24 April 1990, 12:33:51 UTC, T minus Zero

Discovery (STS-31) lifts off Pad 39B with the Hubble Space Telescope. Sister ship Columbia waits on Pad 39A. (NASA)
Discovery (STS-31) lifts off Pad 39B with the Hubble Space Telescope. Sister ship Columbia waits on Pad 39A. (NASA)

24 April 1990, 12:33:51 UTC: Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Florida, on a mission to place the Hubble Space Telescope in Earth Orbit.

The STS-31 flight crew were Loren J. Shriver, Commander; Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Pilot; Steven A. Hawley, Mission Specialist; Kathryn D. Sullivan, Mission Specialist; Bruce McCandless II, Mission Specialist.

Discovery (STS-31) flight crew: Seated, left to right: Colonel Charles F. Bolden, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps; Colonel Loren J. Shriver, U.S. Air Force; Lieutenant Commander Kathryn D. Sullivan, U.S. Navy. Standing, left to right: Captain Bruce McCandless II, U.S. Navy; Mr. Steven A. Hawley. (NASA)
Discovery (STS-31) flight crew: Seated, left to right: Colonel Charles F. Bolden, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps¹; Colonel Loren J. Shriver, U.S. Air Force; Lieutenant Commander Kathryn D. Sullivan, U.S. Navy.² Standing, left to right: Captain Bruce McCandless II, U.S. Navy; Mr. Steven A. Hawley. (NASA)

The Hubble Space Telescope is named after Edwin Hubble, an early 20th century astronomer who discovered galaxies beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. It is an optical Ritchey–Chrétien telescope (an improved Cassegrain reflector). Star light enters the telescope and is collected by a large 7 foot, 10.5 inch (2.400 meter) diameter hyperbolic mirror at the back end. The light is reflected forward to a smaller hyperbolic mirror, which focuses the light and projects it back through an opening in the main reflector. The light is then gathered by the electronic sensors of the space telescope. These mirrors are among the most precise object ever made, having been polished to an accuracy of 10 nanometers.

The Hubble Space Telescope being deployed from Disovery's cargo bay. (NASA)
The Hubble Space Telescope being deployed from Discovery’s cargo bay, 25 April 1990. (NASA)

The Hubble Space Telescope is 43.5 feet (13.259 meters long. The light tube has a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) and the aft equipment section is 14 feet (4.267 meters) in diameter. The spacecraft weighs 27,000 pounds (12,247 kilograms).

The HST orbits the Earth every 97 minutes at an altitude of 320 nautical miles (593 kilometers). The telescope was last serviced in 2009. Originally designed to operate for 15 years, the HST is now in its 26th.

The Hubble Space Telescope in Earth orbit. (NASA)
The Hubble Space Telescope in Earth orbit. (NASA)

¹ Colonel Bolden reached the rank of Major General, United States Marine Corps, before retiring in 2003. He was served as Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration, 17 July 2009–20 January 2017.

² Lieutenant Commander Sullivan left NASA in 1993, and retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Captain, in 2006. She served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere/Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 28 February 2013–20 January 2017.

© 2017,  Bryan R. Swopes

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23–24 April 1967

Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov (1927–1967)
Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov (1927–1967)

23–24 April 1967: At 00:35:00 UTC, 23 April, Soyuz-1, the first manned flight of the Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome Pad 1/5 (Gagarin’s Start). On this first test flight, only one person was aboard the craft, which had been designed to carry three cosmonauts. Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was the pilot. He had previously flown Voskhod-1, a 24-hour mission, in 1964.

A Soyuz 7K-OK space craft assembly. (Space Rocket History)
A Soyuz 7K-OK space craft assembly. (Space Rocket History)

The mission plan called for a second spacecraft, Soyuz-2, to be launched on the 24th, with a three-man crew. A rendezvous in orbit would be made.

Soyuz-1 was not ready to be flown. More than 200 faults were known, but the pressures brought about by politics required that the launch proceed.

On reaching orbit, two solar arrays were to deploy to provide electrical power for the spacecraft’s batteries. One panel did not deploy and this severely limited the power available.

The Soyuz stabilization system relied on sensors which would detect certain stars to provide orientation, but the failed solar panel covered them. Within a few orbits the system failed completely. Komarov used the ship’s thrusters to manually control stability, but this was only marginally effective.

There were also communications difficulties. With electrical power diminishing and reaction fuel being spent, the main goals of the mission could no longer be achieved. After 13 orbits it was decided to abort the mission.

An illustration of Soyuz-1
An illustration of Soyuz-1

Komarov had to manually align the Soyuz-1 during the daylight phase of orbit 18. Gyroscopic stabilizers were supposed to maintain that alignment as the spacecraft passed into darkness. Komarov would once again align the craft when it came around into light, and hold that alignment through the reentry deceleration.

For some reason, the braking engine was 2 minutes, 23.5 seconds late in firing. The deceleration burn was planned for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, but an automatic system, recognizing that the gyro system was not holding the proper alignment, cut off the engine 4 seconds early. This meant that the Soyuz would travel farther down range than intended, and would not have slowed quite as much, although it was enough for re-entry.

Soyuz-1 impacted the Earth at 03:22:52 UTC, 1.9 miles (3.06 kilometers) to the west of Karabutak, Orenburg Oblast, at speeds estimated at from 30–40 meters per second (67–89 miles per hour) to as high as 640 kilometers per hour (398 miles per hour). It is believed that Vladimir Komarov died from injuries sustained at this time.

He was the first person to die during a space flight.

A rescue helicopter quickly located the Soyuz reentry module which was lying on its side in an open field with its parachute alongside. The rescuers reportedly saw the soft-landing rockets fire, which they should have done just before the module’s impact.

The module was on fire and by the time rescuers reached it, it was fully involved and molten metal was spreading on the ground. After expending their fire extinguishers, the rescuers tried to put of the fire by shoveling dirt on to it, but the the capsule completely collapsed.

Doctors on the scene pronounced Vladamir Komarov dead, with injuries to his skull, spinal cord, and numerous broken bones resulting from the impact. His body was completely burned. A postmortem examination at Moscow confirmed that the cosmonaut had been killed by the capsule’s impact.

Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Cosmonaut.
Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Cosmonaut.

Several theories have been published as explanation for the failure of the spacecraft’s parachute to safely slow Komarov’s descent, though with the craft completely destroyed by fire, it is unlikely that there could be any certainty. The official finding is that the drogue parachute did not apply enough force to pull the main parachute free. A backup parachute was deployed manually by Komarov but it fouled in the drogue ‘chute and did not open sufficiently to brake the craft.

Another theory is that a pressure sensor malfunctioned which prevented the automatic deployment of the main parachute. The drogue ‘chute should have been released at that time, but was not, which resulted in the reserve parachute fouling.

Third is that during an autoclaving operation the parachutes may have been contaminated with an adhesive substance.

And another story is this: During the design of Soyuz-1, the thickness of the heat shield was increased, and so the weight of the spacecraft went up. Engineers increased the size of the main parachute accordingly. But the compartment that it was to be stored in remained the same size. The fit was so tight that when the parachute was being installed, technicians had to hammer it into place with wooden mallets.

 Burning wreckage of Soyuz-1, 24 April 1967. (RosCosmos)
Burning wreckage of Soyuz-1, 24 April 1967. (Russian Federal Space Agency)

Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was born at Moscow, Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR), 16 March 1927. His father was killed early in The Great Patriotic War (World War II). At the age of 15 years, he entered the 1st Moscow Special Air Force School and graduated in 1945. He then went to Sasovskoye for initial pilot training, and then to the Borisoglebsk Air Force Pilot School. In 1946 he was transferred to the A.K. Serov Bataisk Military Aviation School. He received his pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force, 10 December 1949.

Lieutenant Komarov served as a fighter pilot of the 383rd Fighter Aviation Regiment at Grozny. The regiment was transitioning from the Mikoyan-Guervich MiG-9 turbojet-powered fighter to the new swept-wing MiG-15. While there, he met his future wife, Valentina Yakovlevna Kiselyova, a recent graduate of the Grozny Teachers’ Training Institute. They were married in 1950. They had two children, Yevgeny and Irina.

In 1952, Senior Lieutenant Komarov was assigned as senior pilot of the 486th Fighter Aviation Regiment, flying the MiG-15 and MiG-17. In 1954 he applied to attend the N.E. Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy, from which he graduated in 1959. Promoted to Senior Lieutenant-Engineer, he was assigned as a test pilot at the Central Scientific Research Institute.

Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov
Colonel Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin and Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov at Star City, 1964. (Europress/AFP)

After promotion to captain-engineer, 3 September 1960, Komarov was selected for the first group of Soviet cosmonauts. He was older than most of the group, but was well liked and respected.

Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Mihailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR, was twice named Hero of the Soviet Union. He had also been awarded the Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Star, as well as several other decorations.

Following a state funeral, the cosmonaut’s ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall at Red Square.

Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union.
Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union. “Whoever has flown once, whoever has piloted an airplane once, will never want to part with either an aircraft or the sky.”

