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.
22 January 1968: At 22:48:00.86 UTC (5:48:08 a.m., Eastern Standard Time) a Saturn IB rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 37B at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida, carrying LM-1, an unmanned Apollo Program lunar lander, into a low-Earth orbit.
AS-204 reached Mach 1 at T + 0:59.8, passing 24,574 feet (7,490.16 meters). First stage separation occurred at T + 02:23.6, at an altitude of 194,228 feet (59,201 meters), with the vehicle accelerating through 7,563 feet per second (2,305 meters per second).
The AS-204 S-IVB engine cut off occurred at T + 09:53 at 536,166 feet (163,423 meters) with the vehicle travelling 25,659 feet per second (7,820 meters per second). Orbital insertion occurred at T + 00:10:03 at an altitude of 88 nautical miles (163 kilometers) with a velocity of 25,684 feet per second (7,828 meters per second). The orbit was elliptical with an apogee of 120 nautical miles (222 kilometers) and perigee of 88 nautical miles (163 kilometers). The orbital period was 88.39 minutes.
The Lunar Module separated from the S-IVB stage at T + 00:53:55.24. It was the allowed to cold-soak for about 3 hours. At T + 03:59.46, the LM’s descent engine was fired but aborted by the guidance computer after 4.0 seconds. A little over 3 hours later, at T + 06:10:42, the descent engine was fired a second time, and burned until T + 06:13:14.7.
The ascent engine fired at 06:12:14.7 while the descent and ascent stages were still joined. The engine burned 60.0 seconds. It was fired a second time at T + 07:44:13.
With the tests completed, the orbits of the separated LM stages were allowed to decay. LM-1 quickly re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and was destroyed.
The purpose of the Apollo 5 mission was to test the Grumman-built Lunar Module in actual spaceflight conditions. Engines for both the descent and ascent stages had to be started in space, and be capable of restarts. Although the mission had some difficulties as a result of programming errors, it was successful and a second test flight with LM-2 determined to be unnecessary and was cancelled.
SA-204 ¹ had originally been the scheduled launch vehicle for the Apollo 1 manned orbital flight.
When a fire in the command module killed astronauts Virgil I. (“Gus”) Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee, 27 January 1967, the rocket was undamaged. It was moved from Launch Complex 39 and reassembled at LC 37B for use as the launch vehicle for Apollo 5.
The Saturn IB AS-204 was a two-stage, liquid-fueled, heavy launch vehicle. It consisted of a S-IB first stage and S-IVB second stage. The total height of AS-204 was 181 feet, 0.355 inches (55.17782 meters). The Saturn IB rocket stood 141 feet, 8.644 inches (43.19636 meters), without payload. It had a maximum diameter of 22.8 feet (6.949 meters), and the span across the first stage guide fins was 40.7 feet (12.405 meters). Its empty weight was 159,000 pounds (72,122 kilograms) and at liftoff, Apollo 5 weighed 1,285,044 pounds (582,886 kilograms). The Saturn IB was capable of launching a 46,000 pound (20,865 kilogram) payload to Earth orbit.
The S-IB first stage was built by the Chrysler Corporation Space Division at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana. The first stage was 80 feet, 4.089 inches (24.4878606 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 8.0 inches (6.604 meters) (21 feet, 5.0 inches across the Redstone tanks). The stage was powered by eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines, burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. Eight Redstone rocket fuel tanks, with four containing the RP-1 fuel, and four filled with liquid oxygen, surrounded a Jupiter rocket fuel tank containing liquid oxygen. Total thrust of the S-IB stage was 1,666,460 pounds (7,417.783 kilonewtons) and it carried sufficient propellant for a maximum 4 minutes, 22.57 seconds of burn. The first stage of AS-204 was S-IB-4.
The McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company S-IVB stage was built at Huntington Beach, California. The stage was 61 feet, 4.555 inches (18.708497 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 8.0 inches (6.604 meters). It was powered by a single Rocketdyne J-2 engine, fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The J-2 produced 229,714 pounds of thrust (1,021.819 kilonewtons), at high thrust, and 198,047 pounds (880.957 kilonewtons) at low thrust). The second stage carried enough fuel for 7 minutes, 49.50 seconds burn at high thrust.
