23 July 1999: at 12:31 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (16:31:00 UTC), the Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) lifted off on its 26th mission, STS-93, to place the Chandra X-ray Observatory in orbit. The total mission duration was 4 days, 22 hours, 49 minutes, 37 seconds.
In command was Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her third shuttle flight. This was the first time that a space shuttle mission had been commanded by a woman.
Colonel Collins had previously served as pilot aboard Discovery STS-63 and Atlantis STS-84. She would later command Discovery (STS-114), the “Return To Flight” mission following the loss of Columbia. She logged 38 days, 10 hours of space flight. Eileen Collins retired in 2006.
18 May 1969: At 16:49:00 UTC, Apollo 10 Saturn V AS-505 lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a full dress rehearsal for the landing on the Moon that would follow with Apollo 11, two months later. On board were Colonel Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force, Mission Commander, on his third space flight; Commander John W. Young, U.S. Navy, Command Module Pilot, also on his third mission; and Commander Eugene A. Cernan, U.S. Navy, Lunar Module Pilot, on his second space flight. This was the first Apollo mission in which all three flight crew members had previous space flight experience.
During the Apollo 10 mission, everything except an actual landing was done. The Lunar Module separated from the Command Service Module in lunar orbit and descended to within 47,400 feet (14,447.5 meters) of the surface. The CSM and LM were in lunar orbit for 2 days, 13 hours, 37 minutes, 23 seconds before returning to Earth. During the return, the CSM reached a maximum speed of 24,791 miles per hour (39,897 kilometers per hour).
At T+192:03:23 (16:52:25 UTC, 26 May) the Apollo capsule and the three astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 400 miles (643.7 kilometers) east of American Samoa. The duration of the mission was 8 days, 3 minutes, 23 seconds.
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 object 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.
3 February 1995: At 12:22:04 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, STS-63, was a rendezvous with the Russian space station, Mir.
Commander James Donald Wetherbee, United States Navy, on his second space flight, was the mission commander. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her first space flight, was Discovery’s pilot. This was the first time in the NASA Space Shuttle Program that a woman had been assigned as pilot of a space shuttle.
Also on board were Mission Specialists Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D.; Colin Michael Foale, Ph.D.; Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D.; and Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.
The primary purpose of the mission was to conduct a close approach and fly-around of Mir to demonstrate techniques prior to an actual docking, scheduled for a later flight. A number of scientific experiments and a space walk were carried out by the crew.
Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Landing Facility at 11:50:19 UTC, 11 February, after completing 129 orbits. The total mission duration was 8 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds.
Eileen Collins was born at Elmira, New York, 19 November 1956, a daughter of Irish immigrants to the United States of America. She graduated from high school in 1974 then attended a community college where she earned an associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science, 1976. She went on to Syracuse University, graduating in 1978. In 1986 Collins earned a master of science degree in Operations Research from Stanford University, and three years later, received a second master’s degree in Space Systems Management from Webster University.
Eileen Collins had expressed an interest in aviation and space flight from an early age. After graduating from Syracuse University, she was one of four women selected to attend U.S. Air Force pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She graduated in 1979, earning her pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She remained at Vance AFB as a pilot instructor, flying the Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainer.
Collins was next sent for pilot transition training in the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine transport. She served as a pilot at Travis Air Force Base, California.
From 1986–1989, Captain Collins was assigned as Assistant Professor in Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next, she was only the second woman to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating with Class 89B.
In 1990, Major Collins was accepted for the NASA astronaut program, and was selected as an astronaut in 1992.
Eileen Marie Collins was awarded the Harmon Trophy for her flight aboard Discovery (STS-63). In 1997, she flew as pilot for Atlantis (STS-84). She commanded Columbia (STS-93) in 1999, and Discovery (STS-114) in 2005.
Colonel Collins retired from the Air Force in January 2005, and from NASA in May 2006. With a remarkable record of four shuttle flights, she has logged 38 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes of space flight. During her career, she flew more than 30 aircraft types, and logged a total of 6,751 hours.
28 January 1986, 11:38:00 a.m. (EST): The Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-99) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Mission STS-51L.
At liftoff, an O-ring seal between segments of the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) began leaking. Superheated exhaust gases breached the seal and began to burn laterally. The venting rocket exhaust burned through the SRB attachment strut and into the liquid hydrogen tank in the lower section of the External Tank. The aft portion of the liquid hydrogen tank failed and drove the tank vertically into the liquid oxygen tank. Both tanks ruptured and the propellants detonated.
1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff, Challenger was accelerating through Mach 1.62 (1,069 miles per hour, 1,720 kilometers per hour) at approximately 46,000 feet (14,020 meters) when the explosion of the external tank caused the space shuttle to suddenly veer away from its flight path. Aerodynamic forces subjected the shuttle to forces far beyond its design limits and it was torn apart.
The crew cabin, with its seven astronauts aboard, broke away from the disintegrating shuttle assembly and continued upward for another 25 seconds to approximately 65,000 feet (19,080 meters), then began a long fall to the ocean below.
2 minutes 45 seconds after the explosion, the cabin impacted the surface of the Atlantic Ocean at 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour). The entire crew was killed.
I watched this terrible tragedy as it happened, live on television. I will never forget.