Twenty-five years ago today, the first commercially licensed rocket was launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

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Written by Astro1 on March 30th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General), Space History

Robert Goddard

On March 16, 1926, Robert Hutchings Goddard launched the world’s first liquid fuel rocket from a cabbage patch on his Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. The flight itself was modest, just reaching an altitude of around 40 feet and covering a distance of 184 feet, but it represents the birth of modern rocketry.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on March 15th, 2014 , Space History

Apollo 14 lunar module
After the successful lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, there were many who questioned the need for further Apollo expeditions to the moon. After all, America had won the space race with the Soviets, so why were additional flights necessary? In early 1970, the last three missions, Apollos 18-20, had been canceled, and after the near loss of Apollo 13, many NASA critics wanted to cancel the rest as well.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on January 31st, 2014 , Space History

Apollo 8 Earthrise

After the success of Apollo 7 in October 1968, the first test flight of the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM), NASA announced a bold plan for Apollo 8. This flight, which would be the first manned flight of the Saturn V booster, was originally planned to test the Lunar Module (LM) in earth orbit, but progress on the lander was lagging. The LM test would be postponed by one flight. Instead, Apollo 8, piloted by Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, would orbit the moon!

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Written by Greg Kennedy on December 20th, 2013 , Space History

Gemini 7

Gemini 7 lifted off from Complex 19 at Cape Kennedy, Florida, on December 4, 1965. (From 1963 to 1973, Cape Canaveral was named Cape Kennedy to honor slain President John F. Kennedy.) Frank Borman was Command Pilot and James Lovell was Pilot for the flight. The primary objective for Gemini 7 was for the pair to spend two weeks in orbit to evaluate the physiological effects of long duration space flight. The mission emblem designed by the astronauts featured an Olympic torch to symbolize the marathon nature of the flight. This was the fourth piloted flight of the program because six weeks earlier, the launch of Gemini 6 had been canceled.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on December 4th, 2013 , Space History

Skylab 4, the last expedition to America’s first space station,  lifted off on November 16, 1973, with Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson and William K. Pogue on board.  It was the first flight for all three crewmen.  Their launch had previously been delayed for five days due to problems with the six-year old booster.  First, engineers found hairline cracks in the fins on the first stage, which had been manufactured in 1967.  They replaced all eight fins.  Next, technicians discovered similar cracks in the structure that connected the rocket’s two stages.  They added aluminum plates to the structural beams to reinforce them.  The final booster problem came after a practice fueling, when two of the fuel tanks buckled slightly as fuel was being drained.  Refueling the tanks under pressure forced the dome-shaped tops of the tanks back into shape and the Saturn IB was pronounced ready for flight.
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Written by Greg Kennedy on November 16th, 2013 , Space History

One of the experiments proposed for suborbital spaceflights is the collection and return of particles from the near-space environment, some of which might contain the building blocks of life.  In 1935, scientists performed a similar experiment to collect spores in the upper atmosphere.  The 1935 experiment had no exobiology goals; rather, it was to determine if living spores, fungi, or bacteria were present in the stratosphere.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on November 10th, 2013 , Space History

USAF F-22 Raptor

“Unmanned space” guys take note: Unmanned air vehicles are now being escorted by manned fighters.

The Aviationist reports:

Earlier this year… an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran…. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis… or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

This is significant to space because UAVs are often cited as proof that human flight crews are becoming obsolete. The military, however, is now realizing that UAVs cannot do every job.

The fact is, many jobs can be more easily accomplished by humans and machines, working together, than by machines alone. This is true in space as well as aviation.

As an interesting side note, the US military once considered having manned spacecraft fly escort for high-value satellites (anti-ASAT missions) during times of crisis.

The DARPA Space Cruiser (also called the High-Performance Spaceplane) was a 1980′s concept for a one-man spacecraft that could be launched by the Space Shuttle or an expendable rocket. Using its own propulsion system or a Centaur upper stage, the Space Cruiser could accomplish a variety of missions in cis-lunar space. Proposed missions included satellite inspection and repair, reconnaissance, space control, and the aforementioned anti-antisatellite missions.

DARPA Space Cruiser

Written by Astro1 on October 27th, 2013 , Military Space, Space Exploration (General), Space History Tags:

Space.com produced this infographic on the legacy and heritage of the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper Experimental:

Find out about DC-X, a prototype reusable space launch system, in this SPACE.com infographic.

