Space Trips

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Introduction: Sputnik, Vanguard and Explorer

Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite. It was a 58 cm (23 in) diameter polished metal sphere, with four external radio antennas to broadcast radio pulses. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on 4 October 1957, orbiting for three weeks before its batteries died, then silently for two more months before falling back into the atmosphere. Its radio signal was easily detectable even by radio amateurs. This surprise success triggered the Space Race, a part of the Cold War. The launch was the beginning of a new era of political, military, technological, and scientific developments.
Tracking and studying Sputnik 1 from Earth provided scientists with valuable information. The density of the upper atmosphere could be deduced from its drag on the orbit, and the propagation of its radio signals gave data about the ionosphere.

It was followed by Sputnik 2, the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit, on 3 November 1957, and the first to carry a living animal, a Soviet space dog named Laika. Laika survived for several orbits but died a few hours after the launch. Sputnik 2 reentered the Earth's atmosphere on 14 April 1958, burning up in the atmosphere.

Vanguard TV3, also called Vanguard Test Vehicle Three was the first attempt of the United States to launch a satellite into orbit around the Earth, after the successful Soviet launches of Sputnik 1 and 2.
However, the fuel system appears to have malfunctioned. At its launch attempt on December 6, 1957, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the booster ignited and began to rise, but about two seconds after liftoff, after rising about four feet (1.2 m), the rocket lost thrust and fell back to the launch pad. As it settled the fuel tanks ruptured and exploded, destroying the rocket and severely damaging the launch pad. The Vanguard satellite was thrown clear and landed on the ground a short distance away with its transmitters still sending out a beacon signal. The satellite was damaged, however, and could not be reused.

Explorer 1 was the first satellite launched by the United States. It was launched on January 31, 1958 from Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida. It was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt, returning data until its batteries were exhausted after nearly four months. It remained in orbit until 1970.

On March 17, 1958, Vanguard 1 became the second artificial satellite successfully placed in Earth orbit by the United States. It was the first solar-powered satellite. Just 152 mm (6.0 in) in diameter and weighing just 1.4 kg (3.1 lb), Vanguard 1 was described by then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as, "The grapefruit satellite." Vanguard 1, and the upper stage of its launch rocket, are now the oldest artificial satellites still in space, as Vanguard's predecessors, Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2, and Explorer 1, have decayed from orbit.

Click Here for a full list of unmanned rockets (sortable by launch date) sent to the moon by the USSR and the US between 1959 and 1976.

First Crewed Flights in Space

USSR Vostok programme

Mission Launch Duration Landing Pilot Notes
Vostok 1 12 April 1961 1 h 48 m 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin First man in space.
Vostok 2 6 August 1961 1 d 1 h 18 m 7 August 1961 Gherman Titov First crewed mission lasting a full day.
Vostok 3 11 August 1962 3 d 22 h 22 m 15 August 1962 Andriyan Nikolayev First simultaneous flight of two crewed spacecraft.
Vostok 4 12 August 1962 2 d 22 h 56 m 15 August 1962 Pavel Popovich First simultaneous flight of two crewed spacecraft.
Vostok 5 14 June 1963 4 d 23 h 7 m 19 June 1963 Valery Bykovsky Longest solo orbital flight.
Vostok 6 16 June 1963 2 d 22 h 50 m 19 June 1963 Valentina Tereshkova First woman in space.

US Project Mercury 1958-1963

NASA's first human spaceflight program click here for a summarized account.

