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Air and Space Library

This database covers the multitude of ways humans interact with and explore the earthly skies and distant reaches of outer space. Content in this library is separated into Suborbital Space and Orbital Space.

Topic Overview

Learning to Fly

Humankind has always dreamed of taking flight. Ancient Greek legends tell of Pegasus, the winged horse ridden by Bellerophon to fight the Chimera, and of the ingenuity of Daedalus and the hubris of his son Icarus, whose wings of wax and feathers took the young man aloft—until his euphoria steered him too close to the sun’s heat, melting the wax and plunging him to his death.

The first tangible promise of flight came in 1783, when the French Montgolfier brothers launched the first hot air balloon, flying a crew consisting of a sheep, duck, and rooster at the royal palace of Versailles before King Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette. The balloon and its animal passengers flew for approximately eight minutes at an altitude of 1,500 feet before safely landing. Having proved that safe flight was possible, four months later the brothers launched the first manned flight in Paris, sending François Laurent d’Arlands and Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier on a twenty-five minute untethered flight that reached an altitude of about 3,000 feet. Balloon-mania swept across Europe.

The 19th century would see advancements in balloon-flight technology in the forms of dirigibles, Zeppelins, and other rigid and non-rigid airships as pioneer after pioneer sought the means to conquer heavier-than-air flight. In the late 19th century, German engineer Otto Lilienthal began developing and flying gliders whose design and control mechanism mirror today’s modern hang gliders. Lilienthal’s glider flights off the Rhinow Hills covered distances between 80 and 800 feet, captured in photographs to prove his claims of success. Lilienthal was killed in an aviation accident in 1896 when he lost control of his glider and crashed, breaking his neck.

But his work lived on in two brothers from Ohio who built bicycles. Orville and Wilbur Wright judiciously studied Liilenthal's research as they conducted their own glider experiments on the beaches of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. They eventually abandoned Lilienthal's work and concentrated on calculations developed in their own wind tunnel experiments. On December 17, 1903, the Wrights built and flew their Wright Flyer for 12 seconds, making the first controlled, powered, and sustained flight of a motor-operated heavier-than-air aircraft.  The floodgates of flight were now open.

Landing among the Stars

While it had taken humans centuries to learn to fly, it would take only decades to launch themselves into space. The Race to the Moon of the 1950s and 1960s was characterized by tensions between two world superpowers, great bravery and astounding leaps in technology. Its origins go back to World War II, when German engineer Wernher von Braun designed and co-developed the V-2 for the Nazi regime, the first long-range guided ballistic missile and the first object to travel into space. Von Braun and other German scientists were recruited to work for the American government and jump start its fledgling space program as part of Operation Paperclip. In the states, von Braun continued his rocketry work and dreamed of deeper and deeper space travel, of colonizing Mars; he collaborated with Walt Disney to make short films for television about space exploration, hoping to capture the public's imagination and spur support for a broader mission to the stars.

The famous race to put a man on the moon ended on July 20th, 1969, when American astronaut Neil Armstrong descended Apollo 11's capsule and became the first human being to step onto the lunar surface. Successive Apollo missions returned humans to the moon, with the last landing occurring in 1972, as NASA pivoted from lunar exploration to charting the rest of space. Its first space station, Skylab, was launched in 1973. A joint mission between the Americans and the Soviets, known as the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, successfully took place in 1975; it was the first manned international space mission. In 1981, the first crewed Space Shuttle was launched into orbit. Space Shuttle missions varied from launch to launch; in the thirty years the program was active, Shuttles were used to conduct scientific research, helped construct the International Space Station, and launch satellites, interplanetary probes and the famous Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble, launched in 1990, is capable of capturing extremely detailed pictures of space and is still in operation today. Its planned successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, has been plagued by developmental problems and launch delays, but upon its eventual launch will capture images far too distant to be reached by Hubble. SpaceX and other commercial companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic today complement government space programs and propose to one day make space travel accessible to the paying public.

Your Research Co-Pilot

HeinOnline’s Air and Space Library illustrates the history of air and spaceflight through the programs and people that made these dreams possible. Bringing together documents on private sector pioneers with government-funded programs, users in this database are able to see how governments and regulators reacted to these new technologies, the accidents and disasters that prompted reform, and the new frontiers that await as technology advances at an improbable speed. Topics covered include: airline deregulation; air traffic control modernization; airline safety concerns in a post-9/11 world; drones; satellites and their essential function in modern life; the Space Shuttle Program, including investigation of the Columbia and Challenger disasters; the growing problem of space debris; and the increasing amount of private, commercial companies and their stake in space. HeinOnline editors have analyzed and subject-coded every title in this collection, creating and assigning 29 unique subjects to help users find material most relevant to their research. Further categorizing the content, this entire collection is organized by Outer Space and Suborbital Space, separating titles dealing with matters on celestial bodies (Outer Space) from those concerned with Earth-bound air travel (Suborbital Space).