World Space Week!
We’re at the tail end of world space week, which runs from October 4th to October 10th.
October 4th is the launch of the space age. [Sputnik beeping in background] Sputnik launched on October 4th, 1957, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The Soviet Union successfully launched the first artificial satellite to Earth orbit. Although its scientific value was minimal, it was a propaganda coup for the Soviets, even if they didn’t immediately realize that fact.
Check out this article by Roger Launius about Sputnik and the start of the space age.
Let’s head back to the 17th Century-
The Kepler Supernova was discovered by the famed German astronomer Johannes Kepler in October 1604.
A supernova is an explosion of incredible power that happens when large stars reach the end of their lives. Our sun is too small to become a supernova at the end of its life.
This striking false-color composite image shows the remains of Kepler’s supernova. “The red, green and blue colors show low, intermediate and high energy X-rays observed with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the star field is from the Digitized Sky Survey.”
Click on these NASA sites for more.
Commercial Space History-
SpaceX launched CRS-1 on October 8th, 2012. This is the seventh anniversary of the launch of that mission. More recently, SpaceX launched CRS-18 in July of 2019, so there have been quite a few flights in the seven years between these launches.
During the launch, the Falcon 9 experienced a loss of Engine 1 approximately 1 minute and 19 seconds into the flight. The rocket was able to handle this sudden pressure loss on Engine 1. A SpaceX Press Update noted that “As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real-time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS.”
SpaceX also noted that “Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V (which experienced engine loss on two flights) and modern airliners, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission. No other rocket currently flying has this ability.”
CRS-1 delivered supplies like food and consumables, crew clothing, and other necessities. This mission also delivered the GLACIER or General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator to the station. GLACIER was carrying a special cargo to the astronauts onboard the station, ice cream. Not the freeze-dried kind you see in museum gift shops, but the actual frozen variety. Talk about tasty science.
In addition to a special ice cream delivery, Dragon also delivered a Capillary Flow Experiment to the station. The purpose of those experiments was to see how fluids move on surfaces in microgravity. It’s an important topic that has implications for how water and fuel are transferred between spacecraft.
Next up, let’s crash into the Moon… on purpose-
On October 9th, 2009, the LCROSS satellite and a Centaur upper stage from an Atlas V rocket impacted the Cabeus crater on the Moon’s South Pole.
No, this wasn’t done on accident, but on purpose to help confirm the presence of water on the Moon. LCROSS launched along with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in June of 2009. This image shows LCROSS in the Northrop Grumman thermal vacuum chamber in California.
According to NASA, the impact of the LCROSS spacecraft and the Centaur upper stage sent “a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the rim of Cabeus, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds.”
A more recent analysis of data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that water is more “widely distributed across the surface and is not confined to a particular region or type of terrain. The water appears to be present day and night, though it’s not necessarily easily accessible.”
Finding water, even if its water ice mixed with lunar regolith, is vital for future human missions to the Moon and other destinations in our solar system.
Now let’s head back to 1958-
On October 11th, 1958, Pioneer 1 launched from Cape Canaveral.
Pioneer 1 was the first spacecraft to be launched by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The spacecraft was launched on a Thor-Able rocket and was supposed to follow a trajectory that sent it to the Moon.
Due to a problem in the launch vehicle, the rocket never attained enough speed to be launched on a course to the Moon. Instead, it was sent on a very high ballistic trajectory.
The small 34.2 kg or 75.4-pound spacecraft was able to gather information on the Van Allen radiation belts.
Even though the mission wasn’t a complete success, the flight did provide important data on previously unexplored regions of space. It also showed that the United States was making progress during the early years of the space race.
Here’s another important anniversary for October 11th, the launch of Apollo 7-
Apollo 7 was the first crewed mission of the Apollo program, and it launched from LC-34 on October 11th, 1968.
Astronauts Donn Eisele, Walter Schirra, and Walt Cunningham orbited Earth for over ten days, testing the systems of the Apollo Command Module.
Some of the primary goals of the mission were to conduct “Extensive operational checkouts of the environmental control, guidance and navigation, and service propulsion systems.” The mission was important because it allowed for “critical tests of spacecraft systems necessary for “wringing out” a new generation of spacecraft.”
Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham are pictured here during water egress training in the months before the mission.
This mission had an unfortunate problem that came in the form of the common cold. Schirra had developed a nasty cold, and after that, Cunningham and Eisele caught it as well. The astronauts’ cold caused some tension with ground controllers and also between the astronauts. Several exchanges between Schirra and the CAPCOM or the Capsule Communicator showed how irritable the astronauts were during this time.
October 11th is a busy day in space history…
The 100th Space Shuttle mission launched on October 11th, 2000. The Space Shuttle Discovery launched into the history books when it rose from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center.
STS-92 was a jam-packed mission. Astronauts installed the Z1 Truss, the Pressurized Mating Adapter 3, which allowed for the shuttle to dock at different parts of the space station and control moment gyros on the ISS.
A control moment gyroscope is a unique way of controlling how a spacecraft rotates. A flywheel spinning around can be moved around in various directions to control the attitude of the space station. Controlling the spacecraft with CMGs is advantageous because no fuel is used for the CMGs, just electricity generated by the station’s solar panels.
STS-92 also had four spacewalks, which were conducted to install the Z1 Truss and associated systems. Astronauts Jeff Wisoff and Mike Lopez-Algeria clocked over 27 EVA hours during this mission.
During these spacewalks, astronauts tested the SAFER or simplified aid for EVA rescue backpack. It consisted of a small nitrogen powered backpack that allowed the astronauts to control their movements should they become disconnected from the Shuttle or ISS.
Discovery undocked from the ISS on October 20th and returned to Earth on October 24th, 2000.
Next up, the Enterprise-
On October 12th, 1977, the Enterprise flew on the 4th free flight mission of the Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests.
Astronauts Joe Engle and Richard Truly piloted Enterprise to a Landing at Edwards Air Force Base.
Enterprise never flew into space, and a refit to make the orbiter spaceworthy would have been too costly and expensive.
The Approach and Landing tests were necessary because it proved that the Shuttle design could safely land like a conventional aircraft.
Last up, let’s launch on a Juno II rocket-
NASA’s Explorer 7 spacecraft launched on October 13th, 1959, from Cape Canaveral. The purpose of the spacecraft was to “measure solar X-ray and Lyman-alpha flux, trapped energetic particles, and heavy primary cosmic rays (Z>5). Secondary objectives included collecting data on micrometeoroid penetration and molecular sputtering and studying the Earth-atmosphere heat balance.”
This small, roughly 30 inch wide spacecraft, weighed about 90 pounds. The exterior surface of the spacecraft was covered by “approximately 3,000 solar cells mounted on both the upper and lower shells.” NASA’s spacecraft data archive details Explorer 7, and I’m linking to that site in the show notes.
Pictures and quotes- NASA
Check back next week for more! Send me a message if you have any questions or ideas. Thanks!