50 Years Ago In Space … and Writer Congrats

Astute readers might say to themselves, “Not much was happening a half century ago in space,” but something happened on the ground on September 17, 1958, that was important to U.S. space exploration: the NASA-ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) Manned Satellite Panel was formed.

According to THIS NEW OCEAN: A HISTORY OF PROJECT MERCURY, the panel recommended:

The objectives of the project are to achieve at the earliest practicable date orbital flight and successful recovery of a manned satellite, and to investigate the capabilities of man in this environment.

To accomplish these objectives, the most reliable available boost system will be used. A nearly circular orbit will be established at an altitude sufficiently high to permit a 24-hour satellite lifetime; however, the number of orbital cycles is arbitrary. Descent from orbit will be initiated by the application of retro-thrust. Parachutes will be deployed after the vehicle has been slowed down by aerodynamic drag, and recovery on land or water will be possible.

A. Vehicle
The vehicle will be a ballistic capsule with high aerodynamic drag. It should be statically stable over the mach number range corresponding to flight within the atmosphere. Structurally, the capsule will be designed to withstand any combination of acceleration, heat loads, and aerodynamic forces that might occur during boost and reentry of successful or aborted missions.
The document outlined generally the life support, attitude control, retrograde, recovery, and emergency systems and described the guidance and tracking, instrumentation, communications, ground support, and test program requirements.

I love the concise nature of the statements, and the fact that the whole plan consumed “only two and one-half pages of typescript.” These days stating the objective by itself would probably take almost that much space. (Maybe typewriters and carbon paper helped them get to the point.)


Congratulations to my writing friend and fellow member of the Codex Writers Group, Alex Wilson, for reaching the finals of the Writers of the Future Contest! I hope he snags one of the prizes, and that I reach the same point … or sell so much that I render myself ineligible. 😉

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15 Years Ago in Space

On September 12, 1993, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched on mission STS-51. Astronauts Frank L. Culbertson, Jr., William F. Readdy, James H. Newman, Daniel W. Bursch, and Carl E. Walz made up the crew.

Details of the mission, including the scrubbed launch attempts starting in July, are on this page.

The crew deployed two payloads: the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) and the Orbiting and Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrograph-Shuttle Pallet Satellite (OERFEUS-SPAS). The mission lasted nine days — a day longer than scheduled because of adverse weather at the Kennedy Space Center landing site.

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25 Years Ago, in Space

On August 30, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched on mission STS-8. Astronauts Richard Truly, Daniel Brandenstein, Dale Gardner, Guion Bluford (first U.S. black man in space), and William Thornton made up the crew. The mission launched the Insat-1B satellite (a multipurpose satellite for India) and was the first shuttle launch in the dark and the first shuttle landing in the dark.

Other mission highlights (edited into bullet format),

– the nose of orbiter was held away from the sun for 14 hours to test the flight deck area in extreme cold
– the crew filmed performance of an experimental heat pipe mounted in the cargo bay
– the orbiter dropped to 139 miles altitude to perform tests on thin atomic oxygen to identify the cause of glow that surrounds parts of the orbiter at night
– the remote manipulator system was tested to evaluate joint reactions to higher loads
– six rats were flown in the Animal Enclosure Module to observe animal reactions in space
– testing was conducted between the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-I (TDRS-1) and the orbiter using a Ku-band antenna
– investigations continued on the Space Adaptation Syndrome


In other news, Dragon*Con is going fine. I got to visit with several of my writing friends at supper last night, and I’ll be leaving in a little while for Day 2 (featuring the ever-popular Baen slide show).

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Yesterday in Space History

Ever suddenly realize you don’t know what day it is? Me, too.

I have a wide range of excuses as to why I didn’t post this yesterday–good excuses, too, I assure you–but rather than enumerate them I’ll just post it now.

Fifty (50!) years ago yesterday the U.S. launched Explorer 5 from the Eastern Space & Missile Center. Or, rather, attempted to launch. It didn’t achieve orbit because parts of the rocket and the spacecraft collided in flight.

Why is that significant? Not just because it was a half-century ago, but because it’s so similar to the failure that hit the Falcon-1 program earlier this month. That launch, back on August 2nd, failed because the first and second stages collided in flight.

Spaceflight, contrary to our best wishes, is still hard.

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Novel Status Update

A little progress on MARE NUBIUM, having crossed the 55,000-word threshold tonight. It’s somewhat slow going, but I’m still having fun with it. Hopefully some readers will get the chance to have fun with it, too.


In the “This Day in Space History” file, ten years ago today the Russians launched Soyuz TM-28 to the Mir space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The spacecraft returned to earth the following February, but one of the cosmonauts stayed aboard Mir for a year. (The Mir station itself deorbited in 2001.*) See this page for more on the Soyuz TM-series spacecraft.

*The main character in my story “The Rocket Seamstress,” a worker at Baikonur, considered what she thought of as the ignoble fate of Mir.

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Space History, August 9, 1973: Soviet Launch to Mars

Another “day in space history” tidbit: thirty-five years ago today, the Soviets launched Mars-7 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Proton rocket.

(When I was in the service, I monitored several technical exchanges between U.S. and Russian engineers getting ready to launch U.S. satellites on Proton rockets, something that would never have happened during the Cold War. And I watched the Canadian-owned [but U.S.-built] Nimiq-2 satellite get mated to a Proton rocket at Baikonur in 2002. I adapted some of what I saw during that operation into my story “The Rocket Seamstress.”)

According to www.astronautix.com, the Mars-7 probe was supposed to soft-land on Mars. As it happened,

Mars 7 reached Mars on 9 March 1974. Due to a problem in the operation of one of the onboard systems (attitude control or retro-rockets) the landing probe separated prematurely and missed the planet by 1,300 km. The early separation was probably due to a computer chip error which resulted in degradation of the systems during the trip to Mars.

Spaceflight is hard, no matter how much we’d like it to be easy.

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Today in Space History: Great Imagery Lunar Flyby

As I’m working on MARE NUBIUM, my near-future novel of lunar colonization, I’ve run across some interesting space history items that I thought I’d post from time to time.

Today was the 40th anniversary of the launch of CORONA mission 1968-065A, a KH-4 (“Keyhole”) satellite that launched aboard a Thor rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (I was stationed at Vandy from 1993-95, and toured one of the Thor launch pads while a student at Undergraduate Space & Missile Training.) According to the National Space Science Data Center, “The spacecraft had the best imagery to date on any KH-4 systems. Bicolor and color infrared experiments were conducted on this mission.”

A year later — and three weeks after Apollo 11 landed on the moon — the Russians launched the Zond-7 spacecraft from Tyuratam, i.e., the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (I spent three weeks at Baikonur in late 2002.) The mission flew by the moon on August 11th and took two sets of photographs, then returned to earth on August 14th.

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