Written by Astro1 on August 23rd, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space History

NASA Gemini 5 crew Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad

Gemini 5 astronauts L. Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad began their flight on August 21, 1965.  This was the first long-duration flight for the Gemini spacecraft: Cooper and Conrad were supposed to spend 8 days in space.  Eight days in space was an important milestone, because that is how long a trip to the Moon and back would take. Other mission objectives included evaluating the rendezvous guidance and navigation system, test a fuel cell electrical power system in flight, and determine the ability of an astronaut to maneuver his spacecraft in close proximity to another object in space.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on August 18th, 2013 , Space History

Skylab 3 began at 7:11 AM EDT on Saturday, July 28, 1973. One of the major objectives of the flight, which was crewed by Alan L. Bean, Owen K. Garriott, and Jack R. Lousma, was to double the duration of the previous mission. The flight nearly came to an early end, however. During the maneuvers to link up with the orbiting station, Bean reported seeing “some sort of sparklers” out of his window. At the same time, Mission Control noticed a pressure drop in one of the assemblies of maneuvering rockets on the Service Module. Flight controllers quickly decided the rocket assembly was leaking propellant and told the astronauts to shut it down. Skylab 3 continued and successfully docked using the remaining maneuvering rockets.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on July 23rd, 2013 , Space History

Mercury, America’s first manned spacecraft, had a solid-fuel rocket motor on a tower attached to the capsule’s nose for launch escape.  If the booster rocket malfunctioned the solid fuel motor would pull the spacecraft and its occupant to safety.  Before Mercury carried a human pilot into space, the launch escape system had to be thoroughly tested under the most extreme conditions anticipated.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on June 25th, 2013 , Space History

On June 3, 1965, Edward H. White II became the first American astronaut to “walk in space” when he opened the hatch of Gemini 4 and floated alongside the spacecraft for 22 minutes. For the first time, an American was protected from the harsh environment of space by only a few layers of fabric. Extravehicular activity (EVA), or walking in space, was one of the major objectives for the two-man Gemini flights. White wore a space suit produced by the David Clark Company in Worcester, MA.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on June 9th, 2013 , Space History

NASA Gemini 6 and 7 rendezvous in Earth orbit

Flying the Gusmobile is a great article on the Gemini capsule, published by Air and Space Smithsonian.

The Gemini capsule was fondly known as the Gus mobile in honor of Gus Grissom, who played a major role in its design. Gemini was actually sized for Gus Grissom, who was the shortest astronaut at the time. As a result, many of the other astronauts found it a tight fit. Nevertheless, Gemini was the astronaut’s favorite capsule. Apollo, by contrast, was considered something of a lemon.

Contrary to popular belief, Gemini was not designed solely for missions in Low Earth Orbit. Jim Chamberlin, the chief designer for Gemini, intended for the capsule to go to the Moon. Unfortunately, NASA management would not allow that. Instead, it pushed forward with the defective Apollo capsule, which resulted in the deaths of three astronauts in the Apollo I fire.

In 2004, President George W. Bush announced that NASA would return to the Moon. This was to be done using a replica space capsule — “the first of its kind since Apollo.” The replica capsule, which NASA Administrator Mike Griffin dubbed “Apollo on steroids,” was later named Orion. The Gemini design, whose relative merits were well known to astronauts in the 1960′s, was not even considered.

That’s what happens when politicians run your space program.

Written by Astro1 on May 27th, 2013 , Space History

(Cont’d from Part 1)

On May 14, 1073, NASA launched Skylab 1, America’s first space station using a Saturn V rocket.  The Orbital Workshop, or OWS, as it was called, was unoccupied at launch; the first crew, comprising Pete Conrad, Paul Weitz, and James Kerwin, was to follow the next day in an Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) launched by a Saturn IB rocket.  About 63 seconds after the OWS lifted off, a solar and micrometeoroid shield wrapped around the station tore away, taking one of the two solar panels with it.  The other panel was jammed shut by debris. When Skylab reached orbit, the sun’s rays beat mercilessly on the OWS and temperatures inside the station soared.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on May 23rd, 2013 , Space History

Swiss Space Systems (S-3) recently announced its intent to develop a small satellite launcher. The S-3 launcher would comprise an unmanned spaceplane carried on the back of a zero-g-certified Airbus A300. The spaceplane would be launched from the A300 at an altitude of 10 kilometers (32,800 feet) and climb to an altitude of 80 kilometers (49 miles) on rocket power. At that point, it would deploy an upper stage and satellite before gliding back to its spaceport for landing, as shown in the following video.

