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This Month in Exploration - December
Visit "This Month in Exploration" every month to find out how aviation and space exploration have changed throughout the years, improving life for humans on Earth and in space. While reflecting on the events that led to NASA's formation and its rich history of accomplishments, "This Month in Exploration" will also reveal where the agency is leading us -- to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Cygnet I The Cygnet I rests on Bras d'Or Lake before flying. Credit: American Kitefliers Association
100 Years Ago

December 6, 1907: Thomas Selfridge flew the Cygnet I, a kite-like aircraft, for about seven minutes before it descended and eventually crashed into Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Cygnet was developed by the Aerial Experiment Association, whose membership included Selfridge, Alexander Graham Bell, Mabel Hubbard Bell, Frederick Baldwin, John McCurdy and Glenn Curtiss.

75 Years Ago

December 15, 1932: The International Shrine of Aviators was dedicated at the Mission Inn in California. The inn’s owner, Frank Miller, commissioned the construction of the shrine. The Famous Fliers’ Wall bears 150 copper wings to honor famous aviators. Honored members of this wall include Orville Wright, Chuck Yeager, John Glenn and Amelia Earhart.

International Shrine of AviatorsThe Famous Flier's Wall at the International Shrine of Aviators. Credit: missioninnmuseum.com
50 Years Ago

December 17, 1957: The U.S. Air Force completed the first successful test launch of the Atlas intermediate range ballistic missile, which flew 500 miles downrange from Cape Canaveral. This launch occurred on the 54th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight.

35 Years Ago

December 7, 1972: NASA launched Apollo 17 via a Saturn V rocket to begin the last lunar landing mission of the Apollo program. After landing the lunar module in the Taurus-Littrow region of the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt set up experiments, took pictures and gathered samples of the lunar soil. The lunar rover experienced its first fender bender on this mission.

30 Years Ago

December 8, 1977: The U.S. Navy launched the Naval Ocean Surveillance System 2. While in orbit, this spacecraft deployed multiple satellites to perform ocean surveillance.

Astronaut Eugene Cernan on the moon during the Apollo 17 missionAstronaut Eugene Cernan on the lunar surface in the Taurus-Littrow valley. Credit: NASA
25 Years Ago

December 16, 1982: The Soviet Union’s third Iskra, which means “spark” in Russian, entered the atmosphere and burned up after only four weeks in orbit. Iskra-3 was a 62-pound amateur radio satellite powered by a solar cell that was launched into space by the Salyut-7 space station.

15 Years Ago

December 2, 1992: NASA launched Space Shuttle Discovery to begin STS-53. Discovery carried five crew members and eleven unclassified experiments. The mission lasted 7 days and 7 hours.

10 Years Ago

December 24, 1997: EarlyBird-1 was launched aboard a Start-1 rocket from Svobodny, Russia. EarthWatch, Inc. developed this Earth-imaging satellite for commercial use. Four days after launch, the company lost communication with the satellite. They later replaced EarlyBird with the QuickBird satellites.

Five Years Ago

December 14, 2002: The National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) launched the Advanced Earth Observing Satellite-II, a remote-sensing spacecraft used to track global climate changes, from Tanegashima Space Flight Center. NASDA is now a part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

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Present Day

December 18, 2007: Mars will be a mere 56 million miles away from Earth. It will not be this close again until 2016.

December 24, 2007: Mars will be in opposition, which means that Mars and the sun will be on directly opposite sides of Earth. The red planet will remain in the sky throughout the night and set once the sun begins to rise from the east. Its position will allow great views through an amateur telescope.
Emily Owens (Analex Corporation)

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