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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 December 25

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Born, Isaac Newton, English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and alchemist

Halley's comet was first sighted by German farmer and amateur astronomer Johann Georg Palitzsch during its predicted return.'s_Comet#Computation_of_orbit

Born, Claude Chappe, French engineer (optical telegraph)

Born, Gerhard Herzberg, Canadian physicist (molecular structure, Nobel 1971 "for his contributions to the knowledge of electronic structure and geometry of molecules, particularly free radicals")

Born, Ernst August Friedrich Ruska, German physicist, (Nobel 1986 "for his fundamental work in electron optics, and for the design of the first electron microscope")

Died, Karel Čapek, Czech author, inventor of the word robot

Karel Čapek (9 January 1890 - 25 December 1938), was one of the most important Czech writers of the 20th century. He introduced and made popular the frequently used international word robot, which first appeared in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) in 1920.

Čapek wrote with intelligence and humor on a wide variety of subjects; his works known not only for interesting and exact descriptions of reality, but also for his excellent work with the Czech language. He is perhaps best known as a science fiction author who wrote long before science fiction became established as a separate genre. He can be counted as one of the founders of classical non-hardcore European science fiction, which focuses on possible future (or alternative) social and human evolution on Earth, rather than technically advanced stories of space travel. Many of his works discuss ethical and other aspects of the revolutionary inventions and processes that were already expected in the first half of 20th century, including mass production, atomic weapons, and post-human intelligent beings such as robots or intelligent salamanders.

Born, Michael P. Anderson (at Plattsburgh, New York, USA), Lt Colonel USAF, NASA astronaut (STS 89, STS 107) (deceased, Columbia re-entry failure)

Astronaut Michael P. Anderson, NASA photo

Died, Reinhold Rudenberg, inventor (electric power systems, electrostatic-lens electron microscope)

1968 06:10:16 GMT
NASA's Apollo 8 crew left Lunar orbit after becoming the first manned mission to circle the Moon.

Apollo 8 was originally meant to be an Earth orbital test, like the Apollo 9 mission. However, it was becoming clear the Soviets were trying to preempt the first Lunar flyby with their Zond program, which aimed to fly a stripped down Soyuz on a Proton rocket carrying 1 or 2 cosmonauts to the Moon. The Soviets conducted a partially successful unmanned test in September 1968, which spurred NASA into redesignating the Apollo 8 mission on short notice. Apollo 8 was therefore moved up to be a Lunar flight. The Apollo 8 crew rode inside the Command Module, with no Lunar lander attached. They were the first astronauts to be launched by the Saturn V, which had flown only twice before.

Apollo 8 was launched 21 December 1968, crewed by Frank Borman, commander; Jim Lovell, Command Module pilot; William A. Anders, Lunar Module pilot (a misnomer, since there was no Lunar Module on the mission). Approximately two hours and fifty minutes after leaving the ground, the Saturn V's S-IVB third stage was restarted, propelling the crew from an Earth parking orbit velocity of 7792.8 meters per second to a translunar trajectory velocity of 10,822 meters per second. 66 hours 16 minutes later, on 24 December 1968, the Service Module engines were ignited to put Apollo 8 into orbit around the Moon.

As the spacecraft passed behind the Moon for the first time, and communications were interrupted, the Apollo 8 crew became the first humans to see the far side of the Moon. The next 12 hours of crew activity in Lunar orbit involved photography of both the near and far sides of the Moon and landing-area sightings. The crew completed photographic exercises in an excellent manner. Over 800 70 mm still photographs were obtained. Of these, 600 were good-quality reproductions of Lunar surface features, and the remainder were of the S-IVB during separation and venting, and long-distance Earth and Lunar photography. Over 700 feet of 16 mm film were also exposed during the S-IVB separation, Lunar landmark photography through the sextant, Lunar surface sequence photography, and documentation of intravehicular activity.

One of the most famous photos from this mission is the "Apollo 8 Earthrise View" (AS08-14-2383) where the Earth was about five degrees above the Lunar horizon in a telephoto view taken when the Apollo 8 spacecraft was near 110 degrees east longitude. The horizon, about 570 kilometers (350 statute miles) from the spacecraft, was near the eastern limb of the Moon as viewed from the Earth. The width of the view at the horizon was about 150 kilometers (95 statute miles). On the Earth, 240,000 statute miles away, the sunset terminator was crossing Africa. The crew took the photo around 10:40 a.m. (Houston time) on the morning of 24 December (approximately 15:40 GMT). In the picture, the South Pole is in the white area near the left end of the terminator, and North and South America are under the clouds.

The crew initially followed the Lunar orbit mission plan and performed all scheduled tasks. However, because of crew fatigue, the commander made the decision to cancel all activities during the final four hours in Lunar orbit to allow the crew to rest. The only activities during this period were a required platform alignment and preparation for transearth injection. A planned 26-minute 43-second television transmission of the Moon and Earth was made Christmas Eve, during which the crew read the first ten verses of Genesis from the Bible, then wished viewers "Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth." An estimated one billion people in 64 countries heard or viewed the live reading and greeting; delayed broadcasts reached an additional 30 countries that same day.

After ten revolutions and 20 hours 10 minutes 13.0 seconds in Lunar orbit, the transearth injection maneuver was performed with the Service Propulsion System, and the astronauts were on their way home.

The Service Module was jettisoned as Apollo 8 approached Earth, and the Command Module followed an automatically guided entry profile. The Command Module reentered Earth's atmosphere (400,000 feet altitude) at a velocity of 36,221.1 ft/second following a transearth coast of 57 hours 23 minutes 32.5 seconds. The ionization became so bright during entry that the Command Module interior was bathed in a cold blue light as bright as daylight. At 180,000 feet, as expected, the lift of the Command Module bounced it to 210,000 feet, where it then resumed its downward course. The parachute system effected splashdown of the Command Module in the Pacific Ocean at 15:51:42 GMT (10:51:42 a.m. EST) on 27 December 1968. Mission duration was 147:00:42.0. The impact point was 1.4 nautical miles from the target point and 2.6 n mi from the recovery ship U.S.S. Yorktown.

Basic flight objectives: Demonstration of performance in cislunar and Lunar orbit environment; evaluation of crew performance in Lunar orbit mission; demonstration of communications and tracking; high-resolution photography. Summary of results: Successful; first manned Lunar orbit; first manned Saturn V launch. Flight time: 147:00:42

The first picture of a comet taken from space (Comet Kohoutek) was taken by the crew of Skylab.

Comet Kohoutek photographed with the far-ultraviolet electrographic camera during a Skylab spacewalk
NASA photo

USSR's Venera 11 flight platform passed Venus at a distance of approximately 34,000 km.

Venera 11 was part of a two-spacecraft mission (Venera 11 and Venera 12) to study Venus and the interplanetary medium. Each of the two spacecraft consisted of a flight platform and a lander probe. Identical instruments were carried on both spacecraft. The flight platform had instruments to study solar-wind composition, gamma-ray bursts, ultraviolet radiation, and the electron density of the ionosphere of Venus. The lander probe carried instruments to study the characteristics and composition of the atmosphere of Venus.

Venera 11 was launched 9 September 1978 into a 177 x 205 km, 51.5 degree inclination Earth orbit from which it was propelled into a 3.5 month Venus transfer orbit. After ejection of the lander probe, the flight platform continued on past Venus in a heliocentric orbit. Near encounter with Venus occurred on 25 December 1978, at approximately 34,000 km altitude. The flight platform acted as a data relay for the descent craft for 95 minutes until it flew out of range, after which it continued to return its own measurements on interplanetary space. The platform was equipped with a gamma-ray spectrometer, retarding potential traps, UV grating monochromator, electron and proton spectrometers, gamma-ray burst detectors, solar wind plasma detectors, and two-frequency transmitters.

The Venera 11 descent craft carried instruments designed to study the detailed chemical composition of the atmosphere, the nature of the clouds, and the thermal balance of the atmosphere. After separating from its flight platform on 23 December 1978, it entered the Venus atmosphere two days later at 11.2 km/sec (approximately 25,000 mph). During the descent, it employed aerodynamic braking followed by parachute braking and ending with atmospheric braking. It made a soft landing on the surface at 06:24 Moscow time (03:24 GMT) on 25 December after a descent time of approximately 1 hour. The touchdown speed was 7-8 m/s (15-18 mph). Information was transmitted to the flight platform for retransmittal to Earth until the latter moved out of range 95 minutes after touchdown.

Both Venera 11 and 12 landers failed to return the planned color television views of the surface, and to perform soil analysis experiments. All of the camera protective covers failed to eject after landing (the cause was not established). Some US literature noted that the imaging system "failed" but did return some data. The soil drilling experiment was apparently damaged by a leak in the soil collection device, the interior of which was exposed to the high Venusian atmospheric pressure. The leak had probably formed during the descent phase because the lander was less aerodynamically stable than had been thought.

Two other experiments on the lander also failed, and their failure was acknowledged by the Soviets at the time.

Among the instruments on board were a gas chromatograph to measure the composition of Venus' atmosphere, instruments to study scattered solar radiation and soil composition, and a device named Groza which was designed to measure amospheric electrical discharges. Results reported included evidence of lightning and thunder, a high Ar36/Ar40 ratio, and the discovery of carbon monoxide at low altitudes.

See also the Venera 11 Descent Craft page.

1978 06:24:00 Moscow time (GMT +3:00:00)
USSR Venera 11 landed on the surface of Venus after descending through the atmosphere for about an hour, and transmitted data for 95 minutes.
see above

1999 17:03:00 CST (GMT -6:00:00)
NASA's STS 103 crew released the Hubble Space Telescope back into orbit after completing the third servicing mission.