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 April 1943

Graduating class of WASP Pilots pass in review.
Graduating class of WASP Pilots pass in review at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. (U.S. Air Force)

24 April 1943: The first class of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, Class 43-1, graduated from the four-month flight training program and earned their wings as U.S. Army pilots. The class entered with 38 trainees and 24 graduated. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.

The WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts. Some went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters.

WASP pilots FrancesGreen, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborne at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio, with a Boeing B-17. (U.S. Air Force)
WASP pilots Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborne at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio, with a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilots were not always men. These four women, members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), were assigned as engineering test pilots, testing new aircraft and modifications. The airplane behind them is a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. From left to right, Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, Hellen Skjersaa Hansen, Doris Burmeister Nathan and Elizabeth V. Chadwick Dressler. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilots were not always men. These four women, members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), were assigned as engineering test pilots, testing new aircraft and modifications. The airplane behind them is a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. From left to right, Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, Hellen Skjersaa Hansen, Doris Burmeister Nathan and Elizabeth V. Chadwick Dressler. (U.S. Air Force)

The WASPs were not combat pilots. They tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, delivered these airplanes from factories to Air Corps bases around the country, ferried aircraft across oceans, and flew transport missions.

All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.

Major Eileen M. Collins with F-4E-31-MC Phantom II, 66-0289, at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1990. A pilot instructor on the T-38 Talon and C-141 Starlifter, Eileen Collins graduated from Class 89B at Edwards. Accepted as an astronaut for NASA, she piloted the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-63, Atlantis, STS 84, and commanded Columbia STS-93 and Discovery, STS-114.(U.S. Air Force)
Major Eileen M. Collins with F-4E-31-MC Phantom II, 66-0289, at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1990. A pilot instructor on the T-38 Talon and C-141 Starlifter, Eileen Collins graduated from Class 89B at Edwards. Accepted as an astronaut for NASA, she piloted the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-63, Atlantis, STS 84, and commanded Columbia STS-93 and Discovery, STS-114.(U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter Interceptor pilots of the 3rd Fighter Wing, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, left to right, Major Andrea Misener, 19th FS; Captain Jammie Jamiesen, 12th FS; Major Carey Jones, 19th FS; Captain Samantha Weeks, 12th FS. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter Interceptor pilots of the 3rd Fighter Wing, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, left to right, Major Andrea Misener, 19th FS; Captain Jammie Jamiesen, 12th FS; Major Carey Jones, 19th FS; Captain Samantha Weeks, 12th FS. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, Lead Test Pilot for the Boeing 777 and Chief Pilot, Boeing Training and Flight Services. (Boeing)
Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, Lead Test Pilot for the Boeing 777 and Chief Pilot, Boeing Training and Flight Services. (Boeing)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 April 1939

The Curtiss XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)
The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. Compare this to the first production P-40 Warhawk in the photograph below. (NASA)
Curtiss P-40 Warhawk 39-156. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk 39-156. (U.S. Air Force)

24 April 1939: Curtiss-Wright’s prototype fighter, the XP-40 (Model 75P), was evaluated by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Field, Virginia, in March and April 1939. NACA engineers placed the XP-40 inside the Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, which was capable of accepting airplanes with wing spans of up to 40 feet (12.2 meters).

The airplane was a production Curtiss P-36A Hawk, serial number 38-10, which had been modified by replacing its original air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C1-G (R-1830-17) 14-cylinder radial engine with a Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C13 (V-1710-19). This was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6.65:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 910 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,060 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for Takeoff. At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), the V-1710-19 had Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. The engine required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. It drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-19 was 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.483 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.75″ (1.035 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.735 meters) wide. It weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

Curtiss XP-40 prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. The technician at the lower left of the photograph provides scale. (NASA)
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. The technician at the lower left of the photograph provides scale. (NASA)

The primary benefit of the engine change was the streamlined fuselage that resulted. The new airplane was capable of a speed of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour), a 53 miles per hour (85 kilometers per hour) increase over the P-36.

Over a two-month period, NACA engineers made a number of improvements. The radiator was moved forward under the engine and the oil coolers utilized the same air scoop. The exhaust manifolds were improved as were the landing gear doors.

When they had finished, Lieutenant Kelsey flew the modified XP-40 back to Curtiss at Buffalo, New York. Its speed had been increased to 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour), a 12% improvement. Other improvements were recommended which may have increased the XP-40’s speed by an additional 18 miles per hour (29 kilometers per hour). By December 1939, the airplane had been further improved and was capable of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour).

