The Week in Space History- October 28th to November 3rd.

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Ares I-X

On October 28th, 2009, the Ares I-X lifted off of Pad 39B for the first and only time.

This slender, 327-foot-tall rocket, utilized a modified Solid Rocket Booster from the Shuttle program as its first stage. Its upper stage was inert, filled with ballast and instrumentation.

NASA called this launch “the first flight of a new era.” Well, that wasn’t the case.

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The Ares I and V launch vehicles were part of NASA’s ill-fated Constellation program that was canceled when President Obama proposed a new NASA budget in the early years of his administration.

Originally, Ares, I was meant to be a human-rated rocket that could carry a crew into space in an Orion spacecraft to meet up with the proposed Altair lunar lander or International Space Station. The Ares V was a cargo capable rocket that was supposed to carry 143,000 pounds of payload, including the Altair lander, to the Moon.

NASA had planned to have the Ares V launch on a 21-day human crewed lunar mission in December of 2019. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Instead, we are still a few years away from a crewed mission to the Moon.

NASA’s SLS rocket will most likely launch for the first time in 2021. The SLS is supposed to be able to deliver between 57,000- 99,000 pounds of payload to the Moon. The first crewed flights with SLS are even further away, with a 2024 crewed Moon landing date set as the date by President Trump.

I’d love to see a 2024 Moon landing happen, but NASA has been trying to get back to the Moon since the Constellation program was first announced in 2005. I hope I’m proven wrong, but I’m not overly optimistic that NASA can meet the 2024 lunar landing goal set by President Trump.

Godspeed John Glenn-

On October 29th, 1998, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, flew in space for his second and final time. John Glenn became an American hero when his Friendship 7 capsule flew into space on February 20th, 1962.

That historic flight wasn’t even five hours long, but it secured Glenn a place in the history books, as well as in the hearts of the American public. Glenn was a hero in every sense of the word. He flew combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. After his days as a fighter pilot, Glenn continued to fly, accumulating thousands of hours of flying time.

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“ The crew of space shuttle Discovery mission STS-95, including John Glenn. On this flight, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space. The nine-day mission supported a variety of research payloads, including experiments designed to investigate similarities between aging and the side effects of space flight.” Picture and caption- NASA

He was selected as one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and flew into space on the first American orbital spaceflight, the third flight of Project Mercury. His time at NASA ended in the mid-1960s, he entered the private sector and began a long-lasting career in politics. Winning four consecutive terms as the Senator from Ohio, Glenn was a member of the Senate when he flew into space on the STS-95 mission. His flight on the Shuttle was the third time that a sitting politician flew into space.

STS-95 was a nearly nine-day shuttle mission that conducted biomedical research on Senator Glenn. The measurements obtained during the shuttle mission were compared with the data gathered during Glenn’s flight on Friendship 7 from 1962. Thirty-six years had elapsed between Glenn’s first and second spaceflight.

One of the studies on Glenn focused on how astronauts sleep in space. The 90-minute orbit of Earth can interfere with the circadian rhythm of astronauts, which causes sleep problems. Sleep disorders are also common among the elderly back here on Earth, so his flight into space at the age of 77 gave scientists a unique test subject.

I remember my grandpa and grandma talking about this shuttle mission, and I remember seeing the news that Glenn was going to fly into space again. I was eleven when the launch took place and watched news coverage of Glenn and the other astronauts preparing to board the Shuttle.

Even though I didn’t see this launch live, it’s one of those positive and unifying experiences that will always be with me, and all of us, for that matter. His flight transcended generations. Younger people watched as one of the heroes of the space race was launched into orbit, one last time.

I think that his second flight lived up to the namesake of his first spacecraft — Friendship 7. Glenn’s travels into space were in the spirit of friendship, and it’s only fitting that during his Shuttle flight, he was part of a multinational crew, underscoring the bond that had been achieved for countries to take part in spaceflight together. Glenn flew with astronauts Chiaki Mukai, the first female astronaut from Japan, and Pedro Duque, the first Spanish astronaut.

The spirit of friendship was alive and well on this shuttle mission, as it’s been on the Shuttle and Space Station flights.

NASA- “John Glenn Returns to Space” Link

The Flying Bedstead

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What do you get when you take a turbofan engine and strap fuel tanks and hydrogen peroxide rockets to an open frame structure? You get the LLRV, Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, or the “Flying Bedstead.”

The LLRV number one was piloted by famed test pilot Joe Walker for the first time on October 30th, 1964, for a total of 60 seconds, reaching a maximum altitude of 10 feet. Later, flights of the training vehicle were more ambitious because the craft had to simulate landing on the lunar surface.

If you’ve listened to the podcast for a while, you may remember that Walker was the first civilian to reach space. Check out episode 66 for more information about Walker’s historic X-15 flight.

The LLRVs were successful enough that NASA placed an order with Bell Aerosystems for three LLTVs that cost $2.5 million each in the mid-1960s. Once the LLTVs were complete, NASA had a fleet of five vehicles.

