expensive

A tried-and-true hurdle for any spaceflight program, especially missions that involve people, is the steep cost.

NASA’s 2019 budget is $21.5 billion, and the Trump administration is asking Congress to boost that to $22.6 billion in the 2020 budget.

Those amounts may sound like a windfall, until you consider that the total gets split among all the agency’s divisions and ambitious projects: the James Webb Space Telescope, the giant rocket project called Space Launch System (SLS), and far-flung missions to the sun, Jupiter, Mars, the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt, and the edge of the solar system. (By contrast, the US military gets a budget of about $680 billion a year.)

Plus, NASA’s budget is somewhat small relative to its past.

“NASA’s portion of the federal budget peaked at 4% in 1965,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said during congressional testimony in 2015. “For the past 40 years it has remained below 1%, and for the last 15 years it has been driving toward 0.4% of the federal budget.”

Trump’s budget calls for a return to the moon, and then later an orbital visit to Mars. But given the ballooning costs and snowballing delays related to NASA’s SLS rocket program, there may not be enough funding to make it to either destination, even if the International Space Station gets defunded early.

A 2005 report by NASA estimated that returning to the moon would cost about $104 billion ($133 billion today, with inflation) over about 13 years. The Apollo program cost about $120 billion in today’s dollars.

“Manned exploration is the most expensive space venture and, consequently, the most difficult for which to obtain political support,” Cunningham said during his testimony.

He added, according to Scientific American: “Unless the country, which is Congress here, decided to put more money in it, this is just talk that we’re doing here.”

Referring to Mars missions and a return to the moon, Cunningham said, “NASA’s budget is way too low to do all the things that we’ve talked about.”

The problem with presidents

If the Trump administration succeeds in landing astronauts back on to the moon in 2024, that would come at the tail end of what could be Trump’s second term, if he gets reelected.

And therein lies another major problem: partisan political whiplash.

“Why would you believe what any president said about a prediction of something that was going to happen two administrations in the future?” Hadfield said. “That’s just talk.”

The process of designing, engineering, and testing a spacecraft that could get people to another world easily outlasts a two-term president. But incoming presidents and lawmakers often scrap the previous leader’s space-exploration priorities.

“I would like the next president to support a budget that allows us to accomplish the mission that we are asked to perform, whatever that mission may be,” Scott Kelly, an astronaut who spent a year in space, wrote in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread in January 2016, before Trump took office.

But presidents and Congress don’t seem to care about staying the course.

In 2004, for example, the Bush administration tasked NASA with coming up with a way to replace the space shuttle, which was set to retire, and also return to the moon. The agency came up with the Constellation program to land astronauts on the moon using a rocket called Ares and a spaceship called Orion. NASA spent $9 billion over five years designing, building, and testing hardware for that human-spaceflight program.

Yet after President Barack Obama took office — and the Government Accountability Office released a report about NASA’s inability to estimate Constellation’s cost — Obama pushed to scrap the program and signed off on the SLS rocket instead.

Trump hasn’t scrapped SLS. But he did change Obama’s goal of launching astronauts to an asteroid, shifting priorities to moon and Mars missions.

Such frequent changes to NASA’s expensive priorities have led to cancellation after cancellation, a loss of about $20 billion, and years of wasted time and momentum.

“I’m disappointed that they’re so slow and trying to do something else,” Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell told Business Insider last year. “I’m not excited about anything in the near future. I’ll just see things as they come.”

Buzz Aldrin said in testimony to Congress in 2015 that he believes the will to return to the moon must come from Capitol Hill.

“American leadership is inspiring the world by consistently doing what no other nation is capable of doing. We demonstrated that for a brief time 45 years ago. I do not believe we have done it since,” Aldrin wrote in a statement. “I believe it begins with a bipartisan congressional and administration commitment to sustained leadership.”

The real driving force behind that government commitment to return to the moon is the will of the American people, who vote for politicians and help shape their policy priorities. But public interest in lunar exploration has always been lukewarm.

Even at the height of the Apollo program, after Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, only 53% of Americans said they thought the program was worth the cost. Most of the rest of the time, US approval of Apollo hovered below 50%.

Today, most Americans think NASA should make returning to the moon a priority. More than 57% of nationwide respondents to an INSIDER poll in December 2018 said returning to the moon is an important goal for NASA, but only about 38% said that living, breathing humans need to go back. (Others who want the US to land on the moon say robots could do the lunar exploring.)

Support for crewed Mars exploration is stronger, with 63% of respondents to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll saying it should be a NASA priority. Meanwhile, 91% think that scanning the skies for killer asteroids is important.

The challenges beyond politics

The political tug-of-war over NASA’s mission and budget isn’t the only reason people haven’t returned to the moon. The moon is also a 4.5-billion-year-old death trap for humans and must not be trifled with or underestimated.

