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Famous Astronauts


John Glenn before his historic flight on board the Shuttle at age 77 (NASA)

There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. Here are some of the most famous astronauts along with some of their accomplishments.

Alan B Shepard Jr. was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. He was born November 18, 1923 and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. While in the Navy, Shepard became a pilot. Eventually, he joined NASA. One of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard became the first American in space. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard took his first trip into space. He was beat into space by the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks. Shepard went on to lead other missions into space including the Apollo XIV mission to the Moon.

Neil Armstrong is one of the most famous astronauts ever. He was born August 5, 1930 and graduated from He flew in the Apollo 11 to the Moon with “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. He was the first person to land and walk on the Moon.  A test pilot, Armstrong has flown over 200 different types of aircraft in his long career. As he stepped on the Moon, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

John Glenn Jr. was a fighter pilot and a test pilot. He was one of the first seven Mercury astronauts chosen by America’s Space Program. John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth in a mission in February 1962. He earned the Space Congressional Medal of Honor for his contributions to spaceflight. After an extensive career as an astronaut, Glenn became a U.S. Senator who was reelected several times.

James Lovell Jr. was born March 25, 1928 in Ohio.  Like Shepard, he graduated from the US Naval Academy and later became a pilot. Lovell was the backup commander for several space flights. He was the commander of the Gemini 12 mission, which included a rendezvous of two manned spacecraft. Lovell held a record of 715 hours and 5 minutes of time spent in space, until it was broken by those on the Skylab flights.

Dr. Sally Ride was the first woman astronaut. She was born May 26, 1951, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in physics and one in English from Stanford University. She also earned a Master’s and a doctorate in physics. In June 1983, she became the first American woman in space as part of the crew of Challenger, but not the first woman in space. The Russians had already sent up two female astronauts – Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya.

Universe Today has articles on Neil Armstrong and how to become an astronaut.

If you are looking for more information, you should check out famous aviators and astronauts and astronaut biographies.

Astronomy Cast has an episode on the US space shuttle.

NASA: Alan Shepard Jr
NASA: Neil Armstrong
NASA: John Glenn
NASA: James Lovell Jr.
NASA: Sally Ride

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