In 1959, 110 military test pilots were invited by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to volunteer for the first manned space flight program. The first manned mission was scheduled to launch in October 1960 but it was postponed several times. On May 5, 1961 the first Mercury Mission was launched with seven Americans sent into space to orbit the Earth on board Freedom 7. America was not the first to make it into space due to the unplanned delays, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first person to orbit the Earth when the Soviet Union launched their first manned aircraft on April 12, 1961.
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, to orbit the earth. The Redstone rocket flight carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles (187 km) and to a landing point 302 statute miles (486 km) down the Atlantic Missile Range. Unlike Gagarin, whose flight was strictly automatic, Shepard had some control of Freedom 7, spacecraft attitude in particular. The launch, return from space and subsequent collection by helicopter were seen live on television by millions.
On his successful return to Earth, Shepard was celebrated as a national hero, honored with parades in Washington, New York and Los Angeles and a meeting with President John F. Kennedy who was a big believer of America’s space program. It is very sad that the sentiment for our space program has lost it’s shine in the eyes of our government, but like most programs, if eventually taken out of the hands of the government, hopefully our space program will become a viable business venture of importance in the private sector. Let government focus on other things and build a powerful industry in the private secter – sounds like a great plan in my book!
According to Gene Kranz in his book Failure Is Not an Option: “When reporters asked Shepard what he thought about as he sat atop the first rocket, waiting for liftoff, he had replied, ‘The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”
Isn’t it amazing that our first manned aircraft was built by the lowest bidder! My own Aunt Ann Hamilton happened to be an employee of the Redstone Arsenal at the time the first aircraft was being built in Huntsville, Alabama.
Today, after 27 years of spaceflight, Nasa’s space shuttle Discovery launched for it’s final flight. In it’s 39th and final flight, the most-flown shuttle in Nasa’s fleet will be retired at the end of it’s 11-day mission to the International Space Station. This shuttle has traveled 143 milliom miles and has carried 248 crewmembers into space since its first flight in 1984. The fist mission of this shuttle was in the same year that Geoffrey’s Mercedes was built – I am not so sure we would set out in a cross country venture in our Mercedes although it does run like a top!
On the 11-day mission, Discovery will deliver supplies, hardware and a permanent storage closet to the International Space Station. It is also carrying a new permanent resident to the space station, a humanoid robot assistanat called Robonaut 2. R2 looks like a human from the waist up and he has a twin who was present at the site launch.
At the end of this mission, the shuttle Discovery will have logged another 4.5 million miles and in total it will have spent 363 days in space having circled Earth 5,800 times. After returning to Earth on March 7, Discovery will eventually be put on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Our little town of Sebastian came alive yesterday afternoon for the shuttle launch. All of the riverside restaurants and bars hosted Shuttle Parties during the launch as the shuttle lifted off from our neighboring county. We had our own little gathering right on our balcony to watch the launch. This is the second shuttle launch we have watched from our balcony and the clear blue skies gave us a good view of the shuttle. This was my Mom’s first time to see a live shuttle launch and she was as excited as a kid to see it blasting through the clouds.
We witnessed a piece of history as we watched the shuttle from our balcony – another great thing about living in Sebastian Florida. Floridians have passion for the space program since they are fortunate enough to have the launch pad here. Geoffrey and I are so fortunate to watch this glorious and historic flight from our balcony overlooking the St. Sebastian River. Godspeed to the shuttle and the brave Americans making this flight until they return home.
The next question is what will happen to the American space program now. Our space program is fifty years old and our fleet has begun to get grey headed – just like the rest of us! America has not built new space crafts since the 80’s. Almost every shuttle in the American fleet is now nearing 30 years old and even our airplanes are retired when they reach this age. NASA’s original plan was to have new space craft ready to fly in the mid-00’s under the banner Constellation. NASA’s budget has taken many hits in the past few years, under both the GW Bush and Clinton eras. President Obama actually proposed increasing NASA’s budget to allow us to put a man on Mars in the next 20 years. With the budget in such bad shape it is doubtful the government will be able to fund the NASA program properly and I guess I cannot half blame them.
In this generation it is probably best to privatize our nations space program or at least do a partial privatization. Let the American businessman get involved by taking this out of the hands of government. Would you want to fly to Mars in a shuttle built by the lowest bidder? Not me! Time will tell what happens to our space program – Geoffrey and I will be long retired most likely when a shuttle launches for Mars. I hope we are sitting on the Sebastian River on that fine day – just like today as we watch history in the making! What a glorious day! pkp