This is the second article celebrating NASA's 50th Year Anniversary in a series of four articles, and it covers the history of NASA from 1970 to 1989.
One of the most famous missions in the history of NASA was the flight of Apollo 13, and the 1995 movie, Apollo 13, dramatized the story.
In 1993, when I was working for Boeing/ISC, Fred Haise, who was the president of Grumman Technical Services, gave a speech and slide show to JSC’s National Management Association about Apollo 13. I was enthralled listening to his story first hand.
In the 1970s there were five Apollo missions. From April 11 to 17, 1970, the flight of Apollo 13 was one of the most dramatic missions in the history of the Apollo program.
After 56 hours into the flight, an oxygen tank in the service module exploded. The crew's message to Mission Control was "Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here”. The crew was forced to abort their mission and begin an emergency trip home using the lunar lander as a lifeboat. With the help of Mission Control, crew members Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert returned safely to Earth.
During Apollo 14, January 31 to February 9, 1971, with crew Alan B. Shepard Jr., Stuart A. Roosa, and Edgar D. Mitchell, Shepard and Mitchell took two moon walks, and Shepard became the first man to hit a golf ball on the moon. During Apollo 15, July 26 to August 7, 1971, with crew David R. Scott, James B. Irwin, and Alfred M. Worden, Scott and Irwin drove the first moon rover.
Apollo 16, April 16 to 27, 1972, with John W. Young, Thomas K. Mattingly II, and Charles M. Duke, Jr., conducted performance tests with the lunar rover. Apollo 17, December 7 to 19, 1972, was the last Apollo mission with Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and scientist Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt. Cernan earned the distinction of becoming the last human to stand on the Moon – so far.
The Apollo lunar program had ended. The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. The Apollo program revolutionized planetary science. From these missions, scientists developed a new view of the origin and evolution of the plants and of life on earth.
The Skylab program followed the Apollo missions. With Skylab, an earth-orbit space station, astronauts would go from visiting space to living there. On May 14, 1973, the Skylab Workstation was launched into orbit by a Saturn V booster and maintained by three crews. From May 25 to June 22, 1973, the Skylab 2 crew was Charles Conrad, Jr., Paul J. Weitz, and Joseph P. Kerwin. From July 28 to September 25, 1973, the Skylab 3 crew was Alan L. Bean, Jack R. Lousma, and Owen K. Garriott. And from November 16, 1973 to February 8, 1974, the Skylab 4 crew was Gerald P. Carr, William R. Pogue, and Edward G. Gibson.
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, from July 15 to July 24, 1975, was the first international docking in space. The American crew was Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Deke Slayton, and the Soviet crew was Alexei Leonov, and Valeri Kubasov.
The next major era in human spaceflight began on April 12, 1981, with the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Columbia, STS-1, the first manned mission of the Space Transportation System (STS). Columbia, piloted by John Young and Robert Crippen, launched like a rocket and landed like an airplane, and was the first U.S. reusable spacecraft.
The first four STS missions were test flights to evaluate the Shuttle's engineering design, thermal characteristics and performance in space. There were thirty-two shuttle missions during the 1980's.
The space shuttle Challenger, STS-6, lifted off for its first mission on April 4, 1983 with Paul Weitz, Karol Bobko, Donald Peterson, and Story Musgrave. Peterson and Musgrave performed the first American space walks in nine years.
Sally K. Ride became the first American woman astronaut on Challenger STS-7 on June 18, 1983, with crew Robert Crippen, Frederick H. Hauck, John Fabian and Norman Thagard.
Guion S. Bluford, Jr. became the first African-American in space on August 30, 1983, aboard Challenger STS-8 with crew Richard H Truly, Daniel C. Brandenstein, Dale A. Gardner, and William E. Thornton. The astronauts conducted the first tests of Shuttle-to-ground communications with the new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRSS).
The space shuttle Columbia STS-9 carried the first flight of the European-built Spacelab module ESA Spacelab-1 from November 28, to December 8, 1983, with first non-U.S. astronaut to fly in the US space program, German scientist Ulf Merbold. The other crew members were John Young, Brewster Shaw, Robert Parker, Owen Garriott, and Byron Lichtenberg.
Bruce McCandelss II and Robert L. Stewart took the first untethered space walks wearing the new Manned Maneuvering Unit backpacks (MMU) on Challenger STS-41B. The mission was from February 3 to 11, 1984 with crew Vance D. Brand, Robert L. Gibson, Bruce McCandelss II, Ronald E. McNair, and Robert L. Stewart.
The third space shuttle, Discovery STS-41D, lifted off on its maiden voyage on August 30, 1984 with crew Henry W. Hartsfield, Michael L. Coats, Richard Mullane, Steven Hawley, Judith A. Resnik, and Charles D. Walker.
The launch of space shuttle Challenger STS-41 on October 5, 1984, carried the first crew with two women aboard, Sally Ride and Katherine Sullivan. Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space. The crew were Robert L. Crippen, Jon A. McBride, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Sally K. Ride, David C. Leestma, Marc Garneau and Paul D. Scully-Power.
On January 25, 1984, President Ronald Reagan gave NASA approval to build a space station within a decade as part of the State of the Union Address before Congress.
On January 28, 1986, tragedy struck as space shuttle Challenger STS-51L exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members: Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. It became one of the most significant events of the 1980s, as billions around the world saw the accident on television. President Reagan established a commission headed by former Secretary of State William Rogers to investigate the explosion.
Discovery STS-26 represented the successful return to flight for the space shuttle on September 29, 1988, with crew Frederick H. Hauck, Richard O. Covey, John M. Lounge, George D. Nelson and David C. Hilmers.
On June 20, 1989, President George H. W. Bush announced plans for the Space Exploration Initiative. In this speech he called for the construction of the Space Station Freedom, sending humans back to the moon and ultimately sending astronauts to Mars.
The 1970s and 1980s provided many milestones for NASA’s success: the Apollo lunar program, Skylab where astronauts could live in space for months, 32 shuttle missions, and the successful return to flight with Discovery STS-26.
The next article in the series will cover the history of NASA from 1990 to 2000.
reprinted with the permission of Bay Area Magazine