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.
February 26, 1966
The first Saturn 1B rocket is launched from Cape Canaveral. The Saturn 1B was primarily used for testing the Apollo spacecraft while the larger Saturn V rocket that was necessary for travel to the Moon was being developed. Later, after completion of the Moon landing program, The Saturn 1B was used for manned Skylab flights and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In total, the Saturn 1B was launched 9 times with no failures.
February 24, 1949
The first US rocket to reach outer space (Bumper 5) is launched from the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. The rocket was a modified German V-2 ballistic missile. It reached a record altitude of 244 miles, which broke the unofficial record of 117 miles, reportedly set by a V-2 missile launched by Germany in 1944. The later named and established Kármán line, which is 62.1 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth’s sea level, is considered the upper limit of Earth’s atmosphere and the beginning of Outer Space.
February 20, 1986
The Soviet Union launches the core module of the Mir space station. The core module will provide living quarters for the cosmonauts, including a galley, cooking elements, storage, individual crew cabins and personal hygiene area. Five additional modules will be launched between March 1987 and April 1996.
February 18, 1977
The first Space Shuttle orbiter, the Enterprise, embarks on its maiden flight in “captive mode,” attached to the top of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The flight is the first of five captive flights before the orbiter is finally released to land on its own. The nine month test program is conducted through November 1977 at the Dryden Flight Research Facility to demonstrate that the orbiter can fly and land like an airplane. The Enterprise, while the first shuttle to fly, was not the first space-worthy orbiter and was only used for testing purposes.