Famous Astronauts and Space Exploration
The Challenge of Space
Earth the Big Blue Marble
Seen from Apollo 17
How Space Exploration Began
- The First Astronaut in Space
- President Kennedy and Space Exploration
- The First Seven United States Astronauts
- Project Mercury and Space Exploration
- The First American Astronaut in Space
- The First American Astronaut to Orbit the Earth
- The First Walk in Space
- The Famous Astronauts of Project Gemini
- Unmanned Space Exploration of the Moon
- The Apollo Moon Mission Advances Space Exploration
- Famous Astronauts of the Apollo Moon Missions
- Famous Astronauts Walk on the Moon
- Famous Astronauts Who Explored the Moon
- Unmanned Space Exploration
- The Mariner Space Program Explores Mercury, Mars and Venus
- The Viking Space Program Explores Mars
- The Voyager Space Program Explores the Outer Planets
- Famous Astronauts on the Space Station
- Famous Astronauts Mark the End of the Space Race
- Astronauts on the Space Shuttle
- Astronauts on the International Space Station
- Famous Women Astronauts of Russia
- Famous Women Astronauts of the United States
- Remembering the Astronauts Who Gave their Lives
How Space Exploration Began
The Space Program was begun in the time of the Cold War between political enemies United States and Communist Soviet Russia. In 1957 the Russian Sputnik 1 was the first satellite in orbit. Suddenly everyone realized the scientific, technical and political value of space exploration.
Why do we want to explore space? There are many reasons to explore space. We want to understand the universe, the planets and the night sky. There are military advantages to a space presence. Space may contain valuable natural resources. In the far off future, there may be a need for space travel to escape a worldwide disaster, or to colonize new worlds, or to prepare for the death of our Sun about a billion years from now. As a result of space exploration, many inventions and discoveries have benefited life here on Earth. The space program studied the effect of weightlessness, material properties, combustion and the behavior of fluids under microgravity. It created three dimensional topographic maps of the Earth at a high resolution. More than 300 other solar systems have been discovered. Because of space travel we also understand planet Earth better. Great explorers never know what they will discover, or how important their work will be in the future. For explorers, space is the final frontier.
The First Astronaut in Space
Famous astronaut, or rather, cosmonaut, Russian Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space. The launch took place on 1961 in a spacecraft called lastochka, in a Soviet Russia mission called Vostok 1. Launched from a site now in Kazakhstan, Gagarin traveled 108 minutes and completed one orbit around the Earth. After reentry, Gagarin parachuted to Earth. He was such a popular hero that he was not allowed to participate in more space flights. The Communist country of Soviet Russia held the lead in the space race while the United States tried to catch up.
President Kennedy and Space Exploration
President John Kennedy gave the space program the impetus it needed. In a speech in 1961 just a month after Yuri Gagarin's successful space flight, Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University in Texas in which he announced the goal of putting a person on the Moon in that decade. He expressed a national sense of urgency to win the space race and the cold war with Soviet Russia.
The First Seven United States Astronauts
To direct the United States space program, NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was created in 1958. Candidates for the space program were required to have experience flying military aircraft. The word astronaut came from the Greek words meaning "star sailor". The first seven astronauts chosen for the space program were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John Glenn, Jr., Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Walter Schirra, Jr., Alan Shepard, Jr., and Donald Slayton.
Project Mercury and Space Exploration
The United States Project Mercury was named for the Roman god of speed. The Mercury spacecraft could hold only one astronaut. Unlike the Soviet Vostok missions, the Mercury capsule was designed to splashdown in the ocean and be retrieved by a helicopter. Between 1961 and 1963, there were a total of six manned Mercury missions that orbited the earth, all launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The First American Astronaut in Space
Alan Shepard was the first American in space in 1961, just a month after Yuri Gagarin from Soviet Russia. As part of the Mercury program, Shepard took the Freedom 7 spacecraft on a sub-orbital trip that lasted about 15 minutes. Ten years later, he commanded the Apollo 14 mission, and was the fifth person to walk on the moon.
Astronaut Alan Shepard
The First American Astronaut to Orbit the Earth
In 1962, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. John was a former Marine when he joined NASA. Aboard the Friendship 7 he orbited the Earth three times on a trip that lasted almost 5 hours. After retiring from NASA, he served in the United States Senate from 1974 to 1999. In 1998 Glenn became the world's oldest astronaut when he rode with the crew on the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Astronaut John Glenn
The First Walk in Space
The first walk in space was taken in 1965 by Alexei Leonov of the Soviet Union, one of two cosmonauts on the Voskhod 2 mission. For ten minutes he floated in the vacuum of space, tethered to his vehicle and protected only by his spacesuit. For this event the airlock was invented. His spacesuit became rigid in space, and he had trouble reentering the airlock. After more than a day in space, the capsule made a hard landing in the Siberian forest snow, a long distance from rescue crews.
The Famous Astronauts of Project Gemini
After the success of Project Mercury, Project Gemini was the next step in space for the United States. Gemini means "twins" in Latin. Project Gemini used a two-person manned spacecraft equipped for a longer flight, launched by the Titan II rocket. There were 12 Gemini missions in 1965 and 1966 with two astronauts. The goals were to practice maneuvering the capsule, to meet and dock with other vehicles in space, and to control the capsule landing in the ocean. The Gemini Project was an unqualified success.
The famous astronauts of the Gemini Project were Virgil "Gus Grissom and John Young on Gemini 3, James A McDivitt and Edward H. White on Gemini IV, L. Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad on Gemini V, Frank Borman and James Lovell on Gemini VII, and Walter Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford on Gemini VI-A, Neil Armstrong and David R. Scott on Gemini VIII, Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan on Gemini IX-A, John Young and Michael Collins on Gemini X, Charles Conrad and Richard F. Gordon on Gemini XI and James Lovell and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on Gemini XII.
On Gemini XII, the last Gemini flight, Lovell and Aldrin made 59 orbits of the earth, on a flight that lasted almost 4 days. Gemini VII and Gemini VI-A successfully rendezvoused in space and came only one foot apart.
Gemini VIII commanded by Neil Armstrong successfully met up with the Agena, an unmanned target vehicle, and docked with it. And when the spacecraft began to spin around. Armstrong was able to gain control of it and make an emergency return to Earth.
Unmanned Space Exploration of the Moon
With the ultimate goal of sending an astronaut to the moon, a number of unmanned moon flights were launched. Scientists had a lot of unanswered questions. Could the surface of the Moon support a lander? Would space suits protect the astronauts in the lunar atmosphere? How would low gravity on the moon affect the astronauts? What about moon dust and possible bacteria?
The unmanned Ranger missions of the United States from 1961 to 1965 were planned to orbit the Moon and photograph its surface, before crash-landing on the Moon. The first six Ranger spacecraft failed. Then in 1964 Ranger 7 successfully transmitted more than 4,000 photos of the Moon's surface before it crashed landed on the Moon. Next in 1966 and 1967, the Lunar Orbiter Project launched 5 more unmanned spacecraft that successfully made high-resolution maps of almost the entire surface of the moon. It also took the historic photo of planet Earth as seen from space. Then the Lunar Surveyor Program sent 7 unmanned spacecraft to practice a soft landing on the Moon, dig a trench and photograph the soil composition. These results told engineers that the surface of the Moon could actually support a spacecraft.
The Apollo Moon Mission Advances Space Exploration
The Apollo Mission accepted the challenge to land a man on the moon, a place with no atmosphere, no wind, no water, and low gravity. The Apollo spacecraft was designed with the Command Module to carry a crew and the Service Module to carry equipment, power supply and fuel. The Lunar Module was built to land on the moon with two astronauts, and return them back to the Command/Service Module while it was in Moon orbit. The Saturn V launch vehicle was a three-stage rocket able to supply enough thrust to carry the heavy payload into Earth orbit. The early Apollo missions were unmanned flights to test all the components under development.
Famous Astronauts of the Apollo Moon Missions
Then in 1968, Apollo 7 took a 3-person crew into Earth orbit as the first manned test. Astronauts Walter Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham, all caught cold on the flight. Apollo 8 took Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders into orbit around the Moon and gave them the first spectacular view of the Earth rising over the Moon. Apollo 9, crewed by astronauts Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott and Rusty Schweickart, was a test of their ability to separate and redock the Lunar Module and the Command Service Module while they were in Moon orbit. Apollo 10, with Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan as crew, was a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11 without actually landing on the Moon.
Famous Astronauts Walk on the Moon
At last everything was in place for Apollo 11 and the actual Moon landing in 1969. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin were the crew. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin flew the Lunar Module and set it down on the Moon on a dry area called the Sea of Tranquility. The world watched on live television when Armstrong said "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed. Then, standing on the moon, Armstrong said the famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." On this day, the United States fulfilled the promise of President Kennedy. The astronauts planted the iconic U.S. flag in the soil, gathered soil samples and tested their mobility in the Moon's low gravity, while all the while Mission Control on Earth monitored their physical condition.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong
Famous Astronauts Who Explored the Moon
Four months after the historic flight of Apollo 11, Apollo 12 repeated the success with a moon landing in the Oceanus Procellarum. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean landed, while Richard Gordon stayed in orbit with the Command Module.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin
on the Moon
In 1970, a near tragedy on Apollo 13 was averted. With astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert on board, a liquid oxygen tank exploded two days into the mission. The astronauts moved into the Lunar Module and after many difficulties, were able to return safely to earth. Apollo 13 was made famous by the movie of the same name. In the movie, Tom Hanks, portraying veteran astronaut Jim Lovell, says, "Houston, we've had a problem."
