February 20 – Launch of Mercury-Atlas 6 (1962)

Mercury-Atlas 6 (mission name Friendship 7) was launched from Cape Canaveral at 9:47am EST this day in 1962 after several delays caused by bad weather and leaky fuel tanks.

John Glenn (image credit: NASA)
John Glenn (image credit: NASA)

The photograph shows astronaut John Herschel Glenn Jr practicing how to get into the Mercury spacecraft.  If it was me I’d be too busy practicing how to get out to pose for this one.

Spaceflights didn’t tend to last long in those days, so today is also the anniversary of the end of this particular mission.  Glenn was in flight for less than 5 hours (or should that be fewer than?), but in that time he managed to clock up over 65,000 miles.

During his 17,000 mph flight Glenn was forced to abandon the automatic control system following a fault, and was confronted by an erroneous error message suggesting that part of the heatshield was loose.  After which, he was expected to land his tin can in the middle of the Atlantic.  Whatever they paid him, it wasn’t enough.

1983  –  TENMA x-ray telescope launched.

This was a Japanese telescope, and the name “Tenma” is Japanese for Pegasus.  It had a short life, re-entering the atmosphere on January 19, 1989.  TENMA carried a Gas Scintillation Proportional Counter.  “What’s that?” I don’t hear you cry.  Well, it’s a chamber filled with an unreactive gas that can be ionized by x-rays.  Electrons of the gas then emit UV photons whose energy can be measured and converted into a measure of the energy of the x-rays.

1993  –  ASCA x-ray telescope launched.

ASCA  =  Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics.  ASCA was another Japanese x-ray telescope, their fourth.  It was the first mission to use CCDs for x-ray astronomy.

Our last launch of the day isn’t Japanese.  As you might expect from the name, ODIN has a Scandinavian origin (Swedish in this case).  Launched from Svobodny in eastern Russia on this day in 2001, Odin’s raison d’être is to study ozone depletion and  search for water and oxygen in interstellar space.  To enable it to do this it carries a 1.1 metre telescope and a spectrograph called OSIRIS (Optical Spectrograph and Infrared Imaging System).  As far as I know it’s still in use (but the Swedish National Space Board website needs updating).

Also today, asteroid 160 Una, a C-type in the main belt, was discovered by C H F Peters in 1876.  The name comes from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer.


And now it is empassioned so deepe,
For fairest Vnaes sake, of whom I sing,
That my fraile eyes these lines with teares do steepe,
To thinke how she through guilefull handeling,
Though true as touch, though daughter of a king,
Though faire as euer liuing wight was faire,
Though nor in word nor deede ill meriting,
Is from her knight diuorced in despaire
And her due loues deriu’d to that vile witches share.

“The Faerie Queene”,  Edmund Spencer,  1596.

And finally, asteroid 288 Glauke was discovered by Robert Luther, 1890.