Mission Call-sign Pilot Launch Duration Orbits Apogee
mi (km)
mi (km)
Max. velocity
mph (km/h)
mi (km)
time site
MR-3 Freedom 7 Shepard 14:34 on May 5, 1961 LC-5 15 m 22 s 0 117 (188) 5,134 (8,262) 3.5 (5.6)
MR-4 Liberty Bell 7 Grissom 12:20 on Jul. 21, 1961 LC-5 15 m 37 s 0 118 (190) 5,168 (8,317) 5.8 (9.3)
MA-6 Friendship 7 Glenn 14:47 on Feb. 20, 1962 LC-14 4 h 55 m 23 s 3 162 (261) 100 (161) 17,544 (28,234) 46 (74)
MA-7 Aurora 7 Carpenter 12:45 on May 24, 1962 LC-14 4 h 56 m 5 s 3 167 (269) 100 (161) 17,549 (28,242) 248 (400)
MA-8 Sigma 7 Schirra 12:15 on Oct. 3, 1962 LC-14 9 h 13 m 15 s 6 176 (283) 100 (161) 17,558 (28,257) 4.6 (7.4)
MA-9 Faith 7 Cooper 13:04 on May 15, 1963 LC-14 1 d 10 h 19 m 49 s 22 166 (267) 100 (161) 17,547 (28,239) 5.0 (8.1)

US Project Gemini 1961-1966

NASA's second human spaceflight program.

It was originally seen as a simple extrapolation of the Mercury program, and thus early on was called Mercury Mark II. However, its missions included the first American extravehicular activity (EVA) on June 3 1965, and the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit on March 16 1966. That second event was conducted by Neil Armstrong on the Gemini 8, though he undocked shortly afterwards when the Gemini went into a spin.

Click here for links to these Gemini missions.

US Apollo Program 1961-1975

NASA's third human spaceflight program click here for a summarized account.

In 1967, in preparation for a crewed lunar landing, Kennedy Space Centre, 8 miles NW of Cape Canaveral click here, became the launch site for Apollo 4 and subsequently NASA's primary launch centre. Note too, its predecessor at Cape Canaveral was named Cape Kennedy Air Force Station from 1964 to 1974 in honour of JFK, with its name reverting to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 1974.

Human Moon landings

Mission name Lunar lander Lunar landing date Lunar liftoff date Lunar landing site Duration on lunar surface (DD:HH:MM) Crew Number of EVAs Total EVA Time (HH:MM)
Apollo 11 Eagle 20 July 1969 21 July 1969 Sea of Tranquility 0:21:31 Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin 1 2:31
Apollo 12 Intrepid 19 November 1969 21 November 1969 Ocean of Storms 1:07:31 Charles "Pete" Conrad, Alan Bean 2 7:45
Apollo 14 Antares 5 February 1971 6 February 1971 Fra Mauro 1:09:30 Alan B. Shepard, Edgar Mitchell 2 9:21
Apollo 15 Falcon 30 July 1971 2 August 1971 Hadley Rille 2:18:55 David Scott, James Irwin 3 18:33
Apollo 16 Orion 21 April 1972 24 April 1972 Descartes Highlands 2:23:02 John Young, Charles Duke 3 20:14
Apollo 17 Challenger 11 December 1972 14 December 1972 Taurus–Littrow 3:02:59 Eugene Cernan, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt 3 22:04

Regarding the Apollo 13, it consisted of a Command Service Module called Odyssey, and a Lunar Module called Aquarius. With its crew members Jim Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise, it launched April 11, 1970 but due to an explosion on the service module, the crew had to do a "flyby" of the Moon (with its landing aborted). The crew survived by spending the majority of the trip in the Lunar Module. Its closest approach to the moon was April 15 at a distance of 254 kilometers, then it landed successfully in the South Pacific Ocean on April 17.

US Space Shuttle 1972-2011

NASA's fourth human spaceflight program click here for a summarized account.

The Space Shuttle has been the only winged crewed spacecraft to achieve orbit and land, and the only reusable space vehicle that has ever made multiple flights into orbit. However, also famous (or rather infamous) for two mission accidents:

  1. The Challenger in 1986 which broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members: five NASA astronauts, one payload specialist, and a civilian school teacher. The disintegration of the vehicle began after a joint in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff, caused by the failure of O-ring seals used in the joint that were not designed to handle the unusually cold conditions that existed at this launch.
  2. The Columbia in 2003 which disintegrated during atmospheric entry, again killing all the seven crew members. It was caused by a piece of foam insulation breaking off from the Space Shuttle's external tank, striking the left wing of the orbiter, allowing hot atmospheric gases to penetrate the heat shield on re-entry, and destroy its internal wing structure.

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