The Soviet Union was ahead of the United States of America in the space race. In 1959, Yuri Gagarin became the first cosmonaut to orbit the earth.
USA used the term “astronaut“, while the USSR used “cosmonaut”.
USSR held several space records (e.g. EVA, first female) until USA took over with the Moon Landings.
Later, several other nations (e.g. Japan, China) trained astronauts and also had Space Missions
USA established NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
NASA would design and implement
- Mercury project (for an astronaut)
- Gemini project (for two astronauts)
- Apollo project (for three astronauts)
There are books (“We Seven”, “The Right Stuff”, “All we did was send men to the moon and back”) and movies (e.g. Apollo 13) about the space missions.
The books “We Seven” and “The Right Stuff” discussed some requirements for the astronauts for the Mercury Project of NASA.
The candidate must
- be a Military Test Pilot
- not be too young or too old
- not be too tall (need to fit inside the small space capsule)
- not weigh a lot (need to minimize the power required to lift off)
- be married (so as to have a yearning to get back to earth)
- pass the medical tests (physical, mental, stress, …)
A lot of people were disappointed. The list included Chuck Yeager who had broken the Mach limit, and pilots who are civilian pilots, bachelors, tall and heavy (but strong).
- Seven were chosen for the Mercury Program.
- Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom flew sub-orbital flights.
- John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Scott Carpenter and Gordon Cooper flew orbital flights.
- Deke Slayton was “grounded” because of a heart murmur. He became the Director, who led the selection of the Space crews.
Gemini and Apollo Projects
Several more were chosen for the Gemini and Apollo programs.
Some restrictions were relaxed.
- Neil Armstrong (Commander of Apollo 11) was a Civilian Test Pilot.
- Swigert, member of the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew, is single.
NASA later launched programs for
- Space Shuttle
- Sky Lab
- Participation in the International Space Station
Men on the Moon
President John F. Kennedy announced, “Before the decade is out, we will send Men on the Moon and bring them back safely to Earth”.
In July 1969, we heard on the radio, “The Eagle (code for the Lunar Module) had landed (in Tranquility Bay on the Moon).” Neil Armstrong (Mission Commander) stepped out of the Lunar Module onto the Moon. He was closely followed by Buzz Aldrin (Lunar Module Pilot). The two set up the US flag and collected rock samples. Michael Collins (Command Module Pilot) circled the Moon and waited for the return of the Lunar Module. They made a safe trip home.
I wrote a poem about the historic mission and showed it to Ashin Ananda (Buddhist Archbishop of Latvia and Lithuania, Laureate Poet) who regularly came to our parent’s house for alms round.
Ashin Ananda gave my poem to Mr. Hall, Information Officer of USIS/USIA to forward it to NASA and the Astronauts.
He gave a copy to Guardian (Daily) Newspaper.