Marking milestones in space flight, space shuttle program

NASA and space enthusiasts worldwide are celebrating two major anniversaries Tuesday

This is a big day for NASA and space buffs around the world, who are celebrating two major anniversaries.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight, as well as the 30th anniversary of NASA's first space shuttle launch.

The latter anniversary is a somewhat bittersweet milestone for the U.S. space agency, which will soon retire its Space Shuttle fleet and transition into a new era.

On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin , the son of a Moscow carpenter, made history with a 108-minute orbital flight around the Earth to become the first human in space.

Gagarin's spacecraft, dubbed Vostok 1, circled Earth at a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour and reached a height of about 203 miles above Earth.

Russia's launch of the first human into space marked the beginning of the space race. A month after Gagarin's flight, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space.

"Yuri's first flight really did spur NASA into action, getting our astronauts into space and to the moon," said Daniel Lockney, a program specialist with NASA. "It was an exciting time."

The U.S. hit a major milestone when NASA launched Columbia , the first space shuttle craft, on April 12, 1981. The fleet of reusable space vehicles, which includes Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, are designed to go into space and then return to Earth like a giant glider. The program ushered in a whole new era in space travel.

NASA noted that Columbia's original liftoff marked the first time in history a new spacecraft was launched with a crew aboard on its maiden voyage .

The NASA space shuttle craft , each of which is longer than three school buses, have collectively flown a total of 513.7 million miles, according to NASA.

Thanks largely to the efforts of the various space shuttles, NASA and its international teammates were able to build out the International Space Station .

The space shuttle Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and the shuttle team since lifted off for five different servicing missions to maintain and upgrade the telescope's scientific instruments and operational systems.

Along with the many accomplishments, NASA has had its share of tragedy and heartbreak with the space shuttles as well.

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart in the sky over Florida just 73 seconds after it lifted off. The Challenger's seven crew members were killed.

The accident was caused by a faulty O-ring seal in the shuttle's right solid rocket booster. The failed seal eventually led to the structural failure of an external fuel tank, which then ripped the rest of Challenger apart.

And then on Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. NASA reported that the accident was caused because of a piece of foam the size of a briefcase broke off from the shuttle's external fuel tank, striking the left wing of the craft and damaging the shuttle's thermal protection system. The damaged system was unable to protect the shuttle from the intense heat the shuttle needs to endure during re-entry.

Today, all but two of NASA's shuttle fleet have flown their final missions.

Endeavour is set for its final launch on April 29. The crew will take the shuttle aloft for a 14-day mission to the space station to deliver supplies and spare parts, including two S-band communication antennas, robotic parts and a meteor debris shield.

Atlantis is scheduled to make lift off on June 28 for the final shuttle voyage. After the Atlantis mission, the shuttle fleet will be officially retired.

The space shuttle made its final trip into space in February.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hardwareNASAEmerging Technologieshardware systemsshuttlegovernmentGovernment/Industries

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?