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This Month in Exploration - October
From the early days of experimental airplanes to NASA’s soaring space shuttles, the evolution of flight has mirrored the evolution of society. The ongoing scientific discoveries that are part of aeronautics and space flight have improved life on Earth and allowed humans to begin investigating the secrets of the universe. “This Month in Exploration” presents the rich history of human flight, contextualizing where we’ve been and examining the exploration history NASA is making today.

Lt. James H. DoolittleLt. James H. Doolittle of the United States Air Service and his Curtiss-R3 C-2 seaplane. Credit: NASA 95 Years Ago

October 15, 1915: The National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) instructed its secretary to share with the United States government the results of investigations into aeronautical activity. The NACA secretary worked with secretaries from many other government departments to encourage continued support for experimental aeronautics development. NACA was the precursor to NASA and was absorbed into the new agency in 1958.

85 Years Ago

October 26, 1925: Lt. James H. Doolittle of the United States Air Service won the Schneider Cup Race flying a Curtiss-R3 C-2 seaplane racer in Baltimore. He also broke the seaplane speed record by attaining 245.7 mph during the race.

75 Years Ago

October 30, 1935: The First Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” prototype crashed on takeoff at Wright Field in Ohio. The control locks were left on during flight-testing. Despite the crash, the United States Army Air Corps was interested in using the plane as a strategic bomber. The “Flying Fortress” would eventually be flown by the U.S. in World War II.

Technicians performing preflight checkout and testing of the Ulysses spacecraft.Technicians perform preflight checkout and testing of the Ulysses spacecraft. Credit: NASA 60 Years Ago

October 26, 1950: The United States Army contracted with Douglas Aircraft for the design, development, fabrication and flight testing of its first armed nuclear surface-to-surface rocket, nicknamed the “Honest John.” The “Honest John” was a simple, free-flight rocket designed to fire like conventional artillery in battlefield areas. The rocket wouldn’t become obsolete until 1982.

50 Years Ago

October 4, 1960: The United States Air Force successfully placed the COURIER I-B active communications satellite into orbit using a Thor-Able-Star launch vehicle at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. After completing one orbit, it transmitted a message from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the United Nations. The launch also marked the 100th launch of the Douglas Thor rocket, which set a record by transporting 60 percent of U.S. satellites into orbit.

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45 Years Ago

October 14, 1965: NASA launched the Orbiting Geophysical Observatory (OGO)-2 aboard a Thor rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The OGO-2 was a large satellite observatory designed to take atmospheric measurements primarily over Earth’s polar areas.

40 Years Ago

October 20-27, 1970: The former USSR launched the Zond 8 towards the moon from an Earth orbiting platform, the Tyazheliy Sputnik. The spacecraft transmitted images of earth and of the lunar surface, and obtained various scientific measurements.

35 Years Ago

October 16, 1975: NASA launched the first operational Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-A/SMS-C) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aboard a Delta rocket. GOES-A was the first in a series of geosynchronous weather satellites.

Catherine G. Coleman, a Columbia (STS-73) mission specialist.Catherine G. Coleman, a Columbia (STS-73) mission specialist, working with a microgravity experiment. Credit: NASA 25 Years Ago

October 3, 1985: NASA launched space shuttle Atlantis (STS-51J) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. on its first flight. The shuttle crew deployed a classified satellite for the United States Department of Defense.

20 Years Ago

October 6, 1990: NASA launched space shuttle Discovery (STS-41) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. with the Ulysses solar spacecraft aboard. Ulysses was designed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore the heliosphere of the sun.

15 Years Ago

October 20, 1995: NASA launched space shuttle Columbia (STS-73) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Seven microgravity experiments from NASA Lewis Research Center (now NASA’s Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio kept the shuttle crew occupied 24 hours a day and reinforced the center’s thirty years of international leadership in the field of Microgravity Science.

10 Years Ago

October 11-24, 2000: NASA launched space shuttle Discovery (STS-92) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Discovery docked with the International Space Station. The crew installed a base structure for the U.S. solar array (the “Z-1 Truss”) and an orbiter docking station for the U.S. segment of the space station (the “Pressurized Mating Adapter 3”). They also completed four space walks.

5 Years Ago

October 12, 2005: The People’s Republic of China launched the spacecraft Shenzhou 6 (meaning Divine Ship) by a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. China’s first manned spaceflight, it carried two Chinese astronauts, Fèi Jùnlóng and Niè Hǎishèng. It orbited earth for about five days.

Present Day

October, 2010: This month, NASA contractor Applied Research Associates, Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M. will conduct a Solar Tower Test of the Advanced, Ablative Aeroshell at the unique National Solar Thermal Test Facility in Albuquerque. The aeroshell is a 70 degree flattened cone shaped shell, with a diameter of 1 meter. This shell is intended to fit on the end of a spacecraft, such as a Mars entry vehicle. It takes the brunt of the heat experienced by spacecraft during entry into a planet’s atmosphere. Compared to other aeroshells used until this point, this new technology is expected to withstand more heat and help reduce vehicle mass, contributing to a reduction of mission risk and cost. It can be applied for missions to Mars, Titan, Venus and Neptune and for return to Earth.

Lee A. Jackson (Analex Corporation)

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