Category Archives: Space Flight

19 August 1960

Fairchild C-119J-FA Flying Boxcar 51-8037 of the 6593rd Test Squadron recovers the Discoverer XIV satellite, 19 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

Discoverer XIV was a Key Hole KH-1 satellite of the Corona Program. It carried a 70mm reconnaissance camera, and was launched into a polar orbit aboard a Thor-Agena rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After 17 orbits, 7 of which crossed over “denied territory,” the satellite was de-orbited.

A Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar, 51-8037, of the 6593rd Test Squadron, Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, was sent to recover the satellite as it descended through the lower atmosphere by parachute. The air crew sighted the parachute at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), 360 miles (580 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii. On their third attempt, they were able to snag the satellite and parachute with recovery equipment deployed under the transport and then pull it inside. This was the first time that film from a satellite had been recovered.

Corona 1 photographic image of Mys Shmidta Air Field, USSR. This image, taken 18 August 1960, has a resolution of 40 feet x 40 feet ( meters). (National Reconnaissance Office)
Corona 1 photographic image of Mys Shmidta Air Field, Chukotka, Russia, USSR, an intercontinental bomber staging base built in 1954. This image, taken 18 August 1960, has a resolution of 40 feet × 40 feet (12.2 meters × 12.2 meters). The runway is 2,450 meters (8,038 feet) long. (National Reconnaissance Office)

The Discoverer program was publicly explained as an Earth sciences research project, but was actually a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance of the Soviet Union and China. Corona 1 missions located 64 Soviet airfields and 26 surface-to-air (SAM) missile sites.

51-8037 had been built as a C-119F, but was converted to a C-119J in 1957. The satellite recovery airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Fairchild C-119J-FA Flying Boxcar 51-8037 at the National Air and Space Museum, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

16 August 1960

Captain Kittinger steps out of the Excelsior III gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 7:12 a.m., 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

16 August 1960: At 7:12 a.m., Captain Joseph William (“Red”) Kittinger II, U.S. Air Force, stepped out of a balloon gondola, 102,800 feet (31,333 meters, 19.47 miles) above the Tularosa Valley, New Mexico. This was his third balloon ascent and high altitude parachute jump during Project Excelsior, a series of experiments to investigate the effects of high altitude bailouts.

For protection at the extreme high altitude—above 99% of the atmosphere—Joe Kittinger wore a modified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit and MA-3 helmet. Over this was a coverall garment to keep the pressure suit’s lacings and capstans from catching on anything as he jumped from the balloon gondola. He breathed a combination of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium. During the 1 hour, 31 minute ascent, the pressure seal of Kittinger’s right glove failed, allowing his hand to painfully swell with the decreasing atmospheric pressure.

In temperatures as low as -94 °F. (-70 °C.) Captain Kittinger free-fell for 4 minutes, 36 seconds, and reached a speed of 614 miles per hour (988 kilometers per hour). During the free fall descent, he trailed a small drogue parachute for stabilization. His 28-foot (8.5 meter) diameter main parachute opened at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) and he touched the ground 9 minutes, 9 seconds later. The total duration of Kittinger’s descent was 13 minutes, 45 seconds. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second) and the Harmon Trophy.

Joseph Kittinger had previously worked on Project Man High, and would go on to a third high altitude balloon project, Stargazer.

A recovery team assists Captain Kittinger after his 102,800-foot free fall, 16 August 1960. The helicopter in the background is a Piasecki H-21. (U.S. Air Force)

After returning to operations, Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. After two tours flying the Douglas B-26K Invader, he transitioned to the McDonnell F-4D Phantom II and returned to Southeast Asia for a voluntary third tour with the famed 555th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (“The Triple Nickel”). He is credited with shooting down a MiG 21 fighter.

Almost to the end of his third combat tour, Lieutenant Colonel Kittinger was himself shot down and and he and his Weapons System Officer were captured. They spent 11 months at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Captain Joseph W. Kitinger, United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

12 August 1977

Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise separates from NASA 905 for its first free flight, 12 August 1977. (NASA)

12 August 1977: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the prototype Space Shuttle Oriter, Enterprise, (OV-101) was mated to the Boeing 747-100 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, N905NA, call sign NASA 905, for the first of five approach and landing test flights. On Enterprise‘ flight deck were astronauts Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton. The crew of NASA 905 were NASA test pilots Fitz Fulton and Tom McMurty with Vic Horton and Skip Guidry as flight engineers.

An estimated 65,000 people had come to Edwards to watch and at 8:00, Fitz Fulton began the take off roll down Runway 22. For the next 38 minutes the spacecraft/aircraft combination climbed together into the desert sky. After reaching an altitude of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters), Fulton put the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft into a shallow dive. At 8:48 a.m., Fred Haise fired the seven explosive bolts holding the two craft together. The 747 entered a descending left turn while Haise banked Enterprise away to the right.

Space Shuttle Orbiiter Enterprise during a glide test. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise during a glide test. (NASA)

As Enterprise made its gliding descent, Haise and Fullerton experimented with the prototype’s flight characterisics and handling. The Shuttle Orbiter touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour), and rolled for two miles (3.22 kilometers) before coming to a complete stop.

