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Space History for March 27

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Race To Space
Someone will win the prize...
               ... but at what cost?
Visit to find out more!

Born, Wilhelm Rontgen, discovered X-Rays

Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (27 March 1845 - 10 February 1923) was a German physicist, of the University of Wurzburg, who on 8 November 1895 first produced electromagnetic radiation in wavelengths now known as X-rays. For this discovery, he was awarded the very first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.

Died, Wilhelm Beer, German banker, amateur astronomer (created the first globe of the planet Mars (1830) and the first exact Moon map 1834-1836, both with Johann Heinrich Madler)

Wilhelm Wolff Beer (4 January 1797 - 27 March 1850) was a banker and astronomer in Berlin, Germany. Beer's fame derives from his hobby, astronomy. He built a private observatory with a 9.5 cm refractor in Tiergarten, Berlin. Together with Johann Heinrich Madler, he produced the first exact map of the Moon (entitled Mappa Selenographica) in 1834-1836, and in 1837 published a description of the Moon (Der Mond nach seinen kosmischen und individuellen Verhaltnissen). Both remained the best descriptions of the Moon for many decades.

In 1830, Beer and Madler created the first globe of the planet Mars. In 1839, they made a map of Mars and calculated its rotation period to be 24 hrs, 37 min and 22.7 secs, within 0.1 seconds of the actual period as it is known today (2017).

A. Kopff discovered asteroid #595 Polyxena; and M. Wolf discovered asteroid #594 Mireille.

G. Neujmin discovered asteroid #825 Tanina; and S. Belyavskij discovered asteroid #850 Altona.

B. Jekhovsky discovered asteroid #976 Benjamina; and J. Palisa discovered asteroid #975 Perseverantia.

Died, Sir James Dewar, Scottish chemist, inventor (benzine, liquid oxygen, Dewar flask, vacuum flask)

Died (training jet crash), Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, Colonel Soviet AF, Soviet cosmonaut (Vostok 1, 1h 46m in spaceflight), the first human in space

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (9 March 1934 - 27 March 1968) was a Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to travel into space on 12 April 1961. Launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, he orbited the Earth once before returning to the ground. After the flight, Gagarin became an instant worldwide celebrity, touring widely to promote the Soviet achievement. In 1967, he was also selected as the backup pilot for the first Soyuz launch.

Gagarin and his instructor were killed in a crash of a MiG-15 on a routine training flight near Moscow. The cause of the crash is uncertain, but a 1968 inquest suggested that turbulence from an Su-15 using afterburners may have caused the MiG to go out of control. Weather conditions were also poor, which probably contributed to the inability of Gagarin and the instructor to correct before they crashed.

1969 10:40:45 GMT
The USSR launched Mars 1969A which experienced an engine fire and explosion approximately 7 minutes after liftoff.

The Soviet Mars 1969A mission was never officially announced but has since been identified as a planned orbiter. It was launched 27 March 1969. After successful operation of the first two stages, the third stage of the Proton launcher experienced a malfunction in a rotor bearing which caused the turbopump to catch fire. The engine shut down 438.66 seconds after launch and exploded, the remains of the craft landed in the Altai mountains.

The nominal mission plan was to use the first three stages of the Proton booster and the Block-D upper stage to place the spacecraft into an Earth parking orbit. The upper stage would then be reignited after one orbit to begin the escape sequence. The spacecraft main engine would then be used for the final boost to put the spacecraft into its Mars trajectory. The main engine would also be used for two trajectory correction maneuvers during the 6 month cruise to Mars. The main engine would then be used to put the spacecraft into a 1700x34,000 km capture orbit around Mars with an inclination of 40 degrees and a period of 24 hours. Photography and other experiments would take place from this orbit. Then the periapsis would be lowered to 500 to 700 km for a nominal three month session of imaging and data collection from orbit.

This mission was one of two identical probes launched in the spring of 1969. The payload was an M-69 class probe (#521), built around a spherical propellant compartment with an inner baffle to separate it into two isolated partitions. Two solar panel wings with a total surface area of 7 square meters were mounted on either side of the compartment. A 2.8 m diameter parabolic dish antenna was mounted near the top of the probe, along with three pressurized compartments, the top compartment holding electronics, the second the radio and navigation systems, and the third cameras, a battery, and telemetry devices. Also mounted on the outside of the spacecraft were two conical antennas and a suite of scientific sensors.

The main engine was mounted at the bottom of the probe and used a turbopump run on the nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) contained in the main propellant compartment. Eight thrusters with their own fuel tanks and 9 helium pressurization tanks controlled pitch (2 thrusters), yaw (2), and roll (4). Three-axis stabilization and orientation were achieved using 2 Sun sensors, 2 Earth sensors, 2 Mars sensors, a Canopus sensor, gyros, and small thrusters using pressurized nitrogen gas stored in ten tanks. Power at 12 amps was supplied by the solar panels and used to run the spacecraft directly and charge a hermetically sealed cadmium-nickel 110 amp-hour storage battery.

