A History of NASA Rocket Launches in 25 High-Quality Photos


The Sifter has already featured photographs from NASA’s incredible archive (see here, here and here), and we continue that tradition with this series that documents the history of NASA’s various rocket launches from as early as 1950 up to 2003.

Nothing captures the imagination like space travel, and these amazing images mark the beginning of epic voyages; displaying the awesome power of the rockets that propel us beyond our planet and into the vast unknown.

1. STS-1 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – April 12, 1981

Photograph by NASA

The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just seconds past 7 a.m., carries astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into an Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

2. Apollo 11 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – July 16, 1969

Photograph by NASA

At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle and astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.

3. STS-66 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – November 3, 1994

Photograph by NASA

The 66th Space Shuttle flight begins with a nearly ontime liftoff of Space Shuttle Mission STS-66 into clear Florida skies. The orbiter Atlantis returned to space after an approximately two year absence with a liftoff from Launch Pad 39B at 11:59:43 a.m. EST, about four minutes after the launch window opened. The planned 11 day flight will continue NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth, a comprehensive international collaboration to study how Earth’s environment is changing and how human beings affect that change.
 
Primary payloads for the last Shuttle flight of 1994 include the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS-3), making its third flight, and the German built Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere Shuttle Pallet Satellite (CRISTA-SPAS), which will be deployed and later retrieved during the mission.
 
Mission commander is Donald R. McMonagle; Curtis L. Brown Jr. is the pilot; Ellen Ochoa is the payload commander, and the three mission specialists are Joseph R. Tanner, Scott E. Parazynski, and Jean-Francois Clervoy, a French citizen who is with the European Space Agency.

4. STS-27, Orbiter Atlantis Liftoff @ Marshall Space Flight Center
December 2, 1988

Photograph by NASA

Space Shuttle Atlantis takes flight on its STS-27 mission on December 2, 1988, 9:30 a.m. EST, utilizing 375,000 pounds thrust produced by its three main engines. The STS-27 was the third classified mission dedicated to the Department of Defense (DoD). After completion of mission, Orbiter Atlantis landed December 6, 1988, 3:36 p.m. PST at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

5. Oceanside Aerial of Columbia Launch @ Kennedy Space Center
October 22, 1992

Photograph by NASA

The Space Shuttle Columbia is launched from Pad 39B on a ten-day mission with a crew of five NASA Astronauts and a Canadian Payload Specialist. The Photograph was taken by astronaut Steven R. Nagel from a Shuttle Training Aircraft. Mission STS-52 payloads onboard include the Laser Geodynamic Satellite II.

6. STS-86 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – September 25, 1997

Photograph by NASA

The Space Shuttle Atlantis blazes through the night sky to begin the STS-86 mission, slated to be the seventh of nine planned dockings of the Space Shuttle with the Russian Space Station Mir. Liftoff on September 25 from Launch Pad 39A was at 10:34 p.m. EDT, within seconds of the preferred time, during a six minute, 45 second launch window.
 
The 10 day flight will include the transfer of the sixth U.S. astronaut to live and work aboard the Mir. After the docking, STS-86 Mission Specialist David A. Wolf will become a member of the Mir 24 crew, replacing astronaut C. Michael Foale, who will return to Earth aboard Atlantis with the remainder of the STS-86 crew. Foale has been on the Russian Space Station since mid May.
 
Wolf is scheduled to remain there about four months. Besides Wolf (embarking to Mir) and Foale (returning), the STS-86 crew includes Commander James D. Wetherbee, Pilot Michael J. Bloomfield, and Mission Specialists Wendy B. Lawrence, Scott E. Parazynski, Vladimir Georgievich Titov of the Russian Space Agency, and Jean-Loup J.M. Chretien of the French Space Agency, CNES. Other primary objectives of the mission are a spacewalk by Parazynski and Titov, and the exchange of about 3.5 tons of science/logistical equipment and supplies between Atlantis and the Mir.

7. Atlas Agena Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – September 12, 1966

Photograph via NASA

Atlas Agena target vehicle liftoff for Gemini 11 from Pad 14. Once the Agena was in orbit, Gemini 11 rendezvoused and docked with it.

8. Close-up STS-107 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – January 16, 2003

Photograph via NASA

A close-up camera view shows Space Shuttle Columbia as it lifts off from Launch Pad 39A on mission STS-107. Launch occurred on schedule at 10:39 EST

9. Launch STS-29 @ Kennedy Space Center – March 13, 1989

Photograph by NASA

An oceanside view of the STS-29 Discovery launch from Pad 39B.

