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 . Space History News - People and events in development of space travel Space History News - People and events in development of space travel Space History News - People and events in development of space travel  

Space History for March 31

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Born, Rene Descartes, mathematician (Cartesian coordinate system, analytic geometry)

Died (New Style date), Sir Isaac Newton, English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and alchemist

H Goldschmidt discovered asteroid #40 Harmonia (daughter of Mars).

J Palisa discovered asteroids #254 Augusta and #255 Oppavia.

A Borrelly discovered asteroid #308 Polyxo.

J Coggia discovered asteroid #444 Gyptis.

Richard Pearse reportedly flew a heavier-than-air machine, a monoplane, in powered flight for several hundred yards near Pleasant Point, South Canterbury, New Zealand. (Some reports claim 1902.)

M Wolf discovered asteroids #821 Fanny, #822 Lalage, #823 Sisigambis and #1661 Granule.

Asteroid #3179 was discovered.

1966 10:48:00 GMT
USSR launched Luna 10, the first human-made spacecraft to orbit the Moon.

Luna 10 was launched towards the Moon on 31 March 1966. The spacecraft entered Lunar orbit on 3 April 1966 and completed its first orbit 3 hours later (on 4 April, Moscow time). Scientific instruments included a gamma-ray spectrometer for energies between 0.3-3.0 MeV, a triaxial magnetometer, a meteorite detector, instruments for solar-plasma studies, and devices for measuring infrared emissions from the Moon and radiation conditions of the Lunar environment. Gravitational studies were also conducted.

The spacecraft played back to Earth the "International" during the Twenty-third Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Luna 10 was battery powered and operated for 460 Lunar orbits and 219 active data transmissions before radio signals were discontinued on 30 May 1966.

USSR Luna 10, the first manmade spacecraft to orbit the Moon
photo courtesy of NASA

Explorer 1, the first US satellite, reentered Earth's atmosphere after 12 years in orbit.

Explorer 1 was the first successfully launched US satellite. Launched 1 February 1958 on an adapted Jupiter-C rocket, Explorer 1 carried instrumentation for the study of cosmic rays, micrometeorites, and for monitoring of the satellite's temperature. Explorer 1 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on 31 March 1970, after more than twelve years in orbit.

1978 13:55:00 GMT
USSR launched Cosmos 1000 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, part of a six-satellite Soviet military navigation system.

E Bowell discovered asteroid #3078 Horrocks.

1996 05:28:57 PST (GMT -8:00:00)
NASA's STS 76 (Atlantis 16, 76th Shuttle mission) landed after completing the third Shuttle-Mir docking, and carrying the SPACEHAB module.

STS 76 was originally set for a 21 March 1996 launch, pending resolution of an issue concerning wiper O-rings on the nozzle-to-case joints on both Redesigned Solid Rocket Motors (RSRMs) flown on the previous mission, STS-75. The first launch attempt set for 21 March was scrubbed prior to commencement of tanking operations on 20 March due to concerns about high winds. The launch reset for 22 March proceeded smoothly to an on-time liftoff. During ascent, a leak occurred in a hydraulic system powered by Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) number 3. The leak stopped after hydraulic system shutdown on-orbit. Mission managers concluded the system would remain stable, and proceeded with plans for a full-duration mission.

The third linkup between the US Space Shuttle and the Russian Space Station Mir was highlighted by the transfer of veteran astronaut Shannon Lucid to Mir to become the first American woman to live on the station. Her approximately four and a half month stay also eclipsed the long duration US spaceflight record set by the first American to live on Mir, Norm Thagard. Lucid was succeeded by astronaut John Blaha during STS-79 in August. Her stay give her the distinction of membership in four different flight crews in one mission -- two US, and two Russian -- and her stay on Mir kicked off a continuous US presence in space for the next two years.

The STS 76 payload bay configuration included the Orbiter Docking System in the forward area, and the SPACEHAB single module toward the aft. STS-76 marked the first flight of the SPACEHAB pressurized module to support Shuttle-Mir dockings; the single module primarily served as a stowage area for the large supply of equipment slated for transfer to the space station, but also carried the European Space Agency's Biorack experiment rack for on-orbit research.

Atlantis docked with Mir on 24 March 1996. Hatches opened a little less than two hours later. Awaiting Atlantis' arrival were Mir 21 Commander Yuri Onufrienko and Flight Engineer Yuri Usachev, launched to Mir on 21 February. In July, they were joined by Mir 22 Commander Gennady Manakov, Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov and French Space Agency cosmonaut researcher Claudie Andre-Deshays. After a two week stay, Andre-Deshays returned to Earth with Onufrienko and Usachev while Manakov and Vinogradov remained on board with Lucid.

