The Moon landings were a huge undertaking. In order to prepare, NASA had to think of every detail, right down to machines for the astronauts to train on. And those machines are an interesting part of space history all on their own.Continue reading “This is the Machine Astronauts Trained on to Land on the Moon”
Like millions of other people around the world, on July 20, 1969, Rick and Mark Armstrong watched Apollo 11’s moon landing on the television set in their living room. But for those two boys – aged 12 and 6 at the time – it was their Dad who was taking humanity’s first steps on another world 49 years ago.
And now that new generations will be able to experience Neil Armstrong’s historic steps through the new movie First Man, the Armstrong boys are extremely happy and pleased that people will get to know their father as they know and remember him, instead of the way he has been characterized over the years.
Continue reading “What Neil Armstrong’s Sons Really Think About the Movie “First Man””
Buzz Aldrin – the second man to walk on the Moon – is recovering nicely today in a New Zealand hospital after an emergency medical evacuation cut short his record setting Antarctic expedition as the oldest man to reach the South Pole – which Team Buzz lightheartly noted would make him “insufferable”!
“He’s recovering well in NZ [New Zealand],” Team Buzz said in an official statement about his evacuation from the South Pole.
Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong in descending to the lunar surface in 1969 on America’s first Moon landing mission, had to be suddenly flown out of the Admunsen-Scott Science Station late last week per doctors orders after suffering from shortness of breath and lung congestion during his all too brief foray to the bottom of the world.
He was flown to a hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand for emergency medical treatment on Dec. 1.
Upon learning from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that Aldrin “now holds the record as the oldest person to reach the South Pole at the age of 86,” his Mission Director Christina Korp jokingly said: ‘He’ll be insufferable now.”
“Buzz Aldrin is resting in hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand. He still has some congestion in his lungs so has been advised not to take the long flight home to the States and to rest in New Zealand until it clears up,” Team Buzz said in an official statement on Dec. 3.
Buzz had been at the South Pole for only a few hours when he took ill, apparently from low oxygen levels and symptoms of altitude sickness.
“I’m extremely grateful to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their swift response and help in evacuating me from the Admunsen-Scott Science Station to McMurdo Station and on to New Zealand. I had been having a great time with the group at White Desert’s camp before we ventured further south. I really enjoyed the time I spent talking with the Science Station’s staff too,” said Aldrin from his hospital room in a statement.
Prior to the planned Antarctic journey, his doctors had cleared him to take the long trip – which he views as “the capstone of his personal exploration achievements”.
Buzz’s goal in visiting the South Pole was to see “what life could be like on Mars” – which he has been avidly advocating as the next goal for a daring human spaceflight journey to deep space.
“His primary interest in coming to Antarctica was to experience and study conditions akin to Mars that are more similar there than any other place on earth,” Team Buzz elaborated.
He had hoped to speak more to the resident scientists about their research but it was all cut short by his sudden illness.
“I started to feel a bit short of breath so the staff decided to check my vitals. After some examination they noticed congestion in my lungs and that my oxygen levels were low which indicated symptoms of altitude sickness. This prompted them to get me out on the next flight to McMurdo and once I was at sea level I began to feel much better. I didn’t get as much time to spend with the scientists as I would have liked to discuss the research they’re doing in relation to Mars. My visit was cut short and I had to leave after a couple of hours. I really enjoyed my short time in Antarctica and seeing what life could be like on Mars,” Aldrin explained.
Buzz also thanked everyone who sent him well wishes.
“Finally, thanks to everyone from around the world for their well wishes and support. I’m being very well looked after in Christchurch. I’m looking forward to getting home soon to spend Christmas with my family and to continue my quest for Cycling Pathways and a permanent settlement on Mars. You ain’t seen nothing yet!”, concluded Aldrin.
I recently met Buzz Aldrin at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, as part of the Grand Opening of the new ‘Destination Mars’ attraction.
Destination Mars is a holographic exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex in Florida. Be sure to catch it soon because the limited time run end on New Year’s Day 2017.
The new ‘Destination Mars’ limited engagement exhibit magically transports you to the surface of the Red Planet via Microsoft HoloLens technology.
It literally allows you to ‘Walk on Mars’ using real imagery taken by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover and explore the alien terrain, just like real life scientists on a geology research expedition – with Buzz Aldrin as your guide.
Here’s my Q & A with moonwalker Buzz Aldrin speaking to Universe Today at Destination Mars:
Video Caption: Buzz Aldrin at ‘Destination Mars’ Grand Opening at KSCVC. Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin talks to Universe Today/Ken Kremer during Q&A at ‘Destination Mars’ Holographic Exhibit Grand Opening ceremony at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Florida on 9/18/16. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
And Buzz seemed quite healthy for the very recent Grand Opening of the new ‘Heroes and Legends’ exhibit on Nov. 11 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about ULA Delta 4 launch on Dec 7, GOES-R weather satellite, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & 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:
Dec 5-7: “ULA Delta 4 Dec 7 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, 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
The moment that the Apollo-11 mission touched down on the Moon, followed by Neil Armstrong‘s famous words – “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” – is one of the most iconic moments in history. The culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice, it was an achievement that forever established humanity as a space-faring species.
And in the year’s that followed, several more spacecraft and astronauts landed on the Moon. But before, during and after these missions, a number of other “lunar landings” were accomplished as well. Aside from astronauts, a number of robotic missions were mounted which were milestones in themselves. So exactly what were the earliest lunar landings?
The first missions to the Moon consisted of probes and landers, the purpose of which was to study the lunar surface and determine where crewed missions might land. This took place during the 1950s where both the Soviet Space program and NASA sent landers to the Moon as part of their Luna and Pioneer programs.
After several attempts on both sides, the Soviets managed to achieve a successful lunar landing on Sept. 14th, 1959 with their Luna-2 spacecraft. After flying directly to the Moon for 36 hours, the spacecraft achieved a hard landing (i.e. crashed) on the surface west of the Mare Serenitatis – near the craters Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus.
The primary objective of the probe was to help confirm the discovery of the solar wind, turned up by the Luna-1 mission. However, with this crash landing, it became the first man-made object to touch down on the Moon. Upon impact, it scattered a series of Soviet emblems and ribbons that had been assembled into spheres, and which broke apart upon hitting the surface.
The next craft to make a lunar landing was the Soviet Luna-3 probe, almost a month after Luna-2 did. However, unlike its predecessor, the Luna-3 probe was equipped with a camera and managed to send back the first images of the far side of the Moon.
The first US spacecraft to impact the Moon was the Ranger-7 probe, which crashed into the Moon on July 31st, 1964. This came after a string of failures with previous spacecraft in the Pioneer and Ranger line of robotic spacecraft. Prior to impact, it too transmitted back photographs of the Lunar surface.
This was followed by the Ranger-8 lander, which impacted the surface of the Moon on Feb. 20th, 1965. The spacecraft took 7,000 high-resolution images of the Moon before crashing onto the surface, just 24 km from the Sea of Tranquility, which NASA had been surveying for the sake of their future Apollo missions. These images, which yielded details about the local terrain, helped to pave the way for crewed missions.
The first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon was the Soviet Luna-9 mission, on February 3rd, 1966. This was accomplished through the use of an airbag system that allowed the probe to survive hitting the surface at a speed of 50 km/hour. It also became the first spacecraft to transmit photographic data back to Earth from the surface of another celestial body.
The first truly soft landing was made by the US with the Surveyor-1 spacecraft, which touched down on the surface of the Moon on June 2nd, 1966. After landing in the Ocean of Storms, the probe transmitted data back to Earth that would also prove useful for the eventual Apollo missions.
Several more Surveyor missions and one more Luna mission landed on the Moon before crewed mission began, as part of NASA’s Apollo program.
The first crewed landing on the Moon was none other than the historic Apollo-11 mission, which touched down on the lunar surface on July 20th, 1969. After achieving orbit around the Moon in their Command Module (aka. the Columbia module), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rode the Lunar Excursion (Eagle) Module down to the surface of the Moon.
Once they had landed, Armstrong radioed to Mission Control and announced their arrival by saying: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Once the crew had gone through their checklist and depressurized the cabin, the Eagles’ hatch was opened and Armstrong began walking down the ladder to the Lunar surface first.
When he reached the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said: “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (referring to the Lunar Excursion Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface of the Moon at 2:56 UTC July 21st, 1969, and spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and became the second human to set foot on the Moon. The two then unveiled a plaque commemorating their flight, set up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package, and planted the flag of the United States before blasting off in the Lunar Module.