The first free flight of Enterprise lasted 5 minutes, 21 seconds.

Space Shuttle Enterprise banks to the left to line up with the runway on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Enterprise banks to the left to line up with the runway on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

12 August 1960, 09:39:43 UTC

The Thor Delta launch vehicle at Launch Complex 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spherical capsule containing the Echo 1A is visible at the top of the Altair solid fuel third stage. (NASA)

12 August 1960: At 5:39:43 a.m., Eastern Daylight Savings Time, the Echo 1A experimental passive communications satellite was launched from LC-17A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch vehicle was a Thor-Delta three stage rocket. It entered a nearly circular 944 mile × 1,048 mile orbit (1,519 × 1,687 kilometers). The orbital period was 118.3 minutes.

The satellite was a 100 foot diameter (30.48 meter) Mylar polyester balloon with a reflective surface. The material was just 0.0127 millimeters thick. The mass of the satellite was 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds). In orbit, the balloon envelope was kept inflated by gas from evaporating liquid. It had been constructed by the G.T. Schjeldahl Company, Northfield, Minnesota. This was the second Echo satellite. The first had failed to reach orbit when launched 13 March 1960.

Later the same day, a microwave transmission from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, was reflected off the Echo 1A satellite and received at the Bell Laboratories, Homdel, New York.

According to NASA, “The success of Echo 1A proved that microwave transmission to and from satellites in space was understood and demonstrated the promise of communications satellites. The vehicle also provided data for the calculation of atmospheric density and solar pressure due to its large area-to-mass ratio. Echo 1A was visible to the unaided eye over most of the Earth (brighter than most stars) and was probably seen by more people than any other man-made object in space.”

Echo 1A remained in Earth orbit until 24 May 1968.

An Echo satellite undergoing static inflation tests inside a blimp hangar at Weeksville NAS, North Carolina. The vehicle, which shows scale, is a 1959 Plymouth Suburban 4-door station wagon. (NASA)

The Delta was a three-stage expendable launch vehicle which was developed from the Douglas Aircraft Company’s SM-75 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile.

Designated Thor DM-19, the first stage was 60.43 feet (18.42 meters) long and 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter. Fully fueled, the first stage had a gross weight of 108,770 pounds (49,337 kilograms). It was powered by a Rocketdyne LR-79-7 engine which burned liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a highly-refined kerosene rocket fuel) and produced 170,565 pounds of thrust (758.711 kilonewtons). This stage had a burn time of 2 minutes, 45 seconds.

The second stage was an Aerojet General Corporation-built Delta 104. It was 19 feet, 3 inches (5.88 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 4 feet, 6 inches (1.40 meters). The second stage had a gross weight of 9,859 pounds (4,472 kilograms). It used an Aerojet AJ10-104 rocket engine which burned a hypergolic  mixture of nitric acid and UDMH. The second stage produced 7,890 pounds of thrust (35.096 kilonewtons) and burned for 4 minutes, 38 seconds.

The third stage was an Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Altair 1. It was 6 feet long, 1 foot, 6 inches in diameter and had a gross weight of 524 pounds (238 kilograms). This stage used a solid-fuel Thiokol X-248 rocket engine, producing 2,799 pounds of thrust (12.451 kilonewtons). Its burn time was 4 minutes, 16 seconds.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

12 August 1960

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force. (NASA)

12 August 1960: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Robert M. White flew the North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane to an altitude of 136,500 feet (41,605 meters), exceeding the previous unofficial record of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters) set by the late Captain Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr., with the Bell X-2, 7 September 1956.

Iven Kincheloe had been assigned as the Air Force’s project pilot for the X-15. When he was killed on a routine flight, Bob White was designated to replace him.

This was White’s fourth flight in an X-15, and the 19th flight of the X-15 Program. The Number 1 rocketplane, serial number 56-6670, was carried aloft under the right wing of the “mothership,” Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. At 08:48:43.0 a.m., PDT, 56-6670 was dropped over Silver Lake, near the Nevada-California border. White fired the two Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-13 rocket engines and they burned for 256.2 seconds.

This flight took place in Phase II of the Program and was intended to gradually increase the envelope of X-15 performance with the XLR11 engines while waiting for the much more powerful XLR99. The purpose of Flight 19 was to reach maximum altitude in order to test the rocketplane’s stability and controllability above the atmosphere.

The X-15 accelerated to Mach 2.52, 1,773 miles per hour (2,853 kilometers per hour) while climbing at nearly a 70° angle and reached a peak altitude of 136,500 feet (41,605 meters). After engine shutdown, White glided to a landing on Rogers Dry Lake and touched down. The duration of the flight was 11 minutes, 39.1 seconds.

Neither Kincheloe’s or White’s altitudes are recognized as records by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale(FAI). Over the next few years, the X-15 would reach to nearly three times higher.

An X-15 is dropped from the NB-52A, 52-003, at an altitude of 45,000 feet at 0.8 Mach. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather