February 28 – Discoverer 1

Discoverer 1 was launched at 1:49pm on February 28, 1959, on board Thor-Agena rocket DM-18 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was a prototype surveillance satellite, but was only a test flight, so it had no actual equipment on board. The plan for Discoverer 1 was to achieve a polar orbit, but, after a successful main engine burn and separation, something went wrong, and all contact was lost eight and a half minutes into the flight.

Whether or not Discoverer 1 made it into orbit, for however long or short a time, is open to debate. The most likely scenario is that it failed to reach the required altitude and either splashed down in the South Pacific or crashed into Antarctica. But the fact remains that, at a time when there was significantly less space junk up there than there is now, something was detected by Jodrell Bank, once, in about the right place, at about the right time. So Discoverer 1 may have made it after all.

Asteroid 193 Ambrosia was discovered today in 1879 by J Coggia. Unlike Discoverer 1, above, it has no trouble maintaining orbit, and sweeps majestically round the Sun every 4.2 years, rotating once every 8.6 hours as it does so. Ambrosia was named after the food of the gods in Greek mythology.

Thetis Annoints Achilles with Ambrosia (Johann Balthasar Probst)
Thetis Annoints Achilles with Ambrosia (Johann Balthasar Probst)

Asteroid 184 Dejopeja, discovered one year earlier by Johann Palisa, and named after a nymph of Roman mythology, Deiopeia, takes slightly longer to get round the Sun: 5.67 years. These timings are, obviously, all measured from an Earth perspective for the purpose of helping to predict where the asteroid might be at a particular time. From the point of view of anyone living on the asteroids, it would of course take one year to complete an orbit, and one day to complete a rotation.


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