Several more Apollo missions followed which expanded on the accomplishments of the Apollo-11 crew. The US and NASA would remain the only nation and space agency to successfully land astronauts on the Moon, an accomplishment that has not been matched to this day.
Today, multiple space agencies (and even private companies) are contemplating returning to the Moon. Between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), there are several plans for crewed missions, and even the construction of permanent bases on the Moon.
We have written many great articles about the Moon here at Universe Today. Here’s Who Were the First Men on the Moon?, How Many People Have Walked on the Moon?, How Do We Know the Moon Landing Isn’t Fake?, Where Were You When Apollo 11 Landed on the Moon?, What Does The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site Look Like Today?
You can listen to a very interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon from Astronomy Cast, Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?
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”
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration. Credit: NASA/MSFC
The SLS, America’s first human-rated heavy lift rocket intended to carry astronauts to deep space destinations since NASA’s Apollo moon landing era Saturn V, has passed a key design milestone known as the critical design review (CDR) thereby clearing the path to full scale fabrication.
NASA also confirmed they have dropped the Saturn V white color motif of the mammoth rocket in favor of burnt orange to reflect the natural color of the SLS boosters first stage cryogenic core. The agency also decided to add stripes to the huge solid rocket boosters.
NASA announced that the Space Launch System (SLS) has “completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR)” – meaning that the design of all the rockets components are technically acceptable and the agency can continue with full scale production towards achieving a maiden liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2018.
“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division, in a NASA statement.
SLS is “the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.”
“There have been challenges, and there will be more ahead, but this review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space,” Hill stated.
The core stage (first stage) of the SLS will be powered by four RS-25 engines and a pair of five-segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) that will generate a combined 8.4 million pounds of liftoff thrust in its inaugural Block 1 configuration, with a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability.
Overall the SLS Block 1 configuration will be some 10 percent more powerful than the Saturn V rockets that propelled astronauts to the Moon, including Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the Moon during Apollo 11 in July 1969.
The SLS core stage is derived from the huge External Tank (ET) that fueled NASA Space Shuttle’s for three decades. It is a longer version of the Shuttle ET.
NASA initially planned to paint the SLS core stage white, thereby making it resemble the Saturn V.
But since the natural manufacturing color of its insulation during fabrication is burnt orange, managers decided to keep it so and delete the white paint job.
“As part of the CDR, the program concluded the core stage of the rocket and Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter will remain orange, the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements, instead of painted white,” said NASA.
There is good reason to scrap the white color motif because roughly 1000 pounds of paint can be saved by leaving the tank with its natural orange pigment.
This translates directly into another 1000 pounds of payload carrying capability to orbit.
“Not applying the paint will reduce the vehicle mass by potentially as much as 1,000 pounds, resulting in an increase in payload capacity, and additionally streamlines production processes,” Shannon Ridinger, NASA Public Affairs spokeswomen told Universe Today.
After the first two shuttle launches back in 1981, the ETs were also not painted white for the same reason – in order to carry more cargo to orbit.
“This is similar to what was done for the external tank for the space shuttle. The space shuttle was originally painted white for the first two flights and later a technical study found painting to be unnecessary,” Ridinger explained.
NASA said that the CDR was completed by the SLS team in July and the results were also further reviewed over several more months by a panel of outside experts and additionally by top NASA managers.
“The SLS Program completed the review in July, in conjunction with a separate review by the Standing Review Board, which is composed of seasoned experts from NASA and industry who are independent of the program. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – made up of senior engineers and aerospace experts across the agency and industry – reviewed more than 1,000 SLS documents and more than 150 GB of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where SLS is managed for the agency.”
“The Standing Review Board reviewed and assessed the program’s readiness and confirmed the technical effort is on track to complete system development and meet performance requirements on budget and on schedule.”
The final step of the SLS CDR was completed this month with another extremely thorough assessment by NASA’s Agency Program Management Council, led by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot.
“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager.
The CDR was the last of four reviews that examine SLS concepts and designs.
NASA says the next step “is design certification, which will take place in 2017 after manufacturing, integration and testing is complete. The design certification will compare the actual final product to the rocket’s design. The final review, the flight readiness review, will take place just prior to the 2018 flight readiness date.”
