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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Space News and Views

50 Years Ago: X-15 #3 Reaches Space

 
X-15-A3 in flight.

On July 17, 1962 Major Robert White of the US Air Force accelerated his X-15 craft (number 3) faster than anticipated, with the result that he managed to climb higher than expected. His final recorded altitude on this flight was 58.7 miles, or 314,750 feet. By exceeding 50 miles in altitude, he qualified for astronaut status (and receiving astronaut wings to wear on his uniform). To this point only the four Mercury astronauts (Armstrong, Grissom, Glenn, and Carpenter) had achieved this status. Also on this mission, the X-15 reached its original goal of achieving a 50-mile-high flight. There would be more to come!
 
Major Robert White, USAF. Photo credits: NASA.

Robert M. White flew fighter missions in World War 2 and the Korean War. He earned degrees in science and engineering, and became a test pilot for the US Air Force flying fighter test planes. Joining the X-15 program in 1960, White reached high altitudes and achieved several records. After the X-15 program, White flew combat missions in Vietnam and later became commander of the USAF Test Flight Center at Edwards Air Force Base. In 2006 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2010.

Solar Storm Subsiding

 
Current solar disk with sunspot 1520. Credit: SDO/HMI & Spaceweather.com.

Well, we've come through a geomagnetic storm and it seems we're still here. The solar flare erupted from sunspot complex 1520 and much of the storm of radiation and particles hit the Earth's magnetic fields starting just after midnight on Saturday morning. Earth's magnetic field saved us and provided magnificent views of the Aurora Borealis as far south as Utah! Sadly, I saw none of that with the bright city lights and increasing clouds and storms in the area.
The CME event (coronal mass ejection) hitting the Earth lasted about 36 hours, and readings are getting lower. Further chance of another storm is lessening as the sunspot group continues to rotate toward the other side of the Sun. Check Spaceweather.com for photos of the northern lights and further information.
 
Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator
Spacerubble.blogspot.com
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