April 17, 1967
The spacecraft Surveyor 3 is launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida. It is the second U.S. spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon (Surveyor 2 crash landed) where it will study the lunar surface and send more than 6,300 pictures back to Earth. In all, seven Surveyors will be sent to the Moon, five of them successfully completing soft landings.
April 13, 1970
An oxygen tank aboard the Service Module of Apollo 13 explodes. Moments later, astronaut Jack Swigert announces the later-famous phrase, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” The explosion cripples the spacecrafts, resulting in a near-complete loss of electricity and oxygen. The oxygen leak will force the crew to abandon the command module for the lunar module as a makeshift “lifeboat” becoming stranded for four days, more than two hundred thousand miles from Earth, while NASA plans the most spectacular rescue mission in U.S. space history. Against all odds, the three astronauts will return safely back to Earth.
April 12, 1981
NASA launches the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, sending the Columbia on its maiden voyage. This mission intended to prove the feasibility of the Space Shuttles in specific, and reusable spacecraft in general. Originally set to launch on April 10th, problems delayed the launch by two days, which caused the launch to occur exactly 20 years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to fly into space.
April 12, 1961
Yuri Gagarin, age 27, becomes the first man to orbit the Earth aboard the Soviet spacecraft, Vostok 1. He remains in space for an hour and forty-eight minutes before re-entering the atmosphere. This ultimately was Gagarin’s only space flight. He died on March 27, 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. Reportedly, at the time of his death, Yuri Gagarin was in training for a second space mission.
April 9, 1959
NASA announces the selection of the United States’ first seven astronauts, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton, The seven were chosen from 110 applicants to participate in the Mercury program, the nation’s first manned space program. The news media quickly dubs the group the “Mercury Seven.” On May 5th, 1961, Shepard will become the first American in space during the flight of Freedom 7.
April 3, 1966
The Soviet space probe Luna 10 becomes the first spacecraft to orbit around the Moon. It was launched by the USSR from an Earth orbiting platform on March 31, 1966. Luna 10’s battery will operate for 460 lunar orbits before deactivating as planned on May 30, 1966.
March 23, 2001
The Russian space station Mir burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere after fifteen years in orbit. The debris that isn’t burned up falls safely into the Pacific ocean between Chile and New Zealand, in a region from which governments had routed planes and ships away. The station, which was launched in 1986, far exceeded its intended lifespan of five years.