Communications were via two transmitters in the centimeter band (6 GHz) which operated at [reportedly] 25,000 W and transmitted at 6000 bits/s and two transmitters and three receivers in the decimeter band (790-940 MHz) at 100 W and 128 bits/s and a 500 channel telemetry system. The parabolic dish was a directional high-gain antenna for use as the spacecraft neared Mars and the low-gain conical antennas were semi-directional. Thermal control was achieved through passive screen-vacuum insulation and through an active system in the pressurized compartments which consisted of a ventilation and air circulation unit which could run through radiators exposed to sunlight or in shadow.

The spacecraft scientific payload consisted primarily of three television cameras designed to image the surface of Mars. The cameras had three color filters and two lenses, a 50-mm lens with a nominal field of view of 1500x1500 km and a 350-mm lens which had a field of 100x100 km. An image was 1024x1024 pixels for a maximum resolution of 200 to 500 meters. The camera system consisted of film, a processing unit, an exposure unit, and a data encoder to prepare the images for transmission. The camera could store 160 images. The spacecraft also carried a radiometer, water vapor detector, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers, a radiation detector, gamma spectrometer, hydrogen/helium mass spectrometer, solar plasma spectrometer, and a low-energy ion spectrometer.

USSR Mars 1969A spacecraft, photo courtesy of NASA
Source: NSSDCA Master Catalog

1969 22:22:01 GMT
NASA launched Mariner 7 for a Mars flyby.

Mariner 7 was launched on a direct-ascent trajectory to Mars from Cape Kennedy Launch Complex 36A on an Atlas SLV-3C/Centaur (AC19, spacecraft 69-4) on 27 March 1969. On 8 April 1969 a midcourse correction was made by firing the hydrazine moter for 7.6 seconds. On 8 May Mariner 7 was put on gyro control to avoid attitude control problems which were affecting Mariner 6. On 31 July telemetry from Mariner 7 was suddenly lost and the spacecraft was commanded to switch to the low-gain antenna. It was later successfully switched back to the high-gain antenna. The anomaly is believed to have been caused by leaking gases, perhaps from a battery which later failed a few days before the Mars encounter.

Mariner 6 and 7 comprised a dual-spacecraft mission to Mars, the sixth and seventh missions in the Mariner series of spacecraft used for planetary exploration in the flyby mode. The primary objectives of the missions were to study the surface and atmosphere of Mars during close flybys to establish the basis for future investigations, particularly those relevant to the search for extraterrestrial life, and to demonstrate and develop technologies required for future Mars missions and other long-duration missions far from the Sun. Each spacecraft carried a wide- and narrow-angle television camera, an infrared spectroscope, an infrared radiometer, and an ultraviolet spectroscope. The spacecraft were oriented entirely to planetary data acquisition, and no data were obtained during the trip to Mars or beyond Mars.

At 09:32:33 UT on 2 August 1969 Mariner 7 began the far-encounter sequence involving imaging of Mars with the narrow angle camera. Over the next 57 hours, ending about 5 hours before closest approach, 93 images of Mars were taken and transmitted. The spacecraft was then reprogrammed as a result of analysis of Mariner 6 images. The new sequence called for the spacecraft to go further south than originally planned, take more near-encounter pictures, and collect more scientific data on the lighted side of Mars. Data from the dark side of Mars were to be transmitted directly back to Earth but there would be no room on the digital recorder for backup due to the added dayside data. At closest approach, 0500:49 UT on 5 August, Mariner 7 was 3430 km (2130 miles) above the Martian surface. Over this period, 33 near-encounter images were taken. About 19 minutes after the flyby, the spacecraft went behind Mars and emerged roughly 30 minutes later. X-band occultation data were taken during the entrance and exit phases. Science and imaging data were played back and transmitted over the next few days. The spacecraft was then returned to cruise mode which included engineering and communications tests, star photography TV tests, and UV scans of the Milky Way and an area containing comet 1969-B. Periodic tracking of the spacecraft in its heliocentric orbit was also done.

The total data return for Mariners 6 and 7 was 800 million bits. Mariner 6 returned 49 far encounter and 26 near encounter images of Mars, and Mariner 7 returned 93 far and 33 near encounter images. Close-ups from the near encounter phases covered 20% of the surface. The spacecraft instruments measured UV and IR emissions and radio refractivity of the Martian atmosphere. Images showed the surface of Mars to be very different from that of the Moon, in some contrast to the results from Mariner 4. The south polar cap was identified as being composed predominantly of carbon dioxide. Atmospheric surface pressure was estimated at between 6 and 7 mb. Radio science refined estimates of the mass, radius and shape of Mars.

Mariner 7 Mars probe, NASA photo
Source: NSSDCA Master Catalog

1972 04:15:01 GMT
The USSR launched the Venera 8 atmospheric probe and lander to Venus.

Venera 8 was a Venus atmospheric probe and lander launched from Earth on 27 March 1972. Its instrumentation included temperature, pressure, and light sensors as well as an altimeter, gamma-ray spectrometer, gas analyzer, and radio transmitters. The spacecraft took 117 days to reach Venus with one mid-course correction on 6 April 1972, separating from the bus (which contained a cosmic ray detector, solar wind detector, and ultraviolet spectrometer) and entering the atmosphere on 22 July 1972 at 08:37 UT. Descent speed was reduced from 41,696 km/hr to about 900 km/hr by aerobraking. The 2.5 meter diameter parachute opened at an altitude of 60 km, and a refrigeration system was used to cool the interior components. Venera 8 transmitted data during the descent. A sharp decrease in illumination was noted at 35 to 30 km altitude and wind speeds of less than 1 km/s were measured below 10 km. Venera 8 landed at 09:32 UT at 10 degrees south, 335 degrees west, in sunlight about 500 km from the morning terminator. It continued to send back data for 50 minutes, 11 seconds after landing before failing due to the harsh surface conditions. The probe confirmed the earlier data on the high Venus surface temperature and pressure (470 degrees C, 90 atmospheres) returned by Venera 7, and also measured the light level as being suitable for surface photography, finding it to be similar to the amount of light on Earth on an overcast day with roughly 1 km visibility.

USSR Venera 8 Venus probe, photo courtesy of NASA

L. Zhuravleva discovered asteroid #2562.

USSR lost contact with the Phobos 2 probe in orbit about Mars shortly before its final mission phase, during which it was to approach within 50 meters of the surface of Phobos and release two landers, a problem traced to an onboard computer malfunction.

Phobos 2, launched 12 July 1988, operated nominally throughout its cruise and Mars orbital insertion phases, gathering data on the Sun, interplanetary medium, Mars, and Phobos. Phobos 2 entered Mars orbit 29 January 1989. Shortly before the final phase of the mission, during which the spacecraft was to approach within 50 meters of the surface of Phobos and release two landers, one a mobile `hopper', the other a stationary platform, contact with Phobos 2 was lost. The mission ended when the spacecraft signal failed to be successfully reacquired on 27 March 1989. The cause of the failure was determined to be a malfunction of the onboard computer.

Phobos 2, and its companion spacecraft Phobos 1, were next generation Venera type planetary missions, succeeding those last used during the Vega 1 and 2 missions to comet P/Halley. The Phobos mission objectives were to: (1) conduct studies of the interplanetary environment; (2) perform observations of the Sun; (3) characterize the plasma environment in the Martian vicinity; (4) conduct surface and atmospheric studies of Mars; and, (5) study the surface composition of the Martian satellite Phobos. The main section of the spacecraft consisted of a pressurized toroidal electronics section surrounding a modular cylindrical experiment section. Below these were mounted four spherical tanks containing hydrazine for attitude control and, once the main propulsion module had been jettisoned, orbit adjustment. A total of 28 thrusters (twenty-four 50 N thrusters and four 10 N thrusters) were mounted on the spherical tanks with additional thrusters mounted on the spacecraft body and solar panels. Attitude was maintained through the use of a three-axis control system with pointing maintained with sun and star sensors.

Died, James E. Webb, NASA Administrator 1961-68

NASA'S X-43 set an air-breathing vehicle speed record in the first free flight of a supersonic combustion ramjet.

NASA's second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft flew successfully on 27 March 2004, the first time an air-breathing scramjet powered aircraft has flown freely. The unpiloted vehicle's supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, ignited as planned and operated for the duration of its hydrogen fuel supply. The X-43A reached its test speed of Mach 7, or seven times the speed of sound.

The flight originated from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Taking off at 12:40 p.m. PST, NASA's B-52B launch aircraft carried the X-43A, which was mounted on a modified Pegasus booster rocket. The booster was launched from the B-52B just before 2 p.m. PST. The rocket boosted the X-43A up to its test altitude of about 95,000 ft. over the Pacific Ocean, where the X-43A separated from the booster and flew freely for several minutes. During the free flight, the scramjet engine operated for about 10 seconds.

Died, Valeri Fyodorovich Bykovsky (at Zvyozdny Gorodok, Oblast Moscow, Rayon Shchyolkovo, Russian Federation), Colonel Soviet AF, Soviet cosmonaut (Vostok 5, Soyuz 22, Soyuz 31/Salyut 6/Soyuz 29; over 20d 17.75h total time in spaceflight)

The thirty-second recorded perihelion passage of Halley's Comet will occur.

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