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Race To Space
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Chinese Emperor Lo-Yang first saw a supernova, a 'guest star' that appeared in the constellation of Centaurus, hovering just above the horizon before dawn. (MSH 15-52? MSH 14-63? see http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1994MNRAS.268L...5S)
ref: www.phenomena.org.uk

A. Charlois discovered asteroid #423 Diotima.

Born, Gerard Kuiper, astronomer

Gerard Peter Kuiper, born Gerrit Pieter Kuiper (7 December 1905 - 23 December 1973) was a Dutch-American astronomer. Born and educated in the Netherlands, he moved to the United States in 1933. Kuiper discovered Uranus's moon Miranda and Neptune's moon Nereid. He also suggested the existence of a belt of trans-Neptunian objects outside Neptune's orbit, now confirmed, and named the Kuiper belt. Kuiper also pioneered airborne infrared observing using a Convair 990 aircraft in the 1960s, and helped identify landing sites on the Moon for the Apollo program.
ref: solarsystem.nasa.gov

Leo Baekeland, of Yonkers, New York, received a patent for the first thermosetting plastic, Bakelite.
ref: en.wikipedia.org

Died, William Griggs, inventor (photo chromo lithography)
ref: en.wikisource.org

Died, George Darwin, theorized the Moon was pulled out of the Pacific Ocean
ref: en.wikipedia.org

J. H. Metcalf discovered asteroid #737 Arequipa.

K. Reinmuth discovered asteroid #1078 Mentha.

The Convention on International Civil Aviation (also known as the Chicago Convention) was signed by representatives from 52 countries.
ref: www.icao.int

1958 19:51:00 GMT
NASA's Pioneer 3 re-entered the atmosphere after detecting the outer Van Allen radiation belt.

Pioneer 3 was a spin stabilized spacecraft launched 6 December 1958 by the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile agency in conjunction with NASA. The spacecraft failed to go past the Moon and into a heliocentric orbit as planned, but did reach a maximum altitude of over 102,000 km before falling back to Earth. The revised spacecraft objectives were to measure radiation in the outer Van Allen belt area using Geiger-Mueller tubes and to test the trigger mechanism for a Lunar photographic experiment.

The flight plan called for the Pioneer 3 probe to pass close to the Moon after 33.75 hours and then go into Solar orbit. However, propellant depletion caused the first stage engine to shut down 3.7 seconds early, preventing the spacecraft from reaching escape velocity. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 102,360 km (109,740 km from the center of the Earth) before falling back to Earth. It re-entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up over Africa on 7 December at approximately 19:51 UT. The probe returned telemetry for about 25 hours of its 38 hour journey, the other 13 hours were out of range of the two tracking stations. The data obtained were of particular value since they indicated the existence of two distinct radiation belts.
ref: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov

1968 08:38:00 GMT
NASA's Orbiting Astronomical Observatory 2 was launched and placed in a low-earth orbit, one of a series of automated astronomical observatories whose orientation was controllable from the ground.
ref: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov

Died, Rube Goldberg, famously made the easy outrageously difficult, the only person ever to be listed in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as an adjective
ref: en.wikipedia.org

1972 05:33:00 GMT
NASA launched the last manned Saturn V, carrying the Apollo 17 astronauts on the last manned Lunar landing mission to date (2020).
T-shirt design by Fred Koschara Source: The L5 Development Group black_LastMan_front.gif
T-shirt design by Fred Koschara
Source: The L5 Development Group

Apollo 17 was launched 7 December 1972, the last manned mission launched by the Saturn V rocket, the eleventh manned space mission in the NASA Apollo program, and the sixth and last mission to date (2021) to land on the Moon. It was the first night launch, and the final mission, of the Apollo program. Crew members were Gene Cernan, commander; Ron Evans, Command Module pilot; and Harrison Schmitt, Lunar Module pilot.

