September 1, 1979. On this date, NASA’s Pioneer 11 came within 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of Saturn, making it the first spacecraft ever to sweep closely past that world. Among other things, the mission investigated Saturn’s rings and determine if a trajectory through the rings was safe for the upcoming Voyager visits. They paved the way for the even-more-sophisticated Voyager spacecraft, which were launched in 1977 … and ultimately for the Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.
This Date in Science
July 20, 1969. On this date, Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed their moon module on a broad dark lunar lava flow, called the Sea of Tranquility. Six hours later, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the moon. The story in pictures … inside.
July 17, 1975. On this date, Soviets and Americans accomplished the first joint space docking between two nations in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. It marked the cooling of a long era of tense relations between the two world superpowers. Russian Soyuz and American Apollo flights launched within seven-and-a-half hours of each other on July 15, and docked on July 17. Three hours later, the world watched on television as the two mission commanders, Tom Stafford and Alexey Leonov, exchanged the first international handshake in space through the open hatch of the Soyuz.
July 10, 1962. This date marks the launch of Telstar 1, the first communications satellite capable of relaying television signals from Europe to North America, by a Delta rocket. Telstar – a 171-pound, 34.5-inch sphere loaded with transistors and covered with solar panels – relayed its first signal just hours after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first transmitted images showed an American flag outside of a receiving station in Andover, Maine.
May 31, 1819. Walt Whitman might not have approved of having his birthday listed among great dates in science. After all, he was a poet.
May 25, 1961. On this date, President John F. Kennedy gave a stirring speech before a joint session of Congress, in which he declared his intention to focus U.S. efforts on landing humans on the moon within a decade. His words ignited the work of a decade, in achieving the dream of a moon landing. Among other things, he said:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
Full text of Kennedy’s speech inside.
May 18, 2013. On this date astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) captured three beautiful views of Pavlof Volcano, part of the Aleutian Arc, with a handheld Nikon D3S digital camera. As the volcano poured out lava and shot ash 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the air, the astronauts managed to capture these seldom-seen oblique views of the volcano, which are very different from the top-down views of most unmanned satellites.
May 6, 1968. More than a year before he became the first human to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong had a narrow escape in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. The LLRV had been designed to simulate a descent to the moon’s surface, and all the lunar astronauts trained in it. That day, while Armstrong was piloting, a leaking propellant caused a total failure of his flight controls …
April 3, 1837. John Burroughs – born on today’s date in 1837 – was one of the first naturalists who focused on communicating his love of nature through the written word. You might think you haven’t heard of Burroughs, but you’ve probably heard of some of the things he said. For example:
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
He was one of the first to say in print:
If you think you can do it, you can.
And he said:
To me – old age is always ten years older than I am.
March 27, 1964. On this date, at 5:36 p.m. local time, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska, causing extensive initial damage and a subsequent tsunami. In Anchorage, dozens of blocks of buildings were leveled or damaged. Valdez, closest to the epicenter, was destroyed. The quake is now known as the Good Friday Earthquake.