Its surface is littered with craters and boulders that threaten safe landings. Leading up to the first moon landing in 1969, the US government spent what would be billions in today’s dollars to develop, launch, and deliver satellites to the moon to map its surface and help mission planners scout for possible Apollo landing sites.

But a bigger worry is what eons of meteorite impacts have created: regolith, also called moon dust.

Madhu Thangavelu, an aeronautical engineer at the University of Southern California, wrote in 2014 that the moon is covered in “a fine, talc-like top layer of lunar dust, several inches deep in some regions, which is electrostatically charged through interaction with the solar wind and is very abrasive and clingy, fouling up spacesuits, vehicles and systems very quickly.”

Peggy Whitson, an astronaut who lived in space for a total of 665 days, previously told Business Insider that the Apollo missions “had a lot of problems with dust.”

“If we’re going to spend long durations and build permanent habitats, we have to figure out how to handle that,” Whitson said.

There’s also a problem with sunlight. For about 14 days at a time, the lunar surface is a boiling hellscape that is exposed directly to the sun’s harsh rays; the moon has no protective atmosphere. The next 14 days are in total darkness, making the moon’s surface one of the colder places in the universe.

A small nuclear reactor being developed by NASA called Kilopower could supply astronauts with electricity during weeks-long lunar nights — and would be useful on other worlds, including Mars.

“There is not a more environmentally unforgiving or harsher place to live than the moon,” Thangavelu wrote. “And yet, since it is so close to the Earth, there is not a better place to learn how to live, away from planet Earth.”

NASA has designed dust- and sun-resistant spacesuits and rovers, though it’s uncertain whether that equipment is anywhere near ready to launch.

A generation of billionaire ‘space nuts’ may get there

“You’ve got to realize young people are essential to this kind of an effort,” Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt recently told Business Insider. “The average age of the people in Mission Control for Apollo 13 was 26 years old, and they’d already been on a bunch of missions.”

Schweickart echoed that concern, noting that the average age of someone today at NASA’s Johnson Space Center is closer to 60 years old.

“That’s not where innovation and excitement comes from. Excitement comes from when you’ve got teenagers and 20-year-olds running programs,” Schweickart said. “When Elon Musk lands a [rocket booster] , his whole company is yelling and screaming and jumping up and down.”

Musk is part of what astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman has called a “generation of billionaires who are space nuts,” developing a new, private suite of moon-capable rockets.

“The innovation that’s been going on over the last 10 years in spaceflight never would’ve happened if it was just NASA and Boeing and Lockheed,” Hoffman told journalists during a roundtable earlier this year. “Because there was no motivation to reduce the cost or change the way we do it.”

The innovation Hoffman was referring to is work of Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, as well as by Jeff Bezos, who runs aerospace company Blue Origin.

“There’s no question: If we’re going to go farther, especially if we’re going to go farther than the moon, we need new transportation,” Hoffman added. “Right now we’re still in the horse-and-buggy days of spaceflight.”

Many astronauts’ desire to return to the moon aligns with Bezos’ long-term vision. Bezos has floated a plan to start building the first moon base using Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn rocket system.

“We will move all heavy industry off of Earth, and Earth will be zoned residential and light industry,” he said in April 2018.

Musk has also spoken at length about how SpaceX’s forthcoming Starship launch system could pave the way for affordable, regular lunar visits. SpaceX might even visit the moon before NASA or Blue Origin.

“My dream would be that someday the moon would become part of the economic sphere of the Earth — just like geostationary orbit and low-Earth orbit,” Hoffman said. “Space out as far as geostationary orbit is part of our everyday economy. Someday I think the moon will be, and that’s something to work for.”

Astronauts don’t doubt whether or not we’ll get back to the moon and onto Mars. It’s just a matter of when.

“I guess eventually things will come to pass where they will go back to the moon and eventually go to Mars — probably not in my lifetime,” Lovell said. “Hopefully they’ll be successful.”

Update: This story was originally published on July 14, 2018. It has been updated with the Trump administration’s latest lunar plans.

Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect number of moonwalkers. During NASA’s Apollo program, 12 people landed on the moon.

This day in history: Yuri Gagarin becomes first person in space

This day in history: Yuri Gagarin becomes first person in space

April 12 is a historic day. Not only is it the anniversary of the first shuttle mission, but it’s also the day Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.

In 1961, Gagarin did the impossible. He launched off the Earth into space and successfully orbited the planet.

The flight shocked the world. No one had ever orbited the Earth. Now, one courageous man had. His mission made headlines 58 years ago today.

Catch a glimpse of what it was like to orbit the Earth like Yuri Gagarin with the First Orbit film trailer below and keep reading to learn more about the mission and the man!

“The Columbus of the Cosmos”

Before he was a cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet Air Force fighter pilot. In 1960, the Soviet Union launched a selection process to find the first human they would send into space. Gagarin was selected along with 19 other pilots.

The candidates were subjected to physically and mentally demanding experiments that tested everyone. Amidst training, Gagarin was selected to join the ‘Sochi Six’, an elite training group, which became the first cosmonauts of the Vostok missions.

However, it was Gagarin that was finally selected to become the first man in space. He would be just 27 years old when he launched into space aboard the Vostok 1.

Yuri launched atop the world’s most powerful rocket at the time, and was propelled 327 kilometers above the planet. NASA documented that the mission did not require Yuri to operate the spacecraft. This was because no one knew what the effects of zero gravity on a human pilot would be. Instead, the capsule was controlled by a computer program and ground support team.

Gagarin was given a manual override key in case of emergency, but he never had to use it.

Gagarin orbited the Earth at a speed of 27,400 kilometers per hour. Upon reentry, the capsule plummeted back to Earth. The spacecraft had not been designed to land, so Gagarin ejected from the Vostok 1 and deployed his parachutes, returning him safely to the ground.

Only later did the world come to find out that the spaceflight did not technically count. According to the regulations outlined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which managed spaceflight records, it was not regarded as an official spaceflight since Gagarin did not land inside the Vostok 1 spacecraft.

However, the Soviets omitted this fact when sharing the details of Gagarin’s flight.

A puzzling and tragic end

In 1968, just years after his historic mission, Gagarin’s life suddenly ended while he was taking part in a routine flight test. Some, though, think there is more to the tragedy.

In an article in Air and Space magazine, the author tells of the many conspiracy theories that exist on how Gagarin mysteriously died. Research teams are still attempting to find answers to Gagarin’s untimely demise.

The world continues to honor his groundbreaking accomplishment, one that proved humans could fly in space, and a feat that marked the beginning of human spaceflight.

Competition turns to teamwork

When Gagarin lifted off into space, it was considered a major blow to the United States.

The Space Race was on and the Soviet Union had a leg up. Alan Shepard launched later that month, but would not orbit the Earth. In fact, it would be almost a year before John Glenn accomplished this goal.

In time, however, the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to work together. The first co-op project between the two nations was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which paved the way for future joint missions. Then, there was the Shuttle-Mir co-op that began in 1994. In 1998, in-orbit construction of the ISS was underway.

Today, U.S. astronauts launch aboard Soyuz spacecraft and live and work aboard ISS next to Russian cosmonauts.

Not forgotten

On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first people to land on the Moon.

When they left the surface of the Moon, they left behind many things. Some of those items include an American flag, a plaque, a small disc with messages from U.S. and world leaders, an Apollo 1 mission patch left in memory of the crew who tragically lost their life in a fire, and medals of Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin.

Astronauts often overlooked politics to honor other space explorers out of mutual respect. The Apollo 11 crew took Gagarin’s medal along with them on their historic journey that summer of ’69, and left it behind on the Moon, a place that only a select few have had the privilege of visiting.

Gagarin’s memory continues to be honored by current astronauts and cosmonauts who visit the Kremlin Wall, where his ashes remain.

Even the launch pad Gagarin used in 1961 at Baikonur Cosmodrome is still operational and launches ISS missions to this day.

Aside from statues and monuments, Yuri continues to be honored every year for his groundbreaking accomplishment on Yuri’s Night, a worldwide celebration held on the anniversary of his historic flight!

Communities all around the globe continue to celebrate the monumental achievement of the Russian cosmonaut who dared to do what no person had before, on this day 58 years ago.

Explorer Camps

Start a Lifetime of STEM learning with our Explorer Camps. Campers participate in innovative robotics challenges, take part in space-themed interactive experiences and explore all that Space Center Houston has to offer!

Plan your stay

A good night’s sleep is crucial for a full day of space exploration. Find and compare great local hotels with our search tool.

Space calendar 2020: Rocket launches, sky events, missions – more, Space

Space calendar 2020: Rocket launches, sky events, missions & more!

LAST UPDATED March 10: These dates are subject to change, and will be updated throughout the year as firmer dates arise. Please DO NOT schedule travel based on a date you see here. Launch dates collected from NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, Spaceflight Now and others.

Watch NASA webcasts and other live launch coverage on our “Watch Live” page, and see our night sky webcasts here. Find out what’s up in the night sky this month with our visible planets guide and skywatching forecast.

Wondering what happened today in space history? Check out our “On This Day in Space” video show here!

March

March 14: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is expected to launch a fifth batch of approximately 60 satellites for the company’s Starlink broadband network in a mission designated Starlink 5. It will lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at 9:35 a.m. EDT (1335 GMT).

March 16: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch a Glonass M navigation satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmosdrome in Russia, at 2:23 p.m. EDT (1823 GMT).

March 16: India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk. 2 (GSLV Mk.2) may launch the county’s first GEO Imaging Satellite, or GISAT 1. It is scheduled to lift off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, at 8:13 a.m. EDT (1213 GMT). The launch was postponed from March 6 due to technical problems with the rocket.