“Our team has worked extremely hard, and we are moving forward with building this rocket. We are qualifying hardware, building structural test articles, and making real progress,” Honeycutt elaborated.
Numerous individual components of the SLS core stage have already been built and their manufacture was part of the CDR assessment.
The SLS core stage is being built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It stretches over 200 feet tall and is 27.6 feet in diameter and will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel for the rocket’s four RS-25 engines.
On Sept. 12, 2014, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveiled the world’s largest welder at Michoud, that will be used to construct the core stage, as I reported earlier during my on-site visit – here.
NASA decided that the SRBs will be painted with something like racing stripes.
“Stripes will be painted on the SRBs and we are still identifying the best process for putting them on the boosters; we have multiple options that have minimal impact to cost and payload capability, ” Ridinger stated.
With the successful completion of the CDR, the components of the first core stage can now proceed to assembly of the finished product and testing of the RS-25 engines and boosters can continue.
“We’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” Hill explained.
NASA plans to gradually upgrade the SLS to achieve an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), enabling the more distant missions even farther into our solar system.
The first SLS test flight with the uncrewed Orion is called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and will launch from Launch Complex 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The SLS/Orion stack will roll out to pad 39B atop the Mobile Launcher now under construction – as detailed in my recent story and during visit around and to the top of the ML at KSC.
Orion’s inaugural mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT) was successfully launched on a flawless flight on Dec. 5, 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
On July 20th, 1969, history was made when men walked on the Moon for the very first time. The result of almost a decade’s worth of preparation, billions of dollars of investment, strenuous technical development and endless training, the Moon Landing was the high point of the Space Age and the single greatest accomplishment ever made.
Because they were the first men to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin are forever written in history. And since that time, only ten men have had the honor of following in their footsteps. But with plans to return to the Moon, a new generation of lunar explorers is sure to be coming soon. So just who were these twelve men who walked on the Moon?
Prelude to the Moon Landing:
Before the historic Apollo 11 mission and Moon Landing took place, NASA conducted two manned missions to test the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn V rockets that would be responsible for bringing astronauts to the lunar surface. The Apollo 8 mission – which took place on Dec. 21st, 1968 – would be the first time a spacecraft left Earth orbit, orbited the Moon, and then returned safely to Earth.
During the mission, the three-astronaut crew – Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders – spent three days flying to the Moon, then completed 10 circumlunar orbits in the course of 20 hours before returning to Earth on Dec. 27th.
During one of their lunar orbits, the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast where they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program in history, and the crew was named Time magazine’s “Men of the Year” for 1968 upon their return.
On May 18th, 1969, in what was described as a “dress rehearsal” for a lunar landing, the Apollo 10 mission blasted off. This involved testing all the components and procedures that would be used for the sake of the Moon Landing.
The crew – which consisted of Thomas P. Stafford as Commander, John W. Young as the Command Module Pilot, and Eugene A. Cernan as the Lunar Module Pilot – flew to the Moon and passed within 15.6 km (8.4 nautical miles) of the lunar surface before returning home.
On July 16th, 1969, at 13:32:00 UTC (9:32:00 a.m. EDT local time) the historic Apollo 11 mission took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew consisted of Neil Armstrong as the Commander, Michael Collins as the Command Module Pilot), and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin as the Lunar Module Pilot.
On July 19th at 17:21:50 UTC, Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit. On the following day, the Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Command Module Columbia, and Armstrong and Aldrin commenced their Lunar descent.
Taking manual control of the Lunar Module, Armstrong brought them down to a landing spot in the Sea of Tranquility, and then announced their arrival by saying: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” After conducting post-landing checks and depressurizing the cabin, Armstrong and Aldrin began descending the ladder to the lunar surface.
When he reached the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said: “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (Lunar Excursion Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface of the Moon at 2:56 UTC July 21st, 1969, and spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface, and the two men began conducting the planned surface operations. In so doing, they became the first and second humans to set foot on the Moon.
Four months later, on November 14th, 1969, the Apollo 12 mission took off from the Kennedy Space Center. Crewed by Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad, Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean and Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon, this mission would be the second time astronauts would walk on the Moon.
Ten days later, the Lunar Module touched down without incident on the southeastern portion of the Ocean of Storms. When Conrad and Bean reached the lunar surface, Bean’s first words were: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one step for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.” In the course of conducting a Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs), the two astronauts became the third and fourth men to walk on the Moon.
