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On this day in 1959 - April 9th - NASA selected its first group of astronauts, known as the Mercury Seven.

They were the pioneers of the US manned space program: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. None of the Mercury Seven are still alive.


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On this day in 1921 - April 9th - Mary Jackson was born.

Mary Jackson was NASA's first black female engineer. She began as a computer for NASA's predecessor organization, but went on from mathematics to take advanced engineer classes. She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career.


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On this day in 1919 - April 10th - John C. Houbolt was born.

Houbolt, an American aerospace engineer, is credited with leading the team behind the lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) that was used to land humans on the Moon and return them to Earth. Using LOR, NASA saved time and billions of dollars by efficiently using existing rocket technology.


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On this day in 1960 - April 11th - Project Ozma began.

Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake initiated this project. It was a pioneering SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) experiment that searched for signs of life in distant planetary systems by monitoring interstellar radio waves.


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On this day in 1970 - April 11th - NASA's Apollo 13 Moon mission was launched.

This was the ill-fated mission that didn't make onto the Moon, but with the assistance of a lot of smart people the astronauts made it safely back to Earth.


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On this day in 1980 - April 11th - NASA's Viking 2 lander astrobiology mission ended.

The lander operated on the surface for 1316 days, and was turned off on April 11, 1980 when its batteries failed.


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On this day in 1984 - April 11th - the space shuttle Challenger redeployed the Solar Max satellite following its retrieval and repair.


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On this day in 2006 - April 11th - ESA's Venus Express was inserted into orbit around Venus.

The mission provided an enormous amount of data on the Venusian atmosphere until the European Space Agency concluded it in December 2014. In addition to helping to understand the atmosphere of Venus, it also contributed to an a general understanding of atmospheric dynamics in general, including climate change on Earth.


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On this day in 1986 - April 11th - Halley's Comet was at its closest to the Earth.


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On this day in 1961 - April 12th - Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first spaceman.

Gagarin made the historic first orbit of the Earth in the Vostok 1 craft.


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