Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, offers the unique sight of a complete Mercury spacecraft. Many of these spacecraft are available for viewing all over the United States, but this one is special because it did not fly.

     During the course of a Mercury flight, several parts of the spacecraft are jettisoned and not recovered, including the retro package. This piece of equipment is visible here in my photos as the striped metal object strapped to the bottom of the heat shield. This small cluster of solid rocket motors was responsible for the safe return of the astronaut from space, making just enough thrust to change the shape of the orbit so that it would meet the atmosphere and use aerobraking for a ballistic reentry.

     If this package had not fired properly, the astronaut would be faced with the dire situation of being stuck in orbit. Fortunately, this never happened in real life, but it was captured in the fanciful novel “Marooned” by Martin Cardin, in which a NASA astronaut was stranded on orbit after his retro rockets failed. When the book was released in 1964, it was so influential that it actually changed procedures for Mercury’s follow on program Project Gemini, adding more redundancy to the spacecraft’s reentry flight profile.

     Alan Shepard, the first American in space and later Apollo 14 moonwalker, didn’t fail to notice that there was a leftover spacecraft at the end of the Mercury program. He lobbied for a second Mercury flight in this ship, speaking personally to both NASA Administrator James Webb and President John Kennedy about this flight. He told them his idea of an “open ended” mission in which they would keep him in orbit indefinitely until there was a malfunction or consumables began to run out. Webb stated (and Kennedy agreed) that it was more important to shelve the Mercury spacecraft in order to jump start the more capable Gemini Program. Thus, we now have this whole Mercury on display for future generations to appreciate.


CPT-USN Eugene A. ‘Gene’ Cernan (14 March 1934 - 16 Jan 2017)

Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17 astronaut, the last man to set foot on the surface of the moon, passed away today at the age of 82. Cernan, a rough, tough Naval Aviator, A-4 jock, became part of NASA Group 3 in 1963. Gemini 9 in June 1966, proved a harrowing experience for Gene, it was one that taught us many invaluable lessons about EVA in space, a crucial step to the moon. Apollo 10 in May 1969, was to be the final test of the LEM ascent and descent stages and of it’s guidance systems from lunar orbit, a vital test flight that paved the way to Apollo 11′s historic first landing later that year. Apollo 17, the last of the historic 6 Apollo Lunar missions, in December 1972, Gene was in role as Commander of the flight, piloting the LEM along side Harrison Schmitt, landing in the mountainous region of the Taurus-Littrow valley. Gene became the last human of only 12 to set foot on the Moon.

sleep well among em’, Gene-o’

January 28th, 1986 - Space Shuttle Challenger explodes and breaks apart 73 seconds into it’s tenth mission, the 25th for the Space Shuttle Program, resulting in the deaths of her seven crew. 

These were Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe of the Teacher in Space Program.

As with Apollo 1, Challenger proved that there will always be significant risks to spaceflight, and to those brave enough to risk it all to touch the stars. President Reagan’s speech to a nation in mourning:

“It’s all part of a process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted…it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was putting us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow it.” 

Launching aboard Saturn IB SA-204, the Lunar Module, LM-1, makes its debut flight on January 22, 1968. As with many of the Apollo systems, the Lunar Module, built by Grumman Aircraft, experienced delays in the manufacturing and fabrication process, further delaying the launch that was originally scheduled for April 1967. The success of Apollo 5 in demonstrating the flight worthiness of the LM prompted NASA to cancel the second unmanned flight of the LM. Instead, LM-3 would launch aboard Apollo 9 in March of 1969, the first manned flight of the Lunar Module. Interestingly, SA-204 was originally intended for the first manned flight of the Apollo program, Apollo 1.


The 2 new upcoming NASA Discovery-Class missions (a category for lower cost missions) announced!  Lucy will visit the Trojan asteroids and Psyche will visit the asteroid Psyche, which appears to be almost entirely made of metal.


Apollo CM/LM docking assemblies.

The LEM was designed to act as a passive target when docking with the CSM. Once the probe has ‘hooked’ on to the drogue of the LM, the probe retracts, this establishes what is known as a hard-dock. The crew checks that all 12 of the latches in the docking ring are secured to ensure the integrity of the seal. The forward crew transfer hatch allows for the gradual equalization of pressure between the CM and LM. Finally, when equalization is complete, hatch, probe, and drogue are removed and stowed, then crew opens LM’s upper hatch.

The Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle would be America’s first step in achieving space-faring status. Like other early rockets, the Mercury-Redstone was derived from a ballistic missile design, the PGM-11 Redstone. 

The PGM-11 Redstone became America’s first nuclear armed Short Range Ballistic Missile for defense in West Germany and Europe during the Cold War, from 1958 to 1964. Under Chief Designer Wernher von Braun, the Restone Missile (a descendant of the V-2) was also developed at Huntsville, Alabama at the Redstone Arsenal under the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), for which the missile was named. It first launched successfully in 1953. 

Variants of the Redstone Missile include Jupiter-A, Jupiter-C, and Juno-1. Juno-I would be the launch vehicle for the United State’s first satellite - Explorer I, in January 1958 in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik, three months earlier. 

The Redstone platform would be used as the initial launch vehicle for the American space program’s Project Mercury. The Jupiter-C, with it’s elongated fuselage, carried enough fuel to bring the capsule to the edge of space, burning liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol for 143 seconds through a Rocketdyne A-7 engine. The first flights of Project Mercury carried empty capsules, followed by Ham the Chimpanzee, and subsequently the first American in space, Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7, in May 1961.

Shepard would be followed by Gus Grissom two months later, aboard Liberty Bell 7.

The Mercury-Redstone would no longer be used to launch Astronauts following Grissom’s flight. But the design of the Redstone would prove enduring. The Saturn I rocket, initially developed by the ABMA and used for NASA’s Apollo program, used a cluster of Redstone tanks making up the first stage of the the I and IB of the Saturn family of rockets.

The Redstone, as a missile, would serve the Army until 1964, when it was replaced by the MGM-31 Pershing missile. However, surplus rockets would continue to be used, including to launch Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT, in November 1967. 


SpaceX’s Sunday launch marked a comeback for the private space company, as the rocket booster successfully returned to Earth. Re-use of the rocket is essential to lowering costs, necessary for commercial space flight. Jim Axelrod has more.


“We fought and won the race in space and listened to the cries of the Apollo 1 crew. With great resolve and personal anger, we picked up the pieces, pounded them together, and went on the attack again. We were the ones in the trenches of space and with only the tools of leadership, trust, and teamwork, we contained the risks and made conquest of space possible.” - Gene Kranz


Yesterday ISRO (Indian Space Agency) launched the PSLV C37 which had a record breaking 104 satellites aboard and 8 of those were mine =)  

Watch for a terrifying amount of pew pew pew-ing after the 1:30min mark!

And if you thought space flight was glamorous, the ridiculous way nanosats get chucked out the hatch will make you think different XD

“And in December, while I do not regard our mastery of space as anywhere near complete, while I recognize that there are still areas where we are behind — at least in one area, the size of the booster — this year I hope the United States will be ahead.”

From President John F. Kennedy’s speech at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio, November 21, 1963.

President Kennedy regarded the success of the Saturn I SA-5 heavy booster, a major milestone to the mighty Saturn V, as the moment where the United States would overtake the lead the USSR has held since the launch of Sputnik, in October 1957. 

The President would be assassinated the following day. The first Saturn I SA-5 would successfully launch on January 29th, 1964. 

1961 - At the start of the Gemini program, it was considered to have the two-man capsule land on a runway, instead of the usual spashdown in the ocean. As proposed, a Rogallo wing would deploy after the capsule entered the atmosphere, allowing the capsule to safely land on wheels or skis in a controlled descent.

The Gemini Test Tow Vehicle (TTV)-1 Paraglider was a manned-test article, dropped from a helicopter at Edwards Air Force Base, used to test the controlled landing concept. The design was dropped in favor of the more traditional parachute landings, but offers an interesting insight into what could have been.

The TTV-1 capsule is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.


53 years ago today (April 12), Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, became the first human to travel into space and change history, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth.

So on April 12, Gagarin, who turned into an international celebrity and hero, is being commemorated for paving the way for future space exploration by the International Day of Human Space Flight (Cosmonautics Day).

I really recommend looking him up. There’s so much to know about him and the history-making flight.

My favourite thing is probably the landing to an unplanned site: A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

Happy International Day of Human Space Flight!