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People in space!

Here are some fascinating facts about human exploration in space to share with your child. You will undoubtedly learn something yourself in this excerpt from “The Handy Space Answer Book.”

Who was the first human in space?

On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934 1968) became the first person to travel in space. His country, the former Soviet Union, had been developing a space program over the previous decade, in part spurred on by the desire to best its rival, the United States. The two countries were in the midst of the cold war and spaceflight had become an important symbol of national superiority.

Who was the first woman to fly in space?
Many Americans can tell you the name of the first American woman in space: Sally Ride. Far fewer, however, can tell you the name of the first woman in space from any nation: Valentina Tereshkova. A Russian cosmonaut flying for the Soviet Union, Tereshkova accomplished this feat aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, two decades before her American counterpart.

Who was the first American astronaut to pilot a spaceflight?
On May 5, 1961, American astronaut Alan Shepard (1923- ) made history with the first piloted American space flight. Shepard’s suborbital (below the height necessary to orbit Earth) flight in the Mercury 3 spacecraft lasted fifteen minutes. It reached a maximum altitude of 116 miles (187 kilometers) and traveled a distance of 303 miles (488 kilometers), at a speed of 5,146 miles (8,280 kilometers) per hour. The spacecraft then parachuted safely into the Atlantic Ocean.

Who was the first American to orbit Earth?
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn (1921- ) became the first American to orbit Earth and, in the process, a national hero. His spaceflight represented not just a technological achievement, but a political one. For in those days the cold war between the United States and the former Soviet Union was in full swing. Space had become an important arena in the conflict and in those early days, and the Soviet Union was winning the race.

Glenn’s historic flight was part of the Mercury program, which was initiated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to surpass what the Soviets had already accomplished in piloted spaceflight. Glenn traveled inside a capsule called Friendship 7 for five hours on a journey that took him around the Earth three times. The two previous American piloted space missions had gone only beyond the Earth’s atmosphere for a few minutes each, and never into orbit. The Soviet cosmonauts had both orbited Earth. The second to do so, German Titov, spent a whole day in space and completed seventeen orbits.

Who was the first human to walk in space?
Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (1934 ) was the first person to travel in outer space outside of a spacecraft. On March 18, 1965, he floated for twelve minutes outside his vessel, Voskhod 2. Leonov’s historic flight was the tenth piloted space mission of all time and the sixth for the Soviet Union. On Voskhod’s second orbit around the Earth, Leonov put on a white spacesuit and a backpack containing an oxygen tank, and entered the spacecraft’s airlock. When the entrance to the vessel was sealed off, Leonov opened the outer hatch and climbed out. He floated 17.5 feet (5.3 meters) away from the spacecraft, the total length of his safety line. He landed on top of the craft, where he remained a few minutes before pulling himself back to the hatch. Leonov then found that his spacesuit had ballooned out in places, making it impossible for him to fit back inside the hatch. He quickly solved the problem by releasing air from the suit.

Who was the first U.S. astronaut to walk in space?
A crewmember on Gemini 4, astronaut Ed White, undertook an exercise outside of the spacecraft, called an extravehicular activity (EVA), the first for the U.S. space program. For twenty one minutes White remained attached to a tether while orbiting the Earth at 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) per hour.

When was the first piloted flight of the space shuttle?
April 12, 1981, was the date of the first piloted flight of the Space Transportation System, better known as the space shuttle. The program had opened with an experimental phase using the test shuttle Enterprise in 1977. In early 1981, after ten years in development, Columbia was completed. It was the first shuttle designed to ferry astronauts and equipment into space and back.

 Who was the first African American in space?
A mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger, Guion Bluford, Jr. (1942- ), became the first African American in space on August 30, 1983. He was responsible for the equipment and controls on that flight, which was the first shuttle mission to both take off and land at night. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Bluford served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Between 1965 and 1967, he flew 144 combat missions, many of them over North Vietnam. In 1978 he was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to undergo astronaut training and was chosen for his first mission four years later. Bluford made his second space flight in late October, 1985, his third in April, 1991, and fourth in December, 1992. He holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, with a minor in laser physics, and is the author of several scientific papers.

Who was the first Asian American astronaut in space?
A crew member on board the second flight of the space shuttle Discovery, Ellison Onizuka was the first Asian American in space. He was later killed in the 1986 explosion of the Challenger spacecraft.

When did first grade classmates crew together on a spaceflight?

The October 1984 space shuttle mission included as crewmates America’s first woman in space, Sally Ride, then flying her second and final mission, and her crewmate, Kathryn Sullivan. In a remarkable coincidence, Sullivan and Ride had been classmates in the first grade. The purpose of their flight was to deploy the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, a satellite that studies global climate changes, and to make scientific observations of the Earth with a specialized camera.

Who was the first African American woman in space?
On September 12, 1992, as a member of the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour, Mae C. Jemison (1956- ) became the first African American woman in space. To describe Jemison simply as an astronaut is to ignore the many other aspects of her life. Jemison is a medical doctor who also holds degrees in chemical engineering and African and Afro American Studies. As a medical student, she worked and studied in Cuba, Kenya, and at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. And as a Peace Corps volunteer, she spent two and a half years practicing medicine in the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Who was the first American woman to pilot a spacecraft?
In 1995, at the controls of the space shuttle Discovery, Eileen M. Collins was the first American woman to pilot a spacecraft.

Who is the first woman to fly in space five times?
On March, 23, 1996, 53-year-old Shannon Wells Lucid blasted off in the space shuttle Atlantis, bound for the Russian space station. That was Lucid’s fifth space flight, making her the first woman to undertake that number of missions. Lucid earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1973 and worked as a research associate at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation until joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1978. NASA selected Lucid to be among the first group of female astronauts, which also included Sally Ride and Judith Resnik. In August 1979, after a year of training, Lucid was qualified to serve as a mission specialist (the person responsible for equipment and cargo) on space shuttle missions. In the six years before her first space flight, Lucid worked on equipment development and shuttle testing in Downey, California, and at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Lucid’s first shuttle mission was on the Discovery. The eight day mission, launched on June 17, 1985, transported into space three communications satellites. The crew also set the SPARTAN (Shuttle Autonomous Research Tool for Astronomy) satellite outside of the cargo bay, leaving it to perform X ray astronomy experiments for seventeen hours before retrieving it. In October 1989 Lucid was a crew member of the space shuttle Atlantis. The purpose of the short flight was to send out the Galileo probe in the direction of Jupiter. On that mission, Lucid and her crewmates also performed a number of scientific experiments on subjects that included atmospheric ozone, radiation, and lightning. They even carried along a student experiment on crystal growth in space. Lucid again flew aboard Atlantis in August 1991. On that nine day mission, which orbited the Earth 142 times, the crew transported into space a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and conducted thirty two science experiments. Two years later, Lucid participated in the longest shuttle mission up to that time, a fourteen day trip on the Columbia. On that mission, Lucid and her crewmates performed numerous medical tests on themselves and on forty eight rats.

What is the longest period of time a U.S. astronaut has spent in space?
Soon after her fourth space flight, astronaut Shannon Wells Lucid was selected to be one of four NASA astronauts to take turns living on the Russian space station over a two year period. To prepare for her life on the space station, Lucid began a year long training program in February 1995 at a facility outside of Moscow called Star City. There she learned basic Russian as well as information about the science experiments she would conduct on Mir. On March, 23, 1996, the fifty three year old Lucid blasted off in the space shuttle Atlantis, bound for Mir. She remained for a record 188 days on the space station, the longest period of time ever spent by a U.S. astronaut in space. Her return to Earth had been delayed more than six weeks by shuttle repairs and a hurricane at Kennedy Space Center. When Lucid was relieved of duty on she was replaced by U.S. astronaut John E. Blaha in the first orbital exchange of Americans on long duration missions. After spending six months in the weightlessness of space, Lucid astonished experts by walking off Atlantis unaided, despite a return to Earth’s gravity.

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