10. Bumper V-2 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – July 24, 1950

Photograph by NASA

The Bumper V-2 was the first missile launched at Cape Canaveral on July 24, 1950.

11. OSO Launch @ Goddard Space Flight Center – June 21, 1975

Photograph by NASA

NASA successfully launched more than 200 Earth-orbiting satellites, including Goddard’s eighth Orbiting Solar Observatory aboard this Delta rocket on June 21, 1975, at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite-the final in a series of spacecraft specifically designed to look at the Sun in high-energy wavelength bands that scientists cannot see on Earth-gathered data on energy transfer in the Sun’s hot, gaseous atmosphere and its 11-year sunspot cycle.
 
Sunspots are cooler regions that appear as dark patches in the visible surface of the Sun and are more plentiful every 11 years. Flares and other powerful solar events that sometimes wreak havoc with Earth’s communications systems also are associated with heightened sunspot activity. In addition to looking at the Sun, the satellite investigated celestial sources of X-rays in the Milky Way and beyond. It carried eight experiments.

12. Saturn IB Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – November 16, 1973

Photograph by NASA

The Saturn IB launch vehicle lifting off from Launch Complex 39B at 9:01 a.m. EST. The Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Dr. Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue, were onboard for the third and final mission to the orbiting space station.

13. STS-43 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – August 2, 1991

Photograph by NASA

The Space Shuttle Atlantis streaks skyward as sunlight pierces through the gap between the orbiter and ET assembly. Atlantis lifted off on the 42nd space shuttle flight at 11:02 a.m. EDT on August 2, 1991 carrying a crew of five and TDRS-E. A remote camera at the 275-foot level of the Fixed Surface Structure took this picture.

14. STS-56 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – April 8, 1993

Photograph by NASA

The second try works like a charm as the Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off from Launch Pad 39B on Mission STS-56 at 1:29:00 a.m., EDT, April 8. First attempt to launch Discovery on its 16th space voyage was halted at T-11 seconds on April 6. Aboard for the second Space Shuttle mission of 1993 are a crew of five and the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science 2 (ATLAS 2), the second in a series of missions to study the sun’s energy output and Earth’s middle atmosphere chemical makeup, and how these factors affect levels of ozone.

15. Apollo 16 @ Kennedy Space Center – April 16, 1972

Photograph by NASA

The Apollo 16 Saturn V space vehicle carrying astronauts John W. Young, Thomas K. Mattingly II, and Charles M. Duke, Jr., lifted off to the Moon at 12:54 p.m. EST April 16, 1972, from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.

16. First Titan-Centaur Launch Test @ Kennedy Space Center
February 11, 1974

Photograph by NASA

The first Titan/Centaur lifted off from Complex 41 at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station at 9:48 AM EDT. The Titan stages burned as programmed, but when the Centaur stage failed to ignite, the Range Safety Officer destroyed it. The new NASA rocket was launched on a proof of concept flight designed to prepare it for twin Viking launches to Mars in 1975 and other missions involving heavy payloads.
 
The 160-foot-tall rocket combines the Air Force Titan III with the NASA high-energy Centaur final stage. The twin solid rocket boosters have a combined liftoff thrust of 2.4 million pounds. Aboard Titan/Centaur on its proof of concept flight were a dynamic simulator of the Viking spacecraft and a small scientific satellite (SPHINX) designed to determine how high voltage solar cells, insulators, and conductors are affected by the charges particles in space. KSC’s Unmanned Launch Operations Directorate conducted the launch.

17. STS-107 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – January 16, 2003

Photograph by NASA

Through a cloud-washed blue sky above Launch Pad 39A, Space Shuttle Columbia hurtles toward space on mission STS-107. Following the countdown, liftoff occurred on-time at 10:39 EST. Experiments in the SPACEHAB module ranged from material sciences to life sciences.

18. Apollo 11 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – July 16, 1969

Photograph by NASA

The American flag heralds the flight of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission. The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifted off with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., at 9:32 a.m. EDT July 16, 1969, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. During the planned eight-day mission, Armstrong and Aldrin will descend in a lunar module to the Moon’s surface while Collins orbits overhead in the Command Module.
 
