Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Five Science Things - Firsts in American Space Flight

My wife has a growing collection of space exploration memorabilia, including a number of buttons commemorating American space missions.  I thought I would share five of these buttons.

The first button commemorates the first earth orbit by an American astronaut.  Lt. Colonel John Glenn orbited the earth three times on 20 February 1962 aboard the Friendship 7.  Glenn was the third American (and 5th human) successfully launched into space.  John Glenn was one of the original seven American astronauts (Mercury 7) and is the last surviving member of that group.  In addition to being the first American in orbit, John Glenn later became the oldest person in space when he participated flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-95 (29 October - 07 November 1998).

The second button commemorates the flight of the Gemini 3 spacecraft.  Nicknamed "Molly Brown", Gemini 3 was the first flight of the Gemini space program and launched on 23 March 1965.  Crewed by astronauts Virgil I "Gus" Grissom and John W. Young, Gemini 3 was the first American space flight crewed by two men.  Gemini 3 was also the first spacecraft to perform an orbital maneuver - using rockets to maneuver the craft in space.  Gus Grissom would later die in a fire aboard the Apollo 1 capsule during a training exercise (27 January 1967).  John Young would remain with NASA until the 1980s and fly in a total of 6 space missions.  He would land on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission (16 - 27 April 1972) and command the first Space Shuttle Mission STS-1 (12 April 1981).

The third button commemorates the Gemini 4 mission (3 June - 7 June 1965).  This mission was crewed by astronauts James McDivitt and Edward White.  This mission saw the first American walk in space when floated outside the exited the Gemini capsule and floated alongside for approximately 20 minutes.  White (like Gus Grissom) died aboard the Apollo 1 capsule.  McDivitt would fly in space one more time during the Apollo 9 mission.  Later McDivitt became Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program before retiring from NASA in 1972.

The fourth button commemorates the flight of Apollo 8 (21 - 28 December 1968).  Crewed by astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, Apollo 8 was the first manned flight to orbit the moon.  The craft orbited the moon 10 times over the course of 20 hours before returning back to Earth.  This marked the last space flight for Frank Borman - he also commanded the Gemini 7 flight (4 - 18 December 1965).  Apollo 8 was the only space flight for William Anders.  Apollo 8 was the third space flight of Jim Lovell.  He had previously flown on Gemini 7 and Gemini 12.  Later he would command the Apollo 13 mission (11 - 17 April 1970).  Apollo 13 was supposed to land on the moon, but the mission was aborted due to an explosion on the command module.  Lovell and the other two astronauts (Jack Swigert and Fred Haise) were able to safely pilot the Apollo 13 lunar module safely back to Earth.

The fifth and final button commemorates the Apollo 11 mission (16 -14 July 1969).  This was the first manned space flight to land successfully on the moon. At 10:56AM on July 20th, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon's surface.  Later he was joined by Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon's surface.  Armstrong and Aldrin spent approximately 2 hours walking on the moon's surface.  Armstrong and Aldrin remained on the surface of the moon in the lunar module for 20 hours before reuniting with the orbiting command module.  Michael Collins orbited the moon in the command module during the mission, but did not land on the surface.  Apollo 11 was the second (and last) space flight for all three astronauts.  Armstrong had previously flown on the Gemini 8 mission, Aldrin on Gemini 12, and Collins on Gemini 10.  The US would return astronauts to the moon only five more times, the last time in 1972 (Apollo 17).  A total of only 24 humans have orbited the moon and of those 24, twelve have stood on the surface of the moon.  There are no current plans for the United States to return astronauts to the moon.

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