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Space Age Trivia

Test your space knowledge with the trivia subjects below!

Re-Entering Space Debris (posted 2/6/2012)
Speed of Satellites (posted 3/3/2011)
Database Trivia (posted 11/22/2010)
Communication Satellites (posted 7/22/2010)
Risks of Space Racing (posted 4/9/2010)
Space Tourism (posted 10/15/2009)
Women in Space (posted 7/16/2009)
Space Demographics (posted 6/1/09)
Space Debris (posted 4/15/09)
Rapid Progress in Satellite Development (posted 3/13/09)
Space Firsts (posted 1/30/09)


Re-Entering Space Debris:

Number of people struck by re-entering debris:[1]
One.  In January 1997, Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma was struck on the shoulder by a piece of the fuel tank of a Delta II rocket while walking.  She was not injured.

Size of biggest piece of recovered re-entered space debris[2]:
A 5-6 m2 (54-65 ft2) flat plate weighing 20 kg (44 pounds).

Mass of heaviest piece of recovered debris[3]:
290 kg (649 lbs).

Average number of pieces of tracked debris falling back to Earth on a typical day[4]:

Average number of heavy tracked objects (satellites and rocket bodies) falling back to Earth per year[5]:

Number of tracked objects re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere in 1989, the year with the most re-entries:
Over 1000.

Amount of money the San Francisco Chronicle offered in 1979 if a subscriber suffered personal or property damage from the re-entering Skylab satellite:

Number of pieces of re-entered debris featured in a Miss Universe pageant[6]:




[3] Ibid.

[4] Aerospace Corporation Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies

[5] Ibid.



Speed of Satellites:

Time required for Phileas Fogg to circumnavigate the globe by balloon: [1]
80 days

Time required for first non-stop balloon circumnavigation: [2] 
19.1 days

Time required for first non-stop circumnavigation by aircraft: [3] 
3.9 days

Time for a satellite in low-earth orbit to circumnavigate the earth: [4] 
1.5 hours

Time for a satellite in geo-synchronous orbit to circumnavigate the earth: [5] 
24 hours

Ratio of the speed of a satellite in low earth orbit to the speed of a passenger jet:
30 to 1


 [1] Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days

 [2] Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, 1999, first non-stop balloon circumnavigation in Breitling Orbiter 3, 19 days, 1 hour and 49 minutes, covering 42,810 kilometres. 

 [3] In 1949 the United States Air Force B-50 Superfortress Lucky Lady II made the first non-stop aerial circumnavigation in 94 hours and 1 minute. Four in-air refuelings were required for the flight, which covered 37,743 kilometres (23,452 mi). 

 [4]Wright, D., L. Grego, and L. Gronlund. 2005. The physics of space security: A reference manual. Cambridge, MA:.American Academny of Arts and Sciences.

 [5] Ibid.

Database Trivia:
(All data derived from 11-1-10 UCS Satellite Database)
The current U.S. share of active satellites:
46%. [1]  


Number of satellites launched in the 1970s that are still active:
Two. [2]

Percent of communications satellites that are in geostationary orbits:
Over 60.

Number of countries that have communications satellites in geostationary orbits.
Over 30.

Percentage of communications satellites in GEO owned by the United States:

Percentage of communications satellites in LEO owned by the United States:

Number of satellites currently in orbit whose primary purpose is amateur radio communications.


 [1] The U.S. share has remained relatively steady since 2005, ranging from a high of 53% to the current low.
 [2] Amsat-Oscar 7, launched in 1974; and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) 3, launched in 1978.  While the amateur satellite Amsat-Oscar 7’s batteries failed in 1981, the satellite can still be used as a transponder when sunlight illuminates its solar panels.  GOES-3 ceased its operation as a weather satellite but still functions as a communications satellite, serving particularly the South Pole.

 Communication satellites:

Year of first prototype communication satellite[1]

Year of first operational communication satellite:[2] 

Subject of first transatlantic live television images to be transmitted by satellite (1962):[3]
Part of a baseball game between the Phillies and the Cubs

Year of first geosynchronous satellite:[4]

Number of simultaneous two-way telephone conversations the first GEO communications satellite could handle:[5]

First Olympics to broadcast pictures by GEO satellite:[6]
1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

Mass of the first GEO satellite:[7]
85 lbs (39 kg)

Typical mass of a modern GEO communication satellite:[8]
8,000 lb (3,500 kg)

Fraction of all current active satellites used for communication:[9]


[1] The SCORE satellite (Signal Communications Orbit Relay Equipment) was launched December 18, 1958 by the United States to test communicating by satellite.