The Lunar Module was a two-stage vehicle designed to transport two astronauts from Lunar Orbit to the surface of the Moon, provide shelter and a base of operations while on the Moon, and then return the astronauts to lunar orbit, rendezvousing with the Apollo Command and Service Module. It was designed and built by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation at Bethpage, Long Island, New York.
The Descent Stage incorporated extendable landing gear, a hypergolic-fueled rocket engine to brake from orbital speed, establish a landing trajectory, and then decelerate for landing. The TRW Space Technology Laboratories Lunar Module Descent Engine (LMDE) produced a maximum of 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons), and could be throttled from 10–100% thrust. The stage also carried support equipment, oxygen, water, etc., needed by the astronauts, and equipment for use during surface activities.
To return to Lunar Orbit, the Descent Stage was left behind, and the Bell Aerosystems Lunar Module Ascent Engine (LMAE) was fired. This engine also used hypergolic fuel and produced 3,500 pounds of thrust (15.569 kilonewtons).
LM-1 weighed 36,342 pounds (16,484 kilograms).
¹ The Apollo Program Saturn rockets were designated as both AS-xxx and SA-xxx. The AS-xxx designation was applied to the complete vehicle, or “full stack,” while the SA-xxx designation applied to only the multi-stage rocket assembly.
10 December 1963: In an attempt to set a world absolute altitude record, Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, took a Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter Aerospace Trainer, 56-0762, on a zoom climb profile above 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) at Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California. This was Colonel Yeager’s fourth attempt at the record.
The zoom climb maneuver was planned to begin with the NF-104A in level flight at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The pilot would then accelerate in Military Power and light the afterburner, which increased the J79 turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter was to continue accelerating in level flight. On reaching Mach 2.2, the Colonel Yeager would ignite the Rocketdyne AR2–3 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide to produce 6,600 pounds of thrust (29.36 kilonewtons).
When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Yeager was to begin a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), he would shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. Yeager would then gradually reduce the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), and then shut it down. Without the engine running, cabin pressurization would be lost and his A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit would inflate.
The NF-104A would then continue to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. The pilot had to use the reaction control thrusters to pitch the AST’s nose down before reentering the atmosphere, so that it would be in a -70° dive. The windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes was used to restart the jet engine.
The 10 December flight did not proceed as planned. Chuck Yeager reached a peak altitude of approximately 108,000 feet (32,918 meters), nearly two miles (3.2 kilometers) lower than the record altitude set by Major Robert W. Smith just four days earlier.
On reentry, Yeager had the Starfighter incorrectly positioned with only a -50° nose-down pitch angle, rather than the required -70°.
The Starfighter entered a spin.
Without air flowing through the engine intakes because of the spin, Yeager could not restart the NF-104’s turbojet engine. Without the engine running, he had no hydraulic pressure to power the aerodynamic flight control surfaces. He was unable to regain control the airplane. Yeager rode the out-of-control airplane down 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before ejecting.
“The data recorder would later indicate that the airplane made fourteen flat spins from 104,000 until impact on the desert floor. I stayed with it through thirteen of those spins before I punched out. I hated losing an expensive airplane, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. . . I went ahead and punched out. . . .”
— Yeager, An Autobiography, by Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Pages 279–281.
NF-104A 56-762 crashed at N. 35° 7′ 25″, W. 118° 8′ 50″, about one mile (1.6 kilometers) north of the intersection of State Route 14 and State Route 58, near California City. The airplane was completely destroyed.
Chuck Yeager was seriously burned by the ejection seat’s internal launch rocket when he was struck by the seat which was falling along with him.
This incident was dramatized in the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff,” (based on Tom Wolfe’s book of the same title), with Yeager portrayed by actor Sam Shepard.
56-762 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs).
These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the reaction control system for flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wings were lengthened for installation of the Reaction Control System. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne AR2–3 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 6,600 pounds of thrust (29.36 kilonewtons) for up to 100 seconds.
