21 February 1961: Final training begins for Mercury 7 astronauts. Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn are selected for the initial flights. Left-to-Right: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.
The aircraft in the photograph is a Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart, 59-0158, a two-place supersonic interceptor trainer.
20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC: 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.
2 minutes, 10 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+00:05:20. 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+00:05:24 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster.
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 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2½ inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft 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.
8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-100SR that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.
NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
The 747-100SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975.
It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).
NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).
NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.
8 February 1973: At 02:33:12 UTC, the Skylab 4/Apollo command module undocked from the Skylab space station in Earth orbit, after 83 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes, 12 seconds. After several orbits, the Apollo capsule reentered the atmosphere and landed in the Pacific Ocean southwest of San Diego California, at 15:16:53 UTC. The crew was recovered by USS Okinawa (LPH-3), a helicopter carrier. Today, the Apollo capsule is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Skylab was an orbital laboratory built from a Saturn S-IVB third stage. It was launched from Cape Canaveral 14 May 1973 as part of a modified Saturn V rocket. The Skylab 4 crew was the third and final group of astronauts to live and the space station. Skylab’s orbit gradually decayed and it re-entered the atmosphere near Perth, Australia, 11 July 1979.
7 February 1984: During mission STS-41-B, NASA astronauts Captain Bruce McCandless II, United States Navy, and Colonel Robert L. Stewart, United States Air Force, left the Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) on the first untethered space walk.
McCandless tested each of the Manned Maneuverung Units (MMU) while Stewart tested a work station. For 5 hours, 55 minutes, they used the nitrogen-fueled Manned Maneuvering Units (MMU) to move about the outside of the space ship. At the farthest, McCandless was 320 feet (98 meters) away from Challenger.
The Manned Maneuvering Unit was designed and built by Martin Marietta Corporation (now, Lockheed Martin). It is constructed primarily of aluminum. The MMU is powered by two batteries with 852 watts at full charge, and propelled by 24 gaseous nitrogen thrusters, providing 1.4 pounds of thrust (6.2 newtons), each. The astronaut controls the MMU with two hand controllers. It has six-axis motion and automatic attitude hold. Including a full supply of nitrogen, the MMU weighs approximately 338 pounds (153.3 kilograms). It is designed for a maximum of 6 hours of operation. The unit is 50.0 inches (127.0 centimeters) high, 33.3 inches (84.6 centimeters) wide and with control arms extended, has a maximum depth of 48.0 inches (121.9 centimeters).
Bruce McCandless II is the son of Rear Admiral Bruce McCandless, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions aboard USS San Francisco (CA-38) at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12–13 November 1942, and grandson of Commodore Byron McCandless. He graduated second in his class at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, in June 1958 and was trained as a Naval Aviator at Pensacola, Florida. McCandless then served as a fighter pilot, flying the Douglas F-6A Skyray and McDonnell F-4B Phantom II.
Bruce McCandless II was accepted into the NASA astronaut program in 1966. Though he was involved in the Apollo Program, he did not fly until the space shuttle became operational. He served as a Mission Specialist aboard Challenger (STS-41-B) in 1984, and Discovery (STS-31) in 1990.
Captain McCandless has logged over 5,200 hours of flight, and 312 hours, 31 minutes, 1 second in space and completed 208 orbits of the Earth.