Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dies at 82

Former NASA astronaut Neil A. Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930

Today we mourn the loss of a true hero and icon of a generation, if not an entire century: Neil Alden Armstrong, former NASA astronaut and first person to set foot on the Moon, has passed away due to complications from cardiovascular surgery. Armstrong had recently turned 82 years old on August 5.

His family has issued the following statement:

We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

His death was reported at 2:45 p.m. ET.

Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, and he radioed back to Earth the historic news: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

In a statement issued by the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama said “Today, Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown – including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure — sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step.”

Neil Armstrong, along with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and John Glenn, were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal on November 16, 2011.

Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong. You were — and will always be — a true inspiration to so many. You’ll be missed.

“In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.”

— Neil A. Armstrong

Top image: NASA. Inset images: Armstrong leads the crew from the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building to the transfer van on July 16, 1969 and a portrait of Armstrong taken inside the LM after the first lunar EVA. Via the Project Apollo Archive.

Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Passes Away

Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died today, July 23, 2012. She was 61 years old.


Dr. Ride flew in space twice, first in 1983 aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, then again aboard Challenger in 1984. She was the President and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a science education company that creates programs and products for students and teachers in elementary and middle school with a focus on encouraging girls. Dr. Ride was also a Professor of Physics (Emerita) at the University of California, San Diego. She received her B.S in Physics, B.A in English, and M.S. and PhD in Physics from Stanford University.

Sally died peacefully July 23 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program. The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly.”

– Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator

For more information visit http://www.sallyridescience.com/.

“I didn’t really think about it that much at the time . . . but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space.” 

– Dr. Sally Ride, former NASA astronaut

(NASA/JPL video from July 2008)

Photo and video: NASA

The Audacity to Dream

Making its debut at the TEDxISU (International Space University) event on July 6, the video above is an inspirational call-to-arms for anyone who’s ever looked to the stars and dreamed of a day when the sky was, in fact, not the limit. From Sputnik to Space Station, from Vostok to Virgin Galactic, the video reminds us of the spirit of adventure that unites us, regardless of time or place or politics. Dreaming, after all, is universal.

Check it out.

“A planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”
– Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Former Astronaut Criticizes NASA’s Current Course

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Former NASA astronaut Story Musgrave is neither happy nor excited about the current state of the space administration or about the commercial COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program. He’s not happy, and he’s not afraid to say so.

“The whole thing is chaos and a cop out. The whole thing is a Washington failure,” Musgrave bluntly stated to Examiner.com’s Charles Atkeison in an interview this past weekend.

Story Musgrave in 1983 (NASA)

Musgrave was a NASA astronaut for over 30 years and was a crew member on six shuttle missions. He performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, was a pilot on an astronomy mission, was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble repair mission and on his last flight he operated an electronic chip manufacturing satellite on Columbia.

He has 7 graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. He has been awarded 20 honorary doctorates and was a part-time trauma surgeon during his 30 year astronaut career.

And, according to Atkeison, Musgrave “feels the space agency has no true goals or focus today.”

“We’re not going anywhere… there is no where, there is no what, and there is no when,” the former astronaut told Atkeison. “There is no Mars program, none. There is also no Moon program. There is no asteroid program… there’s no what we’re gonna do and no when we’re gonna do it.”

Neither does Musgrave put much faith in the value of the COTS program… which includes the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

This isn’t the first time Musgrave has spoken out against NASA’s direction, either; in June of 2011 Musgrave lambasted the administration for its failure to have a “next step” after phasing out the shuttle program.

“Why are we so poor in our vision and so poor in our project management that we come to a point where it’s reasonable to phase out the current program and we have no idea what the next one is?” Musgrave said in 2011. “Washington has to stop doing that.”

Story Musgrave, now 76, currently operates a palm farm in Orlando, FL, a production company in Sydney and a sculpture company in Burbank, CA. He is also a landscape architect, a design professor and  a concept artist with Disney Imagineering. It’s clear that Musgrave is a man who knows what vision is — and isn’t. Still, he’s always honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of NASA.

“I’m massively privileged to be part of the space program, and I never forget to say that,” said Musgrave last year.

Read the full story by Charles Atkeison on Examiner.com here.