[2] Telstar 1 was launched July 10, 1962. It was roughly spherical, with a diameter of about 35 inches (880 mm), weighed 170 pounds (77 kg), and had 14 wattts of power.

[3] The first pictures transmitted by Telstar were of a flag outside its ground station in Andover on the day it was launched. The first live transatlantic transmission was on July 23. According to Wikipedia, "The first broadcast was to have been remarks by President John F. Kennedy, but the signal was acquired before the President was ready, so the lead-in time was filled with a short segment of a televised major league baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The batter Tony Taylor was seen hitting the ball to the right fielder George Altman.

[4] Syncom 2 was the first geosynchronous satellite, launched on July 26, 1963. The first commercial geosynchronous satellite was Intelsat I ("Early Bird") launched in 1965. Syncom weighted 150 lb (68 kg).


[6] Syncom 3 was used to telecast the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to the United States, which was the first television program to cross the Pacific Ocean.


[8] UCS Satellite Database,

[9] UCS Satellite Database.


 Risks of Space Racing:  

Success rate in tests of the Soviet rocket used to launch Yuri Gagarin into space at the time of his first orbital flight:[1]  

Success rate in tests of the retro rockets needed for reentry of the space capsule at time of Gagarin’s launch:[2]  

Probability of success of Gagarin’s flight based on these two systems: 

Number of people launched to space who did not return successfully:[3] 

Number of people who died while in orbit:


 [1] AWST 3-19/26-07, p. 67


 [3] Soyouz 1:  1 died on reentry (1967)
Soyouz 11: 3 died on reentry (1971)
Challenger: 7 died on launch (1985)
Columbia: 7 died on reentry (2003)



Space Tourism:
(as of October 1, 2009)

Number of "space tourists" who have paid to travel to the International Space Station:[1]
6 (one of whom has flown twice) 

Current cost of a trip to the space station as a tourist:[2]
$30-35 million


Additional fee for a space walk:[3]
$15 million


Expected cost of a trip around the moon as a tourist:[4]
$100 million


Date by which one company says it will routinely take tourists on weeklong orbital trips:[5]


A previous profession of the next planned space tourist, Guy Laliberté:[6]





[2] W. Harwood, "Tourist and Two Others on Way to Space Station," New York Times, 26 March 2009,  


[3] David Leonard, "Space Adventures Sees Wide Range of Public Space Travel," Space News, 23 July 2007, p. 12.  


[4] Leonard, "Space Adventures Sees Wide Range."  


[5] T. Malik, "Venture Eyes Russian Almaz Capsules for Paid Orbital Flights," 10 August 2009,  





Women in space:
(as of May 1, 2009)  



Time between first man in orbit and first woman in orbit:[1] 
2 years  


Time between first woman in orbit and second woman in orbit:[2] 
19 years  


Time between first woman in orbit and first US woman in orbit:[3] 
21 years  


Primary qualification of Valentina Tereskova, the first woman in space, to become a cosmonaut:[4] 
She was a member of a parachute club

Number of additional female cosmonauts following its first two in 1963 and 1983:[5]



Total number of women who have been in orbit:[6]

Fraction of all trips to space by women by all countries:


Country with the highest fraction of space flights by women:[7]
Canada (33%)  




[1] Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereskova was launched into space on June 16, 1963.

[2] Soviet Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, Aug 19, 1982. Savitskaya was the first woman to spacewalk.  



[3] U.S. astronaut Sally Ride, June 18, 1983

[4] The early Soviet space flights landed on the ground rather than water. Due to concern that the capsule might hit the ground too fast, the early cosmonauts parachuted out of the capsule at an altitude of about 7 km. Tereskova was a civilian (while the men were military officers) and was apparently chosen in large part because of her ability to parachute.

[5] Russian Cosmonaut Elena Kondakova, Oct. 3, 1994  






Space Demographics:[1]
(as of May 1, 2009)

Number of person-years spent in space: 
90.6 (0.91 person-century)

Number of different individuals launched to orbit:

Number of countries represented by those individuals:


Number of human-flights into orbit:[2]

Fraction of those flights by women:

Number of human-flights by U.S. astronauts:

Fraction by women:

Number of human-flights by Soviet/Russian cosmonauts:

Fraction by women:

Most human-flights by people of other nationalities: 
France (17), Germany (14), Canada (13), Japan (12)

Length of first orbital flight (by Gagarin):
1 hour 48 minutes (1 orbit)  


Longest single stay in orbit:
1.2 years [3]

Longest total duration in orbit for one person:
2.2 years [4]




[1] Statistics are derived from

[2] "Human-flights" refers to number of passengers who have been carried into space on orbital launches; individuals who have been on multiple launches count as multiple human-flights.  