March 19: Happy Equinox! Today marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of fall in the Southern Hemisphere.

March 19: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite for the U.S. military. The AEHF-6 mission will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, during a 2-hour launch window that opens at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT).

March 20: The waning, crescent moon will make a close approach to Jupiter in the dawn sky. It will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 2:21 a.m. EDT (0621 GMT), and the pair will be above the southeastern horizon for a few hours before sunrise.

March 21: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch approximately 32 satellites into orbit for the OneWeb satellite constellation. The mission, called OneWeb 3, will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, at 1:07 p.m. EDT (1707 GMT).

March 23: An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch on the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, or SSMS, proof-of-concept mission carrying 42 microsatellites, nanosatellites and cubesats. The rideshare mission will lift off from the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:51 p.m. EDT (0151 GMT on March 24). Watch it live.

March 24: New moon

March 26: Rocket Lab will launch an Electron rocket on a rideshare mission carrying three payloads for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Also on board will be the ANDESITE CubeSat for Boston University and NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which will study Earth’s magnetosphere and space weather, and the M2 Pathfinder satellite, a technology demonstration mission that is a collaboration between the Australian government and the University of New South Wales Canberra Space. The mission, nicknamed “Don’t Stop Me Now,” will lift off from the company’s New Zealand launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula.

March 28: The waxing, crescent moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 6:37 a.m. EDT (1037 GMT), and the pair will still appear close the evenings before and after. Look for them above the southwestern horizon after sunset.

March 30–April 2: The 36th annual Space Symposium takes place in Colorado Springs.

March 30: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite for Argentina. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, at 7:21 p.m. EDT (2321 GMT).

March 31: A Russian Proton rocket will launch the Express 80 and Express 103 communications satellites for the Russian Satellite Communication Company. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

March 31: Conjunction of Saturn and Mars. The Ringed Planet and the Red Planet meet up for a special conjunction in the dawn sky. Saturn will pass less than 1 degree north of Mars at 6:56 a.m. EDT (1056 GMT).

Also scheduled to launch in March (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A Chinese Long March 7A rocket will launch a satellite known as TJS 6. This will be the first flight of the Long March 7A rocket variant. It will lift off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China.
  • India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will launch the RISAT 2BR2 radar Earth observation satellite for the Indian Space Research Organization. It will lift off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India.

April

April 2: SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-20 cargo craft will depart the International Space Station and return to Earth. NASA will provide live coverage of its departure beginning at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), and it is scheduled to be released at 11:24 a.m. EDT (1524 GMT). The capsule will splash down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later, but NASA will not broadcast the splashdown. Watch it live.

April 7: Super Pink Moon. The full moon of April, known as the Pink Moon, coincides with a supermoon.

April 9: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft to the International Space Station with three new Expedition 62 crewmembers: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. (Originally, cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin were slated for this flight, but they were replaced by their backup crew for “medical reasons” in February). The rocket will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.

April 10: An Arianespace Soyuz rocket will launch the second Composante Spatiale Optique (CSO-2) military reconnaissance satellite for the French space agency CNES and DGA, the French defense procurement agency. It will lift off from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. Watch it live.

April 14: The last-quarter moon will make a close approach to Jupiter and Saturn in the dawn sky. It will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 GMT), followed by a conjunction with Saturn on April 15 at 5:18 a.m. EDT (0918 GMT). Catch the trio in the morning sky, before sunrise.

April 21-22: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks.

April 22: New moon

April 25: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the 75th Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.

April 26: The waxing, crescent moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 11:23 a.m. EDT (1523 GMT), and the pair will still appear close the evenings before and after. Look for them above the southwestern horizon after sunset.

April 28: Shining brightly at mag -4.5, the “evening star” Venus reaches its greatest brightness of the year.

April 29: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the U.S. Air Force’s third third-generation navigation satellite, designated GPS 3 SV03, for the Global Positioning System. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Also scheduled to launch in April (from Spaceflight Now):

  • An Arianespace Soyuz rocket will launch the Falcon Eye 2 Earth-imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates. It will lift off from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
  • A Chinese Long March 5B rocket will launch on a test flight with an unpiloted prototype for China’s new human-rated crew capsule, which is designed for future human missions to the moon. This will be the first flight of a Long March 5B rocket. It will lift off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China.
  • India’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) will launch on its first orbital test flight from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India.

May 7: Crew Dragon Demo 2: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to take its first crewed test flight to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on board. This will be the Crew Dragon’s first test flight with astronauts on board following the uncrewed Demo-1 mission in March. It will lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

May 7: The full moon of May, also known as the Flower Moon, occurs at 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT).

May 12: See the moon, Jupiter and Saturn huddled together in the predawn sky. The waning, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 5:41 a.m. EDT (0941 GMT), followed by a conjunction with Saturn at 2:11 p.m. EDT (1811 GMT).

