Going into space is an accomplishment in and of itself, but the training process of becoming an astronaut is quite grueling. Many kids grow up wanting to be astronauts, but not many know what it takes to seek it out as a career. Instead of wondering, here’s all you need to know about training to become an astronaut. Training does involve long days at work and going on lots of travel, all with no guarantee that they’ll ever make it to space. Keep reading to learn more about the rigorous training astronauts have to go through for their unique professions. You can also read about all of the first people in space, including the first man, woman, animal, and more.
Specific Requirements for Astronauts
As NASA continues to expand its exploration of our solar system, it needs to recruit the best and brightest astronauts. There are many rigorous requirements on who can become an astronaut. First, a candidate must have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science, mathematics, physical or biological science, combined with at least three years of professional experience, or a minimum of one thousand hours of piloting a jet aircraft. It takes brains to be an astronaut! You have to fix anything that may stop working on the spaceship, and that takes specialized knowledge.
Once those requirements are met, then a physical examination is conducted. This demand is because being an astronaut requires you to be in peak physical condition, as there are challenging and technical jobs to perform in a spacecraft. When astronauts were first selected in 1959, they had to be shorter than 5’11” to fit into the Mercury spacecraft! Now, the requirements allow an astronaut to be as tall as 6’2”. Of course, applicants should be free from disease or drug dependencies, have clear vision, and a maximum blood pressure of 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
NASA considers other skills and experiences, such as SCUBA diving, knowing other languages, and experience in leadership. Being as versatile as possible may help your chances of getting on the roster. One of the most highly prized skills, believe it or not, is a medical degree, since astronauts on the stations can conduct space-based biomedical research to understand better how living in space impacts the human body. They can even perform innovative cancer research in the station’s laboratory. Microgravity, or feeble gravity, is very useful to gain insight into human health and diseases that affect humanity.
Another great skill is being multilingual. One of the critical languages to help you get in would be Russian, as all astronauts must speak it in today’s age. Because astronauts ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft through a Russian territory in Kazakhstan, it might be a good idea to start taking classes before you apply. Experts are even toying with the idea of an international space language, especially with the International Space Station running out of funding. With China potentially partnering with Europe in the future and multiple countries attempting to land on Mars, perhaps an international space language isn’t as foreign as it sounds.
Since the first group of astronauts in 1959, there have been at least 22 different astronauts classes, each notably different. So although you may not end up in space, being in the program itself is a step in the right direction. The first class of astronauts included seven members chosen for the Mercury program, though NASA has changed since then. It initially recruited mainly from the military, but it began to diversify its recruiting pool as it evolved. That is why you see more engineers and doctors as astronauts than only military pilots today.
For example, the 4th class of astronauts is known as “The Scientists.” That class included the only geologist to ever walk on the moon. The eighth class, from 1978, included women, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans. The 16th class was the largest class, with 44 members, and the first class to ever have a fifty-fifty split was in 2013: the 21st class and they only had eight members. Each class has had their own job to perform to keep everything operating smoothly. Work still is required in terms of diversity. However, we can be sure that each astronaut is hired for their merits. We should applaud this notion.
Basic training for astronauts can take as long as two years, if not more. It is a very intense process that weeds out the group to only those who are fit for the task at hand. During their training, they’ll learn how to spacewalk, how to control robotics arms, how to fly airplanes (if they don’t already), and how to operate the machinery on the International Space Station. It’s an intense version of space boot camp! Spacewalks are taught in a 60-foot pool, and piloting experience is gained by flying T-38s. Trainees go through simulations using the robotic arm, and they get basic training for the operations that take place on the ISS.
Though it may not seem exciting initially, astronauts also have to take classes, as they must be well-versed in anything and everything that happens on the space station. Remember those languages we talked about? Language classes will come in handy here. Chosen astronauts will also learn about medical procedures and even have to take public speaking courses! Since space is one of the most extreme environments ever, they’ll take survival training too. Prepping for outer space also involves readying themselves for microgravity, and they can do that in the KC-135. Astronauts fondly (or maybe not so fondly) call this the Weightless Wonder or the Vomit Comet. It provides about 20 – 25 seconds of zero gravity to acclimate them to the feeling, and even experienced astronauts can get sick in it.
The process of traversing the Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational pull has profound effects on an astronaut’s body. The most common side effects are space motion sickness, cardiovascular conditions, and orthostatic intolerance (affecting the circulatory system). Training helps the body minimize these conditions’ effects or prepare the trainees for what’s to come once they’re in space. Up to 75% of astronauts experience motion sickness symptoms, which are usually gone within two days. As the crew flight programs have become more sophisticated over time, the training processes have become more rigorous to meet the Space Shuttle’s needs.
Astronaut training is held under the organization of the JSC’s Mission Operations Directorate. As their training progresses, their individual learning experience is honed through a “single systems trainer,” or SST, which contains computer databases with software that allows them to interact with controls like those of the shuttle. Other primary operations training facilities include the Computer Aided Instructional Trainer or CAIT. CAIT combines the textbook lessons and the simulators to provide a hands-on experience of software capabilities and on-orbit duties, orbiter work stations, and remote manipulator systems. Most of these systems aren’t just for new students, though; members of the astronaut corps regularly use them to help them maintain their fluency in their specialized areas!
The next events that astronauts are prepared for are the conditions of launch and the harsh space environment. The training prepares their bodies for the harsh environments of space and how to operate the spacecraft’s many functions once they’re in outer space. They’re taken through the different engineering systems so that they know how to make it all work. They’re provided additional training in astronomy and Earth observation, which are useful skills to have once they’re on the ISS. Astronauts are also put through scenarios that expose them to space hazards, such as what to do if life support starts to fail.
After a year of basic training, new astronauts undergo advanced training. It includes sixteen different courses, which covers all necessary shuttle-related crew training. This advanced training can be split into two categories: system-related and phase-related training. System-related training is mainly carried out in low- and medium-fidelity trainers and computer-aided instructional software. It provides one-on-one training with simulators by essentially creating intentional problems and making the students solve them. The phase-related practice focuses on the skills the astronauts will need in space during the mission, from liftoff to landing. About three months before an actual launch, the team starts the “flight-specific integrated simulations” to ensure a smooth launch and flight.
Learning How to Conduct Science Experiments
Experimentations have long been an essential part of spaceflight and are the primary focus when arriving at the ISS. Receiving training on conducting these experiments will ensure that the results are sound, furthering scientific research on the subject. On arriving at the ISS, astronauts will be limited in their communication with the ground team, and they must adhere to strict schedules each day to ensure that tasks are completed. Getting the job done without assistance from the ground team is essential. Spacelab is a reusable laboratory used on certain spaceflights in conjunction with the Space Shuttle. Thus far, it has flown on a total of about 32 space missions!
Before the Space Shuttle and the Spacelab came together, many research experiments in space were done via robots and automated instruments on rockets or satellites. As you can imagine, this was a significant hindrance for scientists on Earth, as there were many limitations with these uncrewed vehicles. Skylab, the first orbital laboratory, was launched in 1973, and it was a pioneer in space research. From Skylab, scientists and astronauts learned how to create a better variation, which is why we now have Spacelab. Among the advantages of having a Spacelab, we can accumulate data, evaluate it, perform joint experiments with separate but complementary instruments, and test out new equipment and research techniques!
So how does an astronaut ensure that they’re going to get selected? That’s quite difficult to tell, as NASA receives over 18,000 applicants for each job offer, despite all the caveats. The human resources personnel complete the first round of selection. They review each application to see if it meets the necessary qualifications. The second round involves examining the Astronaut Rating Panel application, and they were able to bring the candidate pool down to about 120 people. This panel consists of about 50 people, and once they’ve selected who best fits the criteria, performs reference checks on each applicant.
They call this smaller group to go through a battery of tests to check their physical fitness. The top 50 candidates then undergo a second interview and even more medical testing. Final candidates tend to be selected in their 30s and 40s, as it takes time to build up the resume you need to be an astronaut! Most astronauts even leave prestigious careers behind for the chance to be an astronaut. Once you’re selected, you may not even make it to space; you’ll still have to undergo mental and physical testing, plus a few years of training, as we’ve already discussed.
Notification of Selection: You’re Going to Space, Baby!
From the application deadline to the start of training, the entire recruiting timeline can take up to two years! Applications are due around March. The first cycle of application review starts relatively quickly but can happen through July since it can take a long time to sort through that many applications! Around August, they check references. Then, they perform a second application review cycle for highly qualified applicants in the fall. The most exciting part for applications happens next: round 1 interviews happen between February and April of the following year. We’re already a year into the process! Between June and July, round two interviews will occur for additional interviews and testing. In September, some lucky applicants will even qualify for round three interviews. In October or November of that year, the news we’re all waiting for is ready. They say who is in the Astronaut Candidate Class.
After the grueling process of weeding out candidates, they notify the lucky few. Get ready for a phone call from Flight Operations’ head at the Johnson Space Center. They’ll also receive a call from the chief of the Astronaut Office. Chosen candidates are told only to share the news with their immediate family until NASA makes an official announcement to the rest of the world during a news conference. During this news conference, they invite journalists to chat with the members of the astronaut class. After that, training automatically begins.
After all of the formalities are taken care of, astronaut classes begin, and each candidate is sworn into civil service. The candidates are moved to Houston to begin training, and their current employment most likely comes to an end. However, this isn’t always the case. Working as an astronaut can help some people improve their employment status, primarily if they previously worked in the military. Another alternative is that a candidate chooses to work in a closely related field to their previous job. Some astronauts have even run for the House of Representatives!
For example, military astronauts can have joint assignments at NASA while maintaining their other positions. That allows them to continue to gain rank while performing military duties and astronaut duties at the same time. Astronauts that are not active duty military when they retire from NASA usually move on to executive positions within the aerospace industry. In other cases, those in academia can choose places or missions relevant to their past experiences. It would allow them to publish scientific journals within the academic world and continue their advancement within NASA’s field.
Astronauts can look forward to training as the number of vehicles they’ll have to learn to use. The first-ever human to make spaceflight went into space aboard the USSR’s Vostok capsule in 1961. Astronauts are still currently using Russian spacecraft to get the job done. However, hopefully, they can start using the Orion spacecraft for exploration into deep space with time. They’ll also look forward to launching from American soil, which they haven’t done since 2011. The first commercial vehicle to reach outerspace was SpaceShipOne in 2004.
Since the Vostok, we’ve had the Mercury, the Voskhod, the Gemini, the Soyuz, the Apollo Lunar Module, the Space Shuttle, the Shenzhou, and the Crew Dragon. Though new vehicles have been less frequently introduced in recent years, other suborbital and orbital vehicles are being developed. Blue Origin is testing what it plans to build as a tourist vehicle, titled the “New Shepard.” Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, started the company. There are even lunar outposts to establish a permanent human presence on the moon and serve as a base for continuous lunar exploration.
The majority of new astronauts will head to the ISS, but there are chances that they could be flying further than that. It all depends on what space programs are being developed and how successful they’re likely to be. One such destination is past the moon, which a human-crewed vehicle has never done before. Towards the end of this year, NASA intends to send an uncrewed spacecraft to see how well it will do on its own. NASA has its eyes (and craft) set on Mars now! On July 30, 2020, the Perseverance rover launched to Mars.
The Perseverance launched on an Atlas V-541 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The Atlas V is one of the largest interplanetary flight rockets. It’s the same kind of rocket used for the InSight and Curiosity launches to Mars and is currently in its “cruise” phase, which begins after the spacecraft separates from the rocket after launch. The cruise phase lasts around seven months, and the engineers will have several opportunities to tweak the flight path to ensure that it is on the correct route to land in the Jezero Crater on Mars.
In actuality, an astronaut will spend very little time in actual space. The majority of their careers are spent in training and providing support to other missions. Once selected, an astronaut endures at least two entire years of basic training. If they’re successful throughout these two years, they’ll graduate and be assigned a space mission or technical roles without the Astronaut Office in Houston. These roles can include anything from providing support to the astronauts in space or developing spacecraft in the future.
For some perspective, Charles Camarda was an astronaut that joined NASA in 1974. He launched into space on the first shuttle mission after Columbia in 2003. His mission was a two-week-long stay in outer space, and it was approximately 5.8 million miles round-trip! For the dozens of types of training he went through, that’s all the time he spent in space. In his own words, “Training, training, training: survival (water, land, winter, you name it), shuttle systems, space station systems, Russian segment systems, expedition, rendezvous and docking, extra-vehicular activity (spacewalk), robotic arm, etc.” So keep that in mind when you think of the glory of being an astronaut – in reality, you’re just signing up to be a student for life!
Being an astronaut is much different than it was back when the first Moon landing took place. There are more commercial means and developments of spaceflight, such as Virgin Atlantic and Xcor Aerospace. Companies like these are more interested in renting out their spacecraft for NASA astronauts to use, developing shuttle with the latest technology. So many of us grow up with a sense of wonder about the universe we live in, so it’s only fitting that we can eventually all experience it – though it will cost a pretty penny! Commercial spaceflight is a step in the right direction, even if it is mostly about money.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation was founded in 2006 and has been the leading voice for commercial spaceflight (as the name may tell you). Its main goal is to promote technological innovation in the aeronautical industry and develop new commercial spaceflight methods. SpaceX, a company owned and founded by Tesla’s Elon Musk, has already begun promoting and selling commercial flights to Earth and Lunar orbit! They tout a “highly customized flight path” where you can fly over your hometown, famous landmarks, and other meaningful places. If any of that sounds attractive to you, you’d better start saving up. Why? Because it’ll cost you anywhere from $50 million – $90 million to fly into space privately!
The problem with commercial spaceflight is that it sets new standards that don’t exist in writing. It is evolving so quickly that the measures may not have even been developed yet! Flight participants don’t have a set system of choosing applicants, except for who can afford it. That puts them at risk if medical screenings are improperly done, and there’s no consistent method of selection between agencies. Therefore, the process of taking on astronauts by NASA may be thrown out the window altogether. Since they’re not looking for the highest performing individuals, agencies may only have bare minimum medical standards for who can go on these flights.
The very definition of “astronaut” varies across different agencies, and there are even other words used for someone with the same set of tasks. Astronaut means “star sailor,” while cosmonaut means “sailor of the cosmos.” In 2003, when China sent out their own men into space, the debate over their own word rippled through the industry. Would they use the outlandish “Chinanaut?” Of course not. They mostly stuck to yuhangyuan, meaning “space navigator,” though taikonaut, which merged the Chinese word for space (taikong) with the Greek word for sailor (naus), seems to be more prevalent.
The focus of these commercial missions is also to put long-term spaceflight to the test. The majority of these missions aim to take ordinary people to the moon or possibly beyond to Mars. The crew on these missions would likely have to be quite diverse in skills and are most likely to include engineers, scientists, doctors, geologists, pilots, and technicians. Such trips could also provide additional insight into the psychological aspect of space travel since the crew will be isolated most of the time. There have been multiple missions to the moon from several nations.
Of the moon landings, the “Luna 2” spacecraft from the Soviet Union was the first to reach the moon’s surface successfully on September 13, 1959, and other countries have followed: the United States, Japan, the European Space Agency, China, India, Luxembourg, and Israel. There are currently 49 spacecraft missions to explore Mars, with the first dating back to the 1960s! Also, there have been missions dedicated to the observations of Mars’ moons. There have been three unsuccessful missions and multiple proposals. The most recent launch, as we discussed, is the rover “Perseverance,” which launched on July 30, 2020. It is expected to land in February in the Jezero Crater.
Historically, robots have been essential in space exploration because of the harsh, uninhabitable conditions beyond the Earth’s orbit. Nowadays, robots are used as personal assistants on space missions, helping with tasks that the ordinary human couldn’t do on their own. However, there have been suggestions that should further foster this relationship to create a more harmonious relationship between humans and robots. The proposition is that robots could be environment explorers to minimize the risk to human health. This idea is quite vital for long-range missions to hostile environments or just dealing with the ship’s maintenance during the long journey.
Before robots went to space, scientists sent trained animals like dogs or monkeys to complete essential tasks and carry out experiments. As our robotic capabilities have improved, these tasks have been relegated to robots instead of living animals, thankfully. The first robot sent to space was Sputnik 1, launched on October 4, 1957. Its main task was mainly to orbit the Earth. Dextre, the Canadian space robot arm, was most recently designed to install and replace small equipment on the Space Station. It is the most advanced space robot so far. The ground control team manages it from NASA and the Canadian Space Association.
Yuri Gagarin was the first man to ever go into space, so of course, he is worthy of mention on any list addressing astronaut training. He was born in Klushino in 1934 and drafted into the Soviet Air Force in 1955, where he was trained in the use of jet fighters. Just five years later, in 1960, he was one of twenty pilots selected to join the brand-new Soviet Space Program. The United States and the Soviet Union were just two of multiple countries in a space race. Yuri then qualified for further selection into the “Sochi Six,” the elite cosmonauts that would form the Vostok Program base in the Soviet Union.
Due to Yuri’s training, optimal physical size, and general personality, he was eventually chosen as the first human to be sent into space. They had already sent dogs into outer space – we’ll talk about Laika in a bit! On April 12, 1961, the Vostok 1 craft carried Yuri into outer space while he reportedly whistled a tune called “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows.” Yuri came back to Earth and became quite the celebrity, rightly so! Unfortunately, cosmonaut Gagarin died during a routine training exercise in 1968 due to another pilot’s error, though the details were not released many years later.
Laika’s story is not one with a happy ending. Nevertheless, you should know her story. Poor Laika spent her puppy years as a stray on the streets of Moscow. It made her an ideal candidate for the space mission because stray pups were considered “scrappy.” Laika especially stood out to the scientists due to her calm nature and small size. She wasn’t the first dog traveling sub-orbitally, nor was she the only dog trained for this mission. However, they did introduce this pooch as the primary dog for this launch. During training, she and the two other dogs, Mushka and Albina, were enclosed in progressively smaller cages to prepare them for the spacecraft’s small size. They trained Laika to eat a unique, nutritious gel. Training including machines that simulated the noise, acceleration, and motion she would experience during the launch as well.
They built this craft especially for Laika. The craft had an oxygen generator, a fan, and enough of the weird gel-goop to keep her alive. However, the supplies would last for seven days. Unfortunately, none of the scientists were under the impression that Laika would safely make it home. Specialists had not yet developed the technology to de-orbit. Thus, it was impossible to bring her back home. On October 31, 1957, they sent Laika into space, though there were immediate issues with the launch. Her heart rate jumped much higher than it had in simulations. Also, her respiration was almost four times faster. The spaceship itself had issues as well, which led to the temperature inside the craft. After about six hours, Laika was dead from overheating. On April 11, 2008, Russian officials unveiled a monument in Laika’s honor. She also appears on the Monument to the Conquerors of Space.