The two astronauts are to spend 22 hours on the Moon, including two and one-half hours outside the lunar module. They will gather samples of lunar material and will deploy scientific experiments which will transmit data about the lunar environment. They will rejoin Collins in the Command Module for the return trip to Earth.

19. STS-57 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – June 21, 1993

Photograph by NASA

The first flight of the commercially developed SPACEHAB laboratory module begins with the flawless liftoff of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from Launch Pad 39B at 9:07:22 a.m. EDT, June 21, 1993. Also planned for the eight-day flight of Mission STS-57 is the retrieval of the European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA). Onboard for the fourth flight of Endeavour are a crew of six: Mission Commander Ronald J. Grabe; Pilot Brian Duffy; Payload Commander G. David Low; and Mission Specialists Nancy Jane Sherlock, Peter J.K. “Jeff” Wisoff, and Janice E. Voss. The first launch attempt on June 20 was scrubbed due to unacceptable weather conditions both at KSC and the overseas contingency landing sites.

20. STS-66 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – November 3, 1994

Photograph by NASA

Hundreds of birds scatter as the typical quiet reverie of their day is temporarily broken by the roar of a Space Shuttle surging off the pad. The orbiter Atlantis returned to space after an approximately two-year absence with a liftoff from Launch Pad 39B at 11:59:43 a.m. EST. The planned 11-day flight of Space Shuttle Mission STS-66 will continue NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth, a comprehensive international collaboration to study how Earth’s environment is changing and how human beings affect that change.
 
Primary payloads for the last Shuttle flight of 1994 include the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS-3), making its third flight, and the German-built Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere-Shuttle Pallet Satellite (CRISTA-SPAS), which will be deployed and later retrieved during the mission. Mission commander is Donald R. McMonagle; Curtis L. Brown Jr. is the pilot; Ellen Ochoa is the payload commander, and the three mission specialists are Joseph R. Tanner, Scott E. Parazynski, and Jean-Francois Clervoy, a French citizen who is with the European Space Agency.

21. Viking 1 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – August 20, 1975

Photograph by NASA

Viking 1 was launched by a Titan/Centaur rocket from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:22 p.m. EDT to begin a half-billion mile, 11-month journey through space to explore Mars. The 4-ton spacecraft went into orbit around the red planet in mid-1976.

22. Apollo 4 Launch @ Marshall Space Flight Center – November 9, 1967

Photograph by NASA

On November 9, 1967, Apollo 4, the first test flight of the Apollo/Saturn V space vehicle, was launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39. This was an unmanned test flight intended to prove that the complex Saturn V rocket could perform its requirements. All three stages separated successfully and their engines performed as planned. The third stage also restarted in orbit, which was a requirement for lunar missions. At the end of the flight, the unmanned Apollo spacecraft reentered and proved that it could survive the intense heat generated during a high-speed return from the moon.

23. STS-26 Return to Flight Launch @ Kennedy Space Center
September 29, 1988

Photograph by NASA

The Return to Flight launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery and its five-man crew from Pad 39B at 11:37 a.m. September 29, 1988, as Discovery embarked on a four- day, one-hour mission.

24. Columbia 180 Turn and Burn @ Kennedy Space Center – Oct. 22, 1992

Photograph by NASA

The Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew of six lifted off from PAD 39B at 1:09 p.m. EDT, on a ten-day mission. The primary payload of Space Shuttle mission STS-52 is the Laser Geodynamic Satellite II (LAGEOS II).

25. STS-60 Launch @ Kennedy Space Center – February 3, 1994

Photograph by NASA

A golden new era in space cooperation begins with a flawless countdown and the ontime liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery on Mission STS-60. Liftoff from Launch Pad 39A occurred at 7:10:01 a.m., EST. The first Shuttle mission of 1994 carries the first Russian cosmonaut, Sergei K. Krikalev, to fly on the Space Shuttle. The veteran space traveler joins astronauts N. Jan Davis and Ronald M. Sega, mission specialists; Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, payload commander: Kenneth S. Reightler, pilot; and Charles F. Bolden Jr., mission commander, on an eight day journey. Primary payloads of the 60th Space Shuttle flight are the SPACEHAB-2 laboratory and the Wake Shield Facility.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnoNITE-CLc&w=800&h=437]

Just had to include this incredible video that shows the awesome power of a space shuttle launch. The sound and video quality of this video is simply stellar. Full-screen HD with maximum volume highly recommended!

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