On June 16, 1963, the first woman was launched into space. Her name was Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut. It was twenty years later that Sally Ride became the first American woman to ride into space for NASA.
I watched a new series on the Discovery Channel last night. When We Left Earth, The NASA Missions began last Sunday with the first and second installments. Last night the third and fourth were shown. First shown was "The Explorers" featuring first person accounts of space exploration following Apollo 1. Skylab was discussed as the first project for astronauts to live in space. Accounts from the first twelve astronauts still living who landed on the moon surface were told by them, giving the documentary style program a true human touch. Film footage from the past was shown all throughout.
Some of the system analysts from back in the day were interviewed and old footage of them sitting at the control panels monitoring from NASA 's Johnson Space Center in Houston made for an interesting contrast of how the men looked then and now. All men then, no women, working as a team to get the vessels into space and then back home safely again. The average age of the first system analysts was just 26 years old when America first went to the moon.
Everyone was winging it. Making decisions and solving problems on the fly. Exciting and horrifying all at the same time.
The second installment was "Landing the Eagle" and it deals with the Apollo 1 fire. To be the first manned mission for a lunar landing, Apollo 1 astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee were killed in a fire during training. The fire began in electrical wiring under the seat of Gus Grissom. NASA says that the astronauts were dead within 30 seconds. I cannot imagine the horror of burning alive - 30 seconds is a long time in that situation.
My father went to school with Grissom and was a classmate of Grissom's younger brother. They lived in Mitchell, Indiana, a small town in southern Indiana. Today Mitchell has an interactive memorial to the life of Gus Grissom.
I look forward to the final two installments next Sunday night. I have to catch the first two in reruns. I highly recommend the series. NASA is a favorite tourist destination here in my city. There is always something new in exhibit to see. The first time we went there, the Saturn rocket was displayed on a grassy area on the grounds. Everyone would stop in front of it and have a photo taken. The sheer size of it was incredible - the narrator last night said it is as long as a 35 story building.
It's a shame so much opportunity has been squandered over the years due to politics and monetary restraints.