May 14: The last-quarter moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 10:02 p.m. EDT (0202 GMT on May 15). Look for the pair above the southeastern horizon before sunrise.

May 18: Jupiter and Saturn will make a close approach in the early morning sky. The pair will be in conjunction at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT).

May 22: New moon

May 23: The one-day-old moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 10:40 p.m. EDT (0240 GMT on May 24). Look for them above the southwestern horizon just after sunset.

May 31–June 4: The 236th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society takes place in Madison, Wisconsin.

Also scheduled to launch in May (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A Japanese H-2B rocket will launch the HTV-9 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.
  • A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the AFSPC-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force. The mission’s primary payload is the X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, will fly on the program’s sixth mission (OTV-6).
  • A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch approximately 36 satellites into orbit for the OneWeb constellation of communications satellites. The mission, titled OneWeb 4, will launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia.
  • A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch a satellite for the country’s Beidou navigation network toward geostationary orbit. It will lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the country’s Sichuan Province.

June 5: A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa. The moon will begin passing through Earth’s shadow at 1:45 p.m. EST (1745 GMT), and the eclipse will last for 3 hours and 18 minutes.

June 5: The full moon of June, known as the Strawberry Moon, occurs at 3:12 p.m. EDT (1912 GMT).

June 8: The waning, gibbous moon will form a small triangle with Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 1:21 p.m. EDT (1721 GMT), followed closely by a conjunction with Saturn about 9 hours later at 10:12 p.m. EDT (0212 GMT on June 9).

June 12: Just a day before reaching last quarter phase, the moon will make a close approach to Mars in the predawn sky. The pair will be in conjunction at 7:55 p.m. EDT (2355 GMT), but they will be below the horizon for skywatchers in the U.S. at that time. You can find them above the southeastern horizon for a few hours before sunrise.

June 19: The one-day-old moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 4:53 EDT (0853 GMT). Look for them above the eastern horizon just before sunrise.

June 20: Happy Solstice! Today marks the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

June 20: An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch the SEOSat-Ingenio Earth observation satellite and the Taranis scientific research satellite from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

June 21: An annular solar eclipse will be visible from parts of Africa and Asia.

Also scheduled to launch in June (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavyrocket will launch a classified spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The mission, titled NROL-44, will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

July 4: Happy Aphelion Day! Earth is farthest from the sun today.

July 4-5: A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from the Americas and parts of Africa and Antarctica. The moon will begin passing through Earth’s shadow on July 4 at 11:07 p.m. EST (0307 GMT on July 5), and the eclipse will last for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

July 5: The full moon of July, known as the Beaver Moon, occurs at 12:44 a.m EDT (0444 GMT). That same day, the moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 5:38 p.m. EDT (2138 GMT). The moon will also be in conjunction with Saturn on July 6 at 4:38 a.m. EDT (0838 GMT). The trio will form a small triangle in the night sky before fading into the dawn.

July 8: The “morning star” Venus is at its greatest brightness for the year, shining at magnitude -4.5 in the morning sky.

July 11: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 3:38 p.m. EDT (1938 GMT).

July 14: Jupiter reaches opposition, which means the planet will appear at its biggest and brightest. This happens about once a year, when Jupiter’s position is almost directly opposite the sun in the sky. Around the same time, Jupiter will also make its closest approach to Earth.

July 17: NASA’s Mars 2020 rover launches to the Red Planet! It will lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Watch it live.

July 17: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 3:27 a.m. EDT (0727 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.

July 20: New moon

July 20: Saturn reaches opposition, which means the planet will appear at its biggest and brightest. This happens about once a year, when Saturn’s position is almost directly opposite the sun in the sky. Around the same time, Saturn will also make its closest approach to Earth.

July 23: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the 76th Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.

July 26: The ExoMars lander, a joint effort by the European Space Agency and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, will launch to the Red Planet. It will lift off on a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Also scheduled to launch in July (from Spaceflight Now):

  • The United Arab Emirates plans to launch its first Mars orbiter, the Hope Mars Mission. It will launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on a Japanese H-2A rocket.
  • China plans to launch an orbiter and a small rover to Mars. The mission, called Huoxing 1, will lift off on a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China.

August

Aug. 1: The nearly-full moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 7:32 p.m. EDT (2332 GMT). The following morning (Aug. 2), it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 9:10 a.m. EDT (1310 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.

Aug. 3: The full moon of August, known as the “Sturgeon Moon,” occurs at 11:59 a.m. EDT (1559 GMT).

Aug. 9: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 4 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT).

Aug. 11-12: The Perseid meteor shower peaks.

Aug. 15: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 9:01 a.m. EDT (1301 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.

Aug. 18: Black Moon: The third new moon in a season with four new moons is known as a “black moon.” (A black moon can also be the second new moon in a single calendar month.)

