Alan Shepard being recovered from the Freedom 7 capsule after the first American human spaceflight; May 5th, 1961
An oasis of life amongst a sea of darkness. Earth from Apollo 11; ca. July 1969
Here’s where I found the image. You can browse real photo reels of human space flight from Mercury to today that haven’t been published or achieved fame.
Alfred J. Eggers, Jr. stands beside the Atmosphere Entry Simulator he invented in 1958 as a laboratory means of studying the problems of aerodynamic heating and thermal stresses during re-entry.
The tubular tank in the foreground held air under high pressure. When a valve was opened, the air flowed through the test section (the dark area under the high-voltage signs) into the chimney-like vacuum tank. As the airstream moved, a high-velocity gun fired a test model through the chamber in a left-to-right direction.” (More info)
Ham the chimpanzee photographed while in orbit; ca. 1961
Ham was trained to work with operant conditioning, using a system that would send electric shocks to his feet when he made a mistake and reward him with a banana pellet if he did well.
During the flight, this system went haywire and sent electric shocks even though he was doing a great job at fullfilling his tasks. He was also exposed to almost 15 g’s of acceleration rather than the predicted 11g. Finally, the cabin lost pressure during flight, and reentry damaged the bottom of the craft which started taking in water after landing.
After his historical flight, Ham clearly wanted nothing to do with space anymore and started showing symptoms similar to PTSD. He was thus allowed to retire.
Blue marble. The most famous picture of our planet, taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972.
Here’s the original orientation for comparison. Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and part of Antarctica are in the picture.
Laika (c. 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth.
Laika was a stray dog, originally named Kudryavka (Russian: Кудрявка Little Curly); she underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957, (becoming the first dog in space, to orbit the Earth, and was also the first animal to die in space.) The Soviets designed the spacecraft knowing she would not survive. One Soviet scientist took her home to play with his children because he said “I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live.” Laika likely died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six, or as Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion.
As a kid who was very into rockets and airplanes I remember being told about her (mind you, I wasn’t born until the cold war was ending), but in my childish innocence I assumed she came back okay.
Here’s a statement made by Oleg Gazenko, one of the Sputnik scientists:
“Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”
You know what makes me (sorta) happy? They built her a window. Despite the challenges and costs of building a secure window in a pressurized capsule, they did it so the dying dog could look out.
Gazenko speaks of the bond that grew between the dog and him as they worked toward her mission, leading us in unembroidered prose through a brief tale of preparation, hours of readiness on the launch pad, and the launch itself. But the heart of the article for me, and the part to which nothing I’ve found since makes reference, is this: Gazenko tells us that as engineers rushed against deadlines to complete the capsule that would carry the dog into space, outfitting it with equipment to record the details of her death, he took on a battle in Laika’s behalf. Against heavy objections from the decision-makers, he insisted upon the installation of a window. A window in a space capsule, where such a luxury would cause complications and expenses that I can barely imagine. A window for the dog whose monitored demise had been this man’s objective in all the interactions that had bonded her to him with the eager devotion of every well-trained working canine.
Yet Gazenko persisted and prevailed.
Roof In Peace.
January 28, 1986: The space shuttle Challenger falls to Earth.
Anyone interested in the Challenger should give Richard Feynman’s book What Do You Care What Other People Think? a read. A good half of the book focuses on his participation in the Rogers Commission.
Marilyn Lovell, wife of astronaut Jim Lovell, listens to the “squawk box” at home during the Apollo 13 crisis. April 1970.
Ham the Chimp before boarding the rocket Mercury-Redstone II in 1961.
He traveled for 679 km in about 17 minutes, lifting off from Cape Canaveral and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. He was recovered in good condition, readily eating an apple and half an orange.