During the five days of docked operations, about 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) of water and two tons of scientific equipment, logistical material and resupply items were transferred to Mir; and experiment samples and miscellaneous equipment were brought over to the orbiter. In Biorack, 11 separate scientific investigations were conducted. Study topics included the effect of microgravity and cosmic radiation on plants, tissues, cells, bacteria and insects, and the effects of microgravity on bone loss. Also transferred to the station were the Mir Glovebox Stowage (MGBX) equipment to replenish the glovebox already on the station; Queen's University Experiment in Liquid Diffusion (QUELD) flown in an orbiter middeck locker; and the High Temperature Liquid Phase Sintering (LPS) experiment.

On flight day six, Godwin and Clifford conducted the first US extravehicular activity (EVA) around the two mated spacecraft. During the six hour, two minute, 28 second EVA, they attached four Mir Environmental Effects Payload (MEEP) experiments to the station's Docking Module. The experiments were designed to characterize the environment around Mir over an 18-month period. The two spacewalkers wore Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) propulsive devices first flight tested during STS-64.

Other payloads flown on STS 76 were: Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX); KidSat, a project that gives middle school students the opportunity to participate in space exploration; and Trapped Ions in Space (TRIS), a Naval Research Laboratory experiment flown in a Get Away Special (GAS) canister in the cargo bay.

STS 76 ended 31 March 1996 when Atlantis landed on revolution 145 on Runway 22, Edwards Air Force Base, California. Rollout distance: 8,357 feet (2,547 meters). Rollout time: 55 seconds. Orbit altitude: 160 nautical miles. Orbit inclination: 56.1 degrees. Mission duration: nine days, five hours, 15 minutes, 53 seconds. Miles Traveled: 3.8 million (estimate). Mission managers re-scheduled the landing from 31 March to 30 March in anticipation of rain and clouds at the KSC landing site, but landing attempts at KSC on 30 March and 31 March were waved off due to weather, before the orbiter was finally diverted to California. A more conservative weather criteria was employed for the landing due to the leak in the APU number 3 hydraulic system, and special measures were taken during re-entry to minimize use of that particular APU. Following waveoff on 30 March, a payload bay door reopening process was interrupted when the release indicators for payload bay door centerline latches 9 through 12 on both sides failed to indicate release, suggesting the latches had not operated properly. The astronauts ventured into the SPACEHAB module in the aft payload bay to visually inspect the latches, which appeared to have opened as intended. The crew used manual mode to complete opening of the doors without further incident, and the glitch was attributed to faulty microswitches. Also, during prelanding preparations, three of the 38 Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters failed, but backup thrusters were available to perform the same functions. This was not considered a night landing because it occurred only 11 minutes before sunrise; flight rules define night launch/landing as one occurring no earlier than 15 minutes after sunset and no later than 15 minutes before sunrise.

The flight crew for STS 76 was: Kevin P. Chilton, Commander; Richard A. Searfoss, Pilot; Shannon W. Lucid, Mission Specialist (remained on MIR); Linda M. Godwin, Mission Specialist; Michael R. Clifford, Mission Specialist; Ronald M. Sega, Mission Specialist.

Pioneer 10 officially ended its science mission, routine tracking and project data processing operatations were terminated for budget reasons.

Pioneer 10 was launched 3 March 1972. This mission was the first to be sent to the outer solar system and the first to investigate the planet Jupiter, after which it followed an escape trajectory from the solar system. The spacecraft achieved its closest approach to Jupiter on 3 December 1973, when it flew over the cloud tops at a distance of approximately 2.8 Jovian radii (about 200,000 km - 130,000 miles). After more than a decade in space, Pioneer 10 crossed the orbit of Neptune on 13 June 1983 and became the first human-built space vehicle to leave the Solar system. As of 1 January 1997 Pioneer 10 was at about 67 AU from the Sun near the ecliptic plane and heading outward from the Sun at 2.6 AU/year and downstream through the heliomagnetosphere towards the tail region and interstellar space. This solar system escape direction is unique because the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft (and the Pioneer 11 spacecraft) are heading in the opposite direction towards the nose of the heliosphere in the upstream direction relative to the inflowing interstellar gas. Pioneer 10 is heading generally towards the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of Taurus (The Bull). The journey over a distance of 68 light years to Aldebaran will require about two million years to complete. Routine tracking and project data processing operatations were terminated on 31 March 1997 for budget reasons. Occasional tracking continued later under support of the Lunar Prospector project at NASA Ames Research Center with retrieval of energetic particle and radio science data. The last successful data acquisitions through NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) occurred on 3 March 2002, the thirtieth anniversary of Pioneer 10's launch date, and on 27 April 2002. The spacecraft signal was last detected, from a distance of 82 AU from the Sun, on 23 January 2003 after an uplink was transmitted to turn off the last operational experiment, the Geiger Tube Telescope (GTT), but lock-on to the sub-carrier signal for data downlink was not achieved. No signal at all was detected during a final attempt on 6-7 February 2003. Pioneer Project staff at NASA Ames then concluded that the spacecraft power level had fallen below that needed to power the onboard transmitter, so no further attempts would be made.

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