America’s Pioneering Astronauts Honored with new ‘Heroes and Legends’ Attraction at Kennedy Space Center

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. It includes the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, presented by Boeing. In addition to displays honoring the 93 Americans currently enshrined in the hall, the facility looks back to the pioneering efforts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It provides the background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered the nation's journey into space.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. It includes the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, presented by Boeing. In addition to displays honoring the 93 Americans currently enshrined in the hall, the facility looks back to the pioneering efforts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It provides the background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered the nation’s journey into space. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – America’s pioneering astronauts who braved the perils of the unknown and put their lives on the line at the dawn of the space age atop mighty rockets that propelled our hopes and dreams into the new frontier of outer space and culminated with NASA’s Apollo lunar landings, are being honored with the eye popping new ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Florida.

With fanfare and a fireworks display perfectly timed for Veterans Day, ‘Heroes and Legends’ opened its doors to the public on Friday, November 11, 2016, during a gala ceremony attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts, including revered Gemini and Apollo space program astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke, Tom Stafford, Dave Scott, Walt Cunningham and Al Worden – and throngs of thrilled members of the general public who traveled here as eyewitnesses from all across the globe.

Aldrin, Scott, and Duke walked on the Moon during the Apollo 11, 15 and 16 missions.

Also on hand were the adult children of the late-astronauts Alan Shepard (first American in space) and Neil Armstrong (first man to walk on the Moon), as well as representatives from NASA, The Boeing Company (sponsor) and park operator Delaware North – for the engaging program hosted by Master of Ceremonies John Zarrella, CNN’s well known and now retired space correspondent.

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The stunning new ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction is perfectly positioned just inside the entrance to the KSC Visitor Complex to greet visitors upon their arrival with an awe inspiring sense of what it was like to embark on the very first human journey’s into space by the pioneers who made it all possible ! And when every step along the way unveiled heretofore unknown treasures into the origin of us and our place in the Universe.

Upon entering the park visitors will immediately and surely be mesmerized by a gigantic bas relief sculpture recreating an iconic photo of America’s first astronauts – the Mercury 7 astronauts; Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

“With all the drama of an actual trip to space, guests of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida will be greeted with a dramatic sense of arrival with the new Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame® presented by Boeing. Positioned just inside the entrance, the attraction sets the stage for a richer park experience by providing the emotional background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered our journey into space,” according to a description from Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts, which operates the KSC visitor complex.

“Designed to be the first stop upon entering Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Heroes & Legends uses the early years of the space program to explore the concept of heroism, and the qualities that define the individuals who inspired their generation.”

Astronauts cut the ribbon during Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, led by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle astronaut and member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, during the ceremony. Credit: Julian Leek
Astronauts cut the ribbon during Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, led by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle astronaut and member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, during the ceremony. Credit: Julian Leek

“I hope that all of you, when you get to see Heroes and Legends, you’re inspired,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle astronaut and member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, during the ceremony.

“The children today can see that there is so much more they can reach for if they apply themselves and do well.”

“I think people a thousand years from now are going to be happy to see these artifacts and relics,” Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden told the crowd.

“We have so much on display here with a Saturn V, Space Shuttle Atlantis. People will think back and see the wonderful days we had here. And I guess in that same vein, that makes me a relic too.”

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts.  Credit: Julian Leek
Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. Credit: Julian Leek

Furthermore, ‘Heroes and Legends’ is now very conveniently housed inside the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF) – making for a unified space exploration experience for park visitors. AHOF previously was located at another off site park facility some seven miles outside and west of the Visitor Complex.

The bas relief measures 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide. It is made put of fiberglass and was digitally sculpted, carved by CNC machines and juts out from the side of the new into the new 37,000 square foot U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF) structure.

To date 93 astronauts have been inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame spanning the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

“I don’t consider myself a hero like say, Charles Lindbergh,” said Jim Lovell, a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame and Apollo 13 commander, when asked by Zarrella what it feels like to be considered an American space hero. “I just did what was proper and exciting — something for my country and my family. I guess I’m just a lucky guy.”

The astronauts are also quick to say that they were supported by hundreds of thousands of dedicated people working in the space program to make Apollo happen.

“It important to remember all the dedication and hard work that it took from those of us involved in the astronaut program, but also the support we received from Kennedy and all the contractors involved in Apollo,” said Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke.

“400,000 people made it possible for 24 of us to go to the Moon.”
“So dream big, aim high!” exclaimed Duke.

“Hopefully this is an inspiration to you and your kids and grandkids.”

Construction of the facility by Falcon’s Treehouse, an Orlando-based design firm began in the fall of 2015.

“We’re focusing on a story to create what we consider a ‘launch pad’ for our visitors,” said Therrin Protze, the Delaware North chief operating officer of the Visitor Complex. “This is an opportunity to learn about the amazing attributes of our heroes behind the historical events that have shaped the way we look at space, the world and the future.

“We are grateful to NASA for allowing us to tell the NASA story to millions of guests from all over the world,” Protze said.

Visitors walk up a sweeping ramp to enter the Heroes and Legends experience.

After visitors walk through the doors, they will be immersed by two successive video presentations and finally the Hall of Fame exhibit hall.

Here’s a detailed description:

• In the stunning 360-degree discovery bay, What is a Hero?, guests will explore how society defines heroism through diverse perspectives. Each examination of heroism starts with the following questions: What is a hero; Who are the heroes of our time; and What does it take to be a hero? During the seven-minute presentation, the historic beginning of the space race is acknowledged as the impetus for America’s push to the stars in NASA’s early years and the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

• Through the Eyes of a Hero is a custom-built theater featuring a multi-sensory experience during which guests will vicariously join NASA’s heroes and legends on the most perilous stages of their adventures. Artistically choreographed lighting and 3D imagery will be enhanced by intense, deeply resonant sound effects to create the sensation of being “in the moment.” The seven and one-half minute show takes guests on an intimate journey with four space-age heroes to fully immerse them in the awe, excitement and dangers of the first crewed space program missions.

• The third experience, A Hero Is…, offers interactive exhibits that highlight the nine different attributes of our history making astronauts: inspired, curious, passionate, tenacious, disciplined, confident, courageous, principled and selfless. A collection of nine exhibit modules will explore each aforementioned attribute, through the actual experiences of NASA’s astronauts. Their stories are enhanced with memorabilia from the astronaut or the space program.

