Tag Archives: NASA

17 July 1975

Apollo CSM-111 in orbit, as seen from Soyuz 19, 17 July 1975. (NASA )

At 12:20 UTC, 15 July 1975, Soyuz 19 launched from Gagarin’s Start at Baikonur Cosmosdrome, Kazakh SSR with Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov, both on their second space flights. The launch vehicle was a Soyuz-U three-stage rocket.

At 19:50 UTC, 15 July 1975, Apollo ASTP lifted off from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The crew was Thomas P. Stafford on his fourth space flight, Vance D. Brand on his first, and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton also on his first. The launch vehicle was a Saturn IB.

At 16:19:09 UTC, 17 July 1975, the two orbiting spacecraft rendezvoused in orbit and docked. Using a Docking Module airlock, the two crews each opened their spacecraft hatches and shook hands. The two ships remained joined for 44 hours, separating once for the Soyuz crew to take its turn to maneuver for docking with the Apollo Command and Service Module.

The Apollo command module from the mission is on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The descent module of Soyuz 19 is on display at the RKK Energiya museum in Korolyov, Moscow Oblast, Russia.

This was the final flight of the Apollo spacecraft.

Soyuz 19 in orbit, as seen from Apollo CSM-111, 17 July 1975. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1962

With the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane's belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)
With Major Robert M. White and the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane’s belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1962: At 9:31:10.0 a.m., the Number 3 North American Aviation X-15, 56-6672, was airdropped from a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Air Force project test pilot Major Robert M. (“Bob”) White was in the cockpit. This was the 62nd flight of the X-15 Program, and Bob White was making his 15th flight in an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. The purpose of this flight was to verify the performance of the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system which had been installed in the Number 3 ship. Just one minute before drop, the MH-96 failed, but White reset his circuit breakers and it came back on line.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)

After dropping from the B-52’s wing, White fired the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine and began to accelerate and climb. The planned burn time for the 57,000-pound-thrust engine was 80.0 seconds. It shut down 2 seconds late, driving the X-15 well beyond the planned peak altitude for this flight. Instead of reaching 280,000 feet (85,344 meters), Robert White reached 314,750 feet (95,936 meters). This was an altitude gain of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet), which was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record.¹ The rocketplane reached Mach 5.45, 3,832 miles per hour (6,167 kilometers per hour).

Because of the increased speed and altitude, White was in danger of overshooting his landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He passed over the north end of Rogers Dry Lake and crossed the “high key”—the point where the X-15 landing maneuver begins—too high and too fast at Mach 3.5 at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Without power, White made a wide 360° turn over Rosamond Dry Lake then came back over the high key at a more normal 28,000 feet (8,534.4 meters) and subsonic speed. He glided to a perfect touch down, 10 minutes, 20.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52.
A North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane just before touchdown on Rogers dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)

This was the first time that a manned aircraft had gone higher than 300,000 feet (91,440 meters). It was also the first flight above 50 miles. For that achievement, Bob White became the first X-15 pilot to be awarded U.S. Air Force astronaut wings. His 314,750-foot altitude (95,936 meters) also established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world altitude record, which will probably never be broken. To qualify, a new record would have to exceed White’s altitude by at least 3%, or more than 324,419 feet (98,882.9 meters). As the FAI-recognized boundary of Space is 328,083.99 feet (100,000 meters), any prospective challenger would have to hit a very narrow band of the atmosphere.

Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force
Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force

Major White had been the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He was the first to fly over 200,000 feet, then over 300,000 feet. He was a graduate of the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and flew tests of many aircraft at Edwards before entering the X-15 program. He made at total of sixteen X-15 flights.

A P-51 Mustang fighter pilot with the 355th Fighter Group in World War II, he was shot down by ground fire on his fifty-third combat mission, 23 February 1945, and captured. He was held as a prisoner of war until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945.

After the war, White accepted a reserve commission while he attended college to earn a degree in engineering. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, and assigned to a P-51 fighter squadron in South Korea. Later, he commanded the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber) based in Germany, and later, the 53rd TFS. During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel White, as the deputy commander for operations of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flew seventy combat missions over North Vietnam in the F-105D, including leading the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

He next went to Wright-Patterson AFB where he was director of the F-15 Eagle fighter program. In 1970 he returned to Edwards AFB as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. White was promoted to Major General in 1975.

General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9604

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 July 1965

Mariner 4 (JPL/NASA)

14 July 1965: At 0:00:57 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (01:00:57 UTC), 7 months, 14 days after its launch from the Kennedy Space Center, the space probe Mariner 4 made its closest approach to Mars. It came within 6,118 miles (9,846 kilometers) of the surface and took 21 full digital images and a portion of a 22nd. These images were stored on magnetic tape and later transmitted to Earth. 5.6 million bits of data were received.

Mariner 4 was a 260.68 kilogram (574.70 pounds) interplanetary spacecraft, controlled by radio signals from Earth. It was launched 28 November 1964 from Launch Complex 12 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch vehicle was a three-stage liquid-fueled Atlas D/Agena rocket.

Mariner 4 continued to perform experiments and send signals back to Earth until 21 December 1967. At that time, it was 192,100,000 miles (309,154,982.4 kilometers) from home. Today, it remains in orbit around the sun.

