1 April 1960: TIROS-1, the first successful Earth-orbiting weather satellite, was launched at 6:40:09 a.m. (11:40:09 UTC), from Launch Complex 17A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Thor-Able II liquid-fueled rocket. The satellite’s name is an acronym for Television Infra Red Observation Satellite.
The satellite was placed into a nearly-circular low Earth orbit with an apogee of 417.8 miles (672.4 kilometers) and perigee of 396.2 miles (637.6 kilometers). It is still in orbit and circles the Earth once every 1 hour, 37 minutes, 42 seconds. TIROS-1 remained operational for 78 days. It is still in orbit.
TIROS-1 was built of aluminum and stainless steel. It had a diameter of 3 feet, 6 inches (1.067 meters) and height of 1 foot, 7 inches (0.483 meters.) The satellite weighed 270 pounds (122.47 kilograms). Two television cameras were installed on the satellite. They received electrical power from storage batteries charged by 9,200 solar cells. Images were stored on magnetic tape, then transmitted when in range of a ground receiving station. The first image, which showed large-scale cloud formations, was transmitted the day of the launch.
The launch vehicle, Thor 148, consisted of a liquid-fueled Douglas Aircraft Company Thor DM-18A first stage (based on the SM-75 intermediate range ballistic missile) and an Aerojet Able-II second stage, which was developed from the Vanguard rocket series. The Thor-Able was 91 feet (27.8 meters) tall and 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter. It weighed 113,780 pounds (51,608 kilograms). The first stage was powered by a Rocketdyne LR79-7 rocket engine which burned RP-1 and liquid oxygen. The engine produced 170,560 pounds of thrust (758.689 kilonewtons) and burned for 165 seconds.
The Able-II second stage was powered by an Aerojet AJ-10 engine which produced 7,800 pounds of thrust (34.696 kilonewtons). The propellant was a hypergolic combination of nitric acid and UDMH (hydrazine). It burned for 115 seconds.
There were sixteen Thor-Able two-stage rockets launched. TIROS-1 was placed in orbit by the last of that series.
20 February 1962: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.
Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.
In his post-flight mission report, Glenn wrote,
When the countdown reached zero, I could feel the engines start. The spacecraft shook, not violently but very solidly. There was no doubt when lift off occurred, When the Atlas was released there was an immediate gentle surge to let you know you were on your way.
—Results of the First United States Orbital Space Flight (NASA-TM-108606), Manned Spacecraft Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Page 120, Column 1
2 minutes, 9.6 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:01.4. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:03.6 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster. During the climb to orbit, John Glenn experienced a maximum acceleration of 7.7 gs.
Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.
Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.
During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)
After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).
The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 7 feet, 2.83 inches (2.206 meters) long, not including its retro rocket pack. The spacecraft was generally conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.885 meters). It weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.
The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.
The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
31 January 1958, 10:48 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (1 February 1958, 03:48:00 UTC): The United States of America launched its first successful satellite, Explorer 1, from Launch Complex 26A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite entered an orbit with a perigee of 224 miles (360 kilometers) and apogee of 1,575 miles (2,535 kilometers). It completed one orbit every 1 hour, 54.9 minutes.
Explorer 1 was designed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. The satellite carried a cosmic ray detector, internal and external temperature sensors, and a micrometeorite detector. Powered by batteries, it transmitted data for 105 days.
The satellite was launched aboard a Juno-1 four-stage liquid-fueled rocket, produced by the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). The Juno satellite launch vehicle was developed from the Jupiter-C intermediate range ballistic missile, and externally appears virtually identical. The complete Explorer 1/Juno-1 was 71.25 feet (21.72 meters) tall and weighed 64,080 pounds (29,066 kilograms) at launch.
The Juno-1 first stage was 69 feet, 8 inches (21.234 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. Four stabilizing fins had a maximum span of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). The engine was a Rocketdyne A-7, which burned a combination of Hydyne and liquid oxygen. The A-7 was rated at 83,000 pounds of thrust (369.20 kilonewtons) and burned for 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
The second stage consisted of a cluster of 11 JPL “Baby Sergeant” solid-rocket boosters, producing a total of 16,500 pounds of thrust (73.40 kilonewtons) and burned for 6.5 seconds. These were scaled-down version of the Thiokol XM100 Sergeant booster. They were 3 feet, 10 inches (1.168 meters) long and 6.00 inches (15.24 centimeters) in diameter. Each booster contained 50 pounds ( kilograms) of solid fuel. The second stage weighed 1,020 pounds (463 kilograms).
The third stage was powered by three Baby Sergeant boosters, producing 4,500 pounds of thrust (20.02 kilonewtons). These were clustered inside the second stage boosters, and both the second and third stage were covered by a fiberglass “tub” which could be spun up to 750 r.p.m. to stabilize the rocket after launch. The third stage weighed 280 pounds (127 kilograms).
The fourth stage consisted of the Explorer satellite and a single Baby Sergeant booster. The booster remained attached to the satellite in orbit. The Explorer 1 satellite was 2 feet, 6.75 inches (0.781 meters) long, and 6.50 inches (16.51 centimeters) in diameter. It weighed 30.66 pounds (13.91 kilograms). Including its booster, the fourth stage was 6 feet, 8.75 inches (2.051 meters) long and weighed 80 pounds (36 kilograms). The fourth stage booster produced 1,500 pounds of thrust (6.67 kilonewtons) for 6.5 seconds. This gave the Explorer 1 an orbital velocity of approximately 18,000 miles per hour (28,968 kilometers per hour).
