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May in History

May 17, 1830 - A meteorite measuring 7-1/2" in diameter fell in Perth, Scotland. Most of the fragments have since been lost.

May 5, 1961 - Alan B Shepard Jr. was launched atop a Redstone rocket in the Mercury  3 spacecraft Freedom 7. This was the first U.S. manned flight, being sub-orbital and lasting 15 minutes. Shepard landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

May 8, 1962 - NASA attempted the first launch of the Atlas-Centaur rocket, then being tested. The launch was a failure.

May 24, 1962 - M. Scott Carpenter was launched atop an Atlas rocket in the Mercury 7 spacecraft. Carpenter orbited the Earth three times, with a flight length of 4 hours, 56 minutes. Carpenter returned and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean. However, a manual retro-rocket firing error caused Carpenter to land 250 miles beyond the target area.

May 15, 1963 - L. Gordon Cooper was launched atop an Atlas rocket in a Mercury spacecraft. This was the last flight of the Mercury program. Cooper's flight lasted 34 hours 20 minutes, the longest U.S. orbital flight until Gemini 4 mission in June 1965. Cooper returned and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean.

May 30, 1966 - An Atlas-Centaur rocket launched the U.S. spacecraft Surveyor 1 toward the Moon. Surveyor 1 performed the first U.S. soft landing on the Moon and sent back thousands of excellent surface photographs. This was the first operational flight of the Atlas-Centaur launch vehicle.

May 30, 1971 - Mariner 9 was launched on the first orbital mission to Mars. It reached Mars on Nov. 13 of that year and sent back more than 7,000 images of the planet during its mission.

May 14, 1973 - Skylab was launched, making it the first U.S. orbiting space station.

May 25, 1973 - Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., Joseph P. Kerwin, and Paul J. Weltz were launched as the first crew of Skylab. The repaired much of the damage which the space station sustained following its launch. The crew was then able to perform many of the tasks which were originally planned for their mission. The left Skylab and returned safely to Earth on June 22.

May 20, 1978 - Pioneer Venus 1 was launched. It reached Venus and entered orbit on Dec. 4 of that year. Pioneer Venus 1 spent 14 years studying the planet, and ceased operating on Oct. 19, 1992.

May 3, 1986 - A Delta rocket carrying a $57 million U.S. weather satellite exploded shortly after lift-off from Cape Canaveral.

May 4, 1989 - The spacecraft Magellan was launched on its radar mapping mission to the planet Venus. Magellan made detail radar maps of the planet surface and monitored geological activity. It ceased operating on Oct. 12, 1994.

May 5, 1992 - The Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched (STS-49) with astronauts Daniel Brandenstein, Kevin C. Chilton, Bruce E. Melnick, Pierre J. Thuot, Richard J. Hieb, Kathryn Thornton, and Thomas Akers. The crew successfully recovered the Intelsat 6 satellite by hand in the first 3-person EVA. They then successfully redeployed the satellite to a proper orbit, making it usable for communications. The crew returned safely to Earth on May 16.

May 20, 1996 - A Soyuz-U booster rocket carrying reconnaissance satellites exploded 49 seconds after lift-off from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome.

May 20, 1997 - A Russian Zenit-2 booster rocket carrying a Cosmos military satellite exploded 48 seconds after launch.


James M. Thomas, last updated November 15, 1999.

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