A statue of astronaut Alan Shepard, America's first person in space, stands just inside the doors to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. The exhibit is housed in a rotunda and connects the visitor to each of the astronaut inductees through state-of-the-art interactive technology.  Credit:  Lane Hermann
A statue of astronaut Alan Shepard, America’s first person in space, stands just inside the doors to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. The exhibit is housed in a rotunda and connects the visitor to each of the astronaut inductees through state-of-the-art interactive technology. Credit: Lane Hermann

Priceless historic artifacts on display also include two flown capsules from Mercury and Gemini; the Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft piloted by Wally Schirra during his six-orbit mission in October 1962 and the Gemini IX capsule flown by Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan for three days in June 1966.

The Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft piloted by astronaut Wally Schirra during his nine-hour, 13-minute mission of six orbits on October 3, 1962 mated to a human rated Mercury Redstone rocket (MR-6) is on display  in the Heroes and Legends display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft piloted by astronaut Wally Schirra during his nine-hour, 13-minute mission of six orbits on October 3, 1962 mated to a human rated Mercury Redstone rocket (MR-6) is on display in the Heroes and Legends display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The human rated Mercury Redstone-6 (MR-6) is also on display and dramatically mated to the Schirra’s Sigma 7 Mercury capsule.

Another room houses the original consoles of the Mercury Mission Control room with the world map that was used to follow the path of John Glenn’s Mercury capsule Friendship 7 between tracking stations when he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962.

Interactive features in the KSCVC Heroes and Legends attraction include the original consoles of the Mercury Mission Control room with the world map that was used to follow the path of the John Glenn capsule Friendship 7 between tracking stations.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Interactive features in the KSCVC Heroes and Legends attraction include the original consoles of the Mercury Mission Control room with the world map that was used to follow the path of the John Glenn capsule Friendship 7 between tracking stations in 1962. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Further details about ‘Heroes and Legends, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and all other attractions are available at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, GOES-R weather satellite, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Nov 17-20: “GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-REx launch, SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Blue Origin Goes Big With New Glenn Rocket

Space exploration is becoming a lucrative domain for private aerospace companies (aka. the NewSpace industry). With opportunities for launch and resupply services growing, costs dwindling, and the cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program, private companies have been stepping up in recent years to provide their own launch vehicles and services to fill the gap.

Take Jeff Bezos, for example. Back in 2000, the founder of Amazon.com created Blue Origin to fulfill his lifelong dream of colonizing space. For years, Bezos and the company he founded have been working to produce their own fleet of reusable rockets. And as of the morning of Monday, Sept. 12th, he unveiled their newest and heaviest rocket – the New Glenn.

Much like SpaceX, Blue Origin has been committed to the creation of reusable rocket technology. This was made clear with the development of the New Shepard suborbital rocket, which was unveiled in 2006. Named in honor of the first American astronaut to go into space (Alan Shepard), this rocket made its first flight in April of 2015 and has had an impressive record, nailing four out of five soft landings in the space of just over a year.

New Shepard comes in for a landing with drag brakes and landing gear deployed. Image: Blue Origin.
New Shepard comes in for a landing with drag brakes and landing gear deployed. Credit: Blue Origin.

With the New Glenn – named in honor of astronaut John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth – the company now intends to take the next step, offering launch services beyond Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and for crewed missions. As Bezos said during the press conference:

“New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space. The three-stage variant-with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage—is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions.”

According to Bezos, Blue Origin will have both a two-stage and three-stage variant of the rocket. Whereas the two-stage will provide heavier lift capacity to LEO, the three-stage will be able to reach further, and will the company’s go-to when sending crewed missions into space. Work on the rocket began back in 2012, and the company hopes to make their first launch prior to 2020.

As Bezos said during the unveiling, this rocket carries on in the same tradition that inspired the creation of the New Shepard:

“Building, flying, landing, and re-flying New Shepard has taught us so much about how to design for practical, operable reusability. And New Glenn incorporates all of those learnings. Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter and lifts off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust from seven BE-4 engines. Burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen, these are the same BE-4 engines that will power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket.”

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23rd, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The rocket will have a sea-level thrust of 1.746 million kg (3.85 million lbs), placing it ahead of the Delta IV Heavywhich has a sea-level thrust of about 900,000 kg (2 million lbs) – but behind the 2.268 million kg (5 million lbs) of the Falcon Heavy. Both variants will be powered by BE-4 engines, which are also manufactured by Blue Origin. The third-stage also employs a single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine that burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

However, the most interesting facet of the New Glenn is the fact that it will be reusable, with its first stage providing braking thrust and deployable legs (similar to the Falcon 9). In creating a heavy lift rocket that employs a retrievable first-stage, Blue Origin has signaled its intent to give SpaceX a run for its money when it comes to the development of reusable rocket technology.

It is also likely to raise the company’s profile, which has so far been limited to conducting sub-orbital research for NASA and dabbling in the space-tourism industry. But once the New Glenn is up and running, it is likely to begin securing contracts to provide resupply services the ISS, as well as contracts with companies and research institutions to place satellites in orbit.

The Falcon Heavy, once operational, will be the most powerful rocket in the world. Credit: spacex.com
The Falcon Heavy, once operational, will be the most powerful rocket in the world. Credit: spacex.com

According to The Verge, Bezos also hinted that his company has another project in mind – called the New Armstrong. While no details have been given just yet, the name of this rocket is a clear allusion to the Moon Landing, and hints that the company may have designs on possible moon missions in the coming decades.

This is an exciting time for the NewSpace industry. In the coming months, SpaceX is expected to conduct the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, which will be the most powerful rocket built in the US since the retirement of the Apollo program’s Saturn V launcher. And if they keep to their current schedule, Blue Origin will be following this in a few years time with the launch of the largest rocket of the post-Apollo era.

Big rockets and big lift capacities can mean only thing: big things lie ahead of us!

Further Reading: ArsTechnica, The Verge, Blue Origin

6th Man on Moon Edgar Mitchell, Dies at 85 on Eve of 45th Lunar Landing Anniversary

Apollo 14 astronaut crew, including Moonwalkers Alan B. Shepard Jr., mission commander (first) and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot (last), and Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot (middle) walk out to the astrovan bringing them to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.    Credit: Julian Leek
Apollo 14 astronaut crew, including Moonwalkers Alan B. Shepard Jr., mission commander (first) and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot (last), and Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot (middle) walk out to the astrovan bringing them to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Julian Leek

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the 6th man to walk on the Moon, passed away on Thursday, Feb. 4, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his Apollo 14 mission lunar landing.

Mitchell passed away in West Palm Beach, Fla., just 1 day prior to the 45th anniversary of the Feb. 5, 1971 landing of Apollo 14’s Lunar Module “Antares.” Continue reading “6th Man on Moon Edgar Mitchell, Dies at 85 on Eve of 45th Lunar Landing Anniversary”

What Does NASA Stand For?

