Category Archives: Spaceflight
In November 1964 NASA launched Mariner 4, the fourth of its ambitious series of robotic explorations of our three inner planet neighbors. Mariner 1 was lost during launch; Mariner 2 successfully flew past Venus; Mariner 3 failed to deploy; but on July 14–15, 1965, the 575-lb Mariner 4 became the first spacecraft to fly past Mars and capture close-up images of another planet from space.
Of course the pictures that Mariner 4 captured were in greyscale and not like the beautiful color views we are used to seeing from spacecraft today. But thanks to one creative scientist at NASA (and a box of crayons) our first scenes of Mars from space were in brilliant color.
Voyager 2 may have been the second of NASA’s famous twin exploration spacecraft but it actually launched first, on August 20, 1977. Eight and a half years later it became the first (and, to date, last) spacecraft to visit Uranus, at 31,500 miles across the third largest planet in the Solar System. Voyager 2 made its closest pass by Uranus 32 years ago, giving us our best views ever of the enormous ice giant planet and its moons.
“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
– William Anders, Apollo 8 Commander
On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 CSM entered orbit around the Moon and, after completing 4 full orbits, provided the three astronauts on board with an amazing sight: a blue Earth rising* beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. Commander Frank Borman spotted the scene first and, after taking a 70mm black-and-white photograph, was able to rotate the Command Module so Earth remained in view through the small windows while CM pilot Jim Lovell captured this famous image on color film. It was the first time any humans saw the Earth from the vicinity of the Moon…and it was also the first Christmas that astronauts spent in space.
“The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth,” Jim Lovell said.
On Feb. 7, 1984, astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he performed the first test flight of NASA’s Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled by 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the chair-like MMU allowed McCandless (who helped engineer the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space without any tethers or cords connecting him to a spacecraft. In the iconic image above, an edit of a photo captured by STS-41B pilot Hoot Gibson, McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space. Here he was just a few feet away from the bay of the space shuttle Challenger, but he would eventually reach a distance of 320 feet (98 meters) from the orbiter!
A former Navy captain and previously Capcom for the Apollo 11 lunar mission, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA in 1984. This past Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, Bruce McCandless II passed away at the age of 80.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce’s family,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “He will always be known for his iconic photo flying the MMU.”
Well this is interesting: an article on CNET by Eric Mack, based on a Nov. 27 report from the Russian news agency TASS, discusses findings by Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov that “living bacteria from outer space” were found within samples collected during spacewalks several years ago (Shkaplerov was a member of Expedition 42 in November 2014.)
The samples were swabbed from outside surfaces of the International Space Station, including areas where engine fuel waste is expelled, and brought back to Earth for study. In addition to some terrestrial bacteria that were accidentally brought to the ISS via contaminated computer tablets, there were also living organisms found that “were absent during the launch of the ISS module.”
“That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface,” Shkaplerov stated. “They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger.”