STS 103 was launched 19 December 1999 for eight days in orbit on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Two teams of space walkers spent more than 24 hours conducting extravehicular activities (EVAs) installing new equipment and performing other maintenance tasks to upgrade the space-based observatory.

The Hubble Telescope was captured 21 December 1999. Mike Foale, John Grunsfeld, Claude Nicollier and Steve Smith performed 3 EVAs, each just over 8 hours long, on 22 December, 23 December and 24 December. The new, improved, and upgraded equipment included six fresh gyroscopes, six battery voltage/temperature improvement kits, a faster and more powerful main computer, a next-generation solid state data recorder, a new transmitter, an enhanced fine guidance sensor, and new insulation. Hubble was released back into its own orbit on 25 December 1999.

The STS 103 mission ended when Discovery landed at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on 27 December 1999, approximately 49 minutes less than 8 days after it was launched, and having traveled 3.25 million miles.

The STS 103 flight crew was: Curtis L. Brown, Commander; Scott J Kelly, Pilot; Steven L. Smith, Mission Specialist 1; Jean-Francois Clervoy, Mission Specialist 2; John M. Grunsfeld, Mission Specialist 3; Michael Foale, Mission Specialist 4; Claude Nicollier, Mission Specialist 5.

2003 02:47:00 GMT
ESA Mars Express mission entered Mars orbit.

Mars Express was the first European Space Agency (ESA) mission to Mars, launched 2 June 2003 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It consisted of an orbiter, the Mars Express Orbiter, and a lander, Beagle 2. The scientific objectives of the Mars Express Orbiter were to obtain a global high resolution (10 m resolution) photographic geology study, mineralogical mapping (100 m resolution) and mapping of the atmospheric composition, study the subsurface structure, the global atmospheric circulation, and the interaction between the atmosphere and the subsurface, and the atmosphere and the interplanetary medium. The Beagle 2 lander's objectives were to characterize the landing site geology, mineralogy, and geochemistry, the physical properties of the atmosphere and surface layers, collect data on Martian meteorology and climatology, and search for possible signatures of life.

Mars Express arrived at Mars in December 2003 after a 400 million km journey and a course correction in September. The Beagle 2 lander was released on 19 December at 8:31 UTC (9:31 CET) on a ballistic cruise towards the surface. On 20 December, Mars Express fired a short thruster burst to put it into position to orbit the planet. The Mars Express Orbiter fired its main engine for 37 minutes on 25 December at 2:47 UT (9:47 p.m. EST, 24 December) and went into a highly elliptical 250 km x 150,000 km initial capture orbit with an inclination of 25 degrees. The orbit was adjusted by four more main engine firings starting on 30 December to the desired 258 km x 11,560 km near polar (86.3 degree inclination) orbit with a period of 7.5 hours. Near periapsis the top deck is pointed down towards the Martian surface, and near apoapsis the high gain antenna is pointed towards Earth for uplink and downlink. After 440 days the apoapsis was lowered to 10,107 km and periapsis raised to 298 km to give an orbital period of 6.7 hours. Aerobraking can be used to modify the orbit if there are any problems with the main engine. Nominal mission duration was planned to be 1 martian year (687 Earth days) but it was been extended multiple times. The orbit was changed in January 2009 to maintain illumination conditions. As of December 2015, the orbiter continues to operate.

The Beagle 2 coasted for five days after release and entered the Martian atmosphere on the morning of 25 December. Landing was expected to occur at about 02:54 UT on 25 December (9:54 p.m. EST 24 December). No signals have been received and the lander was declared lost on 6 February 2004.

See also re. the Mars Express orbiter.
See also re. the Beagle 2 lander.

2003 02:54:00 GMT
ESA Beagle 2 lander was expected to land on Mars. Since no signals have been received, the probe is assumed lost.
see above

Died (cancer), Gennadi Mikhailovich Strekalov, Soviet cosmonaut (Salyut 6, Soyuz T-8, Soyuz T-10-1, Salyut 7/3, Mir 7, Mir 18, nearly 269 total days in space), survived first manned launch pad abort (Soyuz T-10-1)

2004 02:00:00 GMT
The Cassini orbiter released the Huygens probe for its landing on Saturn's moon Titan.

Huygens was an atmospheric probe designed to make in situ observations of Saturn's satellite Titan. ESA's contribution to the Cassini mission, Huygens' objectives were to: (1) determine the physical characteristics (density, pressure, temperature, etc.) of Titan's atmosphere as a function of height; (2) measure the abundance of atmospheric constituents; (3) investigate the atmosphere's chemistry and photochemistry, especially with regard to organic molecules and the formation and composition of aerosols; (4) characterize the meteorology of Titan, particularly with respect to cloud physics, lightning discharges, and general circulation; and, (5) examine the physical state, topography, and composition of the surface.

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