Words of Wisdom: Space Personalities

While some astronauts enjoyed illustrious careers with NASA, while others lost their lives attempting to achieve the unimaginable. In this article, you will learn more about Alan Shepard (the first American in space) and Christa McAuliffe, who was one of seven astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion.

Alan Shepard
The second person and first American in space was Alan Shepard. Ten years after his accomplishment, he commanded the Apollo 14 mission and became the fifth person to walk on the Moon. Shepard was a part of NASA when it was first starting out and was one of 110 military test pilots invited to volunteer in 1959 for the first manned space flight program. NASA selected Shepard after he underwent a series of physical and psychological tests.

When it came time for the first American manned mission into space to take place, Shepard was chosen for the mission in 1961. Originally, this adventure was scheduled for October 1960, but unplanned preparation was required before the flight lifted off in May of the next year. The honors for the first person to orbit Earth went to a Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who achieved the feat on April 12, 1961.

During the Freedom 7 mission that took Shepard into space, he was a pilot whose space accomplishments different from Gagarin. The cosmonaut’s flight was completely automatic, while Shepard did enjoy some control of the spacecraft, such as the attitude of the craft. The launch, return from space, and the helicopter retrieval of Shepard was all captured on video for millions to see on television.

Alan Shepard , Words of Wisdom

“I must admit, maybe I am a piece of history after all.”
“I think all of us certainly believed the statistics which said that probably 88% chance of mission success and maybe 96% chance of survival. And we were willing to take those odds.”
“It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
“They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”
“Whether you are an astronomer or a life scientist, geophysicist, or a pilot, you’ve got to be there because you believe you are good in your field, and you can contribute, not because you are going to get a lot of fame or whatever when you get back.”
Christa McAuliffe

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster claimed the life of seven crew members, and New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe, was one of the victims. In 1985, NASA selected McAuliffe from a pool of more than 11,000 applicants who wished to participate in the Teacher in Space Project. During the STS-51-L mission, McAuliffe planned on conducting experiments, as well as teach two lessons while in space. However, McAuliffe never made it into space as the spacecraft disintegrated 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986.

NASA decided to host the Teacher in Space Project to boost the public’s interest in the space shuttle program. President Reagan promoted the plan as a way to incorporate space exploration with education. McAuliffe was one of the 10 finalists for the opportunity to reach space. The finalists went to Johnson Space Center for a week to undergo medical examinations and become briefed on the ins and outs of space flight. An evaluation committee of senior NASA officials conducted interviews and recommendations for candidates were made as a result. In the end, McAuliffe was selected to train for a space shuttle mission.

Christa McAuliffe , Words of Wisdom

“Every shuttle mission’s been successful.”
“I can remember in early elementary school when the Russians launched the first satellite. There was still so much unknown about space. People thought Mars was probably populated.”
“I told them how excited I would be to go into space and how thrilled I was when Alan Shepard made his historic flight, and when John Kennedy announced on the news that the men had landed safely on the moon, and how jealous I was of those men.”
“I touch the future. I teach.”