The Apollo 8 mission launched on Dec. 21, 1968 with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders on board. About two and half hours after liftoff, the S-IV third stage fired for a second time and put their spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. The crew members became the first humans to fly beyond low earth orbit.
The S-IV soon separated from the Apollo command service module and the spacecraft reached the Moon on Dec. 24th, going into orbit after the firing of the service module engine while on the far side. The crew orbited the Moon for 10 hours and would have been stuck there forever if the engine had not re-fired as planned. It did fire and the crew made it back to earth for a safe splashdown in the Pacific on Dec. 27th. The extremely risky mission was a tremendous success and its accomplishments made it possible for the US to achieve the goal set by John F. Kennedy of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.
What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.
** The DIY Rocketeer Building SpaceX Replicas of Self-Landing Rockets: A Motherboard profile of Joe Barnard, who is about developing model rockets with vectored thrust and landing capabilities (see posts here and here):
Joe Barnard left his background in videography and music production to launch his life of amateur rocketry, and he shares his DIY adventures in building rockets on his YouTube channel BPS.space.
History has been made and a long-anticipated dream realised in Mojave, CA, today as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, landed from her maiden spaceflight to cheers from Richard Branson and the teams from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.
Not only is this the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, but the very first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger service, has reached space.
The historic achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who announced today that early next year they will present pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC. CJ, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.
Today’s accomplishment has also been recognised by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.
The spectacular spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd of staff and their families, as well as special guests and media, saw a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.
As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots: “ Unity, Welcome to Space”.
After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s unique “feathering” configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing and an emotional homecoming welcome.
Commenting from the flight line Richard Branson said:
“Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder. We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come.
“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good. We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos. This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”
“What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries. Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine. New enterprises are being created which will become hugely valuable, while enabling humanity to better manage some of its greatest future challenges. Today was a remarkable achievement brought about by the skill, dedication and support of our shareholders, staff, customers, partners and many other stakeholders. We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them.”
While 100 km (62 miles) is held by many as the “official” boundary to space, the USAF and NASA have awarded space wings to X-15 pilots who flew above 50 miles. So C.J. Sturckow and Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky can reasonably claim they have been to space today.
FAA’s Bailey Edwards says both pilots will get FAA commercial astronaut wings. (Sturckow already has NASA wings…)
While this type of suborbital flight requires far less energy and velocity than required to reach orbit, developing a rocket powered vehicle that can routinely (eventually weekly and perhaps even daily) to such altitudes will be a tremendous technological achievement. It has taken VG over a decade to get a SS2 to space.
Will post videos of the SS2 flight when they become available.