The lunar lander research vehicles look similar to the Apollo Lunar module, the position of the legs and cockpit are roughly the same. I watched an interesting video of a talk that Neil Armstrong gave, where he explained how the turbofan on the aircraft automatically adjusted to simulate how the vehicle would react in lunar gravity.

This lunar simulation mode was challenging, Armstrong saying how deceleration in this mode was like trying to stop a downhill putt on a green. The centrally mounted turbofan gave enough power that the 1/6th gravity of the Moon could be simulated, allowing for Apollo astronauts to practice approaches and landings for their missions to the Moon.

The video of the talk that Neil Armstrong gave is worth the watch if you’ve got a half-hour. One of my favorite anecdotes from his talk is when he shares how the manhole covers at the test facilities could be blown off by the exhaust from the turbofan on the Lunar Landing Research and Training vehicles. They had to weld some of these manhole covers down as a result of this. Even though the trainers were dangerous, three of the five crashed, the astronauts felt they were critical to their success. Armstrong reiterated how the astronauts felt these flights were crucial to the success of the lunar landings. Who can argue with the first man to walk on the Moon?

Liftoff of Challenger!

Challenger STS-61A lifted off on October 30th, 1985, with eight astronauts. That’s the record for the most people to launch into space on the same spacecraft, and it’s a record that could hold for some time. The seven-day mission included a German-sponsored Spacelab, housing experiments on capillarity, fluid physics, and biological studies. Three ESA astronauts flew on this mission, Reinhard Furrer, Ernst Messerschmid, and Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutch astronaut.

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“Traditional in-flight portrait of all eight crew members was made with an automatic exposure of a 35mm camera. Left to right, back row, Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr., commander; Bonnie J. Dunbar, mission specialist; James F. Buchli, mission specialist; and Reinhard Furrer, payload specialist. Left to right, front row, Ernst Messerschmid, payload specialist; Wubbo J. Ockels, payload specialist representing the European Space Agency (ESA); Steven R. Nagel, pilot; and Guion S. Bluford, Jr., mission specialist.” Picture and caption- NASA

STS-61A was interesting because teams at Johnson Space Center controlled Challenger, with the science operations managed at the German Space Operations center in what was the time West Germany. The crew met the science objectives for this mission. Sadly, this was the last time the Space Shuttle Challenger would fly in space.

Expedition 1- the start of a permanent human presence in space.

On October 31st, 2000, a Soyuz capsule lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Now, Soyuz launches have been a common occurrence for a half-century. But back in 2000, the Soyuz capsule that carried the crew of Expedition 1 to the International Space Station started something entirely different, a continuous human presence in space.

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NASA astronaut William Shepherd and cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko arrived at the station after a multiday trip. Early crewed missions to the station had to use the standard flight path to the station, which meant that the crew would spend multiple days in their Soyuz capsule before rendezvousing with the ISS. This is in stark contrast with the faster rendezvous technique used more recently, which allows crews to reach the station in about six hours, faster than the road trip part of my vacation across the U.S. next week.

On the 34th orbit of the Soyuz capsule, the crew had docked with the space station. With final docking checks completed, the crew opened the hatch on the 35th orbit, entering the station, and officially marking the beginning of a continued human presence in space for almost 17 years.

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“ In this photo, Expedition 1 crew members (from left to right) Commander Bill Shepherd, and Flight Engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev pose with a model of their home away from home.” Picture and caption- NASA

Once the crew was onboard the station, they dove right into their tasks, everything from unpacking a Progress resupply vehicle that arrived a short time after their docking, to setting up laptop networking on the station.

I was reading through some of the log entries from Commander William or Bill Shepherd as he’s known, and they provide a unique look into how busy life on the station was during the first few months of operation. I laughed a bit at one of his log entries from November 2000.

“We take a break about 2130 for some chow, and to go through the care packages that we found on Progress. The troops are pretty happy that we have all our “loot,” and the mail from home is great. Sergei got some excellent kielbasa- we test this right away. Cranked up the laptop and we watched disk 1 of the “Sixth Sense.” We call it a night about midnight.”

Some of the laptops onboard the station are modified ThinkPads, and, having owned a ThinkPad laptop from the mid-2000s, I can tell you that cranking up the laptop volume to maximum usually didn’t elicit a drastic increase in volume. Tinny sounding laptop speakers aside, the crew was living and working in space.

Reading through Shepherd’s logs got me thinking about a topic that’s been on my mind for a few years. Let’s take a detour from talking about Expedition 1 for the time being and focus on something else instead.

One of the things I find interesting about the continued human presence in space is how people on Earth can interact with astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS.

I had dial-up internet at home when Expedition 1 launched. Doing something like watching a live stream of a rocket launch wasn’t even on my radar, and now I can do that on my phone anywhere I have a cell signal. New technologies have opened innovative ways for the public to engage with NASA and international missions. The same goes for the crew of the International Space Station; they have new ways they can interact with people on Earth.

