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This Day in History: NASA Established

This day in history marks the beginning of the United States’ official journey to explore the “final frontier”–outer space. Featured here are a few of the significant events in the history of American manned space flight.

Equipping the United States for Leadership in the Space Age”President Dwight D. Eisenhower

When the Soviet Union put the first human-made object into space by launching the artificial satellite named Sputnik in October 1957, the United States faced mounting pressures to enter the “Space Race.” Fearful of being surpassed in missile technology, Congress quickly passed legislation to create a new government agency to conduct civilian space exploration. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration into law on July 29, 1958.

 “Sailor Among the Stars”Dr. Allen O. Gamble

The word astronaut first appeared in the English language in 1929, probably in science fiction, but it wasn’t commonly used until December 1958. That’s when NASA adopted it as the name for the men (and eventually women) it would train to compete in the space race. Dr. Gamble, NASA’s manpower director from 1958-1964, described the selection this way: “Someone found that the term aeronaut, referring to those who ride in balloons and other lighter-than-air vehicles, was derived from ‘sailor in the air.’ From this we arrived at astronaut, meaning ‘sailor among the stars.'”

Why Don’t You Fix Your Little Problem and Light This Candle?”Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr.

NASA introduced the Project Mercury astronauts to the world on April 9, 1959, only six months after the agency was established. (Credit: NASA) [public domain]

NASA introduced the Project Mercury astronauts to the world on April 9, 1959,
only six months after the agency was established. (Credit: NASA) [public domain]

The men who made up NASA’s first astronaut class were called the “Mercury 7.” The seven men chosen from a pool of more than 500 American military aviators were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.

Shepard became the first American man in space, making his historic suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. He made the above statement to Mission Control as he sat in the cramped Mercury capsule atop a Redstone rocket on the launch pad, while the launch was delayed for over four hours. The actual flight lasted only 15 minutes but was a success.

“Not Because They Are Easy, But Because They Are Hard”President John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy gave NASA the goal of sending a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s. On May 25, 1961, he stood before Congress and proclaimed that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” On September 12, 1962, he gave another speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, outlining his goals for America’s space program. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Less than seven years later, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would fulfill Kennedy’s vision by landing on the moon.

We Came in Peace for All Mankind”Plaque affixed to the leg of the Apollo 11 lunar landing vehicle

(20 July 1969)--Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible. (Credit: NASA) [public domain]

(20 July 1969)–Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., the lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible. (Credit: NASA) [public domain]

When astronauts first landed on the moon in 1969 as part of the Apollo 11 mission, they left behind evidence that they’d been there. Among these items were an American flag and a plaque, which was signed by President Richard Nixon and astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. The plaque bears a map of the Earth and this inscription:

HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
JULY 1969 A.D.
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND

The Eagle Has Landed”Astronaut Neil Armstrong

Six Apollo missions landed on the moon during the years between 1968 and 1972: Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17. Twelve men actually walked on its surface. Each of the five later Apollo missions also left a flag. Photographs taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite show the five flags still standing in place. (Buzz Aldrin reported that he saw Apollo 11’s flag blown down by rocket exhaust when the lunar lander blasted off the Moon’s surface to rejoin the orbiting command module.) The LRO images also show objects such as the lunar rovers used by some Apollo missions, and even the tire tracks they left behind.

“Okay, Houston, We’ve Had a Problem Here”Astronaut Jack Swigert

Photograph of the adaptor made from duct tape and other materials so that Command Module lithium lydroxide canisters could be used in the LM. (Credit: NASA) [public domain

Photograph of the adaptor made from duct tape and other materials so that Command Module lithium hydroxide canisters could be used in the LM. (Credit: NASA) [public domain]

Apollo 13’s journey to the moon was aborted when two of the oxygen-producing fuel cells exploded 2 days after its launch, with the spacecraft about 200,000 miles from Earth. The lack of oxygen wasn’t a real issue, but there was a problem with the CO2 scrubbers–which meant that the three astronauts on board could be suffocated by their own carbon dioxide exhalations. Guided by engineers on the ground at Mission Control, the astronauts used duct tape and surplus materials to repair air filtration canisters in the lunar module to help them survive the journey back to Earth.

“We Will Never Forget Them, Nor the Last Time We Saw Them”President Ronald Reagan

In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist. (Credit: NASA) [public domain]

In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.
(Credit: NASA) [public domain]

President Reagan addressed the nation on January 28, 1986, after the Space Shuttle Challenger blew apart just 73 seconds after launch. The entire country mourned the loss of all seven astronauts aboard. The tragedy was a huge setback for the program, and the next mission wasn’t launched until almost three years later. The program suffered another catastrophe on February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas during re-entry, killing all seven crew members.

The space shuttle program was launched in 1981, designed to be the “world’s first reusable spacecraft“–launching like a rocket, orbiting like a spacecraft, and landing like a plane. Crews ranged in size from five to seven people. NASA’s space shuttles have traveled 542,398,878 miles, making 21,152 Earth orbits. In all, there were 833 crew members in the 135 shuttle missions that were carried out through the end of the program in July 2011.

The history of NASA includes not only manned spaceflight, but also the exploration of our solar system, galaxies, and the entire universe. Scientific advances have been made in astronomy, astrophysics, astrobiology, aeronautics, Earth and life sciences, as well as lunar and planetary exploration and much more. NASA technology and research have contributed countless innovations and technologies first pioneered in space exploration that benefit everyday life. Among these are cordless power tools, telemedicine, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, satellite television, joysticks and GPS navigation systems. The impact of our nation’s decision to enter the “Space Race” nearly 60 years ago can’t be truly defined or accurately measured.

May Space Milestones

Launch of Space Shuttle Columbia

Launch of Space Shuttle Columbia (Public Domain) via Flickr

There are many space accomplishments that we celebrate each year. Some are remembered more than others, but they are all an important part of exploring other planets in our solar system and the galaxy beyond. Here is a list of space milestones that land during the month of May to share with your students:

May 5, 1961: Astronaut Alan Shepard was launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 capsule, part of the Mercury mission. He became the second person (and the first U.S. astronaut) to enter outer space.

May 24, 1962: Astronaut Scott Carpenter was launched into outer space aboard the Aurora 7 space capsule, part of the Mercury mission. The capsule orbited earth three times.

May 15, 1963: Launch of the Faith 7 spacecraft, which was manned by Gordon Cooper who spent 34 hours in space.

May 18, 1969: Launch of Apollo 10 lunar module which orbited the moon. The module was manned by two astronauts.

May 19 and 28, 1971: Launch of the Mars 2 and Mars 3 Landers by Russia. Mars 2 arrived on Mars in November 1971 but crash-landed on the surface. It was the first object to reach Mars’ surface. Mars 3 arrived on Mars in December of 1971 and transmitted data back to Earth for 20 seconds.

May 30, 1971: An unmanned spacecraft, Mariner 9, was launched and began orbiting Mars in November 1971.

May 14, 1973: Launch of the Skylab station, by a Saturn 5 rocket, which became the first orbiting laboratory in space.

May 25, 1973: A group of three astronauts were launched into space to board the Skylab station orbiting laboratory for testing.

May 20, 1978: Launch of Pioneer Venus I orbiter. It began orbiting Venus in December 1978.

May 4, 1989: Launch of space shuttle Atlantis by NASA to deploy the Magellan spacecraft, which was sent to observe the planet Venus.

May 13, 1992: First time three astronauts space walked simultaneously from the Endeavour space shuttle.

May 26, 2008: Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars. It analyzed Mars soil and took photos.

May 22, 2012: The SpaceX company launches its first capsule, called Dragon, into space. The capsule delivered food and other supplies to the International Space Station.

Teachers, direct your students to SIRS Discoverer to learn more about outer space exploration.

National Aviation Day Activities

"Airplane." Photo credit: muffinman71xx / Foter / CC BY-SA

“Airplane.” Photo credit: muffinman71xx / Foter / CC BY-SA

Today is National Aviation Day, established in 1939 on Orville Wright’s birthday. Orville Wright was an American inventor credited with creating the first successful airplane with his brother Wilbur. The advances made in aviation since then have led to widespread international travel and exploration in outer space. NASA has also been able to benefit the U.S. through continued research in aeronautics. Flight has proven to be one of the most amazing discoveries of the modern world and will continue to expand into the future. Aviation advances are limitless in the eyes of tomorrow’s pilots. To celebrate National Aviation Day, we’ve compiled some activity suggestions that are intended to get you flying in the right direction!

Soak Up Some Aviation History

Aviation Search Box Screencap via ProQuest SIRS WebSelect

Aviation Search Box Screencap via ProQuest SIRS WebSelect

A great starting point for aviation history is ProQuest SIRS WebSelect. Here you will find editorially-selected websites that can be used in research, to complement lessons and as a basis for learning more about the history of flight. This resource is perfect for back-to-school planning. Some key selections include:

Head to an Aviation Museum

Aviation museums are a nice way to explore aviation history. Each museum is designed differently and allows visitors a unique experience every time. These museums can be found in the U.S. and abroad. The National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio is considered to be the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. A list of the world’s best aviation museums can be found through the CNN article “World’s 14 Best Aviation Museums.”

Build an Airplane

A fun way to engage with flight and invention is by making your own paper airplane. Trying different types of designs and folding techniques can get you excited about this pastime and remind you that it’s still ok to channel your inner child. This could even be an activity you share with your own children or students. Once everyone is up to speed, you could hold a paper airplane contest to see whose creation flies the farthest. Check out this Smithsonian.com article “How to Fold a World Record-Setting Paper Airplane” to help guide your design and execution.

Watch Airplanes at the Airport

A special but rare find at airports these days are observation decks. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city whose airport has one, you may want to make a visit this summer. Since airport security is quite tight now, having the opportunity to watch the airplanes go by can really feel like a treat. The next time you plan a trip by plane, consider including time to sit at an observation deck and really take in all it has to offer. They may not be around forever.

Thank a Pilot After Your Next Trip

Summer is a popular time of year to plan our vacations and travels. Each time we make the decision to board a plane, we hope for safe travels and arrivals. If you’re going to be traveling by plane soon, consider thanking your pilot. You could write a personalized thank you note while on board and hand deliver it to your pilot, contact your airline and provide positive feedback about your experience or recognize your favorite pilot on social media. Sometimes it’s nice to show them your appreciation and it probably makes their job that much more rewarding too.

How will you celebrate National Aviation Day? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at #ProQuest.

50 Years Since the First Spacewalk

Photo credit: Ed White First American Spacewalker via photopin (license)

Ed White First American Spacewalker
Photo credit: NASA on The Commons via photopin (license)

The 1960s were successful years for NASA and space exploration in general. With the exciting notion of sending humans into the vast unknown and sharing live broadcasts via television, space became a wondrous and tangible reality. Americans welcomed space travel and the endless possibilities, but Americans were not the only ones interested in leading the “Space Race.” On March 18, 1965, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov did something groundbreaking. He became the first person ever to spacewalk. This milestone paved the way for others to exit their capsules once in space and roam without the confines of a spacecraft. Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space, likened spacewalking to swimming. Underwater training thus proved helpful to astronauts before traveling to space. During the height of the space program, astronauts achieved many feats with Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon being a major accomplishment. Nonetheless, spacewalking opened the door 50 years ago and transformed the way space is explored.

Take some time this month to appreciate the 50th anniversary of the first spacewalk with a lesson centered on space exploration. ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher has got you covered with three main Leading Issues on Space Exploration & Travel, Space Missions and Space Vehicles. With SIRS Leading Issues, you can rest assured that important features including Topic Overviews and Essential Questions, Terms to Know and the accompanying Critical Thinking & Analysis questions are all editorially crafted to your needs as well as your students. Our Common Core guide for Understanding Primary Sources would also be a helpful supplement to any lesson, especially one focused on space.

ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher Leading Issue on Space Exploration & Travel

ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher Leading Issue on Space Exploration & Travel

How will you explore space? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us at #ProQuest.

45th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed “that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins & Buzz Aldrin

The Space Race was already well underway after the successful launch of the satellite Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957. Project Apollo was NASA’s third manned space program (after Project Mercury and Project Gemini), and it was tasked with landing the first humans on the Moon. Apollo 11’s Saturn V rocket, with its crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. On July 20th, the Apollo 11 lunar module, named Eagle, landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on another world. Armstrong’s words after his first step on the moon, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” were broadcast live around the globe. Aldrin and Armstrong spent some 2-1/2 hours on the lunar surface gathering rock samples while Collins circled the moon in the command module Columbia. They splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.

Apollo 11's Saturn V RocketOne of the most famous images in history: Buzz Aldrin as photographed by Neil Armstrong

The 45th anniversary of this remarkable achievement in human history would be a great time for teachers to introduce students to the Apollo Space program by using a wealth of material in eLibrary. You can browse eLibrary’s Research Topics list or search the many resources related to Apollo 11 in eLibrary’s magazines, reference books, photographs, videos and more (including USA in Space and DK Eyewitness to Space Exploration, as well as the Apollo Expeditions to the Moon chapters in the U.S. History anthology). Students might also be interested in learning about the rest of the solar system, as well as rocketry.

Blast off this summer and fall with eLibrary’s space resources!