Astronaut Ellen Ochoa becomes the first Hispanic woman in space

Year
1993
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1993, the space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center. On board is astronaut Ellen Ochoa, soon to become the first Hispanic woman in space.

Ochoa started at NASA in 1988 after receiving a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Two years later, she was selected as an astronaut. On her first mission, Ochoa served as a Mission Specialist on a 9-day space flight, the primary mission of which was to study Earth’s ozone layer. She went on to fly three more space shuttle missions, one of which conducted further atmospheric research and two of which carried components to the International Space Station. Over the course of her four flights, Ochoa compiled a total time of 40 days, 19 hours, and 35 minutes in space.

In addition to her extra-planetary contributions, Ochoa has served the cause of space exploration in a number of ways from Earth. She holds several patents for technologies related to automated space exploration and served as Director of the Johnson Space Center—the first Hispanic director and the second woman to hold the position—from 2013 to 2018. Among numerous other awards, she has received NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

READ MORE: When Sally Ride Took Her First Space Flight, Sexism Was the Norm

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The Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” safely lands on the Red Planet


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Year
2004
Month Day
January 03

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit lands on the Red Planet on January 3, 2004. 21 days later, its twin, Opportunity, also arrived safely. In one of the longest and most successful missions in NASA history, Spirit would survey Martian geography for the next seven years, while Opportunity remained active until June of 2018.

The rovers’ primary mission was expected to last 90 sols, the term used for Martian days. In March, scientists announced that they had made a momentous discovery: a survey of Martian rocks strongly suggested that water had once flowed there, and analysis of Opportunity‘s landing site indicated that it had once been the bed of a salty sea. Later in 2004, Opportunity also discovered the first meteorite to be found on Mars.

The rovers continued to explore Mars for several years, with Spirit becoming a “stationary research platform” after getting stuck in sand. Spirit eventually fell out of contact with NASA, which declared its mission over in 2011. Opportunity, however, continued exploring. In 2014, it broke the record for longest distance driven by an off-Earth wheeled vehicle, and the next year NASA celebrated as Opportunity finished a “marathon,” having traversed over 26.2 miles. In February 2019, NASA announced the end of the MER mission after Opportunity ceased responding to their communications. The rover had broken several other records, including the highest elevation reached on Mars, and sent back 224,642 images. Having far surpassed its original goals and contributed greatly to human understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, the MER mission had a major impact on mankind’s knowledge of our solar system.

READ MORE: The Amazing Handmade Tech That Powered Apollo 11’s Moon Voyage

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Lunik 9 soft-lands on lunar surface


Year
1966
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 1966, the Soviet Union accomplishes the first controlled landing on the moon, when the unmanned spacecraft Lunik 9 touches down on the Ocean of Storms. After its soft landing, the circular capsule opened like a flower, deploying its antennas, and began transmitting photographs and television images back to Earth. The 220-pound landing capsule was launched from Earth on January 31.

Lunik 9 was the third major lunar first for the Soviet space program: On September 14, 1959, Lunik 2 became the first manmade object to reach the moon when it impacted with the lunar surface, and on October 7 of the same year Lunik 3 flew around the moon and transmitted back to Earth the first images of the dark side of the moon. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. space program consistently trailed the Soviet program in space firsts–a pattern that shifted dramatically with the triumph of America’s Apollo lunar program in the late 1960s.

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Japan launches its first satellite


Year
1970
Month Day
February 11

From the Kagoshima Space Center on the east coast of Japan’s Ohsumi Peninsula, Ohsumi, Japan’s first satellite, is successfully launched into an orbit around Earth. The achievement made Japan the world’s fourth space power, after the Soviet Union in 1957, the United States in 1958, and France in 1965.

Two months after Japan’s launching of Ohsumi, China became the world’s fifth space power when it successfully launched Mao 1 into space. The satellite, named after Mao Zedong, the leader of communist China, orbited Earth broadcasting the Chinese patriotic song The East Is Red once a minute.

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Hubble Space Telescope placed in orbit

Year
1990
Month Day
April 25

The crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery places the Hubble Space Telescope, a long-term space-based observatory, into a low orbit around Earth.