Aug. 28/29: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 9:35 p.m. EDT (0235 GMT on Aug. 29). The following day, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.

Aug. 31: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus NG-14 cargo spacecraft will launch to the International Space Station on an Antares rocket. It will lift off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Also scheduled to launch in August (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the U.S. Air Force’s fourth third-generation navigation satellite, designated GPS 3 SV04, for the Global Positioning System. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

September

Sept. 1: Asteroid 2011 ES4 will make a close flyby of Earth, passing by at a safe distance of 0.0005 AU, or 46,000 miles (75,000 kilometers).

Sept. 2: The full moon of September, known as the “Harvest Moon,” occurs at 1:22 a.m. EDT (0522 GMT).

Sept. 6: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 12:46 a.m. EDT (0446 GMT).

Sept. 11: Neptune is at opposition. If you have the right equipment and a sky dark enough to see it, now is the best time all year to look!

Sept. 14: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 12:44 a.m. EDT (0444 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.

Sept. 17: New moon

Sept. 22: Happy Equinox! At 9:15 a.m. EDT (1315 GMT), autumn arrives in the Northern Hemisphere while the Southern Hemisphere will have its first day of spring.

Sept. 25: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 2:48 a.m. EDT (0648 GMT). The following day, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.

Also scheduled to launch in September (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch a classified spacecraft payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The mission, NROL-101, will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

October

Oct. 1: The full moon of October, known as the “Hunter’s Moon,” occurs at 5:05 p.m. EDT (2105 GMT).

Oct. 2: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 11:25 a.m. EDT (0325 GMT).

Oct. 7-8: The Draconid meteor shower peaks.

Oct. 13: Mars is at opposition, which means it’s bigger and brighter than any other time of year. Look for the glowing Red Planet above the eastern horizon after sunset.

Oct. 14: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the crewed Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft to the International Space Station with members of the Expedition 65 crew: Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner and Nikolay Chub. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.

Oct. 16: New moon

Oct. 21-22: The Orionid meteor shower peaks.

Oct. 22: Just a day before reaching first quarter phase, the moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 1:12 p.m. EDT (1712 GMT). That same day, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 11:42 p.m. EDT (0324 GMT on Oct. 23). Look for the trio in the evening sky.

Oct. 29: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Mars at 12:16 p.m. EDT (0325 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon after sunset.

Oct. 30: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon cargo resupply mission (CRS-21) to the International Space Station. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Watch it live.

Oct. 31: Uranus is at opposition. This is the best time of year to view the planet, as it is at its biggest and brightest. If the sky is dark enough, you may be able to spot it with your bare eyes.

Oct. 31: This month has two full moons, which means we’ll have a Blue Moon” on Halloween. The moon reaches full phase at 10:49 a.m. EDT (1449 GMT).

November

Nov. 12: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.

Nov. 15: New moon

Nov. 16-17: The Leonid meteor shower peaks.

Nov. 19: The waxing, crescent moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 3:57 a.m. EST (0857 GMT). Shortly afterward, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 9:51 a.m. EST (1451 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.

Nov. 25: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Mars at 2:46 p.m. EST (1946 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon after sunset.

Nov. 30: A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from the Americas, Australia and Asia. The moon will begin passing through Earth’s shadow at 2:32 a.m. EST (0732 GMT), and the eclipse will last for 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Nov. 30: The full moon of November, known as the “Beaver Moon,” occurs at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT).

Also scheduled to launch in November (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Sentinel 6A satellite (also known as Jason-CS A), a joint mission between the European Space Agency, NASA, NOAA, CNES and Eumetsat to continue recording sea level data that was previously collected by the Jason series of satellites. It will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

December

Dec. 13-14: The Geminid meteor shower peaks.

Dec. 14: The only total solar eclipse of 2020 will cross through the southern tip of South America. The moon’s shadow will take a similar path to the one it did for the “Great South American Eclipse” of July 2, 2019.

Dec. 16/17: The waxing, crescent moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 GMT on Dec. 17). A few hours later on Dec. 17, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 12:20 a.m. EST (0520 GMT). Look for the trio near the southwestern horizon just after sunset. .

Dec. 21: The solstice arrives at 4:47 a.m. EST (0947 GMT), marking the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Dec. 21: Jupiter and Saturn will make a close approach in the evening sky. The pair will be in conjunction at 8:24 a.m. EST (1324 GMT).

Dec. 21-22: The Ursid meteor shower peaks.

Dec. 23: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Mars at 1:31 p.m. EST (1831 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon after sunset.

Dec. 29: The full moon of December, also known as the Cold Moon, occurs at 10:28 p.m. EST (0328 GMT).

