Category: space exploration

NASA icon Katherine Johnson has died at the age of 101:


An inspirational “Hidden Figure” and a key player in sending the first humans to the moon, mathematician Katherine Johnson died February 24 at the age of 101.

Born in West Virginia in 1918, her aptitude for math was evident at an early age. In 1953, she took a job at NASA’s predecessor NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. There, she joined a group of other African-American women known as “computers” who performed calculations for the space program before electronic computers went mainstream.

During the Space Race era, Johnson performed essential calculations of flight trajectories, including the 1961 flight of the first American in space, Alan Shepard. Famously, at the personal request of astronaut John Glenn, she checked by hand the calculations for his 1962 orbit of Earth, although NASA had begun using electronic computers by then. “If she says they’re good,’” Glenn reportedly said, “then I’m ready to go.”

Unlike the astronauts whose flight paths she calculated, Johnson worked in relative obscurity.  But that changed after a 2016 book and film, both titled Hidden Figures, profiled Johnson and other black women at NASA (SN: 12/23/16). Almost overnight, Johnson became a household name and a celebrated figure of science. Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, had NASA buildings named after her and even had a LEGO figure created in her likeness.


“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

—Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman, December 24, 1968


All Female Spacewalk Repairs Space Station via NASA

The failed unit was beyond the reach of the robotic Canadarm2. Therefore, this repair of the International Space Station would require humans. The humans on duty were NASA’s Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. This was the fourth spacewalk for Meir, the first for Koch, and the first all-female spacewalk in human history. The first woman to walk in space was Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984. Koch (red stripe) and Weir are pictured hard at work on the P6 Truss, with solar panels and the darkness of space in the background. Working over seven hours, the newly installed Battery Charge / Discharge Unit (BCDU) was successfully replaced and, when powered up, operated normally.

(Published October 19, 2019)

“On Oct. 18, 1963, a cat went to space! Félicette was a French “catstronaut” who became the first and only feline to fly to space.

While the U.S. and Soviet Union were busy launching primates, dogs and humans, the French decided to join the space race by launching a cat. Félicette, a stray tuxedo cat from the streets of Paris, was a substitute for another cat named Felix, who somehow escaped on launch day.

So Félicette went where no cat had ever gone before. She boarded a French Véronique AG1 rocket and soared 130 miles above the Earth before safely parachuting back down. Luckily Félicette made it home alive and well, unlike many of the other animal astronauts that flew during the space race.

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Spacecraft Carrying Russia’s First Humanoid Robot Docks at ISS

It was second time lucky on Tuesday [August 27] as an unmanned spacecraft carrying Russia’s first humanoid robot into orbit docked at the International Space Station following a failed attempt over the weekend.“Sorry for the delay. Got stuck in traffic. Am ready to carry on with work,” the robot’s Twitter account said in a jokey first tweet from space.Copying human movements and designed to help with high-risk tasks, the life-size robot named Fedor is due to stay on the ISS until Sept. 7.”

“Soyuz capsules are normally manned on such trips, but this time no humans were traveling in order to test a new emergency rescue system.The ship was carrying scientific and medical equipment and components for the space station’s life-support system, as well as food, medicines and personal hygiene products for crew members, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said.“ 

“Fedor — short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research — can be operated manually by ISS astronauts wearing robotic exoskeleton suits and it mirrors their movements.

Robots like Fedor will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks, according to the Russian space agency.

Its head Dmitry Rogozin told Interfax news agency that the next stage for Fedor could be further tests on Russia’s new manned transport ship under development, the Federatsiya, or a spacewalk to work on the outside of the ISS.

“That’s what he’s being created for. We don’t really need him inside the station,” Rogozin said.  “ 



July 20, 1969 – While Neil Armstrong was taking a picture of Buzz Aldrin, Aldrin’s visor was taking a picture of Armstrong.

Screenshot from  (image: Earth 

photograph taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft, July 17 1969). is a “mission experience” website, created by Ben Feist, that replays the Apollo 11 mission second by second, starting with archival footage and audio taken 20 hours before launch, and ending just after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins step onto the USS Hornet recovery ship. The website lets viewers switch between multiple camera angles and also includes:

  • All mission control film footage, 
  • All TV transmissions and onboard film footage, 2,000 photographs
  • 11,000 hours of Mission Control audio
  • 240 hours of space-to-ground audio
  • All onboard recorder audio
  • 15,000 searchable utterances
  • Post-mission commentary
  • Astromaterials sample data

You can start at the beginning 1 minute to launch, or you can join the ‘in progress’ view to see exactly where the mission was at this very second 50 years ago.  

(Description found on bigthink. Apolloinrealtime is really great.)   


Apollo 11 blasts off from Cape Canaveral, July 16, 1969.


On the Fourth of July in 2006, the Space Shuttle Discovery put on a fireworks show to remember.



Dramatic Jupiter by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center