The space telescope, conceived in the 1940s, designed in the 1970s, and built in the 1980s, was designed to give astronomers an unparalleled view of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. Initially, Hubble’s operators suffered a setback when a lens aberration was discovered, but a repair mission by space-walking astronauts in December 1993 successfully fixed the problem, and Hubble began sending back its first breathtaking images of the universe.

Free of atmospheric distortions, Hubble has a resolution 10 times that of ground-based observatories. About the size of a bus, the telescope is solar-powered and orbits Earth once every 97 minutes. Among its many astronomical achievements, Hubble has been used to record a comet’s collision with Jupiter, provide a direct look at the surface of Pluto, view distant galaxies, gas clouds and black holes, and see billions of years into the universe’s past.

READ MORE: 10 Fascinating Facts About the Hubble Space Telescope 

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Soviets test supersonic airliner


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Year
1968
Month Day
December 31

The Soviet Union’s TU-144 supersonic airliner makes its first flight, several months ahead of the Anglo-French Concorde. The TU-144 so closely resembled the Concorde that the Western press dubbed it the “Konkordski.”

In 1962, 15 years after U.S. pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier, Britain and France signed a treaty to develop the world’s first supersonic passenger airline. The next year, President John F. Kennedy proposed a similar U.S. project. Meanwhile, in the USSR, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered his top aviation engineers to beat the West to the achievement.

There were immense technical challenges in building a supersonic airliner. Engines would need to be twice as powerful as those built for normal jets, and the aircraft’s frame would have to withstand immense pressure from shock waves and endure high temperatures caused by air friction. In the United States, Boeing tackled the supersonic project but soon ran into trouble with its swing-wing design. In England and France, however, early results were much more promising, and Khrushchev ordered Soviet intelligence to find out as much as possible about the Anglo-French prototypes.

In 1965, the French arrested Sergei Pavlov, head of the Paris office of the Soviet airliner Aeroflot, for illegally obtaining classified information about France’s supersonic project. Another high-level Soviet spy remained unknown, however, and continued to feed the Soviets information about the Concorde until the spy was identified and arrested in 1967. On December 31, 1968, just three months before the first scheduled flight of the Concorde prototype, the fruits of Soviet industrial espionage were revealed when the Soviet’s TU-144 became the world’s first supersonic airliner to fly.

In 1969, the Concorde began its test flights. Two years later, the United States abandoned its supersonic program, citing budget and environmental concerns. It was now up to Western Europe to make supersonic airline service viable before the Soviets. Tests continued, and in 1973 the TU-144 came to the West to appear alongside the Concorde at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport. On June 3, in front of 200,000 spectators, the Concorde flew a flawless demonstration. Then it was the TU-144’s turn. The aircraft made a successful 360-degree turn and then began a steep ascent. Abruptly, it leveled off and began a sharp descent. Some 1,500 feet above the ground, it broke up from overstress and came crashing into the ground, killing all six Soviet crew members and eight French civilians.

Soviet and French investigators ruled that pilot error was the cause of the accident. However, in recent years, several of the Soviet investigators have disclosed that a French Mirage intelligence aircraft was photographing the TU-144 from above during the flight. A French investigator confirmed that the Soviet pilot was not told that the Mirage was there, a breach of air regulations. After beginning his ascent, the pilot may have abruptly leveled off the TU-144 for fear of crashing into this aircraft. In the sudden evasive maneuver, the thrust probably failed, and the pilot then tried to restart the engines by entering a dive. He was too close to the ground, however, and tried to pull up too soon, thus overstressing the aircraft.

In exchange for Soviet cooperation in the cover-up, the French investigators agreed not to criticize the TU-144’s design or engineering. Nevertheless, further problems with the TU-144, which was designed hastily in its bid to beat the Concorde into the air, delayed the beginning of Soviet commercial service. Concorde passenger service began with much fanfare in January 1976. Western Europe had won its supersonic race with the Soviets, who eventually allowed just 100 domestic flights with the TU-144 before discontinuing the airliner.

The Concorde was not a great commercial success, however, and people complained bitterly about the noise pollution caused by its sonic booms and loud engines. Most airlines declined to purchase the aircraft, and just 16 Concordes were built for British Airways and Air France. Service was eventually limited between London and New York and Paris and New York, and luxury travelers appreciated the less than four-hour journey across the Atlantic.

