February 1, 2003: Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during re-entry.
Like in the Challenger disaster, all seven crew members of Columbia were killed: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon, the first Israel astronaut. Debris from the disintegrated shuttle was later found scattered across Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. President Bush gave an address regarding the disaster the same day, assuring the American public that the space program would go on despite the loss. All seven crew members were awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004.
Apollo 17 lands on the moon (December 11, 1972). It is the longest and last moon landing.
December 7, 1972: Apollo 17, the last manned Apollo mission, is launched/”The Blue Marble” photograph is taken.
The sixth and most recent manned moon landing, Apollo 17 marked the end of the near-legendary Apollo space program. Two members of the Apollo 17 crew, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, were the eleventh and twelfth (and last) astronauts to ever walk on the moon. The mission’s aims were fairly unremarkable in terms of similar launches: conducting geological surveys, collecting samples, and conducting experiments, both in-flight and on the lunar surface.
Still, Apollo 17 spent the longest time conducting lunar activities of all the Apollo missions (over three days) and also returned the most lunar samples (nearly 250 pounds). It also marked the first night launch of a manned spacecraft (at just past 12:30 AM).
And most famously, the crew of the Apollo 17 were able to capture a now iconic image of the Earth, 28,000 miles away and completely illuminated by the sun: “The Blue Marble” (pictured above). “The Blue Marble” was only one of dozens of mission photos, but it remains the most famous and one of the most widely seen, widely reproduced photographs of all time, because it was the first photograph of the full Earth and one of few snapped directly by human hands.
October 15, 2003: China becomes the third country to send a human into space.
China’s first astronaut (or “taikonaut”) was Lieutenant Colonel (now Major General) Yang Liwei. On this date in 2003, he commanded the Shenzhou 5 mission (神舟五号) in a Shenzhou spacecraft that sent him into orbit for twenty-one hours before his reentry capsule landed in Inner Mongolia, PRC.
Yang was not, however, the first Chinese astronaut: Taylor Wang (born in Shanghai) became the first ethnic Chinese person in space in 1985. Even so, Shenzhou 5 was regarded as a major landmark for Chinese science, technology, and nationalism by the PRC media. Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General, called the event “a step forward for all mankind”.