For years, the human race has been trying to extend its reach to outer space and undiscovered galaxies. Of course, it is difficult but unarguably, both humans and science had made significant progress. However, sometimes we tend to forget where it all began. To understand what motivates the human race to keep looking and researching, we need to go back in time and recall the key events that led us where we are today. So let’s take a look at some of the most iconic events in the history of space exploration.
Top Space Exploration Events
1. 1958: First NASA Launch
The year 1958 witnessed NASA pilot John McKay making his last flight in the X-1E. The spacecraft belonged to the X-1 series. Apart from the X-1 series, there were other spacecrafts as well that were launched to collect data and then cross-verify the findings.
NASA planned on correlating the result from the test results conducted from the slotted throat wind tunnel located at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory flight values that were actual. This cross-comparison of the tests received from flight research and wind tunnel testing allowed the U.S aeronautical community to solve many complications related to the transonic speed range.
The purpose of the flight research was to investigate buffeting, pitch-up, and instability, etc. This also helped improve the stability of aircraft and jet fighters that were routinely used. The improvements were then later passed onto commercial jets as well.
2. 1959: The First Unpowered Glide Flight
In 1959, NASA in collaboration with the Navy, Air Force, and North American conducted the first unpowered glide flight in the joint X-15 research program. The program ended with its 199th flight in 1968 and was considered the most successful research effort flight in history.
The flight was a huge success interms of the data and reports it brought back. More than 765 reports were received that were mostly related to hypersonic disciplines ranging from aircraft stability and performance to heating and aerodynamics. The data help scientists at NASA to improve design features and tools for hypersonic vehicles.
Additionally, it contributed a lot to the development of the Space Shuttle. Furthermore, it also helped the scientists and engineers plan the reentry flight profile of the space shuttle. Considering that the space shuttle itself was a huge achievement, the data from the flights allowed scientists to study and gradually improve the reentry and horizontal landing of the shuttle.
3. 1968: Apollo 8 Launch
The launch of Apollo 8 took place at the Kennedy Space Center atop a Saturn V booster with three astronauts. The crew was on a historic mission to orbit the moon. Initially, it was planned that the Apollo hardware would be tested in low Earth Orbit where the conditions were comparatively safer.
However, engineers back at NASA purposed and pushed the crew to perform a circumlunar flight. The mission would mean a lot to the United States as it would bring back scientific and technical knowledge along with a public demonstration of what the country could achieve.
The spacecraft successfully complete its circumlunar flight while the entire nation was shown the satellite in space looking like a fragile blue marble. In the history of space exploration, this was the first time a nation could see the images of the planet while the crew extended its Christmas greetings.
Finally, the crew splashed in the Pacific Ocean especially when the country was experiencing several other problems related to race, war, and urban.
4. 1969: “One small step for a man-one giant leap for mankind”
The year 1969 witnessed the launch of the Apollo 11 once it was confirmed that the hardware was working well. It was a three-day trip to the moon with astronaut Neil A. Armstrong in the lead. Neil A. Armstrong along with Edwin E. Aldrin landed on the lunar surface while Michael Collins controlled the Apollo command module by orbiting it overhead. Then, Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon while saying “One small step for a man-one giant leap for mankind”.
The astronauts continued to explore the moon for around 21 hours, installed the American Flag, and collected rocks and samples. In total, it was estimated the crew brought back 20.87 kilograms of lunar samples. Finally, they successfully returned to earth by splashing down in the Pacific.
5. 1970: Nowhere Near Home
In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight was very close to a disaster after 56 hours into its flight. This time around as well the entire scenario was being shown to the public. Unfortunately, an oxygen tank located in the Apollo service module ruptured and damaged several important electrical, power, and life support systems.
Everyone watching hoped that the crew makes it safely back home since they were a long way from home and there was no point of return. However, the crew managed to work with the team on the ground and reached safely home. Meanwhile, the engineers at NASA quickly discovered that Apollo did not have a sufficient amount of water, air, and electricity for the crew to sustain itself.
Therefore, they could use the LM, which was a self-contained spacecraft as a lifeboat. Although it was a close-run, the disaster played an important role in ensuring that future missions are safe.
6. 1975: The Apollo-Soyuz Test Program
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Program took place in 1975 and was the first human international space flight. The flight took place at the height of the détente existing between the United States and the Soviet Union during the mid-70s. The project was specifically aimed at testing the compatibility of the docking and rendezvous systems.
Plus, it also allowed scientists and engineers to discover new ways of international space rescue as well as future joint missions. The Test Program used the existing American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. While the Apollo spacecraft would later orbit the moon and transport astronauts to Skylab, the Soyuz spacecraft on the other hand was a primary vehicle used for cosmonaut flight. NASA came up with a universal docking module that served as a transfer airlocked corridor.
As a result, Apollo took off with the astronauts and after 45 hours the two spacecraft rendezvoused and docked. A few hours later, the crew from both spacecraft conducted several experiments and later separated. The spacecrafts then again re-docked and separated. After separation, the Apollo remain in space for the next six days while the Soyuz returned to earth.
The flight helped reduce the tensions between the two superpowers that had locked heads in the race to gain superiority.
Concluding, it goes without saying that NASA has contributed a fair share in space exploration. Apart from the missions, humans have sent telescopes such as the Hubble Telescope into space and even captured the image of the black hole. With technology and research progressing by leaps and bounds, it won’t be long until regular people can also visit the space, which will be another huge milestone in space history.