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Who wants to be an Astronaut?

Updated on January 3, 2017

Astronauts is a term that means "sailors of the stars". Until the beginning of the space age in the mid-20th century the word belonged to the realm of science fiction. However, with the launching of the first artificial satellite in 1957 and the initiation of serious government projects to send men beyond the earth's atmosphere, a whole new space-age terminology was required. The word "astronaut" was adopted by the United States about 1959, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began to select and train pilots for its space projects. In the USSR the comparable term is cosmonaut, or "sailor of the universe."

Astronaut's wings are awarded to the NASA space pilots who have flown suborbital and orbital missions. In addition, the U. S. Department of Defense awards the rating of pilot-astronaut to military pilots who fly higher than 50 miles (80 km). Thus Air Force pilots Robert M. White and Robert A. Rushworth, who flew the X-15 experimental rocket-powered plane higher than 50 miles, are pilot-astronauts. Joseph A. Walker (killed in 1966 in an air accident) did not receive this rating, although he reached a height of 67 miles (107.9 km) in the X-15, because he was not a military pilot.

Astronaut Selection

The first seven astronauts selected in 1959 for Project Mercury had to have an academic degree or equivalent experience in engineering or in a physical or biological science. They had to be graduates of a military test-pilot school and to have a minimum of 1,500 hours flying time. Because of the small size of the Mercury capsule, they could be no more than 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm) tall. The age limit was 40 years. One member of this group, Donald K. Slaton, was later barred from space flights when a slight irregularity was detected in his heartbeat, but he remained in the U.S. program.

Five more groups of trainees were selected thereafter for the Gemini and Apollo programs. Some of the criteria were revised. Thus the nine men chosen in 1962 could be 6 feet (183 cm) tall but not more than 35 years old, and civilian test-pilot experience was acceptable. In the third group of 14 men, selected in 1963, six were not test pilots, and several had advanced academic degrees. Four men of these early groups of astronauts were later killed in airplane accidents, and three died while testing a spacecraft at its launch facility. The six men selected in 1965 were called scientist-astronauts, because they were primarily scientists and only secondarily pilots. Nineteen more men were named in 1966 and 11 in 1967.

The first Russian cosmonauts were experienced jet pilots, but some of the later Soviet missions were carried out by men without a military or piloting background. The Russians also differed from the Americans in selecting a woman to make a space flight. Six women had applied for the U. S. program but were rejected.

The first Astronauts and Cosmonauts

The first man to fly in space was the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who flew one earth orbit on April 12, 1961. The first American astronauts in space were Alan Shepard, Jr., who made a suborbital flight on May 5, 1961, and John Glenn, Jr., who flew three earth orbits on Feb. 20, 1962.

The first astronauts to land on the moon (July 20, 1969) were Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr.

Astronaut Training

An astronaut has to be prepared for the emergencies that may arise during his mission and must be psychologically stable in order to cope with them under the unfamiliar and dangerous conditions of space. His training must prepare him to endure the stress of extended periods of extreme confinement and the disorientation and physical discomfort resulting from weightlessness.

Astronauts are trained intensively to familiarize them with the power, control, communications, and life-support systems they use in their missions. Their studies include aerodynamics, physiology, astronomy, basic mechanics, space navigation and communications, and computer theory.

A good deal of actual training involves the simulation of space-flight conditions and activities. Full-scale models are located at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and several other installations. There the astronauts familiarize themselves with spacecraft layout, and they carry out simulated docking and lunar-landing maneuvers. They are also placed in simulated emergency situations.

High-gravity conditions experienced at liftoff and reentry are simulated by large centrifuges, while weightlessness is simulated to some degree by suspension devices, underwater work, and certain aircraft maneuvers.


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    • Bits-n-Pieces profile image

      Bits-n-Pieces 7 years ago

      The immediate objectives of astronautics can be identified. One is the development of an earth-orbiting research laboratory occupied continuously by 6 to 24 men. From this station in space, spacecraft can be launched to more distant objectives; meteorological and communications research and operations can be conducted; and surveys of the oceanographic, agricultural, hydrological, geographic, and human resources of the world can be carried out. The laboratory will afford the opportunity for solar and stellar research in all regions of the electromagnetic spectrum and will permit the development of the basic skills required for man to live and work in space for long periods of time.

      The construction of a permanently manned lunar base is another possible objective. This would be desirable if there is a need to exploit any mineral wealth found on the moon. Also, the moon may prove to be a superior site for the establishment of an astronomical observatory. In any event it is likely that lunar bases manned for periods of up to 90 days will be necessary for the extensive and definitive physical study and exploration of the moon.

      Another objective of the not-too-distant future could be a manned flight to Mars, including a landing on the surface. The primary goal of manned exploration of the Martian surface would be the search for extraterrestrial life, either past or present, since Mars is considered to be the planet that is most amenable to life as man understands it.

      Of great scientific interest for future space flight is the exploration of the atmosphere of the sun as it moves outward through the solar system. Unmanned missions to and beyond Jupiter will be required. Difficult technological problems will have to be solved to accomplish this objective. The communications distances are enormous, and the spacecraft will be far from the sun, so that solar heating and solar power will be quite limited.

      The development of a show like this allowing normal people like you and I a shot at traveling in space will serve fix more eyes on the sky, encourage more funds and investment. This television show could help introduce one of the most challenging and creative periods of man's history.

    • Bits-n-Pieces profile image

      Bits-n-Pieces 7 years ago

      Hey Longtail, I've been checking out more about that Starwalking reality show. it seems that Kiri Danielle Hunt who was a forum administrator for Starwalker and apparently groomed to be a presenter for the show when its launched has this to say about why she left:

      "There were lots of reasons I went with no. Lots. I was added as a forum administrator without my permission and having not yet signed a contract. When speculation started that I was somehow part of some Nolan scam that infuriated me. (Scott Gibbons... still trying like hell to remember mate?...well keep trying). Upon questioning both Nolan and Smith about the claims on this site I was reassured that these claims were 'small minded etc..etc..etc..etc' and that the PR would take care of it. I gave the benefit of the doubt- until I found out the PR company was not actually working for Nolan either. Then I was out. I also felt the PR was vulgar and extremely unprofessional. The policy of banning people who asked questions was unprofessional, and after I saw the Nolan body of work...what can I say...Discovery Channel to fighting crime as a Budgie...I don't think so."

    • Bits-n-Pieces profile image

      Bits-n-Pieces 7 years ago

      Dude, not sure if you're reading my comments, but that Starwalker Show is a fraud. Do some due diligence and do a background search. Those guys are giving civilian space flight a bad name.

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