February 3, 1995
Astronaut Eileen Collins becomes the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle as mission STS-63 gets underway from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
February 3, 1966
The unmanned Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft makes the first controlled rocket-assisted landing on the Moon. It was the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on any planetary body other than the Earth and to transmit photographic data to Earth. It was, however, the 12th attempt by the Soviets at a soft landing.
February 1, 2003
The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The cause of the disaster was a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase that broke off the external tank during launch and struck the leading edge of the left wing. This damaged the Shuttle’s thermal protection system (TPS), which protected it from heat generated by the atmosphere during re-entry. The damage allowed hot gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, resulting in the in-flight breakup of the Columbia.
January 31, 1961
50 years ago today, Ham the Chimp travels into outer space aboard Mercury-Redstone 2. Ham (whom was named this only after he survived the flight) was the first ape to fly into space. Note that apes include chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans, but NOT monkeys.
January 31, 1958
Explorer 1 is launched, which becomes the first American satellite to successfully make orbit.
January 29, 1989
The USSR’s Phobos II enters Martian orbit on its way to the moon Phobos. The spacecraft never completed its mission as it lost contact with mission control on March 27. Due to some unusual last photos received from Phobos II, speculation arose that it was destroyed by a UFO. Official reports blame the failure on the onboard computer. I wonder if mission control was trying to secure the Martian licensing rights to Tetris.
January 28, 1986
On this cold January morning, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board. Contrary to popular belief, while the external fuel tank did combust, the Challenger didn’t truly explode as much as it was torn apart by aerodynamic forces.
January 27, 1967
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of their spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center. After the fire, the spacecraft and planned launch which never took place was posthumously named Apollo 1, in the astronauts honor.
January 26, 1962
Ranger 3 is launched to study the Moon. The space probe was designed to transmit pictures of the lunar surface to Earth stations during a period of 10 minutes of flight prior to impacting on the Moon. Due to a series of malfunctions, the spacecraft missed the Moon by 22,000 miles.
January 25, 2004
Opportunity rover (MER-B) lands on surface of Mars, three weeks after its twin, Spirit (MER-A), touched down on the other side of the planet.