Chances are that if you have lived on this planet for the past half-century, you’ve heard of NASA. As the agency that is in charge of America’s space program, they put a man on the Moon, launched the Hubble Telescope, helped establish the International Space Station, and sent dozens of probes and shuttles into space.

But do you know what the acronym NASA actually stands for? Well, NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As such, it oversees America’s spaceflight capabilities and conducts valuable research in space. However, NASA also has various programs on Earth dedicated to flight, hence why the term “Aeronautics” appears in the agency’s name.

Formation:
The process of forming NASA began in the early 1950’s with the development of rocket planes – like the Bell X-1 – and the desire to launch physical satellites. However, it was not until the launch of Sputnik 1 – the first artificial satellite into space that was deployed by the Soviets on October 4th, 1957 – that efforts to develop an American space program truly began.

Fearing that Sputnik represented a threat to national security and America’s technological leadership, Congress urged then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower to take immediate action. This result in an agreement whereby a federal organization similar to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – which was established in 1915 to oversee aeronautical research – would be created.

Sputnik 1
Photograph of a Russian technician putting the finishing touches on Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite. Credit: NASA/Asif A. Siddiqi

On July 29th, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which officially established NASA. When it began operations on October 1st, 1958, NASA absorbed NACA and its 8,000 employees. It was also given an annual budget of US $100 million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities.

Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were also incorporated into NASA. A significant contribution came from the work of the Army Ballistic Missie Agency (ABMA), which had been working closely with Wernher von Braun – the leader of Germany’s rocket program during WWII – at the time.

In December 1958, NASA also gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. By 1959, President Eisenhower officially approved of A NASA seal, which is affectionately referred to as the “meatball” logo because of the orbs included in the design.

First designed in 1959, this NASA seal has commonly been known as the "meatball" logo. Credit: NASA
First designed in 1959, this NASA seal has commonly been known as the “meatball” logo. Credit: NASA

Early Projects:
NASA has since been responsible for the majority of the manned and unmanned American missions that have been sent into space. Their efforts began with the development of the X-15, a hypersonic jet plane that NASA had taken over from the NACA. As part of the program, twelve pilots were selected to fly the X-15, and achieve new records for both speed and maximum altitude reached.

A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in two official world records being made. The first was for the highest speed ever reached by a manned craft – Mach 6.72 or 7,273 km/h (4,519 mph) – while the second was for the highest altitude ever achieved, at 107.96 km (354,200 feet).

The X-15 program also employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets, space suits, horizon definition for navigation, and crucial reentry and landing data. However, by the early 60’s, NASA’s primary concern was winning the newly-declared “Space Race” with the Soviets by putting a man into orbit.

Project Mercury:
This began with the Project Mercury, a program that was taken over from the US Air Force and which ran from 1959 until 1963. Designed to send a man into space using existing rockets, the program quickly adopted the concept launching a ballistic capsules into orbit. The first seven astronauts, nicknamed the “Mercury Seven“, were selected from from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs.

John Glenn crouches near Shepard's capsule, Freedom 7, along with technicians prior to launch. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures. Used by permission.
John Glenn crouches near Shepard’s capsule, Freedom 7, along with technicians prior to launch. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures

On May 5th, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard the Freedom 7 mission. John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20th, 1962, as part of Friendship 7. Glenn completed three orbits, and three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight aboard Faith 7, which flew on May 15th and 16th, 1963.

Project Gemini:
Project Gemini, which began in 1961 and ran until 1966, aimed at developing support for Project Apollo (which also began in 1961). This involved the development of long-duration space missions, extravehicular activity (EVA), rendezvous and docking procedures, and precision Earth landing. By 1962, the program got moving with the development of a series of two-man spacecraft.

The first flight, Gemini 3, went up on March 23rd, 1965 and was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young. Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, with spaceflights lasting for nearly fourteen days while crews conducting docking and rendezvous operations, EVAs, and gathered medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.

Project Apollo:
And then there was the Project Apollo, which began in 1961 and ran until 1972.  Due to the Soviets maintaining a lead in the space race up until this point, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress on May 25th, 1961 to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. With a price tag of $20 billion (or an estimated $205 billion in present-day US dollars), it was the most expensive space program in history.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during the first human moonwalk in history, on July 20, 1969. Credit: NASA

The program relied on the use of Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, and spacecraft that were larger than either the Mercury or Gemini capsules – consisting of a command and service module (CSM) and a lunar landing module (LM). The program got off to a rocky start when, on January 27th, 1967, the Apollo 1 craft experienced an electrical fire during a test run. The fire destroyed the capsule and killed the crew of three, consisting of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, Roger B. Chaffee.

The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December of 1968. On the next two missions, docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced. And finally, the long-awaited Moon landing was made with the Apollo 11 mission on July 20th, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon while pilot Michael Collins observed.

Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, a total of twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions also returned a wealth of scientific data, not to mention 381.7 kilograms (842 lb) of lunar samples to Earth. The Moon landing marked the end of the space race, but Armstrong declared it a victory for “mankind” rather than just the US.

Skylab and the Space Shuttle Program:
After Project Apollo, NASA’s efforts turned towards the creation of an orbiting space station and the creation of reusable spacecraft. In the case of the former, this took the form of Skylab, America’s first and only independently-built space station. Conceived of in 1965, the station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14th, 1973 atop the first two stages of a Saturn V rocket.

Skylab, America’s First manned Space Station. Photo taken by departing Skylab 4 crew in Feb. 1974. Credit: NASA
Skylab, America’s First manned Space Station. Photo taken by departing Skylab 4 crew in Feb. 1974. Credit: NASA

Skylab was damaged during its launch, losing its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panels. This necessitated the first crew to rendezvous with the station to conduct repairs. Two more crews followed, and the station was occupied for a total of 171 days during its history of service. This ended in 1979 with the downing of the station over the Indian Ocean and parts of southern Australia.

By the early 70s, a changing budget environment forced NASA to begin researching reusable spacecraft, which resulted in the Space Shuttle Program. Unlike previous programs, which involved small space capsules being launched on top of multistage rockets, this program centered on the use of vehicles that were launchable and (mostly) reusable.

Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. Six orbiters were constructed in total, named Space Shuttle Atlantis, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise.

Over the course of 135 missions, which ran from 1983 to 1998, the Space Shuttles performed many important tasks. These included carrying the Spacelab into orbit – a joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) – running supplies to Mir and the ISS (see below), and the launch and successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope (which took place in 1990 and 1993, respectively).

Space Shuttle Columbia launching on its maiden voyage on April 12th, 1981. Credit: NASA
Space Shuttle Columbia launching on its maiden voyage on April 12th, 1981. Credit: NASA

The Shuttle program suffered two disasters during the course of its 15 years of service. The first was the Challenger disaster in 1986, while the second – the Columbia disaster – took place in 2003. Fourteen astronauts were lost, as well as the two shuttles. By 2011, the program was discontinued, the last mission ending on July 21st, 2011 with the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center.

By 1993, NASA began collaborating with the Russians, the ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to create the International Space Station (ISS). Combining NASA’s Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kibo laboratory module, the project also built on the Russian-American Shuttle-Mir missions (1995-1998).

The ISS and Recent Projects:
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, crew members were delivered exclusively by Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz remains docked with the station while crews perform their six-month long missions, and then returns them to Earth. Until another US manned spacecraft is ready – which is NASA is busy developing – crew members will travel to and from the ISS exclusively aboard the Soyuz.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-132). Credit: NASA

Uncrewed cargo missions arrive regularly with the station, usually in the form of the Russian Progress spacecraft, but also from the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013.

The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 15 years, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations. The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, but may be extended until 2028 or possibly longer, depending on the budget environment.

Future of NASA:
A few years ago, NASA celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Originally designed to ensure American supremacy in space, it has since adapted to changing conditions and political climates. It’s accomplishments have also been extensive, ranging from launching the first American artificial satellites into space for scientific and communications purposes, to sending probes to explore the planets of the Solar System.

But above all else, NASA’s greatest accomplishments have been in sending human beings into space, and being the agency that conducted the first manned missions to the Moon. In the coming years, NASA hopes to build on that reputation, bringing an asteroid closer to Earth so we can study it more closely, and sending manned missions to Mars.

Universe Today has many articles on NASA, including articles on its current administrators and the agency’s celebrating 50 years of spaceflight.

For more information, check out history of NASA and the history of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Astronomy Cast has an episode on NASA’s mission to Mars.

Source: NASA

Who Are The Most Famous Astronauts?

There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. But asking “who is the most famous?” is somewhat tricky. For one, its a bit subjective. And second, it can be hard to objectively measure just how important and individuals contributions really are. Surely, all astronauts are deserving of recognition and respect for their bravery and contributions to the pursuit of knowledge.

Nevertheless, in the course of human space exploration, some names do stand out more than others. And some have made such immense contributions that their names will live on long after we too have passed away. So without further ado, here are just a few of the most famous astronauts, along with a list of their accomplishments.

Yuri Gagarin:

As the first man to ever go into space, no list of famous astronauts would be complete without Yuri Gagarin. Born in the village of Klushino in the Smolensk Oblast on March 9th, 1934, Gagarin was drafted into the Soviet Air Force in 1955 and trained in the use of jet fighters. In 1960, he was selected alongside 19 other pilots to join the newly-formed Soviet Space Program.

Yury Gagarin before a space flight aboard the Vostok spacecraft. April 12, 1961 Credit: RIA Novosti
Yuri Gagarin before a space flight aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, April 12th, 1961. Credit: RIA Novosti

Gagarin was further selected to become part of the Sochi Six, an elite group of cosmonauts who formed the backbone of the Vostok program. Due to his training, physical size (as the spacecraft were quite cramped), and favor amongst his peers, Gagarin was selected to be the first human cosmonaut (they had already sent dogs) to make the journey.

On April 12th, 1961, Gagarin was launched aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and thus became the fist man to go into space. During reentry, Gagarin claimed to have whistled “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows”, and reportedly said, “I don’t see any God up here” when he reached suborbital altitude (which was falsely attributed).

Afterwards, he toured the world and became a celebrity at home, commemorated with stamps, statues, and the renaming of his ancestral village to Gagarin. The 12th of April is also known as “Cosmonauts Day” in Russia and many former Soviet-states in his honor.

Gagarin died during a routine training exercise in March 27th, 1968. The details of his death were not released until June of 2013, when a declassified report indicated that Gagarin’s death was caused by the error of another pilot.

Alan B. Shepard Jr.:

In addition to being an astronaut and one of the Mercury Seven – the first seven pilots selected by NASA to go into space – Shepard was also the first American man to go into space. He was born November 18th, 1923 in Pebble, California and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. While in the Navy, Shepard became a fighter pilot and served aboard several aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.

Alan Shepard prepares for his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA
Alan Shepard prepares for his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA

In 1959, he was selected as one of 110 military test pilots to join NASA. As 0ne of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was selected to be the first to go up on May 5th, 1961. Known as the Freedom 7 mission, this flight placed him into a suborbital flight around Earth. Unfortunately, Alan was beaten into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks, and hence became the first American to go into space.

Shepard went on to lead other missions, including the Apollo 14 mission – which was the third mission to land on the Moon. While on the lunar surface, he was photographed playing a round of golf and hit two balls across the surface. After leaving NASA, he became a successful businessman. He died of leukemia on July 21st, 1998, five weeks before the death of his wife of 53 years.

Valentina Tereshkova:

Another famous Russian cosmonaut, Tereshkova is also internationally renowned for being the first woman to go into space. Born in the village of Maslennikovo in central Russia on March 6th, 1937, Tereshkova became interested in parachuting from a young age and began training at the local aeroclub.

After Gagarin’s historic flight in 1961, the Soviets hopes to also be the first country to put a woman into space. On 16 February 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps, and was selected amongst hundreds to be one of five women who would go into space.

In addition to her expertise in parachuting (which was essential since Vostok pilots were to parachute from the capsule after reentry), her background as a “proletariat”, and the fact that her father was a war hero from the Russo-Finnish War, led to her being selected.

Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova photographed inside the Vostok-6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. Credit: Roscosmos
Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova photographed inside the Vostok-6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. Credit: Roscosmos

Her mission, Vostok 6, took place on June 16th, 1963. During her flight, Tereshkova orbited Earth forty-eight times, kept a flight log and took photographs that would prove useful to atmospheric studies. Aside from some nausea (which she later claimed was the result of spoiled food!) she maintained herself for the full three days and parachuted down during re-entry, landing a bit hard and bruising her face.

After returning home, Tereshkova went on to become a cosmonaut engineer and spent the rest of her life in key political positions. She married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev and had a daughter. After her flight, the women’s corps was dissolved. Vostok 6 was to be the last of the Vostok flights, and it would be nineteen years before another woman would go into space (see Sally Ride, below).

John Glenn Jr.:

Colonel Glenn, USMC (retired) was a Marine Corps fighter pilot and a test pilot before becoming an astronaut. Due to his experience, he was chosen by NASA to be part of the Mercury Seven in 1959. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, and thus became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth and the fifth person to go into space.

John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 spacecraft on On Feb. 20, 1962. Credit: NASA
John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 spacecraft on On Feb. 20, 1962. Credit: NASA

For his contributions to spaceflight, John Glenn earned the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. After an extensive career as an astronaut, Glenn retired from NASA on January 16th, 1964, to enter politics. He won his first bid to become a US Senator in 1974, representing Ohio for the Democratic Party, and was reelected numerous times before retiring in January of 1999.

With the death of Scott Carpenter on October 10, 2013, he became the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. He was also the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs – at age 77, he flew as a Payload Specialist on Discovery mission (STS-95). For his history of service, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Neil Armstrong:

Neil Armstrong is arguably the most famous astronauts, and indeed one of the most famous people that has ever lived. As commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission, he will forever be remembered as the first man to ever walk on a body other than Earth. Born on August 5th, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, he graduated from Purdue University and served the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station before becoming an astronaut.

Neil A. Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after EVA
Neil A. Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after EVA. Credit: NASA

In accordance with the Holloway Plan, Neil studied at Purdue for two years and then committed to three years of military service as a naval aviator before completing his degree. During this time, he trained in the use of jet aircraft and became a test pilot at Andrews Air Force base, meeting such personalities as Chuck Yeager.

In 1962, when NASA was looking to create a second group of astronauts (after the Mercury 7), Armstrong joined and became part of the Gemini program. He flew two missions, as the command pilot and back-up command pilot for Gemini 8 and Gemini 11 (both in 1966), before being offered a spot with the Apollo program.

On July 16th, 1969, Armstrong went into space aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft, alongside “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. On the 20th, after the lunar module set down on the surface,  he became the first person to walk on the Moon.  As he stepped onto the lunar surface, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong completed his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, became a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a private businessman.

On Augusts 25th, 2012, he died at the age of 82 after suffering complications from coronary artery bypass surgery. On September 14th, his cremated remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea.

For his accomplishments, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

James Lovell Jr.:

Lovell was born on March 25th, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Like Shepard, he graduated from the US Naval Academy and served as a pilot before becoming one of the Mercury Seven. Over the course of his career, he flew several missions into space and served in multiple roles. The first was as the pilot of the Apollo 8 command module, which was the first spacecraft to enter lunar orbit.

He also served as backup commander during the Gemini 12 mission, which included a rendezvous with another manned spacecraft. However, he is most famous for his role as commander the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely due to the efforts of her crew and the ground control team.

Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.

Original crew photo. Left to right: Lovell, Mattingly, Haise. Credit: NASA
Original crew photo, (left to right) Jim Lovell, Thomas K. Mattingly, and Fred W. Haise. Credit: NASA

Dr. Sally Ride:

Sally Ride became renowned in the 1980s for being one of the first women to go into space. Though Russians had already sent up two female astronauts – Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) – Ride was the first American female astronaut to make the journey. Born on May 26th, 1951, in La Jolla, California, Ride received her doctorate from Stanford University before joining NASA in 1978.

On June 18th, 1983, she became the first American female astronaut to go into space as part of the STS-7 mission that flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. While in orbit, the five-person crew deployed two communications satellites and Ride became the first woman to use the robot arm (aka. Canadarm).

Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. In 1986, Ride was named to the Rogers Commission, which was charged with investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster. In 2003, she would serve on the committee investigating the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and was the only person to serve on both.

Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six-day mission in Challenger, 1983. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during STL-7 in 1983. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Ride retired from NASA in 1987 as a professor of physics and continued to teach until her death in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. For her service, she was given numerous awards, which included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, two NASA Space Flight Medals, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Chris Hadfield:

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, pilot and engineer who became famous for his rendition of “Space Oddity” while serving as the commander of the International Space Station. Born on August 29th, 1959 in Sarnia, Ontario, Hadfield became interesting in flying at a young age and in becoming an astronaut when he watched the televised Apollo 11 landing at age nine.

After graduating from high school, Hadfield joined the Canadian Armed Forces and spent two years at Royal Roads Military College followed by two years at the Royal Military College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982. He then became a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying missions for NORAD. He also flew as a test pilot out of Andrews Air Force Base as part of an officer exchange.

In 1992, Hadfield became part of the Canadian Space Agency and was assigned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a technical and safety specialist for Shuttle Operations Development. He participated in two space missions – STS-74 and STS-100 in 1995 and 2001, respectively – as a Mission Specialist. These missions involved rendezvousing with Mir and the ISS.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing his rendition of “Space Oddity”. Hadfield is the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV

On December 19th 2012, Hadfield launched in the Soyuz TMA-07M flight for a long duration stay on board the ISS as part of Expedition 35. He became the first Canadian to command the ISS when the crew of Expedition 34 departed in March 2013, and received significant media exposure due to his extensive use of social media to promote space exploration.

Forbes described Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. His promotional activities included a collaboration with Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, singing “Is Somebody Singing? (I.S.S.) via Skype. The broadcast of this event was a major media sensation, as was his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, which he sung shortly before departing the station in May 2013.

For his service, Hadfield has received numerous honors, including the Order of Canada in 2014, the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross, the military medal in 2001 and the civilian one in 2013.

Universe Today has interesting articles on Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Edwin Aldrin, and the enduring legacy of Apollo 11.

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.

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

The View From Freedom 7


51 years ago today, on May 5, 1961, NASA launched the Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket carrying Alan B. Shepard, Jr. aboard the Freedom 7 capsule. Shepard successfully became America’s first man in space, making a brief but historic suborbital test flight that propelled American astronauts into the space race of the 1960s.

The video above is made from photographs taken by a film camera mounted to the Freedom 7 spacecraft and scanned by archivists at Johnson Space Center. It shows the view from Freedom 7 as the Redstone rocket launched it into space, getting an amazing view of Earth’s limb and the blackness beyond before falling back to splash down in the Atlantic.
The video is made from the entire film reel, so at the end there’s also some shots of a light experiment inside the spacecraft. (View the individual scans at ASU’s March to the Moon website here.)

What’s amazing to realize is that, at this point in time, the space surrounding our planet was a very empty place. This was a time before communication and weather satellites, before GPS, before Space Station and space shuttles — and space junk —  and student-made weather balloon videos. Just 51 years ago low-Earth orbit was a new frontier, and guys like Shepard (and Gagarin and Glenn, etc.) were blazing the path for everyone that followed.

Even though images of Earth from space are still amazing to look at today, seeing these photos reminds us of a time when it was all just so very new.

Read more about Shepard and the MR-3 launch here.

Images and video: NASA/JSC/Arizona State University

[/caption]

Opportunity Surpasses 30 KM Driving and Snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D

[/caption]
With her most recent drive of 482 feet (146.8 meters) on June 1, 2011 (Sol 2614), NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover has zoomed past the unimaginable 30 kilometer (18,64 miles) mark in total odometry since safely landing on Mars nearly seven and one half years ago on Jan 24, 2004. That’s 50 times beyond the roughly quarter mile of roving distance initially forseen.

Opportunity is now 88 months into the original 3 month mission “warranty” planned by NASA and the rover team. That’s over 29 times beyond the original design lifetime and an achievement that no one on the rover teams ever expected to observe.

And Opportunity is still going strong, in good health and has abundant solar power as she continues driving on her ambitious overland trek across the martian plains of Meridiani Planum. She is heading to the giant Endeavour crater, some 22 km (14 miles) in diameter.

Opportunity snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D during approach to Endeavour Crater
This stereo view of Skylab Crater was captured by Opportunity on Mars on Sol 2594, or May 12, 2011, along the rovers route to giant Endeavour Crater. This young crater is about 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter.and was likely formed within the past 100,000 years. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At this point Endeavour is barely 2 miles (3.5 km) away since Opportunity departed from Santa Maria Crater in March 2011. Landfall at Endeavour is expected sometime later this year.

Endeavour is a long awaited and long sought science target because it is loaded with phyllosilicate clay minerals. These clays have never before been studied and analyzed first hand on the red planets surface.

Opportunity snaps Skylab Crater in 2 D during approach to Endeavour Crater
This view of Skylab Crater was captured by Opportunity’s navigation camera on Mars on Sol 2594, or May 12, 2011, along the rovers route to giant Endeavour Crater. This young crater is about 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter. The blocks of material ejected from the crater-digging impact sit on top of the sand ripples near the crater. This suggests, from the estimated age of the area's sand ripples, that the crater was formed within the past 100,000 years. The dark sand inside the crater attests to the mobility of fine sand in the recent era in this Meridiani Planum region of Mars. The rover view spans 216 degrees from northwest on the right to south on the right. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Phyllosilicate clays formed in neutral watery environments, which are much more conducive to the formation of life compared to the highly acidic environments studied up to now by Spirit and Opportunity. NASA’s Curiosity rover is due to land on Mars in 2012 at a site the science team believes is rich in Phyllosilicates.

In recent weeks, Opportunity has passed by a series and small young craters as she speeds to Endeavour as fast as possible. One such crater is named “Skylab”, in honor of America’s first manned Space Station, launched in 1973.

Now whip out your 3 D glasses and check out NASA’s newly released stereo images of “Skylab” and another named “Freedom 7” in honor of Alan Shepard’s flight as the first American in space. Be sure to also view Opportunity’s dance steps in 3 D performed to aid backwards driving maneuvers on the Red planet

Freedom 7 Crater on Mars 50 Years after Freedom 7 Flight
Opportunity recorded this stereo view of a crater informally named Freedom 7 shortly before the 50th anniversary of the first American in space: astronaut Alan Shepard's flight in the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. Opportunity took this image on Sol 2585 on Mars on May 2, 2011. The crater is about 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. It is the largest of a cluster of about eight craters all formed just after an impactor broke apart in the Martian atmosphere perhaps 200,000 years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Skylab” is about 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter. The positions of the scattered rocks relative to sand ripples suggest that Skylab is young for a Martian crater. Researchers estimate it was excavated by an impact within the past 100,000 years.

“Freedom 7” crater is about 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. During her long overland expedition, Opportunity is examining many craters of diverse ages at distant locales to learn more about the past history of Mars and how impact craters have changed over time.

Opportunity was just positioned at a newly found rock outcrop named “Valdivia” and analyzing it with the robotic arm instruments including the Microscopic Imager and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Opportunity leaves dance step on Mars
A dance-step pattern is visible in the wheel tracks near the left edge of this scene recorded in stereo by the navigation camera during Sol 2554 on Mars (April 1, 2011). The pattern comes from use of a new technique for Opportunity to autonomously check for hazards in its way while driving backwards. For scale, the distance between the parallel tracks of the left and right wheels is about 1 meter (about 40 inches). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Skylab, America’s First manned Space Station
Photo taken by departing Skylab 4 crew in Feb. 1974. Credit: NASA

50th Anniversary Ceremony Recreates First US Manned Spaceflight by Alan Shepard

[/caption]
NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American manned spaceflight at a special ceremony on May 5, 2011 which recreated every moment of that short suborbital flight by the late Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard. The event unfolded from the very spot and launch pad 5/6 where he blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on May 5, 1961.

Shepard’s entire 15 ½ minute suborbital spaceflight aboard the “Freedom 7” capsule was replayed in a multimedia audio and video presentation that was projected on a Jumbotron erected off to the side of an 82 foot tall replica of his Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket.

Three daughters of Alan Shepard (Laura Churchley, Julie Jenkins and Alice Wackermann) pose in front of 82-foot- tall replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket which Shepard rode to space 50 years ago. Credit: Ken Kremer

The recreation was precisely timed to coincide with the exact events of the historic mission from the launch at 9:34 a.m. to the ocean splashdown some 15 minutes later at 9:49 a.m. just as they occurred 40 years ago on May 5, 1961.

The multimedia replay began at the T minus 5 minute mark in the countdown with restored voice tapes and film footage and included every single word spoken by Shepard, live views from inside his “Freedom 7” capsule, shots of the Earth below, the spaceship descending by parachute and the naval recovery vessels.

The memorial event took place at Alan Shepard’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral to recall and honor the results and legacy of the flight.

Fellow “Original 7” Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter did a lively play by play commentary of all the events of Shepard’s flight as it was broadcast on the Jumbotron. Carpenter was the 2nd American to orbit the Earth after John Glenn.

A crowd of more than 700 folks attended including top NASA officials and spaceflight dignitaries; NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter; 20 members of Shepard ‘s family including his three daughters; Jack King, former chief of NASA’s Public Information Office; Bob Moser, former Chief Test Conductor, many people who worked on Project Mercury, Florida Space Coast community leaders as well as numerous space exploration fans who journeyed here from all across the globe.

Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke, a friend and colleague of Shepard was also on hand for the festivities.

