timelines of space exploration
August 25 – NASA launched the largest-diameter infrared telescope ever in space, the Spitzer Space Telescope.
First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury
First Spacecraft to Orbit an Asteroid
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900 miles altitude) communications satellites for providing voice and data links worldwide from both remote and home telephones. This system is planned as a direct competitor to Iridium’s cluster, which began launching in May of 1997.
April 17, 1998 – Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off on a 16-day mission, its 25 th . The mission is dedicated to the study of the effects of weightlessness on the human neurological system, with the astronauts serving as both researchers and experimental subjects.
June 2, 1998 – Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a 10-day mission, its 24 th and the last shuttle docking with Mir.
July 3, 1998 – Japan launches the Nozomi probe to Mars, the first planetary mission by a country other than the U.S. or the Soviet Union/Russia. Using a combination of lunar gravity, Earth gravity, and rocket burns, Nozomi is scheduled to arrive at Mars in December 2003.
October 3, 1998 – Launched by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the Space Technology EXperiment (STEX) satellite tests 29 new spacecraft designs, including an almost four-mile-long tether, advanced solar panels, and an ion engine test.
October 24, 1998 – NASA launches Deep Space 1, a technology test spacecraft which evaluates a dozen advanced spacecraft engineering designs, from mirror-enhanced solar panels to the first use of an ion engine to leave Earth orbit and rendezvous with the asteroid Braille.
October 29, 1998 – Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off with John Glenn aboard, first American to orbit Earth and at 77, the oldest man to fly in space. The flight is the last purely scientific shuttle flight, focusing on astronomy, life sciences, and materials. One satellite is deployed, one is released and retrieved. Most subsequent shuttle flights are ferry and construction flights for the International Space Station.
November 20, 1998 – the first component of the International Space Station, Zarya, is launched on a Russian rocket. This Russian built, U.S. financed module provides communications, electrical power, and attitude control for the station until the arrival of the third module (Zvezda, in July 2000).
December 4, 1998 – Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts off on its thirteenth space flight, with the International Space Station’s second module, Unity. This module provides the docking ports and connections for every other docked module.
December 11, 1998 – Mars Climate Orbiter is launched by NASA, with the objective of studying Martian weather. The probe is lost as it approaches Mars on September 23, 1999, due to an error in propulsion software, using English instead of metric units. The probe passes too close to Mars and burns up in the atmosphere.
December 23, 1998 – NEAR space probe flies to within 2400 miles of the asteroid 433 Eros, taking 222 photographs of nearly two-thirds of its surface. A software problem prevents the spacecraft from going into orbit around the asteroid, but a second engine burn on January 3, 1999 brings the spacecraft back to Eros in February of 2000.
January 3, 1999 – Mars Polar Lander lifts off on its ill-fated mission to Mars. This NASA probe is to land within about 600 miles of the Martian South Pole, along with dropping two surface-penetrating darts. Contact with the probe is lost on December 3, 1999 as it is descending through the Martian atmosphere and it is never heard from again, the first failure of a U.S. planetary soft landing in 30 years.
February 7, 1999 – The NASA satellite Stardust lifts off for a rendezvous with the Comet Wild-2 in January of 2004.
February 20, 1999 – the Russian Soyuz TM29 lifts off for the Mir space station. This is scheduled to be the final mission to Mir, and when the crew of TM29 departs Mir in August of 1999, they leave the space station empty for the first time in almost exactly 10 years.
May 27, 1999 – Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for the International Space Station. They bring supplies and perform a spacewalk of nearly eight hours to install two exterior cranes, along with a variety of tools and equipment for future astronaut use. They deploy the satellite Starshine for studying atmospheric density changes.
July 23, 1999 – Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off, carrying the Chandra X-Ray Observatory into orbit.
July 28, 1999 – Deep Space 1 flies to within 16 miles of the asteroid Braille and continues on its course to rendezvous with Comet Wilson-Harrington in January 2001.
November 19, 1999 – China launches Shenzhou, the first unmanned test of their manned capsule.
December 19, 1999 – Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for the third maintenance mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. They perform three space walks, installing six new gyroscopes, a new guidance sensor, a new computer, a voltage/temperature kit for the spacecraft’s batteries, a new transmitter, a new solid state recorder, and thermal insulation blankets.
January 3, 2000 – the Galileo space probe safely completes its encounter with Jupiter’s ice moon, Europa, at an altitude of 343 km. Later in the year, on May 30, Galileo flies by Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede at an altitude of 808 km.
February 11, 2000 – Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts off to carry out the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, cosponsored by NASA and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. A large radar antenna in the payload bay and a smaller element deployed on a 60-meter boom work together in the synthetic-aperture mode to produce the effect of a much larger antenna. The mission produces a three-dimensional map of about 80% of the world’s landmass.