Apollo 14 returned to the moon in 1971, landing at the Fra Mauro Formation with Alan Shepard, Stuart Roose and Edgar Mitchell. They measured the solar wind, cosmic rays and magnetic fields. They explored and ran experiments in low gravity. Shepard drove a golf ball 820 feet to dramatize the lack of gravity.
Apollo 15 went back to the moon in 1971 with astronauts David Scott, Alfred Worden and James Irwin on board. The Apollo 15 mission introduced the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), an electric four-wheeled cart they drove to explore the Hadley-Apennine region. With the LRV, they found the Genesis Rock, a 4-billion-year-old sample of the lunar crust.
Lunar Roving Vehicle
Apollo 16 in 1972 was the tenth manned Apollo mission that landed astronauts John Yound, Ken Mattingly, and Charles Duke at Plum Crater, an impact crater in the lunar highlands. Apollo 16 set new records with 71 hours on the Moon's surface, 3 moonwalks and 212 pounds of samples collected.
Astronaut John Young
in the Lunar Roving Vehicle
Apollo 17 in 1972 was the final moon landing, a night launch with Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt and and Ronald Evans. It landed on the Mare Serenitatis. another successful mission that added to the understanding of the history of the Moon. The last person to stand on the Moon was Eugene Cernan on December 14, 1972. All future Apollo missions were cancelled to channel resources to a new project, the space station.
Unmanned Space Exploration
Unmanned spaceships have continued the exploration of space. Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 were the first spacecraft to travel to Saturn and Jupiter, outlying planets of our solar system. Pioneer 10, launched in 1972, studied Jupiter, and discovered a strong magnetic field with high levels of radiation. Pioneer 11, launched in 1973, studied Jupiter and then Saturn, sending back images of Saturn, its rings and moons. Both spacecraft are now headed to distant galaxies. They carry graphic symbols and audio recordings that could identify Earth and Earth's peoples to any alien civilization that discovers them in some far-off time.
The Soviet Union, between 1961 and 1984, send 10 successful probes to gather data on the surface of Venus, under extreme conditions of high pressure, heat and a corrosive atmosphere. The Venera 7 landed a capsule on Venus, and returned the first pictures of the surface of Venus. The Venera missions penetrated the thick atmosphere around Venus and mapped the surface of the planet.
Surface of Venus
from Venera 13
The Mariner Space Program Explores Mercury, Mars and Venus
The United States Mariner unmanned space program explored three planets, Mercury, Mars and Venus, between 1962 and 1975. Mariner studied the Mars moon Phobos, the north and south poles of Mars, measured the temperatures of Venus and discovered that Venus has no major magnetic field or radiation belt. Mariner found clouds in the thin Martian atmosphere and signs of volcanic activity. In spite of dust storms, They mapped most of the complex surface of Mars. They flew near Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system and closest to the sun, took pictures of its surface and mapped part of the planet.
The Viking Space Program Explores Mars
The Viking unmanned space program to explore the planet Mars from 1975 to 1982 took over after the Mariner program. Viking 1 and 2 each carried a lander module that touched down on the surface of Mars. Their goal was to study Mars and search for signs of life or the potential to support life. They took images, dug trenches and ran chemical analyses of the soil. Scientists thought that Mars might have canals and other signs of an ancient civilization. But NASA's Viking missions to Mars in 1970 searched for evidence of life and cleared up these misapprehensions. Although no signs of life were found, the missions were a tremendous success.
The Voyager Space Program Explores the Outer Planets
Voyager 1 and 2 in 1977, the most successful and longest-lasting missions of exploration. Voyager spacecraft flew near the planets Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Active volcanoes were discovered erupting on Jupiter's moon Io. They found new rings around Jupiter, studied the Great Red Spot and a storm system. Pictures of Jupiter's moon Europa showed it to be relatively young. They studied Saturn's rings and its moon Titan. They found that Saturn's temperature was less than -202 degrees Fahrenheit. They sent remarkable new pictures of the planet. Voyager 2 gathered information about Uranus and Neptune. Afterward, Voyager 1 and 2 also headed for the depths of outer space. Since Voyager, many other unmanned missions have continued space exploration.