Approximately five hours after launch, while en route to the Moon, the crew took a photograph of Earth called "The Blue Marble" at a distance of approximately 55,000 km. It is one of the most widely distributed photograph images in existence.

One of the last two men to set foot on the Moon was also the first scientist-astronaut, Schmitt, a geologist. While Evans circled in the command module "America," Schmitt and Cernan landed on the Moon on 11 December 1972. The crew collected a record 108.86 kilograms of rocks during three moonwalks, roamed 33.80 kilometers from the "Challenger" LEM through the Taurus-Littrow valley in their rover, discovered orange-colored soil, and left the most comprensive set of instruments in the ALSEP on the Lunar surface.

At 05:40:56 GMT on 14 December 1972, Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan returned to the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), ending the last Extravehicular Activity (EVA) of what would prove to be the final expedition of the Apollo program. To date (2021), no other humans have yet returned to set foot on the Lunar surface, foisting on Captain Cernan the dubious honor and title of being "The Last Man on the Moon."

The LEM ascent stage was released after Cernan and Schmitt returned to the Command Module, and impacted the Moon on 15 December 1972.

Apollo 17 splashed down on 19 December 1972 at 17 deg 53 min S, 166 deg 7 min W, 350 nautical miles SE of the Samoan Islands and 6.5 km (4 mi) from the recovery ship USS Ticonderoga.

See also NASA HISTORICAL DATA BOOK, Apollo 17 Characteristics
See also "The Blue Marble" on Wikipedia
ref: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov

1972 10:39:00 GMT
The crew of NASA's Apollo 17 took a photograph of Earth called "The Blue Marble" at a distance of approximately 55,000 km. It is one of the most widely distributed photographic images in existence.

"The Blue Marble" - NASA astronaut photograph AS17-148-22727
Source: NASA Johnson Space Center
see above

P. Wild discovered asteroid #2843.

Died, Peter Carl Goldmark, inventor, developed color TV and LP ("long playing") records
ref: en.wikipedia.org

Purple Mountain Observatory discovered asteroid #3494.

T. Seki discovered asteroid #2961 Katsurahama.

NASA's Galileo spacecraft passed the North Pole of the Moon (Peary Crater).

Space Shuttle Atlantis, with the Galileo spacecraft aboard, was launched from Kennedy Space Center on 18 October 1989. Galileo was deployed on the 6th orbit around the Earth, with the first stage IUS burn executed an hour later. The second stage IUS burn occurred 5 minutes later to place Galileo on an Earth escape velocity of 7.1 miles/sec. 7 hours 46 minutes after launch, the IUS went into a first stage spinoff to deploy the RTG and science booms. The second stage IUS spinoff at a rate of 2.9 revolutions/minute for the separation of the IUS from Galileo soon followed. At that point, telemetry data were transmitted and received by the DSN (Deep Space Network).

The Galileo mission consisted of two spacecraft: an orbiter and an atmospheric probe. The trajectory which the spacecraft followed was called a VEEGA (Venus-Earth-Earth Gravity Assist), traveling first in toward the Sun for a gravity assist from Venus on 10 February 1990 before encountering the Earth two times on 8 December 1990 and two years later, on 8 December 1992. These encounters with Venus and the Earth allowed Galileo to gain enough velocity to get it out to Jupiter.

During the flybys of Venus and the Earth, Galileo scientists studied these two planets as well as the Moon, making some unprecedented observations. In addition, following each Earth flyby, Galileo made excursions as far out in the solar system as the asteroid belt, enabling scientists to make the first close-up studies of two asteroids, Gaspra (29 October 1991) and Ida (28 August 1993). Galileo scientists were also the only ones with a "direct view" of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragment impacts on Jupiter in July 1994. All of this was prior to the primary missions of sending an atmospheric probe into Jupiter's atmosphere and studying Jupiter, its satellites, and its magnetosphere for two years with the orbiter.

Interplanetary studies were also made sporadically by some of the other Galileo instruments, including the dust detector, magnetometer, and various plasma and particles detectors, during its six year journey to Jupiter.