February 14, 2000 – NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) probe settles into orbit around the asteroid 433 Eros, producing a series of stunning close-up images. Ground controllers start tightening its orbit for an eventual soft impact with the tumbling, potato-shaped asteroid.
April 4, 2000 – Soyuz TM30 lifts off on a return mission to Mir, reversing Russia’s actions of the previous year to shut the space station down. The idea is to re-open the space station for commercial operations, including a Mir version of the Survivor TV show. The cosmonauts remain until mid-June, and two Progress freighters are flown up (one in April, one in October) before financial support disappears and the venture falls through.
May 19, 2000 – Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off for the International Space Station for maintenance on the crane and a faulty antenna, installation of a Russian boom arm, handrails and upgrades to the ventilation system, and delivery of new batteries, supplies and equipment.
July 12, 2000 – the Zvezda service module for the International Space Station (ISS) is launched from Russia on a Proton rocket. The automated docking of this unit with the first linked pair of modules already in orbit – Zarya and Unity – allows the U.S. to start a series of space shuttle launches to add American-built components, which will be followed by laboratory modules from Europe and Japan. Zvezda will act as the control center and living quarters for the initial space station crews.
September 8, 2000 – Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on a 12-day mission to outfit the ISS, completing the installation of the Zvezda module.
October 11, 2000 – Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a 14-day mission to install the Z1 segment, the first piece of the space station truss, and a third docking port (PMA-3) for the Unity adapter. They also test the new ‘SAFER’ spacesuit backpack propulsion units.
October 31, 2000 – the Expedition One crew is launched on a Soyuz transport to become the first crew of the ISS.
December 1, 2000 – Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts off on a 12 day mission to the ISS. They install the first set of ISS’s solar panels and radiators for removing heat.
January 9, 2001 – the first launch of the “true” millenium is Chinese, with the second test flight of the manned Shenshou spaceship, reported to be carrying a monkey, a dog, and a rabbit.
February 7, 2001 – Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off for the ISS, carrying the U.S.’s Destiny laboratory module. In three space walks the astronauts install Destiny, a grappler for the station’s robotic arm, and radio antennae.
February 14, 2001 – NEAR soft impacts on the asteroid 433 Eros, at 2 m/s. Signals continue to be received from the probe hours after the landing, confirming its survival.
March 8, 2001 – Space Shuttle Discovery is launched on a 14-day ISS construction mission. In two spacewalks the astronauts install new equipment including the Leonardo logistics module, built by the Italian Space Agency to move racks of experimental equipment to the ISS, docking to the station as the equipment is used & transferred, then carrying equipment back in the shuttle after use.
March 23, 2001 – fifteen years after its first launch, and after nearly 10 years of continuous occupation by astronauts, the Mir space station is de-orbited, breaking up in the atmosphere and impacting in the Pacific Ocean.
April 7, 2001 – the 2001 Mars Odyssey probe is launched on a trajectory for Mars orbit to be achieved in October, with a mission similar to that of the Mars Climate Orbiter launched December 1998. Mars Odyssey successfully enters Mars orbit on October 24th.
April 19, 2001 – Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts off for the ISS on a construction mission. The crew will install the mobile robotic arm on the station (Canadarm 2) and supply the Destiny laboratory module with new experiments, using the Rafaello logistics module.
April 28, 2001 – Soyuz spacecraft TM-32 lifts off for the ISS with the first space tourist, business executive Dennis Tito, who pays the Russians $20 million for the ride.
June 30, 2001 – NASA’s Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) is launched on a trajectory for a gravity boost past the moon to a position 1.5 million km outside Earth’s orbit. From that position it is to measure cosmic background radiation from the dark extragalactic sky.
July 12, 2001 – Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off in the pre-dawn darkness for the ISS with the Joint Airlock which will enable space walks to be performed directly from the space station itself (I am there to watch the launch!).
August 10, 2001 – Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for the ISS with the Leonardo laboratory module and SimpleSat, an experimental low-cost astronomical telescope.
September 22, 2001 – Deep Space 1 successfully completes its flyby of comet 19P/Borrelly.
October 16, 2001 – Galileo completes another flyby of Jupiter’s moon Io, passing only 181 km from Io’s south polar region.
December 5, 2001 – Space Shuttle Endeavour is launched carrying the Raffaello logistics module back to the ISS with new supplies.
Feb. 14, 1998: Globalstar, a satellite mobile telephone company, launches its first four satellites on a Delta 2 rocket.
March 15, 1995: Aerospace giants Lockheed Corp. and Martin Marietta Corp. merge.
Russian astronaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first man to walk in space on March 18, 1965.
Dr. Robert H. Goddard and his liquid-fueled rocket in the frame from which it was fired on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, Mass.