American astronaut Michael Collins was part of the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission, remaining in the command module as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. Since he stayed behind to pilot the command module as Aldrin and Armstrong made ...read more
Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the Apollo Space program (1961-1975) and was supposed to be the third lunar landing mission, but the three astronauts aboard never reached the moon. Instead the crew and ground control team scrambled through a hair-raising ...read more
The birth of quantum theory
German physicist Max Planck publishes his groundbreaking study of the effect of radiation on a “blackbody” substance, and the quantum theory of modern physics is born. Through physical experiments, Planck demonstrated that energy, in certain situations, can exhibit ...read more
The Apollo Mission That Nearly Ended With a Mutiny in Space
By 1968, America’s space program was on the brink. A launchpad fire at Cape Canaveral killed three astronauts as they were conducting tests in their space capsule in January 1967. After 20 months of congressional hearings, political fallout and a spacecraft redesign, three new ...read more
Life on Mars? The Search for Signs Goes Back Centuries
In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli turned his telescope to Mars and saw signs of a potentially lush world. He would publish his observations of what he believed to be “seas” and “continents” on the Martian surface. He also described channels (later found to be an ...read more
7 Things You Didn’t Know About Stephen Hawking
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died on March 14, 2018—also known as Pi Day—at age 76. The scientist stands out for his significant contributions to the field of cosmology, the study of the origin and development of the universe. During his career, Hawking became a cultural ...read more
Big Bird Nearly Rode on the Disastrous Challenger Mission
On the morning of January 28, 1986, a nation of viewers gave a collective gasp. Space Shuttle Challenger, the crown jewel of NASA’s ambitious shuttle program, had just exploded, leaving a telltale trail behind as it disintegrated into thin air. The disaster prompted an outpouring ...read more
Challenger Explosion: How Groupthink and Other Causes Led to the Tragedy
By January of 1986 America was already bored with spaceflight. It was, in part, NASA’s own fault. The government agency had debuted the space shuttle program five years earlier with an aggressive public-relations message that the reusable vehicles would make access to space both ...read more
Saturnalia, held in mid-December, is an ancient Roman pagan festival honoring the agricultural god Saturn. Saturnalia celebrations are the source of many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas. Watch Ancient History documentaries on HISTORY Vault What Is Saturnalia? ...read more
Solar and lunar eclipses—astronomical events that occur when the Earth, the Sun and the Moon are aligned—have figured prominently in human history. Striking to behold, eclipses often were viewed as supernatural phenomena. They also allowed ancient civilizations to develop ...read more
7 Things You May Not Know About John Glenn
1. John Glenn was a star before joining the Mercury program. Glenn had fallen in love with flying at an early age, building model airplanes while growing up in Ohio. In 1941, Glenn discovered a U.S. Department of Commerce program looking for students to train as pilots. Just six ...read more
A Brief History of Halley’s Comet
For much of history, comets were thought to be divine omens, atmospheric anomalies or celestial wanderers that flashed through the solar system before vanishing into interstellar space. All that started to change in 1705, when the English astronomer Edmond Halley published his ...read more
The Rise and Fall of Planet Pluto
Percival Lowell knew something else was out there. Based on his calculations, the American businessman and astronomer was convinced that an unknown ninth planet was responsible for the wobbling orbits of Uranus and Neptune. For more than a decade until his death in 1916, Lowell ...read more
What Really Happened to Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space?
Becoming the First Man in Space The son of a carpenter, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino in Smolensk, Russia in 1934. At 16, he moved to Moscow to apprentice as a foundry man in a metal works, but soon transferred to a technical school in Saratov. ...read more
Have Researchers Discovered a (New) Ninth Planet?
Planet Nine is located in an icy, debris-ridden part of space known as the Kuiper Belt, some 20-100 billion miles away from the sun, which means it would take between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make one solar orbit. By comparison, Neptune, currently recognized as the most distant ...read more
Who named the planets?
Roman mythology is to thank for the monikers of most of the eight planets in the solar system. The Romans bestowed the names of gods and goddesses on the five planets that could be seen in the night sky with the naked eye. Jupiter, the solar system’s biggest planet, was named for ...read more
What was the first animal in space?
Though far less famous than later non-human astronauts, the first animals in space were a group of fruit flies, launched to an altitude of 42 miles at the tip of a V-2 rocket, developed and used by the Germans during World War II and later by American military scientists on ...read more
10 Fascinating Facts About the Hubble Space Telescope
1. It was named for a famous astronomer. The Hubble Space Telescope takes its name from Edwin Hubble, an American astronomer whose observations helped broaden scientists’ view of the universe to include galaxies other than our own. While working at the Mount Wilson Observatory ...read more
How Apollo 13 Became NASA's 'Successful Failure'
After its successful launch, the spacecraft Apollo 13 and its crew of three—commander Jim Lovell, command module pilot Jack Swigert and lunar module pilot Fred Haise—were on their way to the Fra Mauro highlands of the Moon. There, Lovell and Haise planned to roam the Imbrium ...read more
Who determined the speed of light?
In ancient times, many scientists believed the speed of light was infinite and could travel any distance instantaneously. The Italian physicist Galileo Galilee was among the first to try to measure the speed of light. In the early 17th century, he devised an experiment in which ...read more
Lighting Simulation Offers More Proof of Moon Landing
Every epic moment in modern history inevitably spawns a tangled web of conspiracy theories, and the Apollo moon landings are no exception. From the moment astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the lunar surface on July 21, 1969, some believed it was all an ...read more
The Lone Soviet Space Shuttle Launch, 25 Years Ago
The launch of Buran (Russian for “snowstorm”) from the same patch of central Asia from which Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin rocketed into space marked a new milestone in the Soviet space program. The first test flight of the Soviet space shuttle came nearly 15 years after the U.S.S.R. ...read more
7 Historical Events That Took Place on Christmas
1. 800: Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Often called the “Father of Europe,” Charlemagne was a Frankish warrior king who united much of the continent under the banner of the Carolingian Empire. Beginning in the late 700s, Charlemagne forged a vast kingdom through ...read more
From Sputnik to Spacewalking: 7 Soviet Space Firsts
1. First artificial earth satellite: Sputnik The Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first manmade object to orbit the earth, on October 4, 1957, to little fanfare. In fact, the official Soviet news agency, Tass, didn’t announce the launch until the next day. Global reaction to ...read more