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October 4, 1957: The Launch of Sputnik and the Dawn of the Space Age

In space history, without a doubt, the most important date is the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik to space on October 4, 1957 at 7:28 PM.  The launch of the first man-made object to space represents the beginning of the space age, when humanity started to conquer outer space. The Sputnik Satellite was 83.6 kilograms and its main function at a low earth orbit was to beep radio signals at a regular interval. The launch of Sputnik also led to the start of the Space Race between the Americans and the Soviets.

Sputnik Launch on October 4 1957Sputnik orbited for three weeks before its batteries died and then orbited silently for two months before it fell back into the atmosphere on 4 January 1958. Its radio signal was easily detectable by radio amateurs and the 65° orbital inclination and duration of its orbit made its flight path cover virtually the entire inhabited Earth.

The satellite had a one-watt, 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) radio transmitting unit inside, developed by Vyacheslav I. Lappo from NII-885, the Moscow Electronics Research Institute that worked on two frequencies, 20.005 and 40.002 MHz. Signals on the first frequency were transmitted in 0.3 s pulses (near f = 3 Hz) (under normal temperature and pressure conditions on board), with pauses of the same duration filled by pulses on the second frequency Analysis of the radio signals was used to gather information about the electron density of the ionosphere. Temperature and pressure were encoded in the duration of radio beeps.

While compared to the satellites of today, Sputnik was very basic but its launch on October 4, 1957, changed human history and its impact on the space age is still felt even today. To commemorate the launch, every year the day of October 4 and the week proceeding it is called as Space Week and celebrated across the world.

May 30, 1975 : European Space Agency Established

The European Space Agency was created as a merger of the European Launcher Development Organization, or ELDO, and the European Space Research Organisation, ESRO. Both ELDO and ESRO were established in the 1960s to unify the space-related activities of European nations.

After World War II, a lot of European rocket scientists left to work in the United States. This made it difficult for small countries in Europe to compete with the space programs of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which were the two big superpowers in the world of spaceflight.

So, the Europeans united to create ELDO and ESRO. ELDO handled launch operations while ESRO handled the science. In 1975, they decided to unite those two organizations as well. The European Space Agency was officially founded with the signing of the ESA Convention on May 30, 1975, and the agency began operations the next day.

The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organization of 22 member states dedicated to the exploration of space. Established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,200 in 2018 and an annual budget of about €6.68 billion in 2020

April 15, 2005: NASA spacecraft collides with satellite

On April 15, 2005, NASA launched a spacecraft on a mission to rendezvous with a small communications satellite. The launch went according to plan, but the mission ended abruptly when the spacecraft collided with the satellite.

The mission was known as DART, which is short for Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology. Its objective was to demonstrate that a fully automated and uncrewed spacecraft could rendezvous with another spacecraft in orbit. But the two spacecraft were not supposed to make contact.

When DART approached its target, it ran out of fuel and inadvertently bumped into it. Investigators determined that DART’s thrusters had been firing excessively because of a problem with its navigation system. It was a soft collision, and neither of the spacecraft were noticeably damaged.

April 12, 1961: 60th anniversary of historic first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin

April 12, 1981: The Flight of the First Space Shuttle

First Space Shuttle FlightOn the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space (first manned flight to space), NASA launched the first space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981. Space Shuttle was the first usable spacecraft and thus it opened up a new era of space travel since now space travel could become cheaper and easier with reusable spacecraft.

The first mission of the space transport system (STS-1) or Space Shuttle, flew on April 12, 1981, ending a long hiatus in American space flight. The last Apollo lunar mission flew in December 1972, and the joint American Russian Apollo-Soyuz Earth orbital mission closed in July 1975. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intended that the shuttle make that permanent link between Earth and space, and that it should become part of “a total transportation system” including “vehicles, ground facilities, a communications net, trained crews, established freight rates and flight schedules and the prospect of numerous important and exciting tasks to be done.” It was to be “one element in a grand design that included a Space Station, unmanned planetary missions, and a manned flight to Mars.”

Awarded the Collier Trophy (in a tradition that began in 1911), the flight of STS-1 represented the greatest achievement in aviation for 1981. NASA, Rockwell International, Martin Marietta, Thiokol, and the entire government/industrial team responsible for the design, construction, and flight of the spacecraft, as well as the crew of the shuttle, John Young, Robert Crippen, Joe Engle, and Richard Truly, were all recipients of that award. Since 1962, NASA aerospace projects, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Landsat, and Skylab, had received ten of the twenty Collier awards. Now, the eleventh in twenty years went to a NASA team that had designed and flown something remarkably different from those previous craft. For the Space Shuttle was a true aerospace craft, a reusable vehicle that could take off from the Earth, enter and operate in space, and return to an Earth landing. N. Wayne Hale, a missions flight director for the shuttle, likened it to a battleship, which while it may have only a few aboard, nevertheless had a crew of thousands stationed around the world and linked by Mission Control. Owen Morris, the Engineering and Systems Integration Division head for the shuttle Program Office, described the shuttle as a particularly complex, integrated machine and an enormous engineering challenge.


Although it flew its maiden voyage only in 1981, NASA’s shuttle program began many years earlier and predated Apollo. In the late 1950s, as human space flight began to be seriously considered and planned, most scientists and engineers projected that if space flight became a reality it would build upon logical building blocks. First, a human would be lofted into space as a passenger in a capsule (project Mercury). Second, the passengers would acquire some control over the space vehicle (project Gemini). Third, a reusable space vehicle would be developed that would take humans into Earth orbit and return them. Next, a permanent Space Station would be constructed in a near-Earth orbit through the utilization of the reusable space vehicle. Finally, planetary and lunar flights would be launched from the Space Station using relatively low-thrust and reusable (and thus lower cost) space vehicles. The perception of what became the shuttle as that reusable space vehicle associated with an orbiting space station held fast well into the vehicle’s developmental stages.


April 9, 1959: NASA introduces the ‘Mercury 7’ astronauts

On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its very first astronaut class. This dashing group of young men is known as the Mercury 7.

Mercury 7 AstronautsThey were all military test pilots before they were chosen for the job, and they had all “the right stuff” to take on such risky missions. But in a way, they essentially became guinea pigs for NASA’s new human spaceflight program, because they didn’t get to do much piloting inside the Mercury spacecraft.
Some of the pilots weren’t too happy about this. But the rest of the country paid no attention to that, and the Mercury 7 instantly became national heroes. In 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to fly to space, followed by Gus Grissom. Then in 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

After that, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper all completed orbital missions as well. Deke Slayton, the only Mercury 7 astronaut not to fly a Mercury mission, later flew on the historic Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first joint flight by two countries: the United States and Soviet Unio

April 3,1973: Soviet Union launches Salyut 2 space station –

April 3, 1973: Soviet Union launches Salyut 2 space station

On April 3, 1973, the Soviet Union launched a small space station called Salyut 2. This was the second space station to be successfully launched (after Salyut 1) and the first military space station.

The Soviet Union told the rest of the world that Salyut 2 was a civilian space station built for scientific research, but it was secretly intended to be a crewed military reconnaissance station. No crews ever made it to Salyut 2, though. Less than two weeks after it launched, its attitude control system stopped working, and it started tumbling around in space. Mission control noticed that pressure inside the station had dropped for no apparent reason.

They later found out that a small explosion had happened in the station’s propulsion system several days earlier. The damaged station was slowly falling apart. Bits and pieces of Salyut 2 fell back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere.