Today in History - 1950s

Moments in aviation and space history from the 1950s.
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November 3, 1957: Laika, the female part-Samoyed terrier pictured here, became the first living being launched into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. Laika provided scientists with the first data on the behavior of a living organism in space, helping pave the way for the first human in space.

Laika, the first living being launched into orbit. | National Air and Space Museum

65 Years Ago Today: The Korean War began. Pictured here is one of the key aircraft from this war - the United States’ first swept-wing fighter aircraft, the F-86A Sabre. Listen as F-86 pilot and Museum docent Lt. Gen. William Earl Brown describes flying the F-86 Sabre against the MiG-15 in the Korean War, and MiG-15 pilot Ken Rowe, gives his view on the two aircraft:

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National Air and Space Museum Smithsonian

June 8, 1959: Scott Crossfield made the first unpowered glide flight of North American X-15. The North American X-15 rocket-powered research aircraft bridged the gap between crewed flight within the atmosphere and crewed flight beyond the atmosphere into space. After completing its initial test flights in 1959, the X-15 became the first winged aircraft to attain velocities of Mach 4, 5, and 6 (four, five, and six times the speed of sound). See it on display at our Museum in DC.

North American X-15 | National Air and Space Museum

January 4, 1958: Today in 1958: Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, burned up on reentry into the Earth's atmosphere after spending three months in orbit. This is the last surviving piece of Sputnik — the arming pin. Removed just prior to launch, it prevented contact between the batteries and transmitters. A pin mounted on the launch vehicle served the same purpose until the satellite separated from the launcher in orbit.

Sputnik Arming Key in Space Race | National Air and Space Museum

October 13, 1950: prototype Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation made its 1st flight. The Museum's Constellation pictured here on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

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October 12, 1952: Our Douglas DC-3 made its last commercial flight from San Salvador to Miami. See it on display in our "America by Air" exhibition at the Museum in Washington, DC.

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July 15, 1954: The Boeing 367-80, also known as the Dash 80, made its first flight. The Dash 80 was the prototype for the 707, America's first jet airliner. See it on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Boeing 367-80 Jet Transport | National Air and Space Museum

April 9, 1959 - NASA introduced the Project Mercury astronauts to the world. Known as the Mercury Seven or Original Seven, they are (front row, left to right) Walter M. "Wally" Schirra Jr., Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John H. Glenn Jr., M. Scott Carpenter, (back row) Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. Image credit: NASA

Mercury 7 Astronauts | National Air and Space Museum

On March 5, 1953, Polish Air Force pilot Lt. Franciszek Jarecki defected in a MiG-15 by flying to Bornholm, Denmark. It was the first intact MiG to reach the West. Jarecki wore this flight suit during his daring flight to freedom.

Lt. Franciszek Jarecki flight suit at the Udvar-Hazy Center | National Air and Space Museum

Pioneer 4 launched on March 3, 1959 and flew by the Moon the next day. This unflown duplicate of Pioneer 4 contains batteries to power its radio transmitter, a cosmic radiation counter, and other instruments. A gold-plated cone covers the instruments and serves as a communications antenna. #TimeNav

Pioneer 4 | Time and Navigation

Launch of Pioneer 4 on a Juno II rocket on March 3, 1959. | Photo credit: NASA #TimeNav

Launch of Pioneer 4 | Time and Navigation

Dual chamber, liquid-fuel engine assembly that powered the first stage of the two-stage Titan 1 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

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February 6, 1959: The first successful flight of the Titan I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). | Source:

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Supersonic RM-10 aerodynamic research vehicle used either on internally mounted solid fuel Deacon rocket to boost it or a double Deacon mounted at the rear of the model. The RM-10 was used by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for supersonic heat testing from 1947 to 1955 at the NACA's Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Wallops Island, Virginia.

Research Vehicle, Rocket-Propelled, RM-10 | National Air and Space Museum

February 6, 1951: Technician Durwood Dereng measures elevation of double Deacon booster prior to launch of RM-10 research model at Wallops. | Photo credit: NASA

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On November 3, 1957, Laika became the first living being launched into orbit aboard Sputnik 2.

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September 9, 1959: "Big Joe" unoccupied Mercury capsule launches on suborbital flight. It was the second flight in the Mercury program and first using an Atlas booster. This image shows "Big Joe" atop the Atlas rocket readied for launch. The capsule was recovered in the Atlantic. "Big Joe" is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. | Photo credit: NASA

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Lt Colonel John Stapp made his second run on the Sonic Wind 1 rocket sled, which attained a speed of approximately 735 feet per second, on August 20, 1954.

National Air and Space Museum

On July 12, 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to employ a helicopter while in office riding in this Bell H-13J, now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

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June 25,1950: The Korean War began. The Navy's experience in the Korean War showed the need for a new long-range strike aircraft with high subsonic performance at very low altitude. The Grumman A-6 Intruder was designed with these needs in mind. See the Grumman A-6 Intruder pictured here at the Udvar-Hazy Center:

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On June 8, 1959: The U.S. Navy attempted its first and last mail delivery via missile. A Regulus I missile was launched from the USS Barbero carrying two blue and red metal containers with 3,000 letters inside. | via @Evelyn Spencer Postal Museum

National Postal Museum

Able, a rhesus monkey, in the capsule and couch that carried her on a suborbital flight inside the nose cone of a Jupiter rocket launched on May 28, 1959. Able flew with Baker, a squirrel monkey, on the Able-Baker Mission. Both monkeys survived the flight and returned to Earth unharmed.

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Baker, a squirrel monkey, perches on a model of the Jupiter rocket that launched her into space on a sub-orbital flight, along with a rhesus monkey named Able, on May 28, 1959.

Baker on Jupiter Model | National Air and Space Museum

On May 18, 1953: Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier. Here, she sits in the cockpit of a F-86 Sabre jet talking to Chuck Yeager. | Photo credit: US Air Force

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Chelsey Bonestell's mural "Lunar Landscape" was unveiled at the Boston Museum's Haydon Planetarium on March 28, 1957. It is now in our collection.

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