Also scheduled to launch in December (from Spaceflight Now):

  • A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the 77th Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Yuri Gagarin and the Day we Went into Space, OpenMind

Yuri Gagarin and the Day we Went into Space

When the former Soviet Union sent the first human being into space, it already had a clear advantage over the US in the space race. In 1957 it had successfully put into orbit the first artificial satellite in history, Sputnik 1, and had also sent the first living creature to the cosmos, the celebrated dog Laika. The next goal was for the military pilot Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) to go into space and, unlike Laika, to return to Earth to tell the story. This is how that historic day went.

April 12, 1961. The sun has not yet risen. It is half past five in the morning at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet space facility located on the steppes of present-day Kazakhstan. Gagarin, 27, opens his eyes, ready to make history. Unlike Sergey Korolyov, chief designer of the successful Soviet space program, Gagarin has slept well. The data from the sensors that he wears on his body confirm his calmness: blood pressure at 115/60, a heart rate of 64 beats per minute and a body temperature of 36.8В°C. Born on a collective farm west of Moscow in 1934, Gagarin is an experienced pilot and parachutist, with a special empathy. In addition, his reduced stature (1.57 metres) made it easier for him to be chosen out of 20 candidates, due to the small size of the space cabin.

Gagarin was an experienced pilot and parachutist. Source: NASA

After a breakfast consisting of the contents of two 160-gram tubes, one with pureed meat and another with chocolate sauce, Gagarin is helped into an orange space suit—the eye-catching colour chosen to facilitate a possible rescue—and a white helmet. At about 7 a.m. he enters the Vostok 1, a spacecraft with a length of just over 38 metres and a total mass of almost 290 tons.

Two hours later, everything is ready for the launch. The five engines at the base of the rocket start their ignition and, at 9:07, Gagarin lifts off to the cry of “Poyekhali!” (“Off we go!” in Russian).

A 108-minute flight

The flight of the Vostok 1 is planned to be fully automatic, since it is unknown how the human body behaves in space. One hour into the launch, after verifying that the mission is progressing successfully, the official Soviet news agency broadcasts what until that moment had been an absolute secret: the Soviet Union has just put a human being into space. It is one of the great news stories of 1961, the same year in which John F. Kennedy takes office as President of the United States and the Beatles appear at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

The spacecraft does a single orbit around the Earth, at an average altitude of 315 kilometres and a speed of 28,000 km/h, and then re-enters the atmosphere. There is a powerful deceleration (8 times greater than the force of gravity), and the Soviet pilot has to withstand, without fainting, an eightfold increase in his weight. When Gagarin is 7 km above sea level, he uses the ejection seat to leave the cabin and at 2.5 km the main parachute from the spacecraft opens.

The spacecraft did a single orbit around the Earth. Source: Wikimedia

The flight lasts a total of 108 minutes. At 11:05 a.m. Yuri Gagarin lands near a village in the Saratov region (in present-day Russia) on the right bank of the Volga River, where he has to explain to some farmers that although he “comes from space,” he is a Soviet, like them.

“The Earth is blue”

Despite being a resounding success, the flight of Yuri Gagarin did have some setbacks. The most significant occurred during the descent to Earth, when the service block unexpectedly remained attached to the re-entry module by a bundle of wires. Although they ended up separating thanks to the heat caused by the friction with the atmosphere, the cabin experienced unexpected gyrations that diverted the landing almost 1,400 kilometres to the west of the predicted location.

Vostok 1 capsule used by Yuri Gagarin in first space flight. Credit: SiefkinDR

Even so, Gagarin returned safely after becoming the first person to see our planet: “The Earth is blue. How pretty. It’s incredible,” he said in mid-flight.

“I’m flying over the sea. It is possible to determine the direction of movement,” he said. And after contemplating the world from space, he gave a message: “I have seen how beautiful our planet is. People, let’s preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.”

Becoming a Soviet national hero and a global symbol, Yuri Gagarin curiously never returned to space and would die in a strange plane crash in 1968.

8 Little-Known Facts About the Moon Landing

8 Little-Known Facts About the Moon Landing

It was a feat for the ages. Just seven years before, a young president had challenged the nation to land a man on the moon—not because it was “easy,” as John F. Kennedy said in 1962, but because it was “hard.” By July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong backed down a ladder and onto the moon’s surface.

Along the way to achieving JFK’s vision, there was plenty of hard work, drama and surprise. Here are some lesser-known moments throughout the epic U.S. effort to reach the moon.

Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin Jr. made up the team that would go down in history as part of the first successful mission to put a man on the moon.

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Astronaut, military pilot and educator Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. He served as the commander on the Apollo 11 mission.

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Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, born Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., served as the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 11 mission. Aldrin became the second man to step onto the moon.

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Astronaut Michael Collins, who had been part of the Gemini 10 mission, served as the command module pilot on Apollo 11. Collins never set foot on the moon, but remained in orbit as his fellow astronauts explored the moon’s surface.

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On July 16, 1969 at 9:32 a.m. ET, the swing arms moved away and a plume of flame signaled the liftoff of Apollo 11’s Saturn V space vehicle.

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Former President Lyndon B. Johnson watches the liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center.

