NASA Remembrances, 2011.

Space enthusiasts know that today marks the start of a 6-day period on the calendar which includes three tragic dates in the history of manned space flight.

Today is the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee on January 27th, 1967.

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger‘s explosion during take-off on January 28th, 1986, which killed astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. I was watching this launch on a break room TV in Quantico, Virginia with fellow Marines/classmates, and we all just sort of stood there, dumbstruck, as we watched the events unfold.

Next Tuesday will be the 8th anniversary of the loss of the shuttle Columbia, which broke up during re-entry on February 1st, 2003, killing astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon. Kevin called me on that Saturday morning, asking if I was watching television, and I couldn’t believe it when he told me what he was watching. I followed the coverage for the rest of that day, unable to tear myself away from the TV.

2011 will include several happier milestones, as well. First and foremost, April 12th will mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight, when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched and completed a single orbit of the Earth aboard Vostok 1 in 1961. The United States would follow with its first manned suborbital flight on May 5th, with astronaut Alan Shepard and Freedom 7.

February 3rd will mark the 45th anniversary of the first landing of a man-made vehicle on another celestial body, accomplished when the Russians’ Luna 9 soft-landed on the moon in 1966.

EDIT: As I was reminded earlier this evening, April 12th marks the 30th anniversary of the first launch and mission for the first space shuttle to actually go into space, Columbia, in 1981. It was to be the first of 27 successful missions for the shuttle, before its fateful 28th mission in early 2003.

December 3rd brings with it the 40th anniversary of the unmanned Russian lander Mars 3, the first such vehicle to land on Mars, in 1971.

These are just a few of the more significant accomplishments since the “dawn of the Space Age.” In and around them are numerous successes, both in space and on the ground, which served to expand our knowledge of the vast universe around us. We’ve taken the first tentative steps, but there’s so much more out there, just waiting for us.

But, as we celebrate the triumphs, we must also remember and learn from the tragedies, in the hopes that such sacrifices in the name of expanding human knowledge are not made in vain.

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Guenter Wendt, RIP.

The Associated Press and other news outlets are reporting that Guenter Wendt, famed NASA engineer during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs as well as the early space shuttle missions, died earlier today from congestive heart failure and a stroke at the age of 85. For many astronauts, Mr. Wendt was the last person they saw before the hatch to their spacecraft was sealed and they were launched into orbit or, in the case of the Apollo missions, toward the Moon.

The Associated Press: Wendt, engineer at Cape Canaveral, dies at 85

Rest in peace, good sir.

NASA remembrances.

Followers of the space program know that tomorrow begins a 6-day period on the calendar which includes three truly tragic dates in the history of manned space flight.

Tomorrow marks the 43rd anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee on January 27th, 1967.

Thursday will be the 24th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger‘s explosion during take-off on January 28th, 1986, which killed astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

Next Monday will be the 7th anniversary of the loss of the shuttle Columbia, which broke up during re-entry on February 1st, 2003, killing astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

2010 includes several happier milestones, as well. This April will mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, the so-called “successful failure” which in reality remains one of NASA’s finest moments. Later that same month, China launched its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1 into orbit. The Russian space program has much to celebrate, as well, as this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Venera 7 mission, the first spacecraft to successfully transmit data back to Earth from the surface of another planet (in this case, Venus).

So, while we celebrate the triumphs, we must also remember and hopefully learn from the tragedies, in the hopes that such sacrifices in the name of expanding human knowledge are not made in vain.

Get the Moon! Get it!

On Friday, NASA will “bomb the Moon.” In reality, they’re planning to drive a used-up rocket motor from the LCROSS satellite into the Moon so that they can study the resulting ejecta for signs of water trapped beneath the lunar surface. Cool, huh?

According to this newsbit from SciFiWire.com, you can watch the whole thing live on NASA TV (assuming you don’t have a telescope powerful enough to watch the whole thing “for real”:

SciFiWire.com: How you can watch NASA bomb the moon

I figure the Moon had it coming, the prick.

From the Earth to the Moon – via Twitter.

Okay, this is totally frikkin’ cool.

If you’re on Twitter, follow these three IDs:

@AP11_CAPCOM
@AP11_SPACECRAFT
@AP11_EAGLE

The first two are the only ones “talking” right now, as they recreate conversations between Houston and the Apollo 11 crew on their way to the Moon. @AP11_EAGLE will, of course, come into play once we reach the comparable window of time when the Eagle lunar lander separates from the Command Module and begins its descent toward the Sea of Tranquility.

The Twitter bit is part of a larger campaign being put on by the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. The “live feed” and other Apollo goodness can be found at We Choose the Moon as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing.

Read more about it here.

Fun stuff!

Once again, we must….

….pause for respectful reflection, for this is a very somber week in the annals of NASA history.

I’m ashamed to say I forgot to note that yesterday marked the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee.

Today is the 23rd anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger‘s explosion during take-off, which killed astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

And it’s not over yet, as Sunday will mark the 6th anniversary of the loss of the shutle Columbia, which broke up during re-entry, killing astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

Of course, we also have and will commemorate happier occasions. Among many achievements of varying scope, this past Christmas heralded the 40th anniversary of Apollo 8‘s circumnavigation of the Moon, and this coming July and December will bring with them the 40th anniversaries of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 Moon landings.

Still, we must remember (and hopefully learn from) the tragedies, for such sacrifices also pave the road to triumph.

Tough week for NASA.

If you follow the space program, this week on the calendar is always a sad one.

Yesterday marked the 41st anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee.

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger‘s explosion during take-off, which killed astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

Friday will be the 5th anniversary of the loss of the shutle Columbia, which broke up during re-entry, killing astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

While Apollo 1 occurred before I was born, I remember with startling clarity where I was during both of the shuttle accidents. I was in school at Quantico, Virginia when Challenger exploded, and Kevin called me the morning Columbia was lost, after which I spent the rest of the day watching the news reports.

On a happier commemorative note for NASA, the organization celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and Thursday will mark the 50th anniversary of the United States’ first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, launched in response to Sputnik 1, which was launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957.

More than a little bittersweet this week, of course.