The crew also brought the first color television camera to film the mission, but transmission was lost after Bean accidentally destroyed the camera by pointing it at the Sun. On one of the two EVAs, the crew visited the Surveyor 3 unmanned probe, which had landed in the Ocean of Storms on April 20th, 1967. The mission ended on November 24th with a successful splashdown.
The Apollo 13 mission was intended to be the third lunar landing; but unfortunately, the explosion of the oxygen tank aboard the Service Module forced the crew to abort the landing. Using the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat”, the crew executed a single loop around the Moon before safely making it back to Earth.
As a result, Apollo 14 would be the third manned mission to the lunar surface, crewed by veteran Alan Shepard (as Commander), Stuart Roosa as Command Module Pilot, and Edgar Mitchell as Lunar Module Pilot. The mission launched on January 31st, 1971 and Shepard and Mitchell made their lunar landing on February 5th in the Fra Mauro formation, which had originally been targeted for the Apollo 13 mission.
During two lunar EVAs, Shepard and Mitchell became the fifth and sixth men to walk on the Moon. They also collected 42 kilograms (93 lb) of Moon rocks and conducted several surface experiments – which including seismic studies. During the 33 hours they spent on the Moon (9½ hours of which were dedicated to EVAs), Shepard famously hit two golf balls on the lunar surface with a makeshift club he had brought from Earth.
The seventh and eight men to walk on the Moon were David R. Scott, and James B. Irwin – the Commander and Lunar Module Pilot of the Apollo 15 mission. This mission began on July 26th, 1971, and landed near Hadley rille – in an area of the Mare Imbrium called Palus Putredinus (Marsh of Decay) – on August 7th.
The mission was the first time a crew explored the lunar surface using a Lunar Vehicular Rover (LVR), which allowed them to travel farther and faster from the Lunar Module (LM) than was ever before possible. In the course of conducting multiple EVAs, the crew collected 77 kilograms (170 lb) of lunar surface material.
While in orbit, the crew also deployed a sub-satellite, and used it and the Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) to study the lunar surface with a panoramic camera, a gamma-ray spectrometer, a mapping camera, a laser altimeter, and a mass spectrometer. At the time, NASA hailed the mission as “the most successful manned flight ever achieved.”
It was during the Apollo 16 mission – the penultimate manned lunar mission – that the ninth and tenth men were to walk on the Moon. After launching from the Kennedy Space Center on April 16th, 1972, the mission arrived on the lunar surface by April 21st. Over the course of three days, Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke conducted three EVAs, totaling 20 hours and 14 minutes on the lunar surface.
The mission was also the second occasion where an LVR was used, and Young and Duke collected 95.8 kilograms (211 lb) of lunar samples for return to Earth, while Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly orbited in the Command/Service Module (CSM) above to perform observations.
Apollo 16’s landing spot in the highlands was chosen to allow the astronauts to gather geologically older lunar material than the samples obtained in the first four landings. Because of this, samples from the Descartes Cayley Formations disproved a hypothesis that the formations were volcanic in origin. The Apollo 16 crew also released a subsatellite from the Service Module before breaking orbit and returning to Earth, making splashdown by April 27th.
The last of the Apollo missions, and the final time astronauts would set foot on the moon, began at 12:33 am Eastern Standard Time (EST) on December 7th, 1972. The mission was crewed by Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt – in the roles of Commander, Command Module Pilot and Lunar Module Pilot, respectively.
After reaching the lunar surface, Cernan and Schmitt conducted EVAs and became the eleventh and twelve men to walk on the lunar surface. The mission also broke several records set by previous flights, which included the longest manned lunar landing flight, the longest total lunar surface extravehicular activities, the largest lunar sample return, and the longest time in lunar orbit.
While Evans remained in lunar orbit above in the Command/Service Module (CSM), Cernan and Schmitt spent just over three days on the lunar surface in the Taurus–Littrow valley, conducting three periods of extra-vehicular activity with an LRV, collecting lunar samples and deploying scientific instruments. Cernan, After an approximately 12 day mission, Evans, and Schmitt returned to Earth.
Apollo 17 remains the most recent manned Moon mission and also the last time humans have traveled beyond low Earth orbit. Until such time as astronauts begin to go to the Moon again (or manned missions are made to Mars) these twelve men – Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Charles “Pete” Conrad, Alan L. Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David R. Scott, James B. Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt – will remain the only human beings to ever walk on a celestial body other than Earth.
