Category Archives: Space Flight

3 October 1962, 12:15:12 UTC, T minus Zero

Mercury-Atlas 8 lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 3 October 1962. (NASA)
Mercury-Atlas 8 lifts off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 12:15:12 UTC, 3 October 1962. (NASA)

3 October 1962: At 08:15:12 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8). This was the fifth U.S. manned space flight and the third orbital flight.

The spacecraft, which Wally Schirra had named Sigma 7, entered a low earth orbit with the altitude varying from 84 nautical miles (156 kilometers) to 154 nautical miles (285 kilometers). Each orbit took 88 minutes, 54.6 seconds.

Schirra experimented with the manual flight control systems, took photographs and performed spatial-orientation exercises. There were some difficulties with the cooling of his pressure suit.

Wally Schirra took this photograph of Earth while in orbit over South America, 3 October 1962. (Walter M. Schirra, Jr./NASA)
Wally Schirra took this photograph of Earth while in orbit over South America, 3 October 1962. (Walter M. Schirra, Jr./NASA)

Sigma 7 completed 6 orbits and at T+8:52, fired the retro rockets to de-orbit. Reentry was successful and Sigma 7 landed within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of the primary recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CVS-33).

The Mercury spacecraft, named Sigma 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 16th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. It was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, and, bell-shaped, had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.5 inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

Wally Schirra, wearing a B.F. Goodrich full-pressure suit, is helped into the Sigma 7 Mercury capsule. (NASA)

The rocket, a “1-½ stage”, liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 113-D, was built by Convair at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle. The LV-3B was 94.3 feet (28.7 meters) tall with a maximum diameter of 10.0 feet (3.05 meters). When ready for launch it weighed 260,000 pounds (120,000 kilograms) and could place a 1,360 kilogram payload into Low Earth orbit. The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Canoga Park, California. The XLR89 booster had two 150,000 pound thrust chambers, and the LR105 sustainer engine produced 57,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Schirra was the first astronaut to wear an Omega Speedmaster chronograph during spaceflight. (Omega Reference No. CK2998). The Speedmaster would become flight-qualified by NASA, and the Speedmaster Professional is known as the “moon watch.”

Sigma 7 is on display at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Titusville, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center.

Wally Schirra commanded Gemini 6A during the orbital rendezvous mission with Gemini 7. Later, he commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day orbital mission.

Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USN, died 3 May 2007 at the age of 84 years.

Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy. (NASA)
Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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