The probe was released from the orbiter on 12 July 1995, 147 days prior to its entry into the Jovian atmosphere on 7 December 1995, which was the same day the main spacecraft went into orbit around Jupiter.

The Galileo spacecraft's 14-year odyssey came to an end on Sunday 21 September 2003 when the spacecraft passed into Jupiter's shadow then disintegrated in the planet's dense atmosphere after 35 orbits around the planet. Its propellant was depleted, it was maneuvered to enter the Jovian atmosphere at 18:57 GMT (11:57 AM PDT). Entry was at 48.2 km/s from an orbit with a periapsis 9700 km below the 1-bar atmospheric layer. The spacecraft continued transmitting at least until it passed behind the limb of Jupiter at 1850:54 GMT, when it was 9283 km above the 1-bar level, surprising Galileo veterans who feared it might enter safe mode due to the high radiation environment. On its farewell dive, it had crossed the orbit of Callisto at around 1100 on 20 September, the orbit of Ganymede at around 0500 on 21 September, Europa's orbit at about 1145, Io's orbit at about 1500, Amalthea's orbit at 1756, and the orbits of Adrastea and Metis at 1825. Galileo was destroyed to prevent the possibility that its orbit would eventually be perturbed in such a way that it would crash on and biologically contaminate Europa, which was considered a possible place to search for life. Light travel time from Jupiter to Earth was 52 min 20 sec at the time of impact, and the final signal reached Earth at 1943:14 GMT.

See also the JPL PhotoJournal for Gaspra for more images and information about the asteroid Gaspra encounter.
ref: solarsystem.nasa.gov

NASA's Galileo spacecraft arrived at Jupiter where it orbited the planet for nearly 8 years.
see above

1995 22:04:00 GMT
A probe carried by NASA's Galileo spacecraft penetrated the atmosphere of Jupiter, the first man-made craft to do so.
see above

1996 06:49:05 EST (GMT -5:00:00)
NASA's STS 80 (Columbia 21) mission landed after more than seventeen and a half days in space.

Originally scheduled for a 31 October 1996 launch date, STS 80 was delayed by Hurricane Fran and concerns about nozzle erosion on the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). At a follow up Flight Readiness Review (FRR) on 11 November, 15 November was set as the official launch date, pending a commercial Atlas launch 13 November, and the launch countdown began. Just two days later, the launch was postponed to 19 November because the Atlas launch was scrubbed and because of predicted bad weather in the KSC vicinity for period of several days, and the count remained in an extended hold. The launch on 19 November 1996 occurred about three minutes after the scheduled opening of the launch window due to a hold at T-31 seconds to assess hydrogen concentrations in the aft engine compartment.

STS 80, the final Shuttle flight of 1996, was highlighted by successful deployment, operation and retrieval of two free-flying research spacecraft. Two planned extravehicular activities (EVAs) were canceled when the crew was unable to open the hatch due to a loose screw in an internal actuator.

The Orbiting and Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer-Shuttle Pallet Satellite II (ORFEUS-SPAS II) free-flyer was deployed on flight day one to begin approximately two weeks of data gathering. Its mission was dedicated to astronomical observations at very short wavelengths to: investigate the nature of hot stellar atmospheres; investigate cooling mechanisms of white dwarf stars; determine the nature of accretion disks around collapsed stars; investigate supernova remnants; and investigate the interstellar medium and potential star-forming regions. All ORFEUS-SPAS II mission goals were achieved, and more than twice the data was obtained than on the first ORFEUS-SPAS flight.

Wake Shield Facility-3 (WSF-3) was deployed on flight day 4. WSF is a 12 foot diameter, free flying stainless steel disk designed to generate an ultravacuum environment in its wake in which to grow semiconductor thin films for use in advanced electronics. Its third flight was highly successful, with a maximum seven thin film growths of semiconductor materials achieved and the satellite hardware performing nearly flawlessly. WSF-3 was retrieved after three days of free-flight.