Speakers at the May 5, 2011 celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of Alan Shepard’s first flight in space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on May 5, 1961. Credit: Ken Kremer

“In the audience today, we have more than 100 workers from the Mercury era who devoted their lives to flying humans safely in space,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

“You should be extremely proud of what you did for our country and for humankind,” Cabana added, as he asked them to stand and be applauded and thanked for their service by the audience.

The 50th anniversary commemoration was sponsored by NASA and local space historians and community officials.

“I remember every time he spoke, he always gave credit to everyone in NASA who built the good ships that brought him home to us safely,” said Shepard’s daughter Laura Churchley. “We thank you all very much.”

“To me — and I’ve gone through hundreds of launches and done countdowns in hundreds of launches — the first is always very special,” said Jack King. “I must admit, it’s the only one when I was misty-eyed. The first American in space! I couldn’t be prouder. And I couldn’t be prouder for being a part of it.”

Project Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter and Hugh Harris, Shepard event organizer and NASA shuttle launch commentator. Carpenter is one of only two surviving “Original 7” Mercury astronauts.
Credit: Ken Kremer

The ceremony was organized by Hugh Harris, retired NASA space shuttle Launch commentator, and longtime NBC Newsman Jay Barbree who is the only journalist to cover every American manned space mission.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden salutes Alan Shepard and all the space workers who made Shepard’s historic mission possible at the 50th anniversary event on May 5, 2011 celebrating this milestone achievement in human history. Credit: Ken Kremer
“It’s an honor to share this day with so many people who helped NASA pioneer human spaceflight and enable the agency’s many accomplishments throughout our existence,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “I salute all of you.”

Shepard’s flight blasted off barely three weeks after Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961.

The successful outcome of Shepard’s mission emboldened then President Kennedy to declare that America “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” just three weeks later on May 20, 1961.

Alan Shepard later became the fifth human to set foot on the Moon as Commander of the Apollo 14 mission. Apollo 14 blasted off on Jan. 31, 1971.

Shepard was the only member of the “Original 7” Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon and did so along with Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell. They touched down in the Fra Mauro region originally intended as the landing site for Apollo 13.

Kudos to Harris and Barbree for an outstanding effort taking everyone back in time and staging a thrilling “You are There!” experience to relive the events as they unfolded 50 years ago.

Read my related articles about Alan Shepard, Yuri Gagarin and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight:
Alan Shepard and MESSENGER Stamps Unveiled at Kennedy Space Center Ceremony
Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin From the Earth to Mars Tribute

Over 100 space workers from the Mercury era attended the Alan Shepard ceremony and posed for a group photo on the 50th anniversary of the historic flight. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer
chat following the 50th Anniversary memorial event recreating Alan Shepard’s first manned spaceflight by an American astronaut. Bolden is a former astronaut and flew 4 times on the Space Shuttle and helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Ken Kremer
Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke and Ken Kremer speak at Alan Shepard ceremony.
Credit: Ken Kremer
82-foot- tall replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket which blasted Alan Shepard to space 50 years ago on May 5, 1961 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer

Rare and Unpublished LIFE Photos of Alan Shepard’s Historic Flight

[/caption]

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen how I was oohing and aahing about a wonderful set of rare and never-seen photographs of Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and the other Mercury astronauts released by LIFE.com in honor of the 50th anniversary Alan Shepard’s flight on May 5. Maybe LIFE saw my Tweets, too, as they contacted us, giving Universe Today permission to publish a few. Above, Shepard strides to the launchpad early on May 5 1961, with Gus Grissom close behind. Shepard reportedly joked to technicians who rode with him to the launch pad: “You should have courage and the right blood pressure” if you want to succeed as an astronaut. “And four legs … You know, they really wanted to send a dog, but they decided that would be too cruel.” In Shepard’s right hand: a portable air conditioner to cool the inside of his pressure suit before he enters the capsule.

See more below.

John Glenn crouches near Shepard's capsule, Freedom 7, along with technicians prior to launch. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures. Used by permission.

In this previously unpublished photo, John Glenn crouches near Shepard’s capsule, Freedom 7, prior to launch. In the book “Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard,” author Neal Thompson portrayed the fierce competitiveness between Shepard and Glenn over who would be the first astronaut in space, which sometimes bordered on the two disliking each other. But as the first flight approached, Shepard and Glenn spent a lot of time together training, and formed a bond. Glenn even put a few items in Shepard’s Freedom 7 capsule as a joke to lighten the intensity of the day, and this image shows Glenn’s excitement and joy as his fellow astronaut enters the spacecraft. LIFE photographer Ralph Morse said of NASA’s choice for who was making the first flight: “You know, I presumed, at that point, that they were saving Glenn, that having him circling the Earth for the first time would be better press for NASA. But you don’t know about these things. They had their own reasons, of course — complicated reasons, based on skills and personality and temperament — for choosing one man ahead of another.”

The Redstone rocket on which Alan Shepard flew into space, May 5, 1961. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures. Used by permission.

This previously unpublished image shows Shepard’s Redstone rocket before liftoff. “I never have been my own favorite subject,” Shepard once told LIFE, when asked how he felt about the rewards and dangers inherent in Project Mercury. “And I don’t think I’ve found anything new about myself since I’ve been in this program. We were asked to volunteer, not to become heroes. As far as I’m concerned, doing this is just a function of maturity. If you don’t use your experience, your past is wasted, and you are betraying yourself.”

Deke Slayton, Alan Shepard, and Gus Grissom share a laugh after Shepard splashed down following his successful flight. Credit: Paul Schutzer/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images. Used by permission.

This is my absolute favorite image of this set: Shepard shares a laugh with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom (right) and Deke Slayton upon his arrival at Grand Bahama Island, shortly after his successful flight and splashdown. Oh to be a fly on the wall to know what they were laughing about!

Read all about it! The Mercury astronauts read of their colleague Alan Shepard's heroics, Florida, May 1961. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures. Used by permission

No internet, no instant messaging, no Twitter or Facebook. The Mercury astronauts and the rest of the world had to wait for the next day’s newspapers to come out to read of Alan Shepard’s heroics. “Though the U.S. still has far to go to catch up with the Russians in space,” LIFE magazine noted in its May 12, 1961 issue, “Shepard went a long way toward lifting American heads higher.”

See many more images on the LIFE.com gallery. Thanks again to LIFE for allowing us to post these images.

