3 June 1966: NASA Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan launched from Launch Complex 19, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 13:39:33 UTC, aboard Gemini IX-A. The Gemini was a two-man space capsule built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis. The launch vehicle was a Titan II GLV rocket. Stafford and Cernan were the original Gemini IX back up crew, but the primary crew, Charles Bassett and Elliott See, were killed in an aircraft accident three months earlier.
The three-day mission was to rendezvous and dock with an Agena Target Docking Adapter in low Earth orbit, and for Gene Cernan to perform several space walks and to test a back pack maneuvering unit.
Gemini IX-A successfully rendezvoused with the ATDA at 17:45 UTC, 3 June. However, the protective shroud had not separated from the Agena and docking with it was not possible.
14 May 1973: At 12:30:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, America’s first orbital space station, Skylab, was launched by a Saturn V Launch Vehicle, SA-513, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. First motion was detected at T + 000:00:00.22.
After first stage separation, the S-IC/S-II interstage connector failed to separate from the second stage. because of this, orbital insertion occurred at T + 000:09:59.0; 0.64 seconds later than planned, and 0.6 meters per second faster than predicted. The S-II stage followed the Skylab into Earth orbit. Skylab’s orbit was almost perfectly circular, with an apogee of 234.2 nautical miles (433.7 kilometers), and perigee of 233.0 nautical miles (431.5 kilometers). The orbital period was 93.23 minutes, with a velocity of 17,111 miles per hour (27,537 kilometers per hour).
Skylab was unmanned at launch. Three 3-man crews were carried to the station aboard Apollo command/service modules launched by the smaller Saturn IB rocket.
Skylab’s mission was to demonstrate that humans could live and work in orbit for extended periods of time, and that they could also perform useful work and research. The first crew had to make repairs in orbit to extend a damaged solar array and to use a spare solar panel as a shade to prevent sunlight from overheating the station. This was the first orbital repair mission. Astronauts occupied Skylab for 171 days, 13 hours and conducted over 300 scientific projects.
The Skylab was built from an empty Saturn V third stage, S-IVB number 213, modified by McDonnell Douglas. The launch vehicle consisted of the first two stages of a Saturn V rocket, an S-IC first stage and an S-II second stage.
The total vehicle weight at engine ignition was 6,297,336 pounds (2,856,424 kilograms). Post-launch analysis determined that the five Rocketdyne F-1 engines of SA-513’s S-IC first stage generated 7,551,000 pounds of thrust (33,588.52 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.
The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,200 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Its empty weight was 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms).
The S-IC was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level. These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California.
The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.
The unmanned space station’s orbit decayed and it reentered on 11 July 1979. It broke up and parts landed in the Indian Ocean and near Perth, Australia.
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.
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 objects ever made, having been polished to an accuracy of 10 nanometers.
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.
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.
10:21 a.m., PST, 14 April 1981: The first space shuttle, Columbia, touches down on Runway 23, Edwards Air Force Base, California, completing the first space flight of the United States’ shuttle program.
With its two-man crew, commander, veteran astronaut John W. Young, and pilot Robert L. Crippen, Columbia traveled 1,074,567 miles (1,729,348 kilometers) on its 37-orbit journey, in 54 hours, 20 minutes, 53 seconds.