Space Flight

On May 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most memorable State of the Union addresses in the history of the United States. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth” (, President John F. Kennedy\'s Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs). With those words, Kennedy launched a new era of space exploration in the United States. Although the National Aeronautics And Space Administration was created in 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act (, Key Documents), and the Russians already launched the first satellite into space in 1957, the US was still at a stand still on the subject. What the country needed was a wake-up call, and that is exactly what it got from one of the most celebrated speakers in its history. The new era promised much, but expected little. From USA’s struggle to be the dominant world power in the Cold War Era, to the careless depletion of natural resources in the Information Age, space exploration and astronauts were and will be the real keys to the new millennium and beyond.
Before looking into the future, or even evaluating the present, one must look in detail at the history of the space project. The missions that gave scientists and engineers the necessary data and experience to make new, safer, more reliable and intricate equipment were launched long before there was realistic talk of sending probes to Mars. The astronauts that helped shape the training programs, took the beatings of primitive flight tests, and died in order to serve their country were born before World War II. And even the Russian Space Program was crucial to what the space program is today. It fueled competition, and provided more resources for American engineers. Until Apollo 11, they were ahead of the Americans in almost everyway, with their launch of Sputnik, a unmanned satellite in 1957, and their countless firsts in orbiting and space walks. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space.
Although most of the missions that have been launched have been important in their own ways, some missions just stand out, whether it was the first step on the Moon, or the first mission to Mars. NASA’s first high profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space. It was the prelude to the later missions, and it gave NASA the necessary data to build better, and more comfortable ships for humans to stay in space for extended periods of time. The first launch of the Mercury program was the LJ-1 on August 21, 1959. At thirty-five minutes before launch, evacuation of the area had been proceeding on schedule. Suddenly, half an hour before launch-time, an explosive flash occurred. When the smoke cleared it was evident that only the capsule-and-tower combination had been launched, on a trajectory similar to an off-the-pad abort (, Mercury: LJ-1). The first mildly successful spacecraft launch occurred September 9, 1959. Although the BJ-1 ship experienced some problems, and the timing on some of the separation procedures was off, the capsule made it back to earth some seven hours after lift-off. The capsule orbited the earth for approximately thirteen minutes (Mercury: BJ-1). Mercury mission MA-5 was the first to carry live organisms into sub-orbit. Although Enos - a chimpanzee, was not a perfect substitute for a human, he served as a good test for the environmental controls of the capsule. He orbited the earth in total weightlessness for over three hours and upon landing was in perfect physical condition (Mercury: MA-5). On May 5, 1961, Freedom 7 was the first launch to carry humans into space. Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was the only crewmember, and the successful mission lasted for over 15 minutes (Mercury: MR-3). More manned flights from the Mercury series followed, highlighted by the Friendship 7, where on February 20, 1962, John Glenn was the first American in actual orbit, and he orbited the earth three times for a little under five hours (Mercury: MA-6). The last mission from the Mercury project came on May 15, 1963, where L. Gordon Cooper was in orbit in the Faith 7