Space Exploration

On May 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most memorable State of
the Union addresses in the history of the United States. "I believe 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" (,

President John F. Kennedy\'s Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National

Needs). With those words, Kennedy launched a new era of space exploration in the

United States. Although the National Aeronautics And Space Administration was
created in 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act (,

Key Documents), and the Russians already launched the first satellite into space
in 1957, the US was still at a stand still on the subject. What the country
needed was a wake-up call, and that is exactly what it got from one of the most
celebrated speakers in its history. The new era promised much, but expected
little. From USAís struggle to be the dominant world power in the Cold War

Era, to the careless depletion of natural resources in the Information Age,
space exploration and astronauts were and will be the real keys to the new
millennium and beyond. Before looking into the future, or even evaluating the
present, one must look in detail at the history of the space project. The
missions that gave scientists and engineers the necessary data and experience to
make new, safer, more reliable and intricate equipment were launched long before
there was realistic talk of sending probes to Mars. The astronauts that helped
shape the training programs, took the beatings of primitive flight tests, and
died in order to serve their country were born before World War II. And even the

Russian Space Program was crucial to what the space program is today. It fueled
competition, and provided more resources for American engineers. Until Apollo

11, they were ahead of the Americans in almost everyway, with their launch of

Sputnik, a unmanned satellite in 1957, and their countless firsts in orbiting
and space walks. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. Although most of the
missions that have been launched have been important in their own ways, some
missions just stand out, whether it was the first step on the Moon, or the first
mission to Mars. NASAís first high profile program was Project Mercury, an
effort to learn if humans could survive in space. It was the prelude to the
later missions, and it gave NASA the necessary data to build better, and more
comfortable ships for humans to stay in space for extended periods of time. The
first launch of the Mercury program was the LJ-1 on August 21, 1959. At
thirty-five minutes before launch, evacuation of the area had been proceeding on
schedule. Suddenly, half an hour before launch-time, an explosive flash
occurred. When the smoke cleared it was evident that only the capsule-and-tower
combination had been launched, on a trajectory similar to an off-the-pad abort
(, Mercury: LJ-1). The first mildly successful spacecraft
launch occurred September 9, 1959. Although the BJ-1 ship experienced some
problems, and the timing on some of the separation procedures was off, the
capsule made it back to earth some seven hours after lift-off. The capsule
orbited the earth for approximately thirteen minutes (Mercury: BJ-1). Mercury
mission MA-5 was the first to carry live organisms into sub-orbit. Although Enos
- a chimpanzee, was not a perfect substitute for a human, he served as a good
test for the environmental controls of the capsule. He orbited the earth in
total weightlessness for over three hours and upon landing was in perfect
physical condition (Mercury: MA-5). On May 5, 1961, Freedom 7 was the first
launch to carry humans into space. Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was the only crewmember,
and the successful mission lasted for over 15 minutes (Mercury: MR-3). More
manned flights from the Mercury series followed, highlighted by the Friendship

7, where on February 20, 1962, John Glenn was the first American in actual
orbit, and he orbited the earth three times for a little under five hours
(Mercury: MA-6). The last mission from the Mercury project came on May 15, 1963,
where L. Gordon Cooper was in orbit in the Faith 7 for over a day. Total
weightless time was over thirty-four hours, and the mission was celebrated and
deemed more than successful (Mercury: MA-9). Gemini missions followed which
built on the success of the Mercury flights, and basically followed the same
outlines, except with a crew of two astronauts. The most monumental program in
the history of the US