Even people who aren’t the least bit familiar with space exploration know the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and have heard the phrase, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” They are most likely the most famous astronauts and possibly among the most famous men in the world! Neil Armstrong was commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission and the first man to ever walk on the moon. Think about that – he’s the first person to ever walk on land that wasn’t Earth! Before Armstrong was the legendary astronaut we all know him to be, this astronaut graduated from Purdue University. He served the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight station. Armstrong trained as a military member, a naval aviator, and a jet aircraft pilot. All of these were incredibly useful to his eventual career as an astronaut.
Though “second man on the moon” may not have as fancy a ring to it, it’s still a pretty darn prestigious title. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was not only an astronaut; he also made a career as an engineer, an author, and an actor! Born to a military family, he knew he was destined for the military himself from a young age. As such, this astronaut turned down an MIT scholarship and enrolled in West Point instead – no biggie. He served in the US Air Force as a jet fighter pilot. Then, they promoted him to an aerial gunnery instructor, then a flight commander. These all served him well as an astronaut as well. Do we see a theme yet? His first words on the moon were: “Beautiful view. Magnificent desolation.” Buzz was also the first man to hold a religious ceremony on the moon.
After achieving the historic milestone of the “first man in space,” with Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet Union also hoped to be the first country to put a woman in space as well. They selected Valentina Tereshkova among hundreds to go into outer space. On June 16, 1963, that’s exactly what she did. Her extensive experience in parachuting, her “working-class” background, and her connection to her father (who was a Russo-Finnish hero) led to her selection. Her mission was to orbit the Earth, and she did that 48 times over three days!
She kept a thorough flight log and took photographs, which proved very useful for atmospheric studies. After her return home, Valentina went on to be a cosmonaut engineer and became involved in politics. She married another cosmonaut (aww!), and they had a daughter together. Unfortunately, after her flight on the Vostok 6, they disbanded the women’s corps. It would be almost twenty years before another woman would go into space. Valentina was only 26 years old at the time of her space trip. We bet we’re all feeling a bit old now, right? They also named a Hero of the Soviet Union and awarded her the Order of Lenin twice.
So, we’ve had humans, and we’ve had doggos sent out to space. You know there have been other animals too, of course. NASA and others have sent all kinds of life forms sent out to space – toads and cats and plants, oh my! On January 31, 1961, Ham became the first chimp in space. His name is an acronym for the Holloman Aeromedical Laboratory (Holloman Aero Med). The original flight plan called for a 115-mile altitude flight with speeds ranging up to 4400 mph, though technical issues led to poor Ham experiencing 157 miles of altitude and going as fast as 5857 miles per hour.
These technical issues also meant he landed about 422 miles farther than planned, but thankfully there were no severe issues beyond a bruised nose, some fatigue, and slight dehydration. Ham experienced 6.5 minutes of weightlessness during his 16.5-minute flight. After all the excitement of being an astrochimp, he got to live out the rest of his life in the North Carolina Zoological Park until he died in 1983. Most of his remains are buried in front of the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico. However, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology has kept his skeleton for ongoing examination.
Ok, so maybe you didn’t make it to space by the time you were 26. No big deal – it’s never too late. John Glenn is perfect proof of that! It wasn’t enough for Mr. Glenn to be the first American to orbit the Earth – no. He needed another big title under his belt. Maybe more. On October 29, 1998, nearly forty years after he became the oldest human to travel in space – and he was a senator while doing it! He was seventy-seven years old at the time. His age served a purpose in the mission; he was serving as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging. They wanted to see how aging was impacted in space. Who better to help you figure that out than a tried-and-true astronaut?
After his world-renowned Earth orbit, NASA grounded John as a protective measure. They couldn’t risk this beloved astronaut’s life! John turned to politics, where he eventually won a seat in the Senate and won reelection three times. But it seems you can take the man out of the astronaut suit, but you can’t take the astronaut out of the man, because in 1998, John returned to space and retired from the Senate the following year – not before making a record of four consecutive terms in his state of Ohio. John Glenn died on December 8, 2016, at the age of 95.
