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Ups and Downs for December

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1973 Soyuz 13 landing

Crew: Pyotr Klimuk (CDR); Valentin Lebedev (FE)

Landing site: 200 km SW of Karaganda


This had been an independent flight, not destined for a space station, which carried out UV astronomical observation. Flight time was 7d 20h 56m and 127 orbits.



1974 Salyut 4 launch


Unlike its immediate predecessor, which was a military station, Salyut 4 was civilian in purpose. Its basic design was the same as the ill-fated Salyut 1 though it had three large solar panels mounted on the forward module rather than the four smaller ones of that station. The new Salyut was 15.8 metres long and 4.15 across at its widest point, providing a habitable volume of around ninety cubic metres. Over the course of its operational life Salyut 4 would be occupied by two crews (a third would fail to reach it, when Soyuz 18A had an in-flight abort) with the unmanned Soyuz 20 remaining docked for three months to prove the system's long-duration capability.

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1968 Apollo 8 splashdown

Crew: Frank Borman (CDR); Bill Anders (LMP); Jim Lovell (CMP)

Splashdown site: 8° 7,5' N, 165° 1,2' W (1,600 km southeast of Hawaii)


Apollo 8's flight home was not without incident: at one point Lovell accidentally reset the spacecraft's inertial measurement unit, resulting in the computer firing the RCS thrusters to put the CSM in the same attitude it had on the launch pad. The astronauts had to reprogram the computer with the actual orientation: this required star sightings on Rigel and Sirius and then a further fifteen minutes to enter the numbers. Sixteen months later Lovell would have to perform a similar procedure on the crippled Apollo 13 after its IMU had been shut down to conserve power. But the trip had its light-hearted moments as well: at one point CAPCOM Jack Schmitt (who would walk on the Moon four years later on Apollo 17) read up a parody of the famous poem The Night Before Christmas, which had been written by various personnel at Mission Control:  


'Twas the night before Christmas and way out in space,
the Apollo 8 crew had just won the Moon race.
The head sets were hung by the consoles with care,
in hopes that Chris Kraft soon would be there.


Frank Borman was nestled all snug in his bed,
while visions of REFSMMATs danced in his head;
and Jim Lovell, in his couch, and Anders, in the bay,
were racking their brains over a computer display.


When out of the DSKY, there arose such a clatter,
Frank sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the sextant he flew like a flash,
to make sure they weren't going to crash.


The light on the breast of the Moon's jagged crust,
gave a luster of green cheese to the gray lunar dust.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
but a Burma Shave sign - saying 'Kilroy was here'.


But Frank was no fool; he knew pretty quick
that they had been first; this must be a trick.
More rapid than rockets, his curses they came.
He turned to his crewmen and called them a name.


"Now Lovell, now Anders, now don't think I'd fall,
for that old joke you've written up on the wall."
They spoke not a word, but grinning like elves,
and laughed at their joke in spite of themselves.


Frank sprang to his couch, to the ship gave a thrust,
and away they all flew past the gray lunar dust.
But we heard them explain ere they flew around the Moon,
"Merry Christmas to Earth; we'll be back there real soon."


Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific after a mission lasting 6d 3h 1m. It had made one and a half Earth orbits as well as, crucially, ten of the Moon, bringing to an end a year which had seen student riots in Paris, Soviet troops crushing a resistance movement in Prague, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, further riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and an escalation of hostilities in Vietnam. However the success of the Apollo 8 mission seemed a light at the end of a dark tunnel, and among the flood of congratulatory telegrams came one from a woman named Valerie Pringle which said simply "You saved 1968".

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1999 STS-103 landing

Crew: Curtis Brown (CDR); Scott Kelly (P); Steven Smith, Jean-François Clervoy [France], John Grunsfeld, Michael Foale, Claude Nicollier [Switzerland] (MS)

Landing site: Kennedy Space Center


This had been the third Hubble Servicing Mission, flown earlier than originally planned as the telescope had suffered gyroscope failures and needed urgent attention. The list of tasks was therefore split in two and a fourth servicing flight would take place in 2002. This flight lasted 7d 23h 11m and 119 orbits.



