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On this day in 1989 – May 4th – NASA's Magellan spacecraft was released by Space Shuttle mission STS-30 Atlantis, the first interplanetary mission to be so launched.

The spacecraft, often referred to as the Venus Radar Mapper, went on to map the surface of Venus using synthetic aperture radar which is able to penetrate the planet's thick clouds.

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On this day in 2002 – May 4th – NASA launched the Aqua scientific research satellite.

Aqua was the second major component of the Earth Observing System (EOS), and was designed to study the precipitations, evaporation and cycling of water.

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On this day in 1961 – May 5th – Alan Shepard became the first American in space, making a suborbital flight in Freedom 7.

Ten years later Shepard walked on the Moon as the commander of Apollo 11.

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On this day in 1909 – May 5th – Irish astronomer Mervyn Archdall Ellison was born in Fethard-on-Sea, County Wexford.

He was a world authority on solar physics and the effect of solar flares on the Earth. Ellison began his research when working as a school teacher, and continued it at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. He was also a member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

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On this day in 1872 – May 6th – Dutch astronomer and mathematician Willem de Sitter was born.

He is best remembered for his contributions to cosmology, in particular for showing that a universe containing very little matter would expand. This paved the way for later research carried out by the American astronomer Edwin Hubble who was to provide observational evidence that the universe is expanding. De Sitter's work was honored with two prestigious awards, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

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On this day in 2003 – May 9th – the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa ("peregrine falcon") was launched

Hayabusa was the first mission to return a sample of material from an asteroid.

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On this day in 1900 – May 9th – Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was born.

Cecilia Payne was the first woman to earn a PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College of Harvard University. And in her PhD thesis, she was the first person to propose that stars stars were composed mainly of hydrogen and helium.

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On this day in 1915 – May 11th – Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was published.

Einstein's theory has often been tested and has passed every test - it's changed the way we view the cosmos.

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On this day in 2009 – May 11th – space shuttle mission STS-125 was launched.

STS-125 was the fifth and final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope.

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On this day in 1930– May 12th – the Adler Planetarium opened in Chicago.

It was the first planetarium in the western hemisphere.

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