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Space History Photo: Launch Preparation

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This research satellite would eventually provide a stable point in the sky to reflect pulses of laser light. (Image credit: NASA.)

In this historical photo from the U.S. space agency, Goddard's geophysics research satellite, a 906-lb. (411-kg) satellite that looked more like a dimpled cosmic golf ball, is inside the nose cone of this Delta rocket.

The spacecraft, which NASA launched from the Western Test Range in California in 1976, provided a stable point in the sky to reflect pulses of laser light. By timing the return of the laser beam to an accuracy of about one ten-billionth of a second, scientists expected to measure the relative location of participating ground stations within one inch or a few centimeters. These measurements allowed scientists to track and analyze tectonic plate movement and continental drift.

The spacecraft, called the LAser GEOdynamics Satellite (LAGEOS), was the precursor to the current-day Global Positioning System (GPS) system operated by the Defense Department.

Each weekday, looks back at the history of spaceflight through photos (archive).

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the U.S. government agency in charge of the civilian space program as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

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