[3] Valeri Polyakov: 437.8 days (Jan 1994-March 1995)

[4] Sergei Krikalov: 803.4 days over 6 flights (1988-2005)


Space Debris:
(All numbers are as of 4/15/09)


Amount of human-origin debris in space at the time of the Sputnik launch in 1957:


Amount today: 
750,000 pieces larger than 1 cm and 150 million larger than 1 mm

Average time estimated between collisions of a piece of debris with size > 1 cm with some active satellite in low Earth orbit:  
2-3 years


Number of international treaties limiting the production of space debris: 

Increase in large space debris in low Earth orbit that would result from the destruction of one large spy satellite by an anti-satellite weapon:


Number of countries that have destroyed a satellite by testing an anti-satellite weapon in space:


[1] Debris mitigation guidelines have been adopted by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (PAROS), but they are voluntary and not legally binding.

[2] Space debris from antisatellite weapons," David Wright, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1 October 2007,

[3] Soviet Union, United States, China


Rapid progress in satellite development:


Date of launch of the first satellite to be placed in orbit, Sputnik 1:
October 4, 1957[1]  


Time between Sputnik 1 and first animal launched into orbit:
1 month[2] 


Time between Sputnik 1 and first prototype communication satellite:
1.2 years[3]   


Time between Sputnik 1 and first weather satellite:
1.4 years[4]


Time between Sputnik 1 and launch of first object to reach the moon:
1.9 years[5]   


Time between Sputnik 1 and first animal to successfully return from orbit:
2.8 years[6] 


Time between Sputnik 1 and first human launched into orbit (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin):
3.5 years[7]   


Time between first flight by Wright Brothers to first non-stop transatlantic airplane flight:
16 years[8]


Time between first person in orbit to first person on the moon:
8 years[9]   






[2] The dog Laika was launched on Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957.,


[3] The SCORE satellite (Signal Communications Orbit Relay Equipment) was launched Dec 18, 1958 by the United States to test communicating by satellite. It used an on-board tape recorder to relay messages.,  


[4] The first weather satellite was Vanguard 2, which was launched on February 17, 1959. It experienced some technical problems and did not work well, but was followed by Tiros 1, launched on April 1, 1960.  


[5] Sept. 12, 1959: The Soviet Luna-2  


[6] Aug. 19 1960: Two dogs, Belka and Strelka, returned from orbit on a prototype of the Vostok spacecraft (Korabl Sputnik-5).


[7] The Soviet Union successfully launched cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit on April 12, 1961.  


[8] First Wright Brothers flight: Dec 17, 1903. First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight: June14-15, 1919


[9] Apollo moon landing: July 20, 1969.


Space Firsts:

First country besides the U.S. and Soviet Union to have a satellite in orbit:



First launch into orbit by a country other than the United States or Soviet Union:
France (1965)[2]


Continents from which orbital space launches occurred, in chronological order:
Asia (1957)[3], North America (1958)[4], Africa (1965)[5], Europe (1966)[6], Australia (1967)[7], South America (1970)[8]  


First musical instruments played in space:
Harmonica and bells[9]




[1] Canadian-built Alouette satellite was launched by the U.S. on September 29, 1962 aboard a Thor-Agena launch vehicle.


[2] France launched the Asterix satellite on November 29 1965 from a launch site in Algeria.  


[3] The Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


[4] The United States launched Explorer 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  


[5] France launched Asterix 1 from Hammaguir, Algeria.


[6] The Soviet Union launched the Cosmos-112 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in European Russia.  


[7] Australia, using a U.S. Redstone rocket, launched the WRESAT satellite from Woomera, South Australia.


[8] France launched the German Dial (Diamant Allemagne) satellite from Kourou, French Guiana.  


[9] In December 1965, Gemini 6A and Gemini 7 were both in orbit and undertook a series of rendezvous maneuvers. In the early hours of December 16, astronauts Thomas Stafford and Walter Schirra came on the radio: " Gemini 7, this is Gemini 6. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one…. You just might let me to pick up that thing…. I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit." This was followed by Jingle Bells being played on a harmonica and bells, which the Smithsonian Institution now keeps on display.




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