Guion Bluford knew of his interest in space early on and earned an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering. He trained as a fighter pilot in the US Air Force and went on to earn a doctorate in aerospace engineering with a minor in Laser Physics. In 1978, Bluford was one of 35 (out of 10,000 applicants) in NASA’s first competition to become a space shuttle astronaut! On August 30, 1983, he orbited the Earth on the Challenger and returned to Earth within a week. His next mission took him into the Spacelab with five other astronauts, where they performed over seventy experiments.
He was the first African American and the second person of African descent to go into space, after Cuban cosmonaut Arnoldo Mendez. Before his first trip into space, Guion trained for a year at NASA. His various assignments included working on the Space Station, the Remote Manipulator System, the Spacelab systems, the Space Shuttle system, payload safety, and flight software within the avionics laboratory. He conducted experiments to understand the biophysics of space travel, fluid physics, life sciences, ultraviolet radiation, and navigation on the space flights. All total, he has logged over 688 hours in space!
Ellison Shoji Onizuka was the first Asian American and first person of Japanese ancestry to reach space. He received an undergraduate and graduate degree in aerospace engineering in quick succession and then entered the US Air Force. There, he served as a flight test engineer and test pilot and attended the US Air Force Test Pilot School. He eventually became the squadron flight test engineer and became manager for engineering support. Within eight years of his entering the school, he was selected for the astronaut program and completed a year of evaluation and training by August 1979.
In 1985, Ellison took his first space mission aboard the Discovery shuttle. Upon his return, they assigned him to the ill-fated Challenger. It launched on January 28, 1986. Sadly, a flame jet leaking from a solid rocket booster destroyed the hydrogen fuel tank. Just moments after the launch, the rocket exploded. The blast killed all seven crew members, Ellison among them. They buried him at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. NASA posthumously promoted him to colonel. He is survived by his two daughters, Janelle Onizuka-Gillilan and Darien Lei Shizue Onizuka-Morgan, and their families.
Unfortunately, space travel is a dangerous endeavor, and many lives continue to be lost as we push on with our exploration. Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go to space, was one of the seven crew members who died in the Columbia disaster when the spacecraft broke apart during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. They posthumously awarded Chawla the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. The country regards her as a national hero in her native country of India. NASA Ames Research Center named the Columbia supercomputer in honor of the crew lost in the disaster. They dedicated the first part of the system to Kalpana. She worked at the Ames Research Center before joining the Space Shuttle program.
Kalpana was born in India and was fascinated with planes and flying even as a child. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering, then moved to the US to pursue a graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering. One degree wasn’t enough, though; she earned a second Master’s, then a Ph.D., also in Aerospace Engineering! In 1988, she started working at NASA Ames Research Center. By 1997, they selected her to be in her first space mission. She was the first Indian woman to go into space, and her first words there were, “You are just your intelligence.”
John Bennett Herrington became the first Native American to fly into space in 2002. He earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics before receiving his US Navy commission in 1984. John is a member of the Chickasaw tribe. To honor his heritage, he carried the Chickasaw flag up to space during his 13-day trip. Before his voyage into space, John had quite the piloting experience. They designated him as a Naval Aviator, a Fleet Replacement Squadron Instructor Pilot, and a project test pilot for the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System. Herrington even earned an MS in aeronautical engineering. They soon assigned Herrington as a special projects officer to the Bureau of Naval Personnel Sea Deputy Component. There, they picked him for the astronaut program.
Once selected for the program in 1996, he reported to the Space Center, where he would complete two years of training and evaluation. They initially assigned Herrington to the Flight Support Branch of the Astronaut Office. On November 23, 2002, they launched him to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center. Herrington even got to perform three spacewalks during his 13-day stay. If you come across a 2019 Sacagawea dollar coin, you’ll see his spacewalk commemorated on one face of the coin! In September 2005, John resigned from NASA, though he indicated that he would continue doing public speaking engagements and work with the Chickasaw Nation.