Category Archives: Space Flight

29 October 1998

Senator John H. Glenn, Jr., 1998. (NASA)

29 October 1998: Senator John Herschel Glenn, Jr., the first American to orbit the Earth, returned to space as a member of the Discovery STS-95 crew. At the age of 77, John Glenn was the oldest human to fly into space.

The STS-95 mission elapsed time was 8 days, 21 hours, 44 minutes, 2 seconds. Combined with Senator Glenn’s orbital flight of 20 February 1961 aboard the Mercury space vehicle, Friendship 7, his total space mission time is 9 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes, 49 seconds. He has completed 137 orbits of the Earth.

Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95) launches at Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 2:19:34 p.m., EST, 29 October 1998. This was Discovery‘s 25th flight. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 1961: 15:06:04 UTC, T minus Zero

The first Saturn C-1 three-stage heavy-lift rocket, SA-1, on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, 27 October 1961. The gantry tower has been pulled back. (NASA)

27 October 1961: At 15:06:04 UTC, (10:06 a.m., EST), 3.97 seconds after ignition,  the first Saturn C-1 heavy launch vehicle (Saturn I, SA-1) lifted off from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was a test of the first stage, only. The rocket’s upper stages were dummies.

At about 109 seconds after liftoff, four inner engines of the first stage shut down, followed 6 seconds later by the outer four. The rocket continued on a ballistic trajectory.

The Saturn C-1 was bigger than any rocket built up to that time. Early versions of the three-stage rocket were 162 feet, 8.90 inches (49.6037meters) tall, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 5.0 inches (6.528 meters). The all-up weight was 1,124,000 pounds (509,838 kilograms).

Saturn S-I first stage at MSFC. (NASA)

The first stage of SA-1 was built by the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) at Huntsville, Alabama. The S-I stage was built up with a Jupiter rocket fuel tank in the center for liquid oxygen, surrounded by eight Redstone rocket tanks. Four were filled with RP-1 propellant, alternating with four filled with LOx. The first stage was powered by eight Rocketdyne Division H-1 engines rated at 165,000 pounds of thrust (733.96 kilonewtons), each. Total thrust for the first stage was 1,320,000 pounds (5,871.65 kilonewtons). The outer four engines were gimbaled to steer the rocket. (The S-I Block I stage had no fins.)

The first stage had been test fired 20 times before being transported to Cape Canaveral by barge.

For the first flight, SA-1, the S-!V second stage and S-V third stage were dummies. The S-IV was filled with 90,000 pounds (40,823 kilograms) of water for ballast. The S-V third stage,  carried 100,000 pounds (45,359 kilograms) of water. Mounted above the third stage was a Jupiter nose cone.

The Saturn C-1 weighed 925,000 pounds (419,573 kilograms). It contained 41,000 gallons (155,200 liters) of RP-1, a refined kerosene fuel, with 66,000 gallons (249,837 liters) of liquid oxygen oxidizer— 600,000 pounds (272,155 kilograms) of propellants.

SA-1 reached a maximum speed of 3,607 miles per hour (5,805 kilometers per hour), and a peak altitude of 84.813 miles (136.493 kilometers). It impacted in the Atlantic Ocean 214.727 miles (345.570 kilometers) down range. The duration of the flight was 15 minutes, 0 seconds. The flight was considered to be nearly flawless.

At Launch Complex 34, the eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines of Saturn C-1 SA-1 are firing. The hold down arms have not yet released. 15:06:04 UTC, 27 October 1961. (NASA)
Saturn SA-1 accelerates after liftoff, 27 October 1961. (NASA 0102626)
Saturn SA-I leaves a trail of fire from the launch pad. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 October 1946

First photograph of the Earth taken from an altitude of 65 miles (105 kilometers). (White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory)

24 October 1946: At 12:18 p.m., Mountain Standard Time (17:18 UTC), a captured V-2 rocket was launched from the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The rocket, identified as Upper Air  Rocket Number 13, carried a 35-millimeter DeVry Corporation cine camera set to expose one frame every second-and-a-half.

The V-2’s engine burned for 59.8 seconds, by which time the rocket had reached an altitude of 17.0 miles (27.4 kilometers) and a velocity of 3,990 feet per second (1,216 meters per second). Continuing upward on a ballistic trajectory, the rocket reached a maximum altitude of 65.0 miles (104.6 kilometers) after 180.0 seconds. This is just above the 100-kilometer Kármán Line which is the arbitrary beginning of Space.

Falling back to Earth, Number 13 impacted approximately 17 miles north-northwest of the White Sands V-2 Launching Site and was completely destroyed. Although debris from the rocket was scattered widely, the film cassette was recovered.

The image above is a still frame from the recovered film. It shows the curvature of the Earth. This was the highest altitude a photograph had been made since Captain Albert W. Stevens photographed the Earth from a balloon, Explorer II, 20 July 1935.

A captured German V-2 rocket is launched from the White Sand Proving Grounds, 10 May 1946. (Popular Science)

The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, or Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile with an empty weight of approximately 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) and weighing 28,000 pounds (12,700 kilograms), fully loaded. It carried a 738 kilogram (1,627 pound) (sources vary) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of ammonium nitrate and TNT. The propellant was a 75/25 mixture of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.

The complete rocket was 14.036 meters (46.050 feet) long, and had a maximum diameter of 1.651 meters (5.417 feet). The rocket was stabilized by four large fins, 3.945 meters (12.943 feet) long, with a maximum span of 3.564 meters (11.693 feet). The leading edge of these fins was swept aft 60° to the “shoulder,” and then to 87° (30° and 3°, relative to the rocket’s centerline). A small guide vane was at the outer tip of each fin, and other vanes were placed in the engine’s exhaust plume.

Cutaway illustration of a V-2 rocket. (U.S. Army)

When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,760 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (320 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles, depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,880 kilometers per hour), about Mach 2.35, so its approach would have been completely silent in the target area.

The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.

U.S. soldiers examine an incomplete V-2 rocket at Kleinbodungen, Germany, 1945.

As World War II came to and end, the Allies captured many partially-completed missiles, as well as components and parts. Sufficient parts and materiel and been transferred from Germany to construct more than one hundred V-2 rockets for testing at White Sands. No missiles were received in flyable condition. Over a five year period, there were 67 successful launches, but it is considered that as much knowledge was gained from failures as successes.

V-2 rocket body at White Sands.

Along with the rockets, many German engineers and scientists surrendered or were captured by the Allies. Under Operation Paperclip, Wernher von Braun and many other scientists, engineers and technicians were brought to the United States to work with the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, and the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama.

Tests of the V-2 rockets led to the development of U.S. rockets for the military and NASA’s space program.

V-2 Number 3 is prepared for launch at White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, 10 May 1946. With a burn time of 59 seconds, the rocket reached an altitude of 70.9 miles (114.1 kilometers) and traveled 31 miles (49.9 kilometers) down range. (The Space Race – Rockets)

¹ V-2 Number 13 had an unfueled weight of, 9,070 pounds (4,114 kilograms); fully fueled, it weighed 28,277 pounds (12,826 kilograms).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 October 1975, 05:13 UTC

Image of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 october 1975. (NASA)
Digitally enhanced image of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 October 1975. (NASA)
Mosaic of images of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 October 1975.
Mosaic of images of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 October 1975. The rocks are estimated to be 30–40 centimeters across. (NASA)

22 October 1975, 05:13 UTC:  The lander from the Soviet space probe Venera 9 touched down on the surface of the planet Venus, at approximately 32° south latitude, 291° east longitude.

Venera 9 lander. (nasa)
Venera 9 lander. (NASA)

The images and other data was transmitted to an orbiting section of Venera 9 for relay to Earth. The lander sent signals for approximately 53 minutes before the orbiter traveled out of range.

Venera 9 orbiter. (NASA)
Venera 9 orbiter. (NASA)

Venera 9 had been launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Proton-K rocket, 8 June 1975. The space probe weighed 4,936 kilograms (10,882 pounds).

Once in orbit around Venus, the spacecraft separated into the orbiter and lander. As the lander descended to the surface, data was collected about the planet’s atmosphere. A 40-kilometer (25-mile) deep layer of clouds was studied. The cloud bases were about 35–40 kilometers (22–25 miles) above the surface. The clouds contained hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid, bromine and iodine.

At the planet’s surface the atmospheric pressure was 90 times that of Earth’s. The temperature was measured at 485 °C. (905 °F.).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 2012

Felix Baumgartner prepares to step off the gondola, 127,852 feet (38,969 meters) over New Mexico. The Mescalero Dunes are directly below. (Red Bull Stratos)

14 October 2012: At 12:08 p.m. MDT (1808 UTC) Felix Baumgartner jumped from the gondola of a helium-filled balloon at 127,852.4 feet (38,969.4 meters) over eastern New Mexico.

At 12:08 p.m. MDT (1808 UTC), Felix Baumgartner steps off the gondola. (Red Bull Stratos)

The free fall distance was 119,431.1 feet (36,402.6 meters). He fell for 4 minutes, 19 seconds before deploying his parachute and touched down after nine minutes, 3 seconds. During the free fall, he reached 843.6 miles per hour (1,357.6 kilometers per hour), Mach 1.25.

Felix Baumgartner in full-pressure suit, prepares to jump during an earlier intermediate test. (Red Bull Stratos)
Felix Baumgartner in full-pressure suit, prepares to jump during an earlier intermediate test. The geological feature running diagonally across the center of the image is the Mescalero Escarpment, western boundary of the Llano Estacado. The light-colored features are sand dunes. (Red Bull Stratos)

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes three Sub-Class G-2 World Records set by Baumgartner with this jump:

16669: Vertical Speed Without Drogue: 1,357.6 kilometers per hour (843.6 miles per hour miles per hour)

16670: Exit Altitude: 38,969.4 meters (127,852.4 feet)

16671: Freefall Distance: 36,402.6 meters (119,431.1 feet)

Felix Baumgartner wore a custom-made full-pressure suit designed and manufactured by the David Clark Co., Worcester, Massachusetts, based on their S1034 Improved Common Suit.

The helium balloon, with a volume 29,470,000 cubic feet, was manufactured by Raven Aerostar, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Baumgartner’s pressure capsule was designed and built by Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Lancaster, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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