16 January 2003, 15:39:00 UTC, T minus Zero: Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-107) lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Columbia (OV-102) was America’s first space shuttle. This would be her final flight.
81.7 seconds after launch, Columbia was at approximately 66,000 feet (20,100 meters) altitude and 12.5 miles (20.1 kilometers) down range, accelerating through Mach 2.46 (1,623 miles per hour, or 2,612 kilometers per hour). Several pieces of insulating foam broke off of the external fuel tank (what NASA referred to as “foam shedding”) and struck the leading edge and underside of Columbia‘s left wing.
It is believed that at least one of these pieces of foam punctured a hole in the wing’s surface, estimated to be 6 inches × 10 inches (15 × 25 centimeters).
When Columbia re-entered on 1 February 2003, the damage would cause the shuttle to disintegrate. The entire crew would be lost.
27 December 1968 15:51:42 UTC, T plus 147:00:42.0: Apollo 8 splashes down in the Pacific Ocean south of the Hawaiian Islands, within 5,000 yards (4,572 meters) of the recovery ship USS Yorktown (CVS-10). The spacecraft arrived before sunrise, landing in 10-foot (3-meter) swells. The parachutes dragged the capsule and left it floating upside down. The inflatable pontoons righted it after about six minutes.
The three astronauts, Frank F. Borman II, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, were hoisted aboard a Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King helicopter, Bu. No. 152711, and flown to the aircraft carrier.
Apollo 8 was the first manned space mission to leave Earth orbit and to travel to another planetary body. It proved all of the space flight techniques that would be required for the upcoming Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.
Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King 66, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number 152711, assigned to HS-4 (“Black Knights”) was the primary recovery helicopter for Apollo 8, Apollo 10, Apollo 11, Apollo 12 and Apollo 13. It was lost at sea off NALF Imperial Beach, California, 4 June 1975. One crewman was killed.
25 December 1968: During the 10th orbit of the Moon, the crew of Apollo 8 fired the Service Propulsion System (SPS) of the Command Service Module for the Trans Earth Injection (TEI) maneuver that would send them home.
TEI was a critical maneuver which had to be timed perfectly. It occurred while the spacecraft was on the side of the Moon away from Earth, and so the crew was out of radio communication with Mission Control in Houston, Texas. If initiated too soon, the Apollo capsule would miss Earth, or ricochet off the atmosphere. Too late and the capsule would re-enter too steeply and burn up.
The engine had to burn for precisely the correct amount of time to accelerate the space craft out of lunar orbit and to arrive at Earth at exactly the correct point in space where where our home planet would be 57 hours, 26 minutes, 56.2 seconds later, as it traveled in its orbit around the Sun.
The SPS engine was an AJ10-137, built by Aerojet General Corporation of Azusa, California. It burned a hypergolic fuel combination of Aerozine 50 and nitrogen tetraoxide, producing 20,500 pounds of thrust (91.19 kilonewtons). It was designed for a 750 second burn, or 50 restarts during a flight. The SPS engine had already been used for the Trans Lunar Injection maneuver, sending Apollo 8 from Earth orbit to the moon, and now served the same function in reverse.
The SPS started at mission time T+089:19:16.6 and cut off at T+089:22:40.3, a burn duration of 3 minutes, 23.97 seconds, increasing the velocity (Δv, or “delta–v”) 3,531 feet per second (1,076 meters per second).
21 December 1968: At 12:51:00 UTC, Apollo 8 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Aboard were Mission Commander Frank F. Borman II, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders.
Apollo 8 was the second manned mission of the Apollo program. It was the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, travel to and orbit the Moon, then return to Earth.
The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.
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 (8,280 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 had an empty weight of 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). It 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 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 Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.
Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.
19 December 1972: At 2:25 p.m. EST—12 days, 13 hours, 51 minutes, 59 seconds after departing the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida—the Apollo 17 command module America (CM-112) returned to Earth, splashing down in the South Pacific Ocean, approximately 350 miles (563 kilometers) southeast of Samoa. The three 83 foot, 6 inch diameter (25.451 meters) ring sail main parachutes had deployed at an altitude of 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) and slowed the capsule to 22 miles per hour (35.4 kilometers per hour) before it hit the ocean’s surface.
The landing had a high degree of accuracy, coming within 4.0 miles (6.44 kilometers) of the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14).
The flight crew was picked up by a Sikorsky SH-3G Sea King helicopter, Bu. No. 149930, of HC-1, and transported to Ticonderoga. The three astronauts, Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald A. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt, stepped aboard the aircraft carrier 52 minutes after splashdown.
The splashdown of Apollo 17 brought to an end the era of manned exploration of the Moon which had begun just 3 years, 3 days, 5 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds earlier with the launch of Apollo 11.
Only 12 men have set foot on The Moon. In 44 years, no human has returned.