On 13 December 1958, prior to its modification to an AST, Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 was flown by 1st Lieutenant Einar K. Enevoldson, USAF, to seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Californa (NTD).
7 December 1972: At 05:33:00.63 UTC (12:33 a.m., Eastern Standard Time), Apollo 17, the last manned mission to The Moon in the 20th century, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The destination was the Taurus-Littrow Valley.
The Mission Commander, on his third space flight, was Eugene A. Cernan. The Command Module Pilot was Ronald A. Evans, on his first space flight, and the Lunar Module Pilot was Harrison H. Schmitt, also on his first space flight.
Schmitt was placed in the crew because he was a professional geologist. He replaced Joe Engle, an experienced test pilot who had made sixteen flights in the X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. Three of those flights were higher than the 50-mile altitude, qualifying Engle for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.
The launch of Apollo 17 was delayed for 2 hours, 40 minutes, due to a minor mechanical malfunction. When it did liftoff, the launch was witnessed by more than 500,000 people.
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 (6770.19 kilonewtons), each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level (33,850.97 kilonewtons). 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 (1,022.01 kilonewtons), and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust (717.28 kilonewtons).
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.
Apollo 17 launched 3 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours, 1 minute, 0 seconds after Apollo 11, the first manned flight to The Moon.
6 December 1963: Air Force test pilot Major Robert W. Smith takes the Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 56-0756, out for a little spin. . .
Starting at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Bob Smith turned toward Edwards Air Force Base and accelerated to Military Power and then lit the afterburner, which increased the General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter accelerated in level flight. At Mach 2.2, Smith ignited the Rocketdyne LR121 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide. The LR121 was throttleable and could produce from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons).
When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Smith began a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), the test pilot shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. He gradually reduced the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), then shut it off. Without the engine running, cabin pressurization was lost and the pilot’s A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit inflated.
The NF-104A continued to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by the reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. 756 reached a peak altitude of 120,800 feet (36,820 meters), before reentering the atmosphere in a 70° dive. Major Smith used the windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes to restart the jet engine.
Major Smith had set an unofficial record for altitude. Although Lockheed had paid the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license fee, the Air Force had not requested certification in advance so no FAI or National Aeronautic Association personnel were on site to certify the flight.
For this flight, Robert Smith was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”
Robert Wilson Smith was born at Washington, D.C., 11 December 1928. He was the son of Robert Henry Smith, a clerk (and eventually treasurer) for the Southern Railway Company, and Jeanette Blanche Albaugh Smith, a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1947. Smith studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University.
Robert W. Smith joined the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1949. He trained as a pilot at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 23 June 1950.
Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson Smith married Ms. Martha Yacko, 24 June 1950, at Phoenix, Arizona.
He flew the F-86 Sabre on more than 100 combat missions with the 334th and 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War. he named one of his airplanes Lady Lane in honor of his daughter. Smith was credited with two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and three more damaged.
Smith graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1956. He flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing there and at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In 1962 he was assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards for training as an astronaut candidate for Project Gemini.
After the NF-104A project was canceled, Lieutenant Colonel Smith volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War. He commanded the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. Bob Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” while leading an attack at Thuy Phoung, north of Hanoi, 19 November 1967.
He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, and five times was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Colonel Smith retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1969 after twenty years of service.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson Smith died at Monteverde, Florida, 19 August 2010. He was 81 years old.
56-756 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter. Flown by future astronaut James A. McDivitt, it had been damaged in a landing accident at Edwards following a hydraulic system failure, 21 November 1961. It was one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs). These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the control system for flight outside Earth’s atmosphere.
The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wingspan was increased to 25 feet, 11.3 inches (7.907 meters) for installation of the hydrogen peroxide Reaction Control System thrusters. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The fuselage “buzz number” was changed from FG-756 to NF-756.
The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne LR121 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons) with a burn time of 105 seconds.
56-756 was damaged by inflight explosions in 1965 and 1971, after which it was retired. It is mounted for static display at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, marked as 56-760.