Other experiments conducted on STS 80 were: Space Experiment Module (SEM) to provide increased educational access to space; NIH-R4, fourth in series of collaborative experiments developed by NASA and National Institutes of Health, to investigate role of calcium in blood pressure regulation; NASA/CCM-A, one of a series of Shuttle bone cell experiments; Biological Research in Canister (BRIC)-09 experiment to study influence of microgravity on genetically-altered tomato and tobacco seedlings; Commercial MDA ITA experiment (CMIX-5), the last in its series of Shuttle experiments; and Visualization in an Experimental Water Capillary Pumped Loop (VIEW-CPL), a middeck experiment, to investigate a method for spacecraft thermal management. The crew also worked with the Space Vision System, designed to monitor the position and alignment of structures in space.

The STS 80 mission ended when Columbia landed 7 December 1996 on revolution 279 on Runway 33, Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Rollout distance: 8,721 feet (2,658 meters). Rollout time: one minute, two seconds. Orbit altitude: 218 statute miles. Orbit inclination: 28.45 degrees. Mission duration: 17 days, 15 hours, 53 minutes, 18 seconds. Miles traveled: 7 million. The landing was originally scheduled for 5 December, but Columbia was waved off two days in a row due to weather conditions in Florida. This was the third time in the Shuttle program history that a landing was waved off twice consecutively due to weather followed by landing at the prime site on the third day (the other times were STS-57, 1993, and STS 61-C, 1986).

The STS 80 flight crew was: Kenneth D. Cockrell, Mission Commander; Kent V. Rominger, Pilot; Tamara E. Jernigan, Mission Specialist; Thomas D. Jones, Mission Specialist; F. Story Musgrave, Mission Specialist. At age 61, Musgrave became the oldest human being to fly in space to that date. He also set a new record for the most Shuttle flights (six) and tied fellow astronaut John Young's record for the most spaceflights total.
ref: www.nasa.gov

2001 14:03:00 CST (GMT -6:00:00)
NASA's STS 108 (Endeavor) mission docked at the International Space Station.

STS 108 was launched 5 December 2001, and docked at the International Space Station on 7 December 2001, where it remained until 15 December 2001. The mission ended when Endeavor landed on 17 December 2001. Orbit altitude: 122 nautical miles. Orbit inclination: 51.6 degrees. Mission duration: 11 days, 19 hours, 36 minutes.

STS-108 was the 12th shuttle flight to visit the International Space Station, and the first since the installation of the Russian Pirs airlock. Endeavour delivered the Expedition Four crew -- Commander Yury Onufrienko and Flight Engineers Carl Walz and Dan Bursch -- to the orbital outpost. The Expedition Three crew -- Commander Frank Culbertson, Pilot Vladimir Dezhurov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin -- returned to Earth on Endeavour.

While at the station, the crew conducted one spacewalk and attached the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the station so that about 2.7 metric tons (3 tons) of equipment and supplies could be unloaded. The crew later returned Raffaello to Endeavour's payload bay for the trip home.

The Student-Tracked Atmospheric Research Satellite for Heuristic International Networking Experiment (STARSHINE 2) was deployed from Endeavour's payload bay 16 December 2001, one day before landing.
ref: www.nasa.gov

2002 13:37:00 CST (GMT -6:00:00)
NASA STS 113 (Endeavor 19, 112th shuttle mission) landed at Kennedy Space Center

STS 113 was launched 23 November 2002, the 16th shuttle mission to the International Space Station (designated ISS Flight 11A). Orbit insertion altitude: 122 nautical miles. Orbit inclination: 51.60 degrees. During its 14 day mission, the STS 113 crew extended the International Space Station's backbone with installation of the P1 (P-One) Truss, and exchanged the Expedition Five and Six crews. About 1,969 kilograms (4,340 pounds) of cargo were transferred between the shuttle and station. Endeavour docked with the station 25 November and undocked on 2 December. Three EVAs were conducted. The mission ended on 7 December 2002 when Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Mission duration: 13 days, 18 hours, 47 minutes. The landing was the first time a mission ended on the fourth day of landing attempts.