Alan Shepard: Complicated, Conflicted and the Consummate Astronaut

[/caption]

50 years ago today, Alan Shepard blasted off on board the first flight of NASA’s Mercury program, becoming the first American in space. Shepard was the consummate astronaut, — he stayed with NASA for over 15 years, and eventually walked on the Moon. But for all his successes, Shepard was a complicated and conflicted man; even though he was in constant limelight along with all of the early NASA astronauts, his life was somewhat of an enigma, as he closely guarded his privacy and held most people – including his friends – at arm’s length.

“He was the epitome of the image that NASA had hoped to portray when they selected the first astronauts,” said Neal Thompson, author of the only Shepard biography, “Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard.” “He was a aircraft carrier pilot, a test pilot, drove fast cars, smoked cigars, drank martinis—he was stylish and cool and cocky. I’ve described him as Don Draper in a spacesuit. He represented that “Mad Men” era – cool and suave and all that.”

But, Thompson said, that was an image that Shepard worked hard to portray as well as protect, and Thompson felt there had to be more to Shepard’s story. Through years of research, Thompson found Shepard to be a much more compelling man than he ever expected.

“He wasn’t the most outgoing guy with the press and I felt like there had to be more to his story than what I had read,” Thompson told Universe Today. “There were a lot of aspects to his personality that were complicated and compelling and contradictory. He was highly competitive, but he was also a softy underneath at times. He was accused over the years of being a bit of a womanizer, and yet he was married to the same woman for 40-plus years and I think they were very devoted to each other. So there were a lot of complex aspects to his personality that were fun to explore.”

While all the other Mercury 7 astronauts had either written their own books or had books written about them, America’s first astronaut had not told his own life story, and no one had gotten close enough to tell it for him. Shepard died without ever authorizing a biography that focused on his life.

The launch of Freedom 7 with Alan Shepard aboard on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA

“I was really intrigued when I started researching his life that, no other biography had been written about him,” Thompson said.

The title of the book, which was first published in 2004, refers to Shepard’s impatience with NASA engineers who were making sure his Redstone rocket was ready to go. Shepard was frustrated: he knew very well he could have been the first human in space, if not for political and technical delays. But as it was, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched on an orbital flight on April 12, 1961, becoming the first man in space and scoring a huge victory for the Soviet Union in the Cold War with the US.

23 days later, Shepard sat on the launchpad, waiting inside his rocket for over 4 hours while engineers tackled one problem and then another. The wait was longer than anyone expected and Shepard ended up having to urinate inside his spacesuit, claiming otherwise his bladder would burst.

Finally, when one more problem cropped up, Shepard exclaimed, “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?”

“I think that sums up his character in many ways, that one particular quote,” said Thompson. “He was a very intense guy who just wanted to get the job done and liked to move forward and not look back, and I think that reflection of that intensity of his personality is nicely summed in those few words.”

Shepard during his Freedom 7 flight. Credit: NASA

Shepard’s whole life was about competition. “Whether it was in sports as a youth, or competing among other naval aviators when he was a carrier pilot,” said Thompson, “and then it just sort of ramped up at each stage of his career, becoming a test pilot where he competed with some of the best aviators on the planet and then to be selected among this extremely elite group of Mercury 7 astronauts and then to compete against them for that first ride. But I think he thrived on that and it was fun to explore what that meant in the scope of the space program.”

Particularly intriguing to Thompson was the competitive relationship between Shepard and John Glenn, who early on were pegged as being the two astronauts who were most likely to fly first.

“As you know, Shepard was picked first and Glenn was furious about that,” Thompson said. “I think it is sort of interesting that now, historically, Glenn is more well known probably than Shepard, even though he was picked to fly third among the first astronauts. But because he has the orbital flight, Glenn’s flight is historically viewed as the bigger accomplishment.”

Shepard always kept a distance between himself and others. While he could be pulling a prank or making a joke one minute, the next he could be sullen and withdrawn or downright angry and unpleasant — which Thompson said was perhaps a way to keep the competition at bay.

But Shepard’s competitive nature is likely what made him so successful throughout his career, and in particular it was something he relied on in the mid-1960’s when he was grounded because of a disabling medical condition, Ménière’s disease, which causes severe vertigo and nausea, which is crippling for a pilot and astronaut.

“After his Mercury flight, he was selected to command the first Gemini mission, and while training for that was felled by Ménière’s disease,” Thompson said. “I think at that point, Shepard just considered hanging it up and leaving the space program and pursuing other things, like business or politics or something high profile.”

While Shepard could have anything he wanted — there were many offers he could have taken, Thompson said – he decided to stick with the program, to stay with NASA, to take on this lesser role as head of the astronaut office.

“It had to be really demoralizing for him to be the first American in space and then not be able to fly at all and to be stuck watching the other astronauts fly ahead of him. But it was always impressive to me that he did stick with it, he got his inner ear disorder cured, and fought his way back into the flight rotation and then was assigned to Apollo 14,” Thompson said.

But the disease may have saved his life from tragedy, as well. Shepard likely would have been chosen to lead Apollo 1 and was originally scheduled to command Apollo 13.

Alan Shepard on the Moon during Apollo 14. Credit: NASA

Thompson added that it says a lot about Shepard’s character that he managed to get assigned to command an Apollo mission and fly Apollo 14 so successfully.

Shepard stayed with NASA for 15 years which is longer than any of the other Mercury 7 astronauts, and longer than many astronauts today stay. “I think he really believed in the mission and believed in what he and what NASA was doing,” Thompson said.

What people might remember most about the Apollo 14 mission is Shepard hitting golf balls on the Moon.

“I think he viewed that as something that he wanted to do, maybe so that his flight could be remembered as being a little more unique than some of the others,” Thompson said. “It was a little bit of flair and maybe a sign of exuberance, punctuating his comeback and his successful flight, and he set things up so that he would only hit the golf balls at the end of the flight if everything went well. It was his kind of exclamation point tacked on to the end of Apollo 14 to say, “I did it” and here’s something fun and extra.”

Alan Shepard preparing for his Apollo 14 mission. Credit: NASA

Later Shepard was successful in business, becoming the first millionaire astronaut. “I think he enjoyed the rest of his life, business, traveling, playing golf, he loved his wife – he just lived a big life,” Thompson said.

Shepard died from cancer at age 74 in 1998. Tragically, his wife Louise died five weeks later from a heart attack during an airplane flight. It almost was if she couldn’t live without him.

“Shepard was almost larger than life – he always had that ‘little extra’ and he was an exceptional man at all levels,” Thompson said.

For more information: Neal Thompon’s website

Find the book “Light This Candle: the Life and Times of Alan Shepard” on Amazon.

You can listen to an interview I did with Thompson for the NASA Lunar Science Institute and 365 Days of Astronomy.