The proliferation of the internet and new ways of communication has opened up new possibilities for how astronauts share their stories around the world. Astronauts can document what life is like in space, showing us everything from what it’s like to eat to describing a repair procedure during a spacewalk. They can share their thoughts on current events that are taking place on Earth while bringing us a look at the work they’re doing at the station. It’s exciting to think about how astronauts, space agencies, and now, private companies will use storytelling as we embark upon future missions.

Private companies already use storytelling to shape the narrative around their achievements; just look at Blue Origin and SpaceX. And that’s not a bad thing. Companies have always tried to control their brand image through things like advertising. It will be interesting to see where these brands go in the coming decades, and how governments adapt to this changing reality.

Historians are going to debate about what is the most enduring legacy the International Space Station leaves behind. I’m on record as saying that the human stories and relationships that have been shared and developed over the lifetime of the station will leave the most enduring legacy. The relations between governments, spaceflight enthusiasts, and between the astronauts and members of the public all tell the human story of spaceflight.

Here are four missions starting with Laika in 1957 and ending with the Shuttle Atlantis in 1994. The thirty-seven years that passed between Laika and Atlantis’s flight saw humans walk on the Moon, and robotic explorers like Voyager 2 reach Neptune, one of the most distant planets from the sun. As much as people want giant leaps for space exploration, there’s something to be said for consistent small steps over decades.

The crews that live and work on the ISS have made space accessible to everyone. How we tell stories and the ways we interact with people on and off the planet are transformational in a way that we don’t fully appreciate just yet.

November 3rd is a busy day in space history.

Here are four missions starting with Laika in 1957 and ending with the Shuttle Atlantis in 1994. The thirty-seven years that passed between Laika and Atlantis’s flight saw humans walk on the Moon, and robotic explorers like Voyager 2 reach Neptune, one of the most distant planets from the sun. As much as people want giant leaps for space exploration, there’s something to be said for consistent small steps over decades.

Sputnik 2-

On November 3rd, 1957, Sputnik 2 launched into orbit, carrying a special passenger in another first for the Soviet Union. The passenger on this flight was Laika, a cute little mutt that the Soviets had selected for this flight. This was the first time that an animal launched into orbit. Like Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2 didn’t carry a wide array of science instruments, which limited the scientific usefulness of the flight.

Also, the flight didn’t end well for Laika. The spacecraft wasn’t designed to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, so Laika was sent on a doomed mission. Further complicating her flight was the failure of the thermal control system on the spacecraft. Estimates of how long Laika survived range from a few hours to one or two days. Months later, Sputnik 2 reentered Earth’s atmosphere, the satellite, and its only passenger burning up upon reentry.

Explorer 8-

Three years later, the United States launched Explorer 8 in 1960, a small satellite when compared with Sputnik 2. But Explorer 8 wasn’t meant to carry a passenger. Instead, this satellite was packed with science instruments, allowing scientists to gather information for 54 days, which was the life of the battery packs that had been packed into this ninety-pound spacecraft. It studied the ionosphere and micrometeorites among a few other things.

Mariner 10-

Let’s move forward 13 years now, to the launch of Mariner 10. The reason I wanted to talk about Mariner 10 is that it’s the first spacecraft to use a gravity assist from one planet to reach another.

After launching on November 3rd, 1973, the Mariner 10 spacecraft was sent towards Venus, where it performed a flyby of that planet, so it could be sent on a trajectory to reach Mercury. Mariner 10’s flyby of Venus meant that it was the first spacecraft to visit two planets, another significant first. Experience with gravity assist maneuvers was critical for the Voyager missions, which was initially named “Mariner Jupiter/Saturn 1977” mission, not as catchy or iconic as Voyager if you ask me.

Mariner 10 returned essential data during its gravity assist at Venus, showing the first close-up images of that planet. It experienced computer glitches during the trip to Venus and Mercury, and thankfully these were overcome.

Mariner 10 arrived at Mercury for the first time in March of 1974. The spacecraft encountered the planet two more times, ultimately ending its mission in 1975.

STS-66, Liftoff of Atlantis-

The last mission I want to talk about today is STS-66, a Space Shuttle Atlantis flight that launched on November 3rd, 1994.

Over a nearly 11 day mission, the crew of six astronauts worked in two shifts to perform around-the-clock experiments on Earth’s atmosphere. The ATLAS-3 or Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science 3 flew on Atlantis, which studied, you guessed it, Earth’s atmosphere.

During this mission, Atlantis deployed a science payload that flew alongside the Shuttle, between 24 and 44 miles out, for a little over a week. During the rendezvous with this payload, Atlantis performed a different type of approach, one later used in the Shuttle-Mir flights and Shuttle missions to the International Space Station. The mission concluded with the crew landing at Edwards Air Force Base due to storms in Florida.

Even though the shuttles didn’t fly as often as had been hoped or promised, they did provide a relatively frequent way for humans to get into space. Small steps working towards longer-term goals. A pretty good legacy to leave behind if you ask me.

Picture credits- NASA

That’s it for this week. Check out The Space Shot on Apple Podcasts.

Until next time, I’m John Mulnix, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

Originally published at

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Hosts The Space Shot & The Cosmosphere Podcast. Podcaster. Techie. Bibliophile. Space science & history nerd.

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