Explorer 1 remained in orbit for 12 years, 2 months and 1 day. On 31 March 1970, its orbit decayed and the satellite re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and was destroyed.
5 December 2014: At 7:05 a.m., EST, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy carried the first Lockheed Martin Corporation Orion spacecraft, EFT-1, into Earth orbit.
This was the first test flight of the new deep space vehicle. There were no astronauts aboard.
Liftoff weight of the Orion/Delta IV Heavy was 1,630,000 pounds (739,356 kilograms).
The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is produced by Lockheed Martin Corporation, and consists of a Launch Abort System, Crew Module, Service Module and a Stage Adapter. Gross weight at liftoff is 78,010 pounds (35,385 kilograms). The Crew Module accommodates 4 astronauts. Its gross liftoff weight is 22,900 pounds (10,387 kilograms), and landing weight is 20,500 pounds (9,299 kilograms). The crew area has a volume of 316 cubic feet (8.95 cubic meters).
A series of eight parachutes decelerates the Orion Crew Module on re-entry. Touch-down speed is planned for less than 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour).
On its second orbit, the space craft reached an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers). This allowed the vehicle’s re-entry speed to exceed 20,000 miles per hour (32,187 kilometers per hour), generating heat shield temperatures of over 4,000 °F. (2,204 °C.)
The Orion completed two orbits and landed in the eastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 650 miles (1,046 kilometers) southwest of San Diego, California.
The Delta IV Heavy combines a Delta IV two-stage liquid-fueled rocket with two Common Core Boosters. It is capable of placing a 63,471 pound (28,790 kilograms) payload into Low Earth Orbit.
The Delta IV Common Booster Core is 134.0 feet (40.8 meters) long and 16 feet, 10.0 inches (5.131 meters) in diameter. They are each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engine, producing 705,250 pounds of thrust (3,137.11 kilonewtons), at Sea Level, each, giving the Delta IV Heavy a total of 2,115,750 pounds of thrust (9,411.32 at liftoff. The RS-68A is 17.1 feet (5.21 meters) long, 8.0 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter, and weighs 14,870 pounds (6,745 kilograms).
The Delta IV Heavy’s second stage is 42.8 feet (13.05 meters) long, and is also 16 feet, 10.0 inches in diameter. It uses an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10B-2 engine, producing 24,750 pounds of thrust (110.09 kilonewtons) of thrust. The RL-10B-2 is 13.6 feet (4.15 meters) long, 7.0 feet (2.13 meters) in diameter, and weighs 611 pounds (277 kilograms).
All engines are fueled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
47–49 seconds after liftoff, depending on launch profile, the first stage (center CBC) engine throttles down to 54.5%, while the boosters remain at full throttle. After 235 seconds of flight, the booster engines throttle down to 54.5%, and 7 seconds later, cut off. The boosters are jettisoned at 245 seconds. 1 second later, the first stage RS-68 throttles up to 108.5%. It cuts of at 328 seconds, and the first and second stage separate at 334 seconds. The second stage engine ignites at 347 seconds, and cuts off at 411–421 seconds.
11 November 1966: Gemini 12 lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 3:36.33.419 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. Two NASA Astronauts, Captain James A Lovell, Jr., United States Navy, and Major Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force, were the crew. This was the second space flight for Lovell, who had previously flown on Gemini VII, and would later serve as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and Mission Commander on Apollo 13. It was Aldrin’s first space flight. He would later be the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 11, and was the second human to set foot of the surface of the Moon.
The Gemini 12 mission was to rendezvous and docking with an Agena Target Vehicle, which had been launched from Launch Complex 14, 1 hour, 38 minutes, 34.731 seconds earlier by an Atlas Standard Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), and placed in a nearly circular orbit with a perigee of 163 nautical miles (187.6 statute miles/301.9 kilometers) and apogee of 156 nautical miles (179.5 statute miles/288.9 kilometers).
The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship, but Spacecraft 12 weighed 8,296.47 pounds (3,763.22 kilograms) at liftoff.
The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin Marietta’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.
The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons).¹ It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons).²
The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.³
Gemini XII was the tenth and last flight of the Gemini program. The purpose of this mission was to test rendezvous and docking with an orbiting Agena Target Docking Vehicle and to test extravehicular activity (“EVA,” or “space walk”) procedures. Both of these were crucial parts of the upcoming Apollo program and previous problems would have to be resolved before the manned space flight projects could move to the next phase.
Buzz Aldrin had made a special study of EVA factors, and his three “space walks,” totaling 5 hours, 30 minutes, were highly successful. The rendezvous and docking was flown manually because of a computer problem, but was successful. In addition to these primary objectives, a number of scientific experiments were performed by the two astronauts.
Gemini XII reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, just 3.8 nautical miles (4.4 statute miles/7.0 kilometers) from the planned target point. Lovell and Aldrin were hoisted aboard a Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter and transported to the primary recovery ship, USS Wasp (CVS-18). The total duration of the flight was 3 days, 22 hours, 34 minutes, 31 seconds.
¹ Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s first stage as 458,905 pounds of thrust (2,041.31 kilonewtons)
² Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s second stage as 99,296 pounds of thrust (441.69 kilonewtons)
³ Gemini XII/Titan II GLV (GLV-12) weighed 345,710 pounds (156,811 kilograms) at Stage I ignition.