10 Most Important Missions In NASA’s History

Gemini IV

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While the Mercury missions taught us the basics of orbit, the Gemini missions showed us the techniques needed to go to the Moon. One of the most important activities on the Moon was spacewalking, leaving the capsule and going out into the vacuum of space. As this had never been attempted by the US, it was absolutely critical to practice before trying it on the Moon.

Edward H. White II, a USAF test pilot, was chosen to become the first American in space. He and crewmate James McDivitt launched on June 3, 1965, on a Titan II rocket. White’s spacewalk lasted 36 minutes and went without much incident.

The mission’s goals of evaluating the long-term effects of spaceflight (the mission lasted four days) and performing a space walk were successful. However, the capsule did land about 80 kilometers (50 mi) off target. (The astronauts forgot that the Earth was spinning under them when they performed reentry equations.)

STS-1

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After the success of the Apollo program, NASA was looking for its next big thing. That thing was the space shuttle, a reusable spacecraft that landed like a glider and took off like a rocket. This vehicle would carry experiments and satellites into orbit and could remain in space for weeks. Several shuttles were to be constructed, with Columbia the first to be flight-tested.

Taking off on April 12, 1981, and piloted by John Young and Robert L. Crippen, the massive rocket ascended to an orbit of 166 nautical miles. The mission lasted two days and six hours, thoroughly testing out the ship’s systems.

It glided down to a landing on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Back then, the shuttle and its tank were painted white instead of using the iconic black, white, and orange. (The orange came from the color of the tank’s now-unpainted insulating foam, which reduced weight by about 270 kilograms (600 lb).)

The ISS Missions

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The International Space Station (ISS) is a major symbol of international cooperation. With the Sovi . . . er . . . Russians delivering the first module in the late 1990s, it was under construction for over a decade.

NASA space shuttles were a key element in the construction of the station, lifting astronauts and construction parts from around the world into orbit to work on the station. The first crews started arriving in the early 2000s. NASA also played a crucial role in the research and development of parts and construction techniques here on Earth.

The ISS is currently orbiting at an altitude of over 350 kilometers (220 mi) and is traveling at over 8 kilometers per second (5 mps). As of the writing of this article, two Americans and one Russian are aboard the station.

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