These photographs show the full-size prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley, 24 April 1939. Two days later, the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered 524 airplanes as the P-40 Warhawk. By the time production ended in 1945, 13,738 Warhawks had been built.

Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 April 1929

Elinor Smith waves from the cockpit of her Bellanca CH 300 Pacemaker after setting an endurance record at Roosevelt Field, 24 April 1929. (Newsday)
Elinor Smith waves from the cockpit of her Bellanca CH Monoplane after setting an endurance record at Roosevelt Field, 24 April 1929. (Newsday)

24 April 1929: At Roosevelt Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, 17-year-old Elinor Smith set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration by staying aloft over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, in a Bellanca CH Monoplane for 26 hours, 27 minutes.¹ (Possibly Bellanca CH, c/n 116, NC29E)

THIS IS A RESCAN- HUGE FILE, HI RES- Must Credit, Long Island Studies Institute, Nassau County Museum Collection. Elinor Smith, 17, with her Bellance Challenger J5 equipt with a 225 HP engine, 1929. This was the first cabin ship flown by a female pilot, and she was also the first female with flying as an occupation. This ship had the largest gas load ever taken off from the field (Roosevelt?) and established a 26.5 hour endurance record with a take off and landing from the same place.. Digital Image
Elinor Smith with the Bellanca (CTIE/Monash University)

During the flight the airplane’s elevator trim adjustment malfunctioned, forcing Smith to use both arms to hold the stick back to maintain level flight. She dropped a note in a weighted sack to advise those on the ground of the problem.

Elinor Smith with the Bellanca CH Monoplane (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
Elinor Smith with the Bellanca CH Monoplane (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

The Associated Press reported the event:

FLAPPER ‘ACE’ TOPS WOMEN’S AIR RECORDS

Elinor Smith Is Up Above 26 Hours; Victor Over Four. 

By Associated Press,

ROOSEVELT FIELD, N.Y., April 24.—Elinor Smith, 17-year-old flying flapper of Long Island, won a victory Wednesday in the four-sided battle being waged among two women from the eastern seaboard and two from the west for the women’s solo endurance record.

She brought her plane down at 2:2:16 p.m. after 26 hours 21 minutes and 32 seconds in the air, beating the record of 22 hours 3 minutes and 12 seconds established by Louise McPhetridge of California by  hours 18 minutes and 20 seconds.

Before Mrs. McPhetridge, Miss Bobbie Trout of California was the record holder. Miss Trout beat an earlier record of Miss Smith, who in turn on that earlier flight beat a record held by Viola Gentry, Long Island’s flying cashier.

Miss Smith’s record Wednesday was within 9 hours, 11 minutes and 49 seconds of the man’s solo endurance flight record of 35 hours, 33 minutes and 21 seconds, established at Roosevelt Field last month by Martin Jensen.

Beats Early Mark

Less than three minutes before, Miss Smith exceeded the first world endurance record ever established at this field. In 1921, Eddie Stinson of Detroit and Lloyd Bertaud, who was lost with the transatlantic plane Old Glory, established a record there of 26 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, which was 2 minutes and 57 seconds less than the record set single-handed Wednesday by Miss Smith.

About 8:30 a.m. a note was dropped from the plane in which the young flier was having trouble with the stabilizer and had both arms “wrapped around the stick.”

Sure of Victory

It was apparent, however, that she did not regard the trouble as serious for the note added: “Tough night but it won’t be long now.”

Miss Smith brought her plane, a cabin monoplane borrowed from G.M. Bellanca, airplane designer, down to a perfect landing.

“I think it’s wonderful that I broke the record. Now I want to get some sleep,” she said as she dodged the crowds and vanished homeward.

Miss Smith’s mother Wednesday night said plans had been made for Elinor to make a transatlantic flight this summer, probably to Rome. She said backers already had been obtained.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 25, 1929, Page 1, Column 4.

A Bellanca CH-200 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
A Bellanca CH-200 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Bellanca CH Monoplane (also referred to as the CH-200) was a single-engine high-wing monoplane, designed by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca and built by the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, Newcastle, Delaware. It was operated by one pilot and could carry up to 5 passengers in an enclosed cabin.

The airplane was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4 inches (2.540 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,275 pounds (1,032 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,072 pounds (1,847 kilograms).

The Bellanca CH Monoplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind J-5 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. It was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 225 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. This was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed propeller. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

Its maximum speed was 126 miles per hour (203 kilometers per hour) and the range was 800 miles (1,287 kilometers).

¹ FAI Record File Number 12217

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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