Famous Astronauts on the Space Station
After astronauts successfully explored the moon, the next goal of the space program was to put a space station in orbit to study the effect of living in space. Space stations are orbiting laboratories that also carry water, food, oxygen and life-support equipment for the crews. Because they are launched without a crew, launch speed can be much faster, and the space needed for launch seats is saved. It is hoped that a space station will help put a person on Mars someday.
In 1971 the Soviets launched Salyut 1, the first space station in the world. The United States launched the space station Skylab in 1973. Skylab hosted three crews of astronauts during its 6 years in orbit. In 1973, the first manned mission reached Skylab with astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin. They were able to repair the heat shield damaged at launch and to deploy a stuck solar panel.
Famous Astronauts Mark the End of the Space Race
In 1975, Russia and the United States collaborated on the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission. Spacecraft from the two nations docked together in orbit. Thomas Stafford and Alexei Leonov were the famous astronauts whose handshake in space marked the end of the Space Race and the start of a period of international collaboration on space exploration.
After the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War, the two superpowers cooperated on additional space programs.
Astronauts on the Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a reusable vehicle designed to reduce the cost of space exploration. It was launched on a rocket but, when it returns to Earth, it lands on a runway like a glider with the help of a parachute to slow it down. It is called the Space Transportation System, or STS. The first Space Shuttle, the Columbia, was launched in 1981 with astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen. The fleet of 5 space shuttles,Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, has taken more than 125 flights over 30 years.
Space Shuttle Discovery
The Space Shuttle has been the workhorse of the space program. It was a launch platform for unmanned spacecraft on missions d to explore the planets and the solar system. It launched the Galileo spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope. It was a base for conducting experiments. It carried astronauts to the Skylab Space Station. The Space Shuttle also carried materials into space for the construction of the International Space Station. The United States Space Shuttle docked with the Russian space station Mir 11 times. The Space Shuttles were retired from service in 2010. They will be succeeded by a new spacecraft, the Orion, which can carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station and can also travel beyond Earth orbit.
Astronauts on the International Space Station
The International Space Station, ISS, is a cooperative venture with the United States and Russia joined by 14 other countries in a partnership to create a shared space station in Earth orbit. The International Space Station is so large you can see it from Earth with the naked eye. Much of the ISS was actually built in space, with materials ferried by the US Space Shuttle. As it orbits the Earth with six astronauts, It is a continuous human presence in space and another stepping stone in space exploration. The first crew of the International Space station were famous astronauts Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev.
International Space Station
Famous Women Astronauts of Russia
In 1963 Russian Valentine Tereshkova became the first woman in space on sixth mission of the Russian spacecraft Vostok 6. One of five women admitted to the women's cosmonaut corp for training, her hobby was parachute jumping, which prepared her well for the return landing by parachute. Her achievement encouraged other females to become astronauts.
In 1984 Russian Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space while on an expedition to the Salyut 7 space station.
Famous Women Astronauts of the United States
In the United States, thirteen women were accepted into the first astronaut training program, but the rules at that time made them inelligible. Candidates were required to have completed a military jet test pilot program, a program that did not accept women. And no comparable experience was accepted.
In 1983 American Sally Ride was the first United States woman in space when she crewed the Space Shuttle Challenger. Kathryn D. Sullivan in 1984 was the first woman to walk in space. Women astronauts Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chawla died in the Columbia disaster. In total, 55 woman astronauts have traveled into space, 45 of them from the United States.
Remembering the Astronauts Who Gave their Lives
Eighteen astronauts, men and women, have lost their lives during space flight, on four missions. Several others died while training for space missions. The Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center commemorates their bravery.
Space Mirror Memorial
The Apollo 1 caught fire in 1967, during a pre-flight test with three astronauts trapped inside. Famous astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee lost their lives.
There were several deaths on the Soyuz missions of the Soviet Union. Cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko died in a 1961 fire in a simulator. The first fatality in space flight was in 1967 on Soyuz 1 when Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died during the return landing, when two parachutes failed to deploy.
In 1971, Russian Cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev died during Earth reentry on the Soyuz II because all valve malfunctioned and all cabin air pressure was lost.
In 1986 the United States Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lifeoff while the nation watched on television. When an O-ring seal on a rocket booster failed, all seven on board were killed. The astronauts were Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnick. Teacher Christa Mcauliffe, chosen for the Educator in Space program also lost her life.
In 2003 disaster struck when the Columbia Space Shuttle exploded upon reentry. The cause was a hole in the wing made by a piece of loose foam insulation. The entire crew was lost, astronauts Willima McCool, Ilan Ramon, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and David Brown.
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