Mariner 4 digital image of Mars surface, 14 July 1965. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 July 1962

Telstar 1 launches aboard a Thor Delta rocket at Launch Complex 17B, 0835 GMT, 10 July 1962. (NASA)
Telstar 1 launches aboard a Delta rocket at Launch Complex 17B, 0835 GMT, 10 July 1962. (NASA)

10 July 1962: At 0835 GMT (4:35 a.m., EDT) the first communications relay satellite, Telstar 1, was launched into Earth orbit from Launch Complex 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch vehicle was a three-stage liquid-fueled Delta rocket.

This was the first commercial space flight, sponsored by a consortium of communications companies and government organizations, including AT&T, Bell Labs, the BBC, NASA, and British and French postal services. The satellite was used to relay live television broadcasts across the Atlantic Ocean. This had never previously been possible.

Telstar weighed 171 pounds (77.5 kilograms). Its weight and size were restricted by the availability of launch vehicles. The satellite was placed in an elliptical orbit, varying from 591 miles (952 kilometers) to 3,686 miles (5,933 kilometers), and inclined at about a 45° angle to Earth’s Equator. The orbital period was 2 hours, 37 minutes. The properties of Telstar’s orbit restricted its use to about 20 minutes during each pass.

In addition to its primary role as a communications relay satellite, Telstar also performed scientific experiments to study the Van Allen Belt.

The Delta was a three-stage expendable launch vehicle which was developed from the Douglas Aircraft Company’s SM-75 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile.

Designated Thor DM-19, the first stage was 60.43 feet (18.42 meters) long and 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter. Fully fueled, the first stage had a gross weight of 108,770 pounds (49,337 kilograms). It was powered by a Rocketdyne LR-79-7 engine which burned liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a highly-refined kerosene rocket fuel) and produced 170,565 pounds of thrust (758.711 kilonewtons). This stage had a burn time of 2 minutes, 45 seconds.

The second stage was an Aerojet General Corporation-built Delta 104. It was 19 feet, 3 inches (5.88 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 4 feet, 6 inches (1.40 meters). The second stage had a gross weight of 9,859 pounds (4,472 kilograms). It used an Aerojet AJ10-104 rocket engine which burned a hypergolic  mixture of nitric acid and UDMH. The second stage produced 7,890 pounds of thrust (35.096 kilonewtons) and burned for 4 minutes, 38 seconds.

The third stage was an Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Altair 1. It was 6 feet long, 1 foot, 6 inches in diameter and had a gross weight of 524 pounds (238 kilograms). This stage used a solid-fuel Thiokol X-248 rocket engine, producing 2,799 pounds of thrust (12.451 kilonewtons). Its burn time was 4 minutes, 16 seconds.

The three stages of the Delta rocket accelerated the Telstar satellite to 14,688 miles per hour for orbital insertion.

The day prior to launch, the United States detonated a 1.45 megaton thermonuclear warhead at an altitude of 248 miles (400 kilometers), near Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean. (Operation Dominic-Fishbowl Starfish Prime). Between 21 October 1961 and 1 November 1962, the Soviet Union detonated five nuclear warheads in space (Project K), at altitudes ranging from 59 to 300 kilometers (37–186 miles) over a test range in Khazakhstan. High energy electrons from these tests were trapped in the Earth’s radiation belts. This damaged the satellite’s circuitry and it went out of service in December 1962. ¹

Engineers were able to work around the damage and restore service by January 1963, but Telstar 1 failed permanently 21 February 1963.

Telstar is still in Earth orbit.

Telstar 1 communications relay satellite. (Bell Laboratories)

¹ Thanks to regular TDiA reader Steve Johnson for this information.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 July 2011, 15:29:03 UTC, T minus Zero

The flight crew of Atlantis, STS-135. Left to right: COL Rex J. Waldheim, USAF, LCOL Douglas G. Hurley, USMC, CAPT Christopher J. Ferguson, USN, and Sandra Hall Magnus, Ph.D. (NASA)

8 July 2011: At 11:29:03 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, the Space Shuttle Atlantis (OV-104) was launched on Mission STS-135 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the very last of 135 flights for the United States space shuttle program. The mission was to carry assembly modules and supplies to the International Space Station in Low Earth Orbit. The mission had a total elapsed time of 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds. Atlantis arrived at the Shuttle Landing Facility 21 July 2011 at 09-57 UTC.

The mission commander was Captain Christopher J. Ferguson, U.S. Navy, on his third space flight. Atlantis‘ pilot for STS-135 was Lieutenant Colonel Douglas G. Hurley, United States Marine Corps, on his second shuttle flight. Mission specialists were Sandra Hall Magnus, Ph.D. and Colonel Rex J. Waldheim, U.S. Air Force. This was Dr. Magnus’ third space flight. She spent a total of 157 days, 8 hours, 42 minutes in space. Colonel Waldheim, the mission flight engineer, was on his third shuttle mission.

Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis first flew 3 October 1985 and made 33 space flights. It spent 306 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes, 43 seconds in space. Atlantis orbited the Earth 4,848 times and traveled miles 125,935,769 (202,673,974 kilometers) When it was retired at the end of STS-135, Atlantis had flown just one-third of its designed operational life. The space ship is on display at the Kennedy Space Center.

Since the space shuttle fleet was retired, the United States of America has had no manned spaceflight capability.

Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) launch from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 15:29:03 UTC, 8 July 2011. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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