February's Historical Firsts

January 21, 2014


8b-Columbia Launch.jpgFeb. 1, 2003 — (above and right)About 15 minutes before its scheduled touchdown on Feb. 1, 2003, the Columbia orbiter broke apart during its reentry to Earth and all seven crewmembers died. The group had just finished a two-week mission, STS-107, completing dozens of science experiments.  An investigation later showed that damage during launch to the shuttle's thermal protection system led to structural failure of the shuttle’s left wing.

Feb. 3, 1959 — Rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza crashed in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather 8c-CharlesLindbergh.jpgand pilot error.  Singer Don McLean later memorialized the three in the 1972 hit “American Pie,” which refers to Feb. 3, 1959 as “the day the music died.”

Feb. 4, 1902 — (right)Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. is born. In 1927, he became the first to make a solo, nonstop transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Feb. 14, 1990 — Voyager 1 took the first ever “family portrait” of our Solar System as seen 4 billion miles from Earth. It launched 37 years ago, and as of September 2013, had reached interstellar space, or the space between the stars.

Feb. 19, 19378d-John_Glenn_enters_Friendship_7_capsule.jpgAviator and film director Howard Hughes established a new transcontinental speed record of 7 hours 28 minutes and 25 seconds from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey.

Feb. 20, 1962 — (left)Astronaut John G. Glenn Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth in the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft. The flight, which lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds, allowed him to circle Earth three times before Friendship 7 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Feb. 20, 1986 — Russians launched Mir, the core module in what became the first modular space station.  After more than 86,000 total orbits, it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in March 2001, setting every record in long-duration spaceflight.

Feb. 28, 2005  —(below)After just 100 hours of test flights, American businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett took off to attempt the first solo, nonstop, non-refueled aerial circumnavigation of the globe in the GlobalFlyer, a jet-propelled airplane specially designed by Burt Rutan. He landed on March 3, completing the journey in 67 hours, one minute and 10 seconds. On Feb. 11, 2006, Fossett broke another record in the GlobalFlyer — setting a new nonstop global flight distance record.