Dec. 17


Wilbur and Orville Wright make the first successful powered flight of a heavier-than-air vehicle, according to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Web site. The brothers made four flights that day – the best of which reached nearly 260 meters for 59 seconds – with their self-built Wright Flyer in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Dec. 19


The U.K.-built Beagle 2 Mars rover separates from its European Space Agency Mars Express mothership. Communication was lost as it descended toward the red planet.

Dec. 21


Apollo 8 launches aboard a Saturn 5 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., into lunar orbit. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell

and William Anders took high-resolution photographs of possible landing sites for Apollo 11 as they flew about 112 kilometers above the lunar surface.

Dec. 24


The French Space Agency, CNES, and the European Space Agency launches the French-built Ariane 1 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. It was the first of four test launches for the Ariane 1, a heavy-lift, three-stage launch vehicle capable of lofting almost

1 metric ton into geostationary transfer orbit, the CNES Web site said.

Dec. 29


The People’s Republic of China launches its Shenzhou 4 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on a Long March 2 rocket into Earth orbit. The unmanned capsule was China’s last test of the Shenzhou capsule before

launching its first manned capsule into orbit October 2003.

Jan. 3


NASA launches the Mars Polar Lander on a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to search for near-surface ice water. Contact was lost, however, when a software problem shut down the spacecraft’s thrusters prematurely and

the lander crashed into the Mars surface.

Jan. 4


The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit lands on the red planet after being launched aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., June 5, 2003. Spirit and its later-arriving twin rover, Opportunity, continue to comb Mars, long past their expected 90-day duration.

Jan. 5


U.S. President Richard Nixon announces that NASA is developing a reusable launch vehicle:

the space shuttle.