Training underwater for extravehicular activity (EVA)—popularly known as spacewalking—is now critical for preparing astronauts to work in weightlessness. But when cosmonauts and astronauts first ventured outside their spacecraft 50 years ago, in 1965 and 1966, they had no such training. Spacewalking did not appear difficult, nor did space program officials think that underwater work was needed. In the United States, it took Eugene Cernan’s June 1966 Gemini IX EVA to change attitudes. Fighting against his pressurized suit, while trying to do work without adequate handholds and footholds, Cernan quickly became exhausted and overheated. Only afterward did NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston reach out to a tiny company outside Baltimore: Environmental Research Associates, Inc. (ERA). Funded by another agency center, it had been experimenting with EVA simulation in a rented school pool on nights, holidays, and weekends. That project became the foundation for Houston’s first underwater training facility.
On Thursday, February 4, the world lost the last of the Apollo 14 astronauts. Edgar Dean Mitchell, U.S. Navy test pilot and the sixth person to walk on the Moon, passed away in his sleep near his Florida home at the age of 85. Though it was his only flight into space, Apollo 14 provided the rather insightful Mitchell with an opportunity to test the bounds of the human mind in ways sometimes only he knew of at the time. Characterized later as the “Overview Effect,” he described the space travel experience as one that shifted his own beliefs about human existence, though having an openness to such a change was always a part of Mitchell’s way of life.
The crew members of the Challenger represented a cross section of the American population in terms of race, gender, geography, background, and religion. The explosion became one of the most significant events of the 1980s, as billions around the world saw the accident on television and empathized with any one of the several crew members killed. Each has a unique story.
When most people think of emergency fixes in space, the first incident that comes to mind is the famous Apollo 13 mission. The astronauts fashioned duct tape and surplus materials into air filtration canisters in the lunar module to keep all three astronauts alive for the entire trip home.
One of my earliest memories is of watching the Moon landing on TV with my dad. I was barely four years old, so the whole thing really kind of went over my head. I do remember being upset that "Mr. Dressup" had been pre-empted. Also, I was fascinated by the fact that my dad was practically climbing into the TV, he was so excited! (He was a science teacher—genes that skipped me, sadly!) I learned that day, if people could walk on the Moon, anything was possible.
As anyone who has ever braved the hot asphalt to chase down the siren song of an ice cream truck knows, the best cure for a sweltering summer day is ice cream. It’s fortunate then, that the summer heat cannot be felt within the confines of a spacecraft—the International Space Station is always a comfortable 72 degrees. Three hundred and fifty-four kilometers (220 miles) above Earth, ice cream is hard to come by.
The first spacewalk by an American, which took place 50 years ago today, marked a new chapter in human exploration of space. Images of Edward White II floating in space with the backdrop of a beautiful blue and white Earth spread a sense of wonder around the world – humans could actually go to this place and it was amazing. While the spacewalk (or EVA, which stands for extra-vehicular activity) lasted less than 20 minutes, its significance for the future of human spaceflight in the American context cannot be underestimated.
“Pass the turkey, please.” “Do you have room for dessert?” The elements of a traditional Thanksgiving meal are passed around in plastic pouches instead of platters and bowls, but the spirit of this holiday in space is the same as at home. Gathered around (or over!) a makeshift table, crewmates have celebrated Thanksgiving on Skylab, the Space Shuttle, the Russian Mir space station, and the International Space Station (ISS).