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Armstrong took this photograph of Aldrin on the moon.

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This photograph of Aldrin’s bootprint records one of the first steps taken on the moon.

” data-full-height=”1236″ data-full-src=”https://www.history.com/.image/c_limit%2Ccs_srgb%2Cfl_progressive%2Ch_2000%2Cq_auto:good%2Cw_2000/MTY1NTY3MzIxMDkwMzAzNjA2/7610985594_2375f72b19_o.jpg” data-full-width=”1536″ data-image-id=”ci024c369a00002676″ data-image-slug=”7610985594_2375f72b19_o” data-public-id=”MTY1NTY3MzIxMDkwMzAzNjA2″ data-source-name=”NASA” data-title=”One Small Step For Man”>

Aldrin stands beside the newly-planted American flag.

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President Richard M. Nixon telephoned “Tranquility Base” to speak with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during during their historic mission.

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With a half-Earth in the background, the Lunar Module approaches for a rendezvous with the Apollo Command Module manned by Collins. Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins after spending 22 hours on the moon’s surface.

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On July 24, 1969 NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center officials join the flight controllers in celebrating the conclusion of the Apollo 11 mission.

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President Nixon speaks with Apollo 11 crew members upon their return to Earth. The three astronauts were quarantined for 21 days to ensure they would not spread any possible contaminants picked up on the moon.

Why Yuri Gagarin Remains the First Man in Space, Even Though He Did Not Land Inside His Spacecraft, National Air and Space Museum

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Why Yuri Gagarin Remains the First Man in Space, Even Though He Did Not Land Inside His Spacecraft

Every year as the anniversary of the first human spaceflight approaches, I receive calls inquiring about the validity of Yuri Gagarin’s claim as the first human in space. The legitimate questions focus on the fact that Gagarin did not land inside his spacecraft. The reasoning goes that since he did not land inside his spacecraft, he disqualified himself from the record books. This might seem to be a very reasonable argument, but Gagarin remains the first man in space. The justification for Gagarin remaining in that position lies in the organization that sets the standards for flight.

Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, probably on or about April 12, 1961, when he made his orbital space flight in Vostok 1.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) is the world’s air sports federation. It was founded in 1905 as a non-governmental and non-profit making international organization to further aeronautical and astronautical activities worldwide. Among its duties, the FAI certifies and registers records. Its first records in aviation date back to 1906. The organization also arbitrates disputes over records. If nationals from two different countries claim a record, it is the FAI’s job to examine the submitted documentation and make a ruling as to who has accomplished the feat first. When it was apparent that the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were planning to launch men into space, the FAI specified spaceflight guidelines. One of the stipulations that the FAI carried over from aviation was that spacecraft pilots, like aircraft pilots should land inside their craft in order for the record to be valid. In the case of aviation, this made perfect sense. No one wanted to encourage pilots to sacrifice themselves for an aviation record. Piloting an aircraft that could not land did nothing to further aeronautical engineering. When Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on 12 April 1961, the plan had never been for him to land inside his Vostok spacecraft. His spherical reentry capsule came through the Earth’s atmosphere on a ballistic trajectory. Soviet engineers had not yet perfected a braking system that would slow the craft sufficiently for a human to survive impact. They decided to eject the cosmonaut from his craft. Yuri Gagarin ejected at 20,000 feet and landed safely on Earth. Soviet engineers had not discussed this shortcoming with Soviet delegates to the FAI prior to his flight. They prepared their documents for the FAI omitting this fact. This led everyone to believe that Gagarin had landed inside his spacecraft. It was not until four months later, when German Titov became the second human to orbit the Earth and the first person to spend a full day in space, when the controversy began to brew. Titov owned up to ejecting himself. This led to a special meeting of the delegates to the FAI to reexamine Titov’s spaceflight records. The conclusion of the delegates was to rework the parameters of human spaceflight to recognize that the great technological accomplishment of spaceflight was the launch, orbiting and safe return of the human, not the manner in which he or she landed. Gagarin and Titov’s records remained on the FAI books. Even after Soviet -made models of the Vostok spacecraft made it clear that the craft had no braking capability, the FAI created the Gagarin Medal that it awards annually to greatest aviation or space achievement of that year. One should keep other examples of a sports federations’ reconsideration of rules in the face of new techniques and technologies in mind when considering the FAI Gagarin decision. The underwater dolphin kick in freestyle swimming and the introduction of the clap skate in speed skating both caused initial international flaps. After the respective sports federations voted to accept these changes, that ended the controversy. Yes, Gagarin did not follow the rules that the FAI established before his flight. However, as is true with any sports organization, the FAI reserved the right to reexamine and reinterpret its rules in light of new knowledge and circumstances. Yuri Gagarin remains indisputably the first person in space and the concept that the first cosmonauts had to land inside their spacecraft is a faded artifact of the transition from aviation to spaceflight.