First Titan 34D Launch from Vandenberg

Thirty years ago today — June 20, 1983 — a pair of satellites were launched from Vandenberg AFB atop a Titan 34D booster.

(Titan 34D launching from Cape Canaveral. DoD image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Launched from Space Launch Complex (SLC, pronounced “slick”) 4-East, the two DoD satellites were designated 1983-060A (or 14137) and 1983-060C (or 14139), but a 2011 Space Review article identified the primary payload of this particular launch as a KH-9 reconnaissance satellite. The Titan 34D Wikipedia page notes the June 1983 launch as the first Vandenberg launch for the 34D configuration.

As an old Titan System Program Office guy, I’d just as soon end there, but as an old Vandenberg guy I’ll toss in another space anniversary: On this date 5 years ago, the French and U.S. Jason 2 satellite was launched from Vandenberg on a Delta II rocket. Jason 2 was designed to monitor oceanic conditions from space, and was “a cooperative mission involving the French CNES, the European EUMETSAT, and the American NOAA and NASA.”

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Sally Ride’s Historic Spaceflight

Thirty years ago today — June 18, 1983 — the Space Shuttle Challenger launched from the Kennedy Space Center on an historic mission for the U.S. astronaut corps.

(Sally Ride on the shuttle flightdeck. NASA image.)

The STS-7 crew consisted of Robert L. Crippen, Frederick B. Hauck, John M. Fabian, Norman E. Thagard, and Sally K. Ride, who became the first female U.S. astronaut to fly into space.

The shuttle crew launched the Anik C-2 and Palapa B-1 communication satellites, launched and retrieved the Shuttle Pallet Satellite with its ten experiments, and performed other experiments. They spent a little over 6 days in space, and traveled about 2.5 million miles.

It’s interesting to note that the first U.S. woman in space flew only 20 years and 2 days after the first female cosmonaut. As a patriotic American, I’m more inclined to attribute that to USSR propaganda purposes than nefarious motives in our space program, but do with it what you will.

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First Woman in Space: Valentina Tereshkova’s Flight

Fifty years ago today — June 16, 1963 — Vostok 6 carried Soviet cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova to orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

(Valentina Tereshkova. Image from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.)

As noted, Tereshkova was the first woman in space. The Vostok 6 mission was the last in the Soviet Union’s first series of manned spaceflights, and lasted for┬áthree days.

Tereshkova’s flight was concurrent with Vostok 5, which had launched two days earlier carrying cosmonaut Valery F. Bykovsky. The two spacecraft orbited together and maintained radio communications with each other. Both spacecraft de-orbited on June 19th. Tereshkova landed northeast of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, after completing 48 orbits; Bykovsky landed northwest of Karaganda after completing 81 orbits and “[setting] a Soviet manned duration record of 119 hr 6 min.”

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Pioneer Leaves the Solar System

Thirty years ago today — June 13, 1983 — the Pioneer 10 spacecraft left the solar system, becoming the first man-made object to pass beyond the farthest planet from the Sun.

(Pioneer. NASA image.)

At the time, Pluto was still considered a planet but its eccentric orbit had it inside the orbit of Neptune. So when Pioneer 10 passed beyond Neptune’s orbit, it became the first spacecraft to travel farther from the sun than our system’s planets.

In other space history, 5 years ago this week* — on June 11, 2008 — the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta-II rocket. Originally called the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, Fermi was designed to conduct a sky survey of gamma ray sources. Its mission objectives were to

(1) explore the most extreme environments in the universe;
(2) search for signs of new laws of physics and understand the composition of dark matter;
(3) study the acceleration of relativistic velocity jets of material by black holes;
(4) detect and collect data on gamma-ray bursts; and,
(5) help gain a better understanding of other cosmic phenomena, such as solar flares, pulsars, and the origin of cosmic rays.

Fermi is still operating, and you can learn more about it and its discoveries here.

*Missed posting this on the actual anniversary because of problems accessing the National Space Science Data Center.

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The Spirit Rover Begins Its Martian Journey

Ten years ago today — June 10, 2003 — a Delta 2 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying Mars Exploration Rover A, or “Spirit.”

(“Spirit” Mars Exploration Rover. NASA image.)

Spirit was one of two rovers designed to traverse the Martian surface to search for evidence of life, characterize the Martian climate and geology, and improve our understanding of Mars in advance of sending people to explore. Spirit’s twin, named “Opportunity,” launched a month later. Their mission’s scientific objectives were to:

1) search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity,
2) determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites,
3) determine what geologic processes have shaped the local terrain and influenced the chemistry,
4) perform “ground truth” of surface observations made by Mars orbiter instruments,
5) search for iron-bearing minerals, identify and quantify relative amounts of specific mineral types that contain water or were formed in water,
6) characterize the mineralogy and textures of rocks and soils and determine the processes that created them, and
7) search for geological clues to the environmental conditions that existed when liquid water was present and assess whether those environments were conducive to life.