See also NSSDCA Master Catalog
ref: www.nasa.gov

JAXA's Akatsuki Venus probe successfully fired its four hydrazine RCS thrusters for 20 minutes to enter orbit, five years later than planned when it was launched.

On 20 May 2010, JAXA launched its Akatsuki probe from the Tanegashima YLP-1 launch site at 21:58:22 UTC (21 May 2010 6:58:22 a.m. JST) toward Venus aboard an H-IIA 202 rocket, with infrared camera observations of cloud and surface imaging planned from orbit there. (A small solar power sail demonstration mission, Ikaros, was also carried aloft on the same launch.) Other experiments were included to confirm the presence of lightning, and to determine whether volcanism occurs currently on Venus. The primary objective was studying the complex Venusian meteorology caused by atmospheric super-rotation: On most planets, the atmosphere circulates much slower than the planet's rotation speed (Earth's fastest winds are only 10-20% of its rotation speed). However, Venus rotates at 6 km/h at the equator (its rotational period of 243 days is the slowest of the solar system's planets), but the atmosphere spins around the planet at 300 km/h at the cloud tops, winds move at up to 60 times the speed of its rotation.

Akatsuki was originally intended to conduct scientific research for two or more years from an elliptical orbit around Venus at an altitude ranging from 300 to 80,000 km (190 to 49,710 mi). However, instead of firing for 12 minutes during the orbit insertion burn starting at 8:49 a.m. 7 December 2010 JST (6 December 23:49 UTC, 6 December 6:49 p.m. EST), the probe's engines only fired for 152 seconds (2.5 minutes), the failure occurring when Akatsuki was behind Venus for 22 minutes from Earth's perspective. Analysis of the data indicated the likely cause of the malfunction was salt deposits jamming the valve between the helium pressurization tank and the fuel tank. As a result, the engine mixture became oxidizer-rich, resulting in high combustion temperatures that damaged the chamber's throat and nozzle. Since the burn was far short of what was needed to go into Venus orbit, Akatsuki ended up in a heliocentric one with an orbital period of 203 days. Where Venus orbits the Sun in 225 days, the probe returned to the vicinity of Venus in December 2015. During the intervening time, tests of the orbit maneuver engine (OME) showed it had insufficient specific impulse available for orbital maneuvers (thrust was only about 10% of what was expected), and a plan to use the four hydrazine attitude control thrusters of the reaction control system (RCS) to enter orbit was developed. Because the RCS thrusters don't use oxidizer, the remaining 65 kg of MON oxidizer was dumped overboard to lighten the spacecraft in October 2011. On 7 December 2015, the RCS thrusters were used to impart a total delta-v of 243.8 m/s to the spacecraft in a 20 minute burn, successfully placing the probe in a highly elliptical prograde orbit ranging from 440,000 km (270,000 mi) to 400 km (250 mi) above Venus' surface, with an orbital period of 13 days and 14 hours. A follow-up burn on 26 March 2016 lowered Akatsuki's apoapsis to about 330,000 km (210,000 mi) and shortened its orbital period from 13 to 9 days.

Akatsuki finally started its two year science mission in mid-May 2016. On 9 December 2016, two infrared cameras failed, terminating 1- and 2-micron observations.

Soon after insertion in December 2015 and in "a few glimmers in April and May" of 2016, Akatsuki's instruments recorded a "bow-shape feature in the atmosphere stretching 6,000 miles, almost pole to pole — a sideways smile" in the planet's winds above Aphrodite Terra, "a highland region about the size of Africa that rises up to three miles from the surface." Project scientists termed the feature a "gravity wave" but it is more likely simply a transient atmospheric phenomenon.

See also Wikipedia: Akatsuki (spacecraft)
ref: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov

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