Sunday, May 4, 2014

Back in the Day...

25 years ago today, the shuttle Atlantis launched towards the heavens with the Venus-bound Magellan space probe inside of the orbiter's payload bay. I was 9-years-old when I watched this launch on television at home—excited that the news broadcast showed a computer graphic (which looked pretty primitive by today's standards) of Atlantis soaring into Earth orbit after her solid rocket boosters were jettisoned following lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. More than a year later, I was enthralled when Magellan finally entered orbit around Venus on August 10, 1990...conducting a successful mapping mission (which ended in 1994 when the spacecraft was intentionally sent into the Venusian atmosphere to burn up and perish) that was the first of many interplanetary successes that started with a space shuttle launch. Atlantis roared into space five months later with the Jupiter-bound Galileo orbiter...which arrived at the Jovian world in December of 1995 and explored the gas giant and its many satellites (it was data by Galileo which revealed that Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede harbored subsurface water oceans) till 2003. Space shuttle Discovery sent her own interplanetary emissary into the cosmos, with the Ulysses probe leaving Earth in 1990 to study the Sun (and even Jupiter, plus a few comets such as Hyakutake and McNaught-Hartley) till this mission came to an end in 2009.

Along with the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, these three interplanetary explorers added to the rich legacy that the shuttles enjoyed since the program got back in track after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

The Venus-bound Magellan spacecraft is about to be deployed from the payload bay of the orbiter Atlantis...six hours after launch on May 4, 1989.

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