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1987 Soyuz TM-3 landing

Crew: Yuri Romanenko (CDR); Aleksandr Aleksandrov (FE); Anatoli Levchenko (RC)

Landing site: 80 km NE of Arkalyk


Soyuz TM-3 was unusual in that the three cosmonauts aboard at landing had all been launched at different times. Romanenko had reached Mir on Soyuz TM-2 back in February: his flight time was 326d 11h 37m and 5,166 orbits (a new record) while Levchenko was launched on the recently-arrived Soyuz TM-4. His mission had lasted just 7d 21h 58m and 125 orbits: he was training to fly the Soviet Shuttle and this flight was to give him zero-gee experience ahead of that. Only Aleksandrov was returning in the same capsule in which he had been launched: his flight time was 160d 7h 16m and 2,537 orbits.

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2000 Cassini-Huygens Jupiter flyby


The Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, received a gravity assist as it passed Jupiter, with a closest approach of around 9.8 million kilometres. The planet was studied over a six-month period, with around 26,000 photographs of Jupiter, its rings and moons being sent back. It produced the most detailed global colour portrait of the planet yet, with resolution of features as small as 60 km across. 

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1959 Mercury Seven complete classroom training


The Mercury astronauts completed basic and theoretical studies in their training programme and started practical engineering studies.




1959 NASA approves Saturn development programme


NASA accepted the recommendations of the Saturn Vehicle Evaluation Committee Silverstein Committee on the Saturn C-1 configuration and on a long-range Saturn program. A research and development plan of ten vehicles was approved. The C-1 configuration would include the S-I stage (eight H-1 engines clustered, producing 1.5 million pounds of thrust), the S-IV stage (four engines producing 80,000 pounds of thrust), and the S-V stage two engines producing 40,000 pounds of thrust. The vehicle would eventually be redesignated the Saturn I (with a Roman numeral).




2001 ISS welcomes the new Millennium


In keeping with a US Naval tradition in which the person on duty at the helm of a ship provides an entry into the ship's log at the turn of the New Year, ISS Expedition 1 Commander Bill Shepherd (a navy captain) recorded the following:


We sail on board space station "Alpha"
Orbiting high above Earth, still in night
Travelling our destined journey
beyond realm of sea voyage or flight


A first New Year is upon us
Eight strikes on the bell now as one
The globe spins below on its motion
Counting the last thousand years done.


15 midnights to this night in orbit
A clockwork not of earthly pace
Our day with different meaning now
In this, a new age and place


We move with a speed and time
Past that which human hands can tell
Computers programmed-like boxes
Where only thoughts' shadows dwell


"Central post" our ship's bridge aboard
Screens dancing shapes in pale glow
We guide her course by electronic pulse
In figures no compass could show


Our panels set as sails to the Sun
With wake not ever seen but there
Only gyros feel the silent tugs
Wisps, swirls of such ocean rare


On this ship's deck sits no helm now
Rudder, sheet, and rig long since gone
But here still-- a pull to go places
Beyond lines where sky meets the dawn


Though star trackers mark Altair and Vega
Same as mariners eyed long ago
We are still as wayfinders of knowledge
Seeking new things that mankind shall know.


We commend to crews that will follow
Merit of the good ship we sail
Let Sun shine strong on Alpha's wings
A symbol, and bright star we long hail.

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What a fantastic year this has been, I'm a a little sorry to see it end now, knowing that no new treat of space history is coming here tomorrow... Thank you very much for all your work writing all this down for every day of the year. It's been a joy to open the threads in the evenings and have some smaller or larger notes of interesting space happenings served for every day.


Thank you Gordon, and may I wish you a very happy new year!

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1 hour ago, Bengalensis said:

Thank you Gordon, and may I wish you a very happy new year!

You too, Jörgen, and thanks for the reassurance that somebody was reading the stuff so it wasn't a complete waste of time!

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