Seventy-three seconds after launch, Challenger was destroyed on live TV. We did not understand what we saw: Our teachers could not explain it, our parents were unlikely to have better answers, and few of us probably spent time paying attention to what transpired afterwards in terms of the official investigation. The Challenger disaster symbolizes a moment in our personal and shared memories when we felt great sorrow together.
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).
A veteran of four space shuttle flights, Steven Nagel first flew as a mission specialist on Discovery’s fifth trip into space before serving as pilot or commander on his subsequent flights. He was one of only a few astronauts to fly in all three roles.
There is no question that the success of Project Apollo in the 1960s helped to create a culture of competence for NASA that translated into a level of confidence in American capability, and especially in the ability of government to perform effectively, to resolve any problem. Something that almost sounds unthinkable in the early twenty-first century but such was indeed the case in the 1960s.
In the mid twentieth century, the thought of sending humans into space was only the makings of science fiction. On April 9, 1959, sci-fi and reality merged as NASA introduced the seven American astronauts who would participate in the first human spaceflight program in the United States, Project Mercury.
Bill Pogue may be best known as an astronaut who served on America’s Skylab space station and author of the book he titled with the perennial question astronauts are asked to answer, How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?