Category Archives: Space Flight

18 September 1977

Earth and The Moon, photographed by Voyager 1, 18 September 1977. (NASA)

“This picture of the Earth and Moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded September 18, 1977, by NASA’s Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon is at the top of the picture and beyond the Earth as viewed by Voyager. In the picture are eastern Asia, the western Pacific Ocean and part of the Arctic. Voyager 1 was directly above Mt. Everest (on the night side of the planet at 25 degrees north latitude) when the picture was taken. The photo was made from three images taken through color filters, then processed by the Image Processing Lab at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Because the Earth is many times brighter than the Moon, the Moon was artificially brightened by a factor of three relative to the Earth by computer enhancement so that both bodies would show clearly in the prints. Voyager 1 was launched September 5, 1977 and Voyager 2 on August 20, 1977. JPL is responsible for the Voyager mission.” —NASA Greatest Images Archive

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18 September 1959

Vanguard SLV-7 is launched from LC-18A, 05:16:00 UTC, 18 September 1959. It carried a 50 pound satellite into Earth orbit. (NASA)

18 September 1959: At 05:16:00 UTC, a three-stage Vanguard Satellite Launch Vehicle lifted of from Launch Complex 18A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The rocket placed a 50 pound (22.7 kilogram) scientific satellite into Earth orbit.

Contained inside the satellite’s 20 inch (50.8 centimeter) diameter magnesium outer shell were sensors and transmitters. The satellite collected data on the Earth’s magnetic field, the Van Allen Radiation Belt, micrometeorite impacts on the satellite and measured drag acting to slow the satellite in its orbit.

Vanguard 3 transmitted data for 84 days before it stopped functioning. It is estimated that it will remain in orbit around the Earth for 300 years.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 September 1976

Enterprise rollout at Palmdale, California, 17 September 1976. (Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS)

17 September 1976. Enterprise (OV-101), the prototype Space Shuttle Orbital Vehicle, was rolled out at the Rockwell International plant at Palmdale, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 September 1959

X-15 56-6670 is carried under the right wing of NB-52A 52-003. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocket plane. (NASA)

17 September 1959: After previously making one glide flight, North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight of an X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane.

Carried aloft under the right wing of an eight-engine Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress bomber, USAF serial number 52-003, the first of three North American Aviation X-15s, 56-6670, was airdropped from 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over Rosamond Dry Lake, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Edwards Air Force Base. Launch time was 08:08:48.0 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (15:08.48.0 UTC).

Scott Crossfiled prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A
Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A. Crossfield is wearing a conformal (face seal) helmet with his David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (NASA/North American Aviation, Inc.)

The X-15 was designed to use the Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine, but early in the test program that engine was not yet available so two smaller XLR-11 engines were used. This was engine the same type used in the earlier Bell X-1 rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier in 1948. Though producing just one-fourth the thrust of the XLR-99, it allowed the functional testing of the X-15 to proceed.

The X-15’s two Reaction Motors XLR11 engines. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield wrote:

     Two minutes after launch I reached 50,000 feet and pushed over in level flight. Then I dropped the nose slightly for a speed run, meanwhile maneuvering the ship through a series of turns and rolls, conscious of a deep rumbling noise of the rocket and a great rush of wind on the fuselage. It was obvious the black bird was in her element at supersonic speeds. She responded beautifully. I stared in fascination at the Mach meter which climbed from 1.5 Mach to 1.8 Mach and then effortlessly to my top speed for this flight of 2.3 Mach or about 1,500 miles and hour. Then, because I was under orders not to take the X-15 wide open, I shut off three of the rocket barrels. As I slowed down, I recalled the agony at Edwards many years before when we had worked for months pushing, calculating, polishing and who knows what else to achieve Mach 2 in the Skyrocket. Now with the X-15 we had reached that speed in three minutes on our first powered flight and I had to throttle back.

Always Another Dawn, The Story Of A Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield with Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960. Chapter 39 at Pages 362.

X-15A 56-6670 drops from the wing of the B-52 mothership. The vapor trail is from hydrogen peroxide that powers the aircraft power systems. Note the roll to the right as the X-15 drops from the pylon. (NASA)

The X-15 dropped 2,000 feet (610 meters) while Scott Crossfield ignited the two XLR-11 engines and then started “going uphill.” During the 224.3 seconds burn duration, the X-15 reached Mach 2.11 (1,393 miles per hour/2,242 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 52,300 feet (15,941 meters), both slightly higher than planned.

Problems developed when the rocket engine’s turbo pump case failed, and fire broke out in the hydrogen peroxide compartment, engine compartment and in the ventral fin. Crossfield safely landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of the flight was 9 minutes, 11.1 seconds. Damage to the rocket plane was extensive but was quickly repaired. 56-6670 flew again 17 October 1959.

Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield climbs out of the cockpt of a North American Aviation X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane. (Getty Images)

Over the next nine years the three X-15s would make 199 flights, setting speed and altitude records nearly every time they flew, and expanding NASA’s understanding of flight in the hypersonic range. The first two X-15s, 56-6670 and 56-6671, survived the program. 670 is at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space museum and 671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)
Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 September 1985

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-17-MC Eagle, 76-0084, “Celestial Eagle,” ASAT missile launch, 13 September 1985. (U.S. Air Force)

13 September 1985: Major Wilbert D. Pearson, U.S. Air Force, flying McDonnell Douglas F-15A-17-MC, 76-0084, Celestial Eagle, launched an anti-satellite missile in a test, approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, on the central coast of California.

From level flight at Mach 1.22, Major Pearson pulled into a 3.8 G zoom to a 65° angle of climb. On reaching 38,100 feet (11,613 meters) and having slowed to 0.934 Mach, the LTV ASM-135 missile was automatically launched. At 1:42 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the 30 pound (13.6 kilogram) kinetic interceptor collided with the Solwind P78-1 satellite at an altitude of 345 miles (555 kilometers) and a closing speed of 15,000 miles per hour (21,140 kilometers per hour).

ASM-135 first stage ignition. (U.S. Air Force)
Ball Aerospace Solwind P78-1 (NASA)
Ball Aerospace Solwind P78-1 (NASA)

Solwind P78-1 was an Orbiting Solar Observatory satellite built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., of Broomfield, Colorado. The satellite had been launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base, 24 February 1979, and was in an almost circular orbit. P78-1 weighed 1,870 pounds (848 kilograms). Degraded batteries had made the satellite difficult to work and it was planned to terminate the mission when it was selected as the target for the ASAT.

The ASM-135 was a three-stage guided missile using a Boeing AGM-69 Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) as its first stage and an LTV Aerospace Altair 3 rocket as the second stage. The third stage was the homing vehicle, which used an infrared seeker to intercept the targeted satellite. This was not an explosive warhead. The satellite was destroyed by the energy of the very high speed impact. The ASM-135 is 18 feet (5.48 meters) long, 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) in diameter and weighs 2,600 pounds (1,180 kilograms).

This incident was used as a plot device in Tom Clancy’s speculative World War III novel, Red Storm Rising.

22 years later, Celestial Eagle was assigned to the 125th Fighter Wing, Florida Air National Guard, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, and was flown by General Pearson’s son, Captain Todd Pearson of the 390th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. F-15A-17-MC 76-0084 was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 19 August 2010.

Major General Doug Pearson, USAF (Ret.), with Captain Todd Pearson, USAF, and the “Celestial Eagle,” 13 September 2007. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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