Swiss Space Systems, which is working with the French Aerospace firm Dassault and Belgian firms Sonaca and Space Application Services, will leverage work previously done for the European Space Agency’s Hermes spaceplane and NASA’s X-38 lifting body. The system is designed to launch satellites weighing up to 250 kg (550 pounds) at a price of 10 million Swiss Francs (about $10.5 million) per launch. The company hopes to bring the new launch system to operation by 2017 at a cost of 250 million Swiss Francs (about $260 million). It has already signed a contract with the Van Karman Institute for four launches.

Although unconventional, the idea of using a large airliner as a launch platform for a reusable spaceplane is not a new idea. In fact, the idea is more than 30 years old.

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Written by Astro1 on May 15th, 2013 , Space History, Swiss Space Systems

Satrun V / Skylab I launch at Kennedy Space Center

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Skylab, America’s first space station.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on May 14th, 2013 , Space History

On October 7, 1958, NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan formally approved the fledgling space agency’s proposal for a manned satellite project.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on May 3rd, 2013 , Space History

Many people are familiar with the events of May 5, 1961, when US Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., became the first American to reach space. Less well known, however, are the events of May 4, 1961. The day before Shepard became America’s first astronaut, two other Navy officers ventured to the edge of space beneath a plastic balloon on the Strato Lab High V flight.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on May 1st, 2013 , Space History

North American X-15 drop from B-52 Stratofortress

When commercial suborbital flights begin, they will follow a trail blazed fifty years ago by the X-15 research aircraft.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on April 23rd, 2013 , Space History

On April 12, 1961, Soviet news agencies announced that Red Air Force Major Yuri A. Gagarin had just orbited the earth in a spacecraft named Vostok. Unknown and anonymous the day before Gagarin, the world’s first cosmonaut, abruptly became an international celebrity.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on April 11th, 2013 , Space History

Tim Pickens, who developed the propulsion system for SpaceShip One, talks about the significance of the project.

Written by Astro1 on April 11th, 2013 , Innovation, Scaled Composites, Space History

The Week has published an article on citizen space exploration, or space tourism, as they prefer to call it.

We dislike the term “space tourism” because of the way it is misused by detractors to disparage citizen space travel as a frivolous activity for rich vacationers. Their usage of the word tourism is actually quite ignorant. The travel industry uses the “tourism” to include business tourism as well as vacation tourism. To quote one website, “Business tourism is one of the leading and most dynamically developing spheres of world economy.” Together, leisure and business tourism are the world’s largest industry; there is nothing frivolous about it.

Leaving that quibble aside, the authors make one factual error. They ask, “Who first proposed space tourism?” and answer that it was Pan Am Airlines in 1968. That answer is not even close.

G. Harry Stine discussed public space travel in his book Earth Satellites and the Race for Space Superiority, which was published a few weeks after Sputnik but written (except for some brief introductory material) before.

Nor was Stine the first. The fact is, prior to the start of the US-Soviet space race, no one assumed that spaceflight would be a monopoly of government space agencies and government astronauts. Most people who thought about space travel at all assumed it would develop similar to the way air travel had developed, with short-range suborbital flights leading to longer-range suborbital flights and finally orbit.

Public space travel is often viewed as an anomaly, a distraction from the “serious” work of government space exploration. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Space Race led the US down a false path toward the development of quick and dirty, but ultimately unaffordable, launch systems based on throw-away missile technology. After a long detour, we are finally returning to the road we would have followed in the 1960′s, if not for Sputnik.

Written by Astro1 on February 26th, 2013 , Space History

The history of space launch is replete with rockets that never left the drawing board. One of the most famous of these unbuilt rockets is the Sea Dragon, a true giant which dwarfed even the mighty Saturn rockets of its day.

Robert Truax / Aerojet General Sea Dragon rocket concept with aircraft carrier for scale

The Sea Dragon was the brain child of the US Navy’s rocket pioneer Captain Robert Truax (by then retired), who played a key role in projects such as the Polaris missile, Viking sounding rocket, and Thor IRBM. Working at Aerojet General in the early 1960′s, Truax led a design study of the concept under a NASA contract. A final report was presented in January 1963.

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Written by Astro1 on January 20th, 2013 , Space History