Human Spaceflight

Human spaceflight is one of the great achievements of the modern age. Not content to master flight in the atmosphere, inventors, engineers, scientists, and visionaries pressed ahead to explore space and developed the technology for human spaceflight. With varying degrees of political leadership and public support, the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, and other nations have made human spaceflight a priority.

Since the first venture into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, more than 500 men and women have flown in space, some staying months at a time. People have circled the Earth in small capsules and huge space shuttles. They have floated in open space, delivered satellites, conducted laboratory experiments, repaired space telescopes, and built a space station. Twenty-four men have flown to the Moon and back (three went twice), and twelve explored its landscape.


Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery
Discovery has earned a place of honor in the collection of national treasures preserved by the National Air and Space Museum. The longest-serving orbiter, Discovery flew 39 times from 1984 through 2011 — more missions than any of its sister ships — spending altogether 365 days in space. Discovery also flew every type of mission during the space shuttle era and has a record of distinctions. Discovery well represents the full scope of human spaceflight in the period 1981-2011.

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Manned Maneuvering Unit

Manned Maneuvering Unit
The Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) is a backpack propulsion device that gave astronauts mobility for extravehicular activities outside the space shuttle. It enabled them to maneuver within the payload bay or fly some distance away without needing safety tethers anchored to the vehicle. The MMU had 24 small gaseous nitrogen thrusters and was operated with hand controllers on the arms of the unit.

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Mercury Capsule 15B Freedom 7 II at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Mercury Capsule 15B, Freedom 7 II
This Mercury capsule, number 15B, is one of two left showing the complete one-man spacecraft in its orbital configuration. It includes the silver and black retrorocket package used to slow the capsule for return to Earth and the nose section containing the parachutes. The first American in space, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., hoped to fly this Mercury capsule on a long-duration orbital mission in late 1963 called Mercury-Atlas 10 (MA-10). After the success of MA-9, flown by astronaut Gordon Cooper in May 1963, NASA decided to cancel MA-10 to concentrate on its next human spaceflight project, Gemini. Reflecting Shepard's hope of flying in space again, he had the name Freedom 7 II, in tribute to his historic 1961 capsule, Freedom 7, painted on the spacecraft.

More information: Mercury Capsule 15B, Freedom 7 II

Mobile Quarantine Facility (Apollo 11) at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Mobile Quarantine Facility
This Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) was used by Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins immediately after their return to Earth. They remained in it for 65 hours, while the MQF was flown from the aircraft carrier Hornet to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They were allowed to emerge once scientists were sure they were not infected with "Moon germs."

More information: Mobile Quarantine Facility