This Day in History (23-Aug-1966) – Lunar Orbiter 1 takes 1st photograph of Earth from Moon

Pictures of Earth from space had been taken before, by rockets in the 1940s, and satellites in the 1950s and 1960s. However, those pictures captured just parts of Earth, as opposed to a full-on view of the planet. In the summer of 1966, the United States was preparing to send the first humans to the moon. NASA needed high resolution pictures of the surface to make sure this is something they could land on and pick out landing sites. NASA could call upon off-the-shelf technology: Boeing and Eastman Kodak had previously developed a spacecraft with an onboard camera system for the Department of Defense.

The first spacecraft, Lunar Orbiter 1, left Earth on August 10, 1966. It was like a flying photography lab. The camera system itself took up at least a third of the spacecraft. The Lunar Orbiter camera contained dual lenses, taking photos at the same time. One lens took wide-angle images at medium resolution. A second lens took high-resolution images yielding details as small as 5 meters in size.  The camera had big honking reels of 70 mm film. The film would roll through, the camera would take pictures, and then move the exposed film to an automated developer. The automated film developer contained a mix of chemicals that would develop the film using a process similar to the method used by Polaroid cameras. An electron beam would then scan each developed image before transmitting the photos back to Earth using radio signals.

But at some point during the mission, NASA contemplated pointing the spacecraft’s camera at Earth. Repositioning the satellite was a high risk maneuver. But NASA decided to take the risk. So on August 23, the spacecraft successfully took a photo of an earthrise, the blue planet rising above the moon’s horizon. NASA took the image and created a poster of it which was given as gifts to everybody. Senators and congressmen would give it out as presents to constituents and visiting dignitaries.

 

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/august/23?p=2

http://www.space.com/12707-earth-photo-moon-nasa-lunar-orbiter-1-anniversary.html

This Day in History (11-Jul-1979) – Skylab crashes to Earth

Launched in 1973, Skylab was the world’s first successful space station. The first manned Skylab mission came two years after the Soviet Union launched Salynut 1, the world’s first space station, into orbit around the earth. Unfortunately, NASA spent far less time and energy planning how to gracefully bring the space station back to Earth at the end of its mission. Skylab carried the most varied assortment of experimental equipment ever assembled in a single spacecraft to that date. The crews of Skylab spent more than 700 hours observing the sun and brought home more than 175,000 solar pictures. They also provided important information about the biological effects of living in space for prolonged periods of time. Five years after the last Skylab mission, the space station’s orbit began to deteriorate–earlier than was anticipated–because of unexpectedly high sunspot activity. On July 11, 1979, Skylab made a spectacular return to earth, breaking up in the atmosphere and showering burning debris over the Indian Ocean and Australia. No one was injured.

All week there had been mounting speculation over where the spacecraft would come down. In India, the police in all states were put on full alert and the civil aviation department was planning to ban flights across the sub-continent during the crucial hours of re-entry. Beginning in June of 1979, as Skylab’s re-entry approached, many American newspapers jokingly proposed “Skylab insurance”. The San Francisco Examiner went one step further, offering a $10,000 prize to the first person to deliver a piece of Skylab debris to its office within 72 hours of the crash. Knowing the orbiter wasn’t coming down anywhere near the United States, the newspaper felt it was making a safe bet. In Australia, 17-year-old Stan Thornton of tiny Esperance awoke to the commotion when Skylab broke apart in the atmosphere and pelted his house with space station fragments. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a few charred bits of material from his yard, hopped on a plane without so much as a passport or suitcase and made it to the Examiner’s office before the deadline.

 

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/iskylabi-crashes-to-earth

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/11/newsid_3867000/3867739.stm

http://www.history.com/news/the-day-skylab-crashed-to-earth-facts-about-the-first-u-s-space-stations-re-entry

This Day in History (2-Jun-1858) – Donati Comet 1st seen named after it’s discoverer

Comet Donati, or Donati’s Comet, formally designated C/1858 L1 and 1858 VI, is a long-period comet named after the Italian  astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati who first observed it on June 2, 1858. It was the fifth comet to be discovered in 1858, and the fourth discovered by Donati (he would discover two more in 1864). After the Great Comet of 1811, it was the most brilliant comet that appeared in the 19th century. It became visible to the naked eye in the both hemispheres between September 1858 and March 1859. It was nearest the Earth on October 10, 1858. The comet has an orbital inclination of 116.9°.

Its gracefully curved tail, which extended almost 40 degrees in the southwestern sky, made a great visual impact and inspired several pictorial (paintings, watercolours, sketches) and poetic (lyrical and satirical) representations, especially in Great Britain and France. Donati’s comet, a true media event of its time, was very much in the public news in September-October of 1858. It was also the first comet to be photographed. The comet was photographed on September 28, 1858, at Harvard College Observatory by George P. Bond, son of William C. Bond, director of the observatory. He made several attempts with increasing exposure times, finally achieving a discernible image.

Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for a seat in the U.S. Senate, sat up on the porch of his hotel in Jonesboro, Illinois to see “Donti’s Comet” on September 14, 1858, the night before the third of his historic debates with Stephen Douglas over the future of slavery in America, in which Lincoln famously declared “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Donati’s Comet appears as a streak and star in the early evening sky of a painting by William Dyce, A Recollection of October 5th, 1858.

Due to its astoundingly long elliptical orbit, it is estimated that Donati’s Comet will not be seen passing by Earth again until the 4th millennium.

 

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/june/2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Donati

http://georgebishopjr.com/2013/07/16/donatis-comet-of-1858/

http://arxiv.org/pdf/1211.3859.pdf