Astronomy Cast has a three part series on the Moon.
NASA Apollo 11
Neil Armstrong is considered one of the greatest heroes of the space age, earning renown within the United States and the world over for being the first person to land a spacecraft on the Moon and the first person to set foot on the Lunar surface. But what is the story behind the man? As with all heroes and inspiration figures, the road that led to his famous declaration “One small step for [a] man,” began early on in his life.
Neil was born on August 5, 1930, in Auglaize County near Wapakoneta, Ohio to Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Louise Engel. His father worked as an auditor for the Ohio government, which meant that the family moved around quite a lot during Neil’s formative years. In fact, the Armstrong’s lived in a total of 20 towns for the first few years of Neil’s life.
From an early age, Neil demonstrated a deep passion for flying. When he was just two-years-old, his father took him to the Cleveland Air Races. On July 20, 1936, when he was five, he experienced his first airplane flight in Warren, Ohio, where he and his father took a ride in a Ford Trimotor airplane (also known as the “Tin Goose”).
As a child, Armstrong was also active in the Boy Scouts and obtained the rank of Eagle Scout. As a teenager, he began taking flying lessons and worked at the local airport and at other odd jobs in order to pay for it. At the age of 16, before he even had his driver’s license, Neil earned his pilot’s license and began down the path that would eventually take him into space.
At the age of 17, Armstrong went off to study aeronautical engineering. Although he had been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he decided instead to go to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, in order to be closer to home. His college tuition was paid for under the Holloway Plan, where applicants committed to two years of study, followed by three years of service in the U.S. Navy, before completed the final two years of their degree program.
In January of 1949, at the age of 18, Armstrong was called-up for military service and went off to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, to begin his flight training. This lasted almost 18 months, during which time he qualified for carrier landing aboard the USS Cabot and USS Wright. On August 16th, 1950, two weeks after his 20th birthday, Armstrong was informed by letter that he was a fully qualified Naval Aviator.
In June 1951, the carrier he had been assigned to – the USS Essex – set sail for Korea, where his unit (VF-51, an all-jet squadron) would act as a ground-attack squadron. In the course of the war, he flew 78 missions and accumulated approximately 121 hours of combat experience. His plane was shot down once, but Armstrong managed to eject and was rescued without incident or serious injury.
For his service to his country, he received several commendations, including the Air Medal for his first 20 combat missions, a Gold Star for the next 20, and the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star. Armstrong left the Navy at age 22 on August 23rd, 1952, and became a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He remained in the reserve for eight years, then resigned his commission on October 21st, 1960.
After his service in Korea, Armstrong returned to his studies at Purdue. In 1955, he was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970. Armstrong would also be awarded honorary doctorates by several universities later on in life.
It was also during his time at Purdue that Armstrong met Janet Elizabeth Shearon, the woman he would go on to marry. After graduating, the two moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Armstrong was working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA) Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory as a research test pilot. The two married on January 28th, 1956, at the Congregational Church in Wilmette, Illinois.
After 18-months, the Armstrongs moved to Edwards Air Force Base in California where he began working for the NACA’s High-Speed Flight Station. While there, he flew multiple experimental aircraft, including the Bell X-1B, the T-33 Shooting Star, the Lockheed F-104, and the North American X-15. He also met legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, and was involved in several incidents that went down in Andrew’s AFB folklore.
In September of 1962, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps as part of what the press dubbed “the New Nine” – a group of nine astronauts that were selected for the Gemini and Apollo programs. These programs, which were the successor to the Mercury Program – which sought to place an astronaut in orbit (popularized by the movie The Right Stuff) – were designed with the intent of conducting long-term space flights and a manned mission to the Moon.
Neil’s first mission to space would take place four years later, on March 16th, 1966, aboard a Titan II spacecraft, with Neil acting as Command Pilot and fellow astronaut David Scott as Pilot. Known as Gemini 8, this mission was the most complex mission to date, involving a rendezvous and docking with an unmanned Agena target vehicle, and some extra-vehicular activity (EVA) being performed.
