NASA launches Pioneer 1, the first spacecraft launched by the newly formed space agency. Originally intended to fly by the Moon, a launch malfunction due to a programming error caused Pioneer 1 to only attain a ballistic trajectory, which caused it to fall back to the Earth after 43 hours of flight. However, some useful scientific data was returned by the spacecraft.
The first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth, Sputnik 1, is launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, marking what is now considered the beginning of the Space Age. Surprising the world with its successful launch, Sputnik triggered the Space Race between the Soviet Union and United States ushering in an era of rapid advancement in the field of space exploration. After 3 months in orbit, Sputnik reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on January 4, 1958.
September 21, 2003
After fourteen years in space, eight of those as the first man-made object orbiting Jupiter, the unmanned NASA spacecraft Galileo is sent into the atmosphere of the giant planet. NASA decided to end Galileo’s mission in this manner in order to avoid any possibility of it colliding with one of Jupiter’s moons and potentially contaminating it with bacteria from Earth. How sanitary of them.
NASA rolls out the first Space Shuttle, Enterprise, from its assembly facility to a waiting crowd. Included in the crowd was a delegation of actors from the Star Trek TV series. Originally to be named Constitution, a write-in campaign by Star Trek fans convinced President Gerald Ford and NASA to rename the Space Shuttle.
The Enterprise was a prototype shuttle, designed for the early testing phase of the Space Shuttle program. It was built without engines or a functional heat shield. While it performed various atmospheric test flights, and was originally intended to be retrofitted for spaceflight, it was determined that it would be less expensive to simply build new shuttles. Therefore the Enterprise never did actually fly into space.
September 14, 1959
The Soviet space probe Luna 2 crashes onto the surface of the Moon, becoming the first man-made object to reach the Moon, as well as the first man-made object to reach any celestial body.
September 6, 2008
After 5 months of delays, the high resolution earth observation satellite, GeoEye-1, is launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base. Owned by the corporation GeoEye, Inc., GeoEye-1 is capable of taking high resolution images with detail of down to 16 inches. However, the US Government has restricted that resolution for its own use. Commercial usage is limited to resolutions with detail down to 20 inches. As the exclusive licensee of the images for online mapping purposes, Google had its logo on the Delta II rocket that was used to launch GeoEye-1.
September 1, 1977
Pioneer 11 becomes the first man-made object to fly by Saturn.
August 21, 1993
NASA loses contact with the Mars Observer spacecraft, three days before it was to enter into orbit around Mars. The reason for the loss of contact was never definitively determined, but the most probable cause was a rupture of a fuel tank.
August 12, 1960
Echo 1, the world’s first communication satellite is launched. Technically, Echo 1 was a passive reflector, as communication signals were bounced off it rather than retransmitted as modern satellites do today.