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The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Chimpanzee “Ham” in space suit. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First Chimp in Space

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Chimpanzee Ham with bio-sensors attached to his body is readied by handlers for his trip in the Mercury Redstone 2. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
STS-95 Payload Specialist Glenn wearing the orange partial-pressure launch and entry suit. Photo Credit: NASA

The Oldest Person in Space

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?

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., wearing a Mercury pressure suit. Photo Credit: NASA

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Guion S. Bluford. Bluford, a member of Astronaut Class 8 and the United States Air Force. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First African American in Space

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Guion Bluford, The First African American in Space. Photo Credit: NASA

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 space flights. All total, he has logged over 688 hours in space!

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The First Asian American in Space

Ellison Shoji Onizuka was the first Asian American and the 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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American in space. Photo Credit: NASA

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Kalpana Chawla, the First American Indian astronaut. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First Indian-American in Space

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Kalpana Chawla, STS-107 mission specialist, looks over a procedures checklist. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Kalpana was born in India and was fascinated with planes and flying even as a child. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering and 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.”

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Astronaut John B. Herrington, mission specialist. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First Native American in Space

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.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
John Bennett Herrington, the First Native American in space. Photo Credit: NASA

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.

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