On July 25, 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed 60 seconds after taking off from Paris en route to New York. All 109 people aboard and four on the ground were killed. The accident was caused by a burst tire that ruptured a fuel tank, creating a fire that led to engine failure. The fatal accident–the first in the Concorde’s history–signaled the decline of the aircraft. The last Concorde flight was on October 24, 2003. 

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Soviet probe crashes into Venus


Year
1966
Month Day
March 01

Venera 3, a Soviet probe launched from Kazakhstan on November 15, 1965, collides with Venus, the second planet from the sun. Although Venera 3 failed in its mission to measure the Venusian atmosphere, it was the first unmanned spacecraft to reach the surface of another planet. Four years earlier, the U.S. probe Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to pass close enough to Venus to take scientific measurements of the planet, discovering surface temperatures in excess of 800 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface.

In 1967, Venera 4 succeeded where Venera 3 failed, successfully ejecting several scientific instruments, including a thermometer, a barometer, an atmospheric density gauge, and gas analyzers, into Venus’ atmosphere. Then, in 1970, Venera 7 became the first spacecraft created by humans to soft-land on Venus, successfully sending back images and data for 23 minutes before succumbing to the extremely high temperature and atmospheric pressure found on the planet’s surface.

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America’s first space station, Skylab, is launched

Year
1973
Month Day
May 14

Skylab, America’s first space station, is successfully launched into an orbit around the earth. Eleven days later, U.S. astronauts Charles Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz made a rendezvous with Skylab, repairing a jammed solar panel and conducting scientific experiments during their 28-day stay aboard the space station.

The first manned Skylab mission came two years after the Soviet Union launched Salyut, the world’s first space station, into orbit around the earth. However, unlike the ill-fated Salyut, which was plagued with problems, the American space station was a great success, safely housing three separate three-man crews for extended periods of time and exceeding pre-mission plans for scientific study.

Originally the spent third stage of a Saturn 5 moon rocket, the cylinder space station was 118 feet tall, weighed 77 tons, and carried the most varied assortment of experimental equipment ever assembled in a single spacecraft to that date. The crews of Skylab spent more than 700 hours observing the sun and brought home more than 175,000 solar pictures. They also provided important information about the biological effects of living in space for prolonged periods of time. Five years after the last Skylab mission, the space station’s orbit began to deteriorate faster than expected, owing to unexpectedly high sunspot activity. On July 11, 1979, the parts of the space station that did not burn up in the atmosphere came crashing down on Australia and into the Indian Ocean. No one was injured.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies 

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Astronaut Shannon Lucid enters Mir space station


Year
1996
Month Day
March 24

U.S. astronaut Shannon Lucid transfers to the Russian space station Mir from the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis for a planned five-month stay. Lucid was the first female U.S. astronaut to live in a space station.

Lucid, a biochemist, shared Mir with Russian cosmonauts Yuri Onufriyenko and Yuri Usachev, conducting scientific experiments during her stay. Beginning in August, her scheduled return to Earth was delayed more than six weeks because of last-minute repairs to the booster rockets of Atlantis and then by a hurricane. Finally, on September 26, 1996, she returned to Earth aboard Atlantis, touching down at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Her 188-day sojourn aboard Mir set a new space endurance record for an American and a world endurance record for a woman.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies

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Pioneer 10 launched to Jupiter


Year
1972
Month Day
March 02

Pioneer 10, the world’s first outer-planetary probe, is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission to Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet. In December 1973, after successfully negotiating the asteroid belt and a distance of 620 million miles, Pioneer 10 reached Jupiter and sent back to Earth the first close-up images of the spectacular gas giant. In June 1983, the NASA spacecraft left the solar system and the next day radioed back the first scientific data on interstellar space. NASA officially ended the Pioneer 10 project on March 31, 1997, with the spacecraft having traveled a distance of some six billion miles.

Headed in the direction of the Taurus constellation, Pioneer 10 will pass within three light years of another star–Ross 246–in the year 34,600 A.D. Bolted to the probe’s exterior wall is a gold-anodized plaque, 6 by 9 inches in area, that displays a drawing of a human man and woman, a star map marked with the location of the sun, and another map showing the flight path of Pioneer 10. The plaque, intended for intelligent life forms elsewhere in the galaxy, was designed by astronomer Carl Sagan.

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