Cruising to Venus, and a Space History Update

First, a little space history that I didn’t catch the first time around: 35 years ago this week, the Soviet Union sent two missions to Venus from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.


(Venera lander, or “descent craft.” Image from the National Space Science Data Center.)

The first of the two, Venera 11, consisted of a flyby platform and a lander (“descent craft”), and launched on September 9, 1978. The second, Venera 12, also consisted of a flyby platform and a lander, and launched on September 14th. Venera 12’s course got it to Venus four days ahead of Venera 11: the Venera 12 lander reached the surface of Venus on December 21, 1978, and the Venera 11 lander followed on Christmas day.

And to follow up on one of my earliest space history posts which noted the launch, 20 years ago today, of the Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-51: 5 years ago when I wrote that entry, I had no idea that a little over a year later I would meet one of the STS-51 astronauts, Frank L. Culbertson, Jr., at a NASA Industry-Education Forum. He was a very pleasant fellow, and well met.

Life can be weird and wonderful.

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Riding the Earth's Wake, and Farewell to a Space Pioneer

To start this space history item off in the usual fashion: 20 years ago today — July 24, 1992 — a Delta II launch vehicle carried the Geotail satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral.

Geotail was built by Japan’s Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science as one of the International Solar Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) missions to study the interactions between the Earth and the Sun. Geotail primarily studied the magnetotail, a region formed by the solar wind interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field.

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Unfortunately, we close this post by saying goodbye to a lady who made space history: physicist and astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space. Dr. Ride died yesterday of pancreatic cancer. Here’s a very nice profile from Spaceflight Now.


(Sally Ride. NASA image.)

Farewell, Sally Ride.

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Two 'Gray Man' Space History Connections

Fifteen years ago today — March 22, 1996 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to Russia’s Mir space station.


(STS-76 launch. NASA image.)

Shuttle mission STS-76 was the third Shuttle-Mir docking mission, and carried astronauts Kevin P. Chilton, Richard A. Searfoss, Linda M. Godwin, Michael R. Clifford, Ronald M. Sega, and Shannon W. Lucid. Lucid stayed aboard Mir when the rest of the crew returned to Earth.

What’s the Gray Man connection to STS-76? When Dr. Sega became the Under Secretary of the Air Force, I worked for him until my retirement. In fact, he presided over my retirement ceremony:


(Two-time Shuttle astronaut Dr. Ron Sega, Under Secretary of the Air Force, presents Gray with a letter of appreciation from the Chief of Staff. USAF image.)

The second Gray Man space history connection comes from another launch, 5 years ago today: a Pegasus-XL rocket carried three microsatellites (ST5-A, -B, and -C) to orbit as part of NASA’s New Millennium Program. As I’ve mentioned before, when I was stationed at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB many years before, I was on the Flight Readiness Review Committee for the first-ever Pegasus launch.

It looks ever more doubtful that I’ll get to fly in space, but it was nice to be at least marginally associated with the space program during my career.

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A Space History Tragedy

The date may not register with all of us every year, but few space enthusiasts — and probably few U.C. citizens — over thirty will ever forget the mishap that destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger.

It’s hard to believe that it was 25 years ago today — January 28, 1986 — that the Challenger lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-51L, and exploded a little over a minute into the launch profile.

To this day, I find it almost painful to watch the video of the explosion. Indeed, I find it hard to compose this post, even though I’ve known it was coming for a long time.

So I will just post this picture of the Challenger astronauts — Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis — the way I like to remember them:


(STS-51L crew, leaving the Operations & Checkout Building. NASA image.)

Hopeful. Enthusiastic. Fearless.

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