First spacewalk of the space shuttle era (STS-6) by Story Musgrave and Don Peterson to test new spacesuits and life support systems. (NASA)

The Family that Went to the Moon

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Well, the family photo, anyway.

On April 23, 1972, Apollo 16 astronauts Charlie Duke and John Young embarked on the third and final EVA of the mission, exploring the Descartes Highlands via Lunar Roving Vehicle. During the EVA, before setting up a Solar Wind Collector, Duke placed a small family photo he had brought along onto the lunar surface and snapped a few photos of  it with his Hasselblad film camera. This is one of the photos.

The portrait shows Charlie, his wife Dorothy, and their two sons Charles and Thomas. It looks like they are sitting on a bench in the summertime.

The family photo, gingerly wrapped in clear plastic and slightly crumpled from being stashed in the pocket of a space suit, was left on the Moon. It presumably still sits there today, just inches away from Charlie’s boot print — which, presumably, is also there.

The Duke family photo.

At the time of this writing it’s been exactly 40 years to the day that this photo was taken.

Image: NASA/JSC scan

I came across this image while looking through the Project Apollo Image Archive for some relevant images from the Apollo 16 mission. Amid scans of Hasselblad photos showing lunar samples, experiments and scenes from LRV jaunts, which are all fascinating in their own right, I came across this poignant image and couldn’t resist sharing it. To know that a family photo is resting upon the surface of another world is nothing short of amazing… while the missions to the Moon were a testament to human endeavor, it’s small things like this that remind us of the people that made it all possible.

Far Above the World

Astronaut Bruce McCandless untethered above the Earth on Feb. 12, 1984. (NASA)

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28 years ago today, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless left the relative safety of Challenger’s payload bay and went untethered into orbit around Earth, venturing farther than anyone ever before.

The historic photo above was taken when McCandless was 320 feet from the orbiter — about the length of an American football field, or just shy of the width of the International Space Station.

The free-flying endeavor was possible because of McCandless’ nitrogen-powered jet-propelled backpack, called a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). It attached to the space suit’s life-support system and was operated by hand controls, allowing untethered access to otherwise inaccessible areas of the orbiter and was also used in the deployment, service and retrieval of satellites.

Astronaut Dale Gardner using the MMU during STS-51A in Nov. 1984 to travel to the Westar VI satellite. (NASA)

The MMU used a non-contaminating nitrogen propellant that could be recharged in the orbiter. It weighed 140 kg (308 lbs) and has a built-in 35mm camera.

After the Challenger disaster, the MMU was deemed too risky and was discontinued. But for a brief period of time in the early ’80s, humans had the means for really “soaring to new heights”.

Image credits: NASA

Astronaut Becomes Dad While in Space

Rebecca Bresnik, the wife of STS-129 Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik, gave birth to their new daughter on Saturday night, making Randy the second astronaut ever to become a father while out in space. Bresnik reported this morning that his wife and new daughter, Abigail, are doing fine, and thanked the flight control team for their assistance.

Abigail was born in Houston on Saturday at 11:04 p.m. CST. The STS and ISS crews were awoken by the song “Butterfly Kisses” this morning, which was chosen by Rebecca for Randy, and contains the lyrics “There’s two things I know for sure/She was sent here from heaven and she’s daddy’s little girl.”

Becoming a new father is just a series of first for Bresnik on this mission: STS-129 is the first mission for Bresnik, and this was his first spacewalk. Bresnik installed antennas and other equipment on the ISS Saturday while awaiting the birth of his daughter. He will do another spacewalk Monday, before returning to Earth with the rest of the STS crew on Friday.

Bresnik and his wife adopted a Ukrainian orphan last year, who is now three years old, but this is the first child born to the couple. Mrs. Bresnik, who is an attorney that specializes in international law at Johnson Space Center, said in a pre-flight interview with NASA:

I’m a little disappointed that he won’t be able to be there but understanding that we don’t choose the timing and excited for him that he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s trained one year for this mission but really he’s been here five, almost six years, and I’m just real excited for him and excited for us and just to be gone basically a week beyond her being born. So, I’m excited for him to come home safely.

Bresnik is the second astronaut to become a father while in space. The first was astronaut Mike Fincke, whose wife gave birth while he was working at the International Space Station in 2004. If you would like to view the entire pre-flight interview with Rebecca and Randy, it’s available from NASA here.

Source: NPR, NASA