The docking procedure was a success, but due to mechanical failure, the mission had to be cut short. On September 12th, 1966, Armstrong served as the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for the Gemini 11 mission, remaining in communication with astronauts Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon as they conducted spacecraft rendezvous and EVA operations.
On April 5th, 1967, just three and half months after the Apollo 1 fire took place, Deke Slayton – one of the Mercury Seven astronauts and NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office – brought Armstrong and many other veterans of project Gemini together and told that they would be flying the first Lunar missions.
Over the next six months, Armstrong and the other astronauts began training for a possible trip to the Moon, and Neil was named backup commander for the Apollo 8 mission. On December 23rd, 1968, as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, Slayton informed Armstrong that he would be commander for the Apollo 11 mission, joined by Buzz Aldrin as lunar module pilot and Michael Collins as command module pilot.
On July 16th, 1969, the historic mission blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 13:32:00 UTC (9:32:00 a.m. EDT local time). Thousands of people crowded the highways and beaches near the launch site to watch the Saturn V rocket ascend into the sky. Millions more watched from home, and President Richard M. Nixon viewed the proceedings from the Oval Office at the White House.
The rocket entered the Earth’s orbit some twelve minutes later. After one and a half orbits, the S-IVB third-stage engine pushed the spacecraft onto its trajectory toward the Moon. After 30 minutes, the command/service module pair separated from this last remaining Saturn V stage, docked with the Lunar Module, and the combined spacecraft headed for the Moon.
On July 19th at 17:21:50 UTC, Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit. On July 20th, the Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Command Module Columbia, and the crew commenced their Lunar descent. When Armstrong looked outside, he saw that the computer’s landing target was in a boulder-strewn area which he judged to be unsafe. As such, he took over manual control of the LM, and the craft landed at 20:17:40 UTC with only 25 seconds of fuel left.
Armstrong then radioed to Mission Control and announced their arrival by saying: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Once the crew had gone through their checklist and depressurized the cabin, the Eagles’ hatch was opened and Armstrong began walking down the ladder to the Lunar surface first.
When he reached the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said: “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (referring to the Lunar Excursion Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface of the Moon at 2:56 UTC July 21st, 1969, and spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and became the second human to set foot on the Moon. The duo then began their tasks of unveiling a plaque commemorating their flight, setting up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package, and planting the flag of the United States. The crew then returned to the LM and blasted off, commencing their return trip to Earth.
Upon returning to Earth, the Apollo 11 crew went on a 45-day tour around the world called the “Giant Leap” tour. Armstrong also traveled to the Soviet Union to talk at the 13th annual conference of the International Committee on Space Research. While there, he met Valentina Tereshkova (the first female astronaut to go into space), Premier Alexei Kosygin, and was given a tour of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
Shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong announced that he did not intend to fly in space again; and in 1971, resigned from NASA. He then settled into a life of teaching, accepting a position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. After eight years, he resigned. He also spent much of this time acting as a corporate spokesperson and serving on the board of directors of several companies.
Retirement and Death:
During his post-Apollo years, Armstrong also served on two spaceflight accident investigations. The first took place in 1970, where he served as part of the panel that investigated the Apollo 13 mission, presented a detailed chronology of the mission and made recommendations. In 1986, President Reagan appointed him as vice-chairman of the Rogers Commission to investigate the Space-shuttle Challenger disaster of that year.
In 2012, Armstrong underwent vascular bypass surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries. Although he was reportedly recovering well, he died on August 25th, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In a ceremony that was held aboard the USS Philippine Sea (an American missile cruiser) Armstrong was buried with honors in a ceremony where a U.S. Navy ceremonial guard draped an American flag over his ashes before commended them to the sea.
For his years of service, Armstrong has received numerous medals including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Robert J. Collier Trophy, and the Sylvanus Thayer Award.
Neil Armstrong has had over a dozen elementary, middle and high schools named in his honor, and many streets, buildings, schools, and other places around the world have been named in honor of Armstrong and/or the Apollo 11 mission. The lunar crater Armstrong, which sits approx. 50 km (31 miles) from the Apollo 11 landing site, and asteroid 6469 Armstrong are named in his honor.
Armstrong was also inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates were the 1999 recipients of the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution. His alma mater, Purdue University, also named a new engineering hall after him, which was completed in 2007.
Universe Today has articles on Neil Armstrong and first man on the Moon.
Astronomy Cast has an episode on the Moon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.