The rovers landed successfully on Mars in January 2004. They originally were only supposed to operate for 90 Martian days (a little over 92 Earth days), but Spirit operated until March 2010 and Opportunity is still going.

In other space history …

The same day Spirit launched, Sea Launch placed the Thuraya 2 communications satellite in orbit from the Odyssey platform. Thuraya 2 is owned by the United Arab Emitrates, and provides service to the Middle East, India, etc., from geostationary orbit.*

And on this date 40 years ago, the Radio Astronomy Explorer B — also known as Explorer 49 — launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta rocket. Its sister spacecraft, RAE-A (or Explorer 38), had been launched in July 1968. RAE-B conducted radio atronomy from an orbit around the Moon, and operated until 1977.

*Noted primarily because I like Sea Launch, having gone on one of their launch campaigns.

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Venera 16

Thirty years ago today — June 7, 1983, UTC — the USSR launched the second of the paired Venera 15 and 16 orbiters from the Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a Proton K booster.

(Venera 15/16 model. Image from the National Space Science Data Center.)

Like its identical sister ship, Venera 16 used a side-scanning synthetic aperture radar to study the surface of Venus. Venera 16 was launched a few days after Venera 15, and the two spacecraft entered orbit around Venus a day apart in October 1983. Their mapping mission lasted until July 1984.

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Last Shuttle-Mir Flight, and Two Planetary Missions

Fifteen years ago today — June 2, 1988 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on the final Shuttle/Mir mission.

(STS-91 rolling out to the launch complex. NASA image.)

STS-91 astronauts Charles J. Precourt, Dominic L. Pudwill Gorie, Wendy B. Lawrence, Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, and Janet L. Kavandi, along with Russian cosmonaut Valery Victorovitch Ryumin, docked with the Mir space station on June 4th, marking the ninth time a shuttle had docked with the Russian station (but the first for Discovery). They transferred water and other supplies to the station, conducted a series of experiments, and returned astronaut Andrew Thomas to Earth after he spent 130 days on Mir.

In other space history …

On this date 30 years ago, the Venera 15 radar mapping spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton K rocket. Its sister ship, Venera 16, launched a few days later. Venera 15 entered orbit around Venus on October 10, 1983, and operated until July 1984.

And 10 years ago today, the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express mission on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket out of Baikonur. The spacecraft arrived at Mars in December 2003 and released the “Beagle 2” lander, which unfortunately was lost. Mars Express itself continues to study the red planet from orbit.

For anyone who cares, today’s space history post was delayed because the National Space Science Data Center’s catalog of spacecraft data has been balky lately.

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Construction and Plumbing, in Space

Five years ago today — June 1, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Discovery was in orbit on a mission to the International Space Station, having launched from the Kennedy Space Center 5 years ago yesterday.*

(The Kibo module, adjacent to one of the ISS trusses. NASA image.)

The STS-124 crew — US astronauts Mark E. Kelly, Kenneth T. Ham, Karen L. Nyberg, Ronald J. Garan, Michael E. Fossum, Gregory E. Chamitoff, and Garrett E. Reisman, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide — spent almost two weeks in space, primarily installing the second segment of Japan’s “Kibo” laboratory module. In addition, they also repaired the toilet in the Zvezda module … for which, I’m sure, the ISS crew was grateful.

*Sorry, I was traveling and busy at the convention yesterday.

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Thirty years ago today — May 26, 1983 — the European X-ray Observatory Satellite was launched from Vandenberg AFB on a Delta rocket.

(EXOSAT. NASA image.)

EXOSAT was built to study cosmic X-ray sources from a highly eccentric orbit. The satellite operated until April 1986 and “made 1780 observations of a wide variety of objects, including active galactic nuclei, stellar coronae, cataclysmic variables, white dwarfs, X-ray binaries, clusters of galaxies, and supernova remnants,” according to this European Space Agency page.

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First Manned Skylab Mission, and Magellan Aerobraking

Forty years ago today — May 25, 1973 — a Saturn 1B rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying the first crew to inhabit the Skylab space station.

(Artist’s cutaway illustration of Skylab, from 1972. NASA image.)

The Skylab 2 mission placed astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Paul J. Weitz, and Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin aboard the station for just under a month.

The astronauts had to make substantial repairs of launch damage to make the station habitable, beginning with deploying and attaching a sunshade — which they dubbed a “parasol” — to keep the interior cool. They also had to release one solar array that had become stuck during deployment. Once the repair work was done, “the crew conducted solar astronomy and Earth resources experiments, medical studies, and five student experiments” over the course of their 28-day stay.

The crew returned to Earth on June 22, 1973. You can read more on this Skylab mission page or this Skylab 2 page.

In other space history, on this date 20 years ago, the Magellan radar-mapping spacecraft began a 70-day aerobraking maneuver to circularize its orbit around Venus. Magellan was the first spacecraft to use aerobraking, and by doing so saved fuel for future maneuvers.


Editor’s Note: While I’m on holiday over the next week, Space history items may be late, combined in odd ways, or even nonexistent. Sorry for any inconvenience. (Sort-of sorry, that is.)

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