- Education and Science
Human Space Exploration
MANKIND DREAMS OF FLYING
Mankind always harbored a dream of flying above the Earth. He looked up for thousands of years at the clouds and the blazing sun during the day; the mysterious moon and countless brilliantly shining stars at night; and wondered: how far up is the sky?
MEN DID FLY
Many men died trying to fly. They did manage to fly a kite in China in 1000 B.C. Leonardo da Vinci designed a flying machine (and a parachute) around 1500 A.D. Finally, in 1783, man left the Earth flying! in a hot air balloon. Not content with that, 14 years later, man first jumped out of a balloon; and landed safely on Earth with a parachute. Then, in 1903, The Wright Brothers were the first to fly an airplane—for 852 feet in 59 seconds.
A MAN IN SPACE
The rocket was invented in 1926 and that was to change everything. The first jet flew in 1939; and men broke the sound barrier for the first time in 1947 (761 Miles per Hour). In 1957 the first satellite was launched into space by the Soviet Union; proving mankind could indeed not only reach space, but put a vehicle into orbit around our planet! In 1961, a man—Soviet Yuri Gagarin—left the Earth's atmosphere and flew into outer space (meaning more than 50 miles above Earth) for the first time—and came back alive! He noted that it was startling that when leaving Earth's atmosphere how the horizon suddenly changes from blue to black. I am going review the American Space Program.
The National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) was founded in 1958 by President Eisenhower. Project Mercury was the first American program to launch a man into space, and then later into orbit around the Earth, in order to see how a human would survive and thrive out there. Two million Americans played a part in the Mercury program. 110 military test pilots were selected to undergo an incredibly extensive battery of tests to measure their physical and psychological fitness before 7 were chosen to be the first American astronauts. The tiny Mercury spacecraft was designed to not only have controls for the pilot, but to be controllable from NASA mission headquarters as well.
45 million Americans watched on television in May of 1961 when Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space; to "Slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of God" as the poem says. Shepard had been a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. His flight only lasted 15 minutes; but he flew 116 miles high. He was asked later what thoughts ran through his head as he lifted off the launch pad and he said, "The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder."
John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in February of 1962, orbiting 3 times at 17,000 miles per hour, during a 5 hour flight. Glenn had been a combat pilot during World War II and the Korean War before becoming a test pilot. He also was the first man to fly across America above the speed of sound in a jet aircraft, prior to becoming an astronaut. NASA mission control was extremely worried about his reentry into Earth's atmosphere in the Mercury spacecraft. We knew that meteors usually burned up coming through the Earth's atmosphere and didn't want that to happen to John Glenn. His craft had a heat shield and it worked—barely.
PRESIDENT KENNEDY SPEAKS
President John F Kennedy said some memorable words about the space program. In May of 1961 he said: "First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish." In September of 1962 he said: "We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new, terrifying theater of war."
GEMINI SPACE PROGRAM
Project Gemini was next for the American space program. This program is generally overlooked today since it was followed quickly by the Apollo program that put the first man on the moon. But it shouldn't be given the short shrift. Before trying to go to the moon, we had to find out if men could survive in space for up to two weeks; if men could leave the spacecraft safely; and if two space vehicles could rendezvous and dock with each other. Otherwise, a mission to the moon was impossible. Project Gemini's fantastic success is what enabled the Americans to surge ahead of the Soviets in the space race—for good. Yes, it was a stepping stone, but with it we were able to put two men into space together for the first time; and make our first space walk.
Ed White was the first American to walk in space, in June 1965, on Gemini IV. Gemini V proved that men could live for a full week in space. This may sound trivial to us now but no one knew what would happen then to the human body. Gemini VII proved men could live for two weeks in space—the required length of time to go to the moon (240,000 miles away) and back. Gemini VIII proved men could rendezvous and dock two space vehicles in space—obviously we couldn't land on the moon (in a lunar landing module) if this could not be done. And Gemini XII proved man could stay outside his spacecraft for a 5 1/2 hours duration—necessary to soon walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin did this.
DID BUZZ ALDRIN SEE A UFO?
In closing, there has been a controversy surrounding Buzz Aldrin and his supposed sighting of UFOs while in space. His words were taken out of context by a documentary filmmaker by tricky editing. Aldrin has steadfastly denied he saw anything out there except space debris from his own mission; but conspiracy theorists persist with their "grassy knoll" ideas.