October in space dates


If we ask you what’s so special about October, you will probably say “Halloween”. Although we too love spooky decorations, toffee apples and trick-o-treaters’ tireless knocking on the door after dusk, there is more this month to remember and celebrate. 

Here is October in historic space dates, famous astronomers’ and astronauts’ birthdays and upcoming events. 

Happy October!


October 3

(1935) Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke is born.

Charles Duke is a retired American astronaut and pilot. He was a Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 16 mission. Duke spent over 3 days on the Moon and completed 3 EVAs that lasted over 20 hours in total. He also served as CAPCOM (spaceflight communicator) for the historic Apollo 11 mission.


October 4

(1957) Soviet Union launches the first man-made satellite Sputnik 1. This event marks the beginning of the Space Race between the US and USSR.

Sputnik 1 was a very simple spherical satellite. It orbited the Earth once every 1,5 hours and transmitted a radio signal (the iconic beep-beep) for three weeks until its batteries died. Sputnik 1 reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up three months after the launch.


October 5

(1882) American rocket engineer Robert H. Goddard is born.  

Goddard (1882-1945) was the first to design and test a rocket that used liquid propellant, in that case gasoline and liquid oxygen. Although Goddard’s rocket was nowhere near space, in fact it barely rose to the height of a two storey house, it successfully demonstrated the possibility of using liquid propellant in rockets. Goddard developed the theory of rocket flight, worked on a multistage rocket and patented well over 200 inventions over the course of his life. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center was named in his honour. Read more about Robert H. Goddard here.


October 9

(1873 ) German astronomer Karl Schwarzschild is born.

Schwarzschild (1873-1916) gave the first exact solution to Einstein’s field equations for the case of non-rotating spherically symmetrical mass. The solution, known as Schwarzschild metric, determined something called Schwarzschild radius. An object packed within a sphere the size of its Schwarzschild radius will collapse to form a black hole. Interestingly, Schwarzschild himself didn’t think that black hole were real objects.


October 10

(1967) Outer Space treaty comes into force.

Outer Space Treaty is a document that provides basic guidelines for the peaceful use of Space. It states, among other things, that there can be no weapons of mass destruction in the Earth’s orbit and no military activities on the Moon and other celestial objects. Over 100 countries are party to this treaty and many others have signed but not yet ratified it.


October 11

(1758) German astronomer Heinrich Willhelm Olbers is born. 

A doctor by day and a stargazer by night, Olbers (1758-1840) is the discoverer of the asteroids 2 Pallas and 4 Vesta as well as a number of comets. In the paper Olbers wrote in the 1820s he investigated the question why the sky is dark at night. He proposed that the interstellar medium absorbs the light from distant stars (and therefore our night sky is dark instead of being lit by the light of billions of distant stars). Although his conclusion was wrong, the question he raised became known as Olbers’ paradox, or the night sky paradox. You will find an excellent paper on Olbers’ paradox here.


October 12

(2019) WonderDome mobile planetarium runs family space shows at Morley Town Hall as part of the Morley Art Festival


October 15

(2003) China becomes the 3rd nation after the USSR and USA to send an astronaut into space. 

Zhenzhou 5 was the first crewed mission of the China National Space Administration. It was launched atop Chinese Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gobi Desert. The spacecraft carried one taikonaut (that’s what Chinese astronauts are called), Yang Liwei, into orbit. Liwei spent over 20 hours in Space and completed 14 orbits around the Earth.


October 18

(1989) Galileo spacecraft is launched aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Galileo was NASA mission to study Jupiter and its moons. For almost 8 years the spacecraft explored Jupiter’s rings, atmosphere, magnetosphere as well as the planet’s biggest moons, Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Galileo discovered, among other things, volcanoes on Io, magnetic field around Ganymede and water on Europa. The spacecraft also carried a small Galileo Probe. The probe was deployed and sent on a one-way trip into Jupiter’s atmosphere.  At the end of the mission in September 2003, after completing 35 orbits around the gas giant, Galileo probe itself was sent on a crash course into Jupiter. 


October 19

(1910) American-Indian astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) is born.

Chandrasekhar made a massive contribution to the theory of stellar evolution. He calculated the “Chandrasekhar limit”, the critical mass of a supernova remnant. A remnant with a mass up to the limit will remain a white dwarf whereas a heavier one will continue to collapse and become either a neutron star or a black hole. Chandrasekhar received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983. You can learn more about the scientist and his discoveries in our blog post Great astronomers of the 20th century: Chandrasekhar.


October 20

British aerospace scientist Kenneth Gatland is born.

Gatland (1924-1997) is the author and editor of many books and articles about space and spaceflight including “The illustrated Encyclopedia of Space Technology: A Comprehensive History of Space Exploration”. Gatland was president of the British Interplanetary Society in 1973-1977.


October 22

American radio engineer Karl Jansky is born.

Jansky (1905-1950) was a radio engineer at Bell Labs. While he looked for sources of radio static that could potentially interfere with transatlantic transmission, Jansky found a new type of signal. It turned out he discovered radio waves from the Milky Way!


October 25

(1945) American astrophysicist, particle physicist and cosmologist David Schramm is born.

Schramm (1945-1997) was the World leading expert on the Big Bang theory. He is well known for studying how the lightest elements were formed after the Big Bang. He also calculated how much regular matter there is in the Universe and predicted the existence of “dark matter”.


October 27

(2019) Daylight Saving Time ends.

Every year on the last Sunday of October at 2AM we set the clock 1 hour back. From that moment until the end of March (when British Summer TIme, or BST, begins) UK is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).


October 29

(2018) Parker Solar Probe sets a new record.

Launched on August 12, 2018, Parker Solar Probe is a NASA mission to study the solar atmosphere and solar wind. On October 29, 2018 Parker Probe became the closest man-made object to the Sun. And it keeps getting closer with every orbit! You can learn all about Parker mission in our blog post Parker Probe: the mission to solve the mystery of the Sun.


October 30

(2018) End of the Kepler Space Telescope mission.

Kepler telescope was a NASA mission to search for planets orbiting other stars. It was launched in March 2009. During the 9.5 year long mission Kepler discovered nearly 3000 exoplanets. On October 30, 2018 the planet hunter ran out of fuel and NASA announced the end of the programme. The spacecraft remains in orbit.

One of the exoplanets discovered by Kepler, planet K2-18b, made the headlines last month when astronomers found water vapor in its  atmosphere. 


October 31

(1930) American astronaut Michael Collins is born.

Michael Collins is a retired astronaut and test pilot. He is most famous for being “the second man on the Moon” as a Command Module Pilot on Apollo 11 mission. Three years prior to Apollo 11, Collins served as Gemini 10 pilot. During Gemini flight he spent 3 days in orbit and completed 2  